The team set Garcia with the task of scanning their prior
caseload for any commonalities...locations, methods, demographics of the
victims, families and perpetrators, law enforcement, absolutely anything that
could be found. They had her throw a wide net, hoping to reel in something,
any kind of pattern that might help them find a direction for their
investigation of the Replicator. The task was so broad, and so
uncharacteristically unfocused, that their technical analyst felt her resources
being stretched beyond anything she could remember. She was virtually...and
literally...sputtering about it.
"This...this...this is the day I dreaded. The day my beloved crimefighters would give me the insurmountable task."
JJ was sympathetic with her good friend. "Do what you can, Pen. We know you're not a miracle worker."
It hadn't been meant as an insult, but JJ had inadvertently stumbled upon the appellation Garcia used when she referenced herself. She did think of herself as a miracle worker, and relished the role. With JJ's comment, she redoubled her efforts.
"It may take me a few days….you understand I have to make each query separately…..but I'll find something. Trust me on this. Your technological trailfinder won't disappoint you."
Morgan appreciated how hard the task was. "We know you'll try, Baby Girl. Just do your best."
She wasn't placated. "I'll do better than my best. I'm going to find us something. Something."
But she was wrong. Or, at least, delayed. All of them realized it that same afternoon, when Garcia summoned them to the round table.
"I'm even more sorry than usual to say this, boys and girls." They might earn their living doing this, but she knew that each of them viewed each new case as bad news. "We have a case. Another case."
Morgan groaned audibly. Despite any advantage a new case might bring them in determining a pattern for the Replicator, each intervening case also meant more time when the team would be living under siege. More time with the tension, and the fear.
The rest were resigned.
"Go ahead, Garcia." Hotch nodded his head at her. He'd already been briefed.
She hit the remote. "This is Angelina DeSimone. Or, it was Angelina DeSimone."
Garcia kept her back to the smartboard, but the rest of the team was looking at the remains of a dark-haired woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties.
"She was a thirty four year old mother of two young children, who went missing in Sacramento in April of 2011. Her body was found almost a month later. It was found…" She paused to take a deep breath, alerting the rest that the information to follow would be significant. "….it was found next to the dumpster of a child care center."
"By whom?" Alex was inquiring.
"By the workers at the center. They found it on a Monday morning, and the dumpster had last been emptied the Friday before. No one was at the center over the weekend. And, by the way…..the weekend in question was Mother's Day weekend."
Rossi narrowed his eyes. "A statement?"
JJ found this case, like so many of the ones they investigated, hitting close to home. She wondered aloud, "Were her children enrolled at that day care?"
"No, that's the thing," responded Garcia. "She was a stay-at-home mom, never used a day care."
Reid was being practical. "Garcia, if this happened in 2011, why are we getting it now?"
She lifted the remote again as she answered him. "Ah, thank you, junior G-man. I wasn't actually finished."
Garcia clicked, and a second image came up. "This is Christina Romano. Her body was found in Rancho Cordova, also outside a day care center, also the day after Mother's Day, last year, in 2012. The location is about fifteen miles from where the first body was found. She'd been missing for two weeks when her body was found."
"This is sounding vaguely familiar," voiced Alex. "I think I remember reading about it in the newspaper last year. From the story, I'd assumed it had already become a BAU case, but obviously not." It had taken place before she'd joined the team.
Hotch shook his head. "We weren't asked in. Strauss told me she tried to offer services, but was declined."
"So why are they asking us now?" Morgan was always annoyed when bureaucracy got in the way of good sense. "It's almost a year later."
Rossi was sure he knew. "They've got another missing."
Hotch nodded and indicated that Garcia should continue. She clicked her remote once again.
"This is Francesca O'Toole, age thirty eight, mother of three children. She went missing two days ago from a town called Antelope, about twenty miles or so from Sacramento."
"There's actually a place called Antelope?" Morgan sounded incredulous.
"Not only is there a place called Antelope, but we're headed there. Wheels up in thirty."
Reid caught JJ before they left the BAU.
"You seem a little better today."
She gave him a small smile. "Mom."
"She called me last night, after you left. She said she had a feeling that I needed her. Mothers just seem to know, you know?"
Oddly, considering the state of his own mother, he did. Even with her illness, she seemed to have insight into her son in a way that he couldn't explain.
"So, she made you feel better?"
"She made everything better. She's coming down to stay with us. She'll be at home when I'm not, and can take care of Henry. She can't do it forever, at least not yet, because she's got too many responsibilities at home. But she can come long enough for me to demonstrate a good support system. And she's willing to permanently relocate, if that's what it takes. She'll be there by the time he gets out of school today."
JJ's eyes glistened with the gratitude she felt for what her mother was offering.
Reid was relieved as well. He'd felt her tension last night, and shared it, as he realized the very real threat of Will fighting for, and possibly winning, custody of Henry. The thought of the little boy being subjected to the unmitigated influence of his father's personality was both alarming and infuriating. Now, it sounded like JJ's mother was offering a lifeline to her grandson. He didn't know her well but, in that moment, Reid loved Sandy Jareau.
"That's great, JJ. Thank God. I was worried."
She smiled at him, and reached out to touch his cheek. "I know you were. It means so much to me that you love Henry so much, Spence. More than I can say."
"He's easy to love, JJ." When she'd moved a little ahead of him, he added, too softly for her to hear, "Runs in the family."
It turned out that Antelope, California was a colorfully named community served by the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. The sheriff was both astute and humble enough to call in the FBI when his citizen went missing, recognizing the temporal relationship to the prior regional killings.
"They all went missing in April, and turned up in May. Even the local newspaper was calling them "The Mommy Murders". I don't know why those other two clowns didn't call you in." Sheriff Lowney was referencing the recently-replaced chiefs of police of Sacramento and Rancho Cordova.
"It was about time those two retired, anyway. The new guys are much more collaborative. They've agreed to give you full cooperation in each bailiwick."
"Thank you, Sheriff." Hotch realized the man he was speaking with had run interference for the BAU team, and was truly grateful for it. Their work was difficult enough without the politics that so often infiltrated it.
He'd sent Rossi and JJ to interview the family of Francesca O'Toole, while Morgan and Blake visited the dump sites of the two women killed in 2011 and 2012. He had Reid first setting up a geographic profile, and then reviewing the mounds of reports that comprised the two prior murder books. Reid's speed reading was the only way they would get through the material quickly enough to be helpful.
Hotch was about to interview the two detectives who'd led each prior murder investigation.
Two hours later, Reid was distracted from the case files when Rossi and JJ returned. She looked drawn, and practically fell into a chair at the far end of the table. Rossi continued on to the seat next to Reid.
"She okay?" Reid whispered.
"Young kid, about her son's age. Cried the whole time, missing his mother. Took a lot out of her."
Reid pushed back his chair, detoured to the refreshment alcove, and went to JJ with a cup of tea. He knew it was her afternoon routine, whenever they were in town.
"Here, you look like you could use this."
She looked up at him, clearly upset, but trying desperately to find some good humor. "Does that mean there's whiskey in there?"
He smiled. "Just earl grey, the way you like it."
She reached up and touched his hand as she took the tea from him. "Thanks, Spence. You take such good care of me."
He sat with her. "Rossi said it was pretty hard out there. Are you okay?"
She stared off for a moment before she answered. "Her youngest son was just a little younger than Henry. All he did was cry for his mother. Mr. O'Toole did his best to comfort him, but the poor thing just wailed for his mom. He finally crawled up into my lap and fell asleep there. It was the only way we could hear each other to do the interview."
It sounded like she was feeling a need to explain why she'd held the child, as though it had been unprofessional. Reid knew better.
"You brought him a moment of comfort, JJ. A moment of peace. There's no need to be apologetic about it."
She tried to bring a smile to her face, but succeeded only in minimizing her frown. "It's what I'd want for Henry, if he were separated from me. Someone to comfort him, even if just for a moment."
He put a hand over hers. "Let's see if we can do better than that. Let's see if we can bring his mom home."
The others returned another hour later. Morgan called Garcia up on speaker, and they put together all that they'd learned.
Reid started them off, providing information gleaned from the case reports.
"The two prior victims each disappeared between the hours of nine and three pm. Each was supposed to pick their kids up from school, and failed to show. They both had cell phones, neither of which have been found, and neither of which were used after 11 AM on the day they went missing."
"Where were the final calls made to? Or from?" Blake was hoping for a clue.
Reid knew he would disappoint her. "The first victim called her hairdresser, to make an appointment for the following week. The second victim's last call out was to her daughter's piano teacher, cancelling the lesson for the same day. There was a conflict with a scouting activity."
Hotch confirmed what Reid said. He'd spent most of the day with the two lead detectives on the murders. They'd each become emotionally invested in solving the cases, and were entirely cooperative with the FBI.
"They'd hoped to be able to use GPS to track the phones, even without call activity. But it looked like both of them were turned completely off sometime between 11 AM and 1 PM on the days the women disappeared."
"I suppose there's nothing in any of their backgrounds that would give us any help? Discord? Arguments? Relationships?"
Garcia chimed in now. "Alas, my chocolate cherub, there's nothing. Both were in apparently happy marriages, both college graduates who left administrative jobs to stay at home with their kids, both active church members, no debt, no rumors, no nothing. Nada."
Rossi was more cynical. "Church-going doesn't exactly mean sinless, does it? Garcia, any commonalities? Any places where they might have met one another?"
"Not that I can find so far. Rancho Cordova isn't all that far from Sacramento, but it's a pretty self-sufficient community in terms of services and shopping and what all. So they could easily not have known one another. So far, I've got nothing with schools, churches, gyms, hairdressers, kid's afterschool activities. But I'm still looking."
"Garcia, have you already added Francesca O'Toole to the mix?" Like geographic triangulation, Reid often found that the third victim's relationship to one or more of the others was key.
"I have. Nothing. Sorry, my gentle genius."
Hotch turned to Morgan and Blake. "What can you tell us about the dump sites?"
Morgan was already shaking his head. "Nothing there. Local, independently owned centers, no relationship between the two. Both bodies were dumped in the back, just next to the dumpsters."
"But not in the dumpsters?" Hotch wanted to be sure.
Rossi knew where he was going. "Were they too large to lift?"
Blake took that one. "Not according to the pictures we saw, remember? He could have lifted them, unless they were too stiff."
Reid broke into the discussion. "The ME reports indicate that each woman suffocated. Livor mortis was in the feet and legs, so they were likely upright when they were suffocated. And then each had a fractured sternum a ribs, as though the unsub had attempted CPR."
"Upright?" JJ was recovered enough to join in.
"Well, no. The ME thought the unsub might have attempted CPR long after they were already dead."
"Remorse," offered Alex.
Rossi was nodding. "That's probably what the dump site shows us, too. Not that he couldn't lift them into the dumpster. Just that he couldn't bring himself to put them in there."
"But why at the day care centers?" wondered Reid. "Their own kids had nothing to do with them."
"He was giving them children. And giving them back to children, even if he couldn't...or wouldn't….give them back to their own children." JJ couldn't have said why she was so certain….but she was.
Hotch wanted a timeline. "Reid, was there anything in the reports that indicated how long the women were held before they were killed?"
The ME thought they were both dead less than 24 hours when they were found. That would mean they were both killed on Mother's Day."
Hotch was silent for a few moments, considering. It was well past midnight on east coast time, and his team was exhausted.
"All right, everyone. Get some rest tonight. Tomorrow we hit the ground running. Reid, JJ and I will interview the families of the first two victims. Morgan, Rossi and Blake, retrace their steps. Find some commonality. Find something."
Their rooms were across the hall from one another. JJ started to bid Reid goodnight after she'd gotten her door open, but he interrupted her.
"Talk for a few minutes?"
It was his first away case since Maeve, and she wasn't about to refuse him.
"Sure, Spence. Come on in."
He settled into a chair while she stretched out on her side across the bed.
"How are you doing? It's your first time since…."
"It's not me I'm worried about. I want to know how you are doing."
JJ shrugged. She knew what he meant, but felt like he had enough on his plate. "It's not the first time a case has hit close to home, Spence, and I'm sure it won't be the last, either. I keep trying to not let it get to me, or to not let it show, anyway. I thought I was getting a little better at that, but I guess not, huh?"
His gaze penetrated hers. "Maybe for the others, but not for me. I know you too well, remember? If you need a break from this…especially tomorrow, when we talk to the families….I want you to take it." And even if I just think you need a break, I'm going to see that you get it.
She just looked at him, grateful for his caring. "I'm probably just tired, you know? I didn't get much sleep the last couple of nights."
Tired, and scared to death of losing Henry, and of Henry losing you.
Aloud, he said. "Then I'm not helping you at all, right now, am I? It's late and you need to rest." He rose to leave. "Goodnight, JJ."
She rose with him. "Goodnight, Spence. And remember, I'm here for you, too. If you need me. Any time."
He smiled. "Always."