Chapter 38

It was as though they'd reversed roles overnight. And maybe bodies. JJ awakened early and went for a run before going down to breakfast. She felt energized, relieved of the stress of worrying about the situation with Henry. She looked up from her cereal as Reid stumbled over for coffee.

"'Morning," he mumbled.

She could see he'd not slept well, and felt bad for him. But the sight of him stumbling around was almost comical.

"Want me to pour that coffee for you, Spence? It will probably do you more good if you can drink it instead of wear it."

He didn't even have the energy to give her a sarcastic 'ha,ha'. Instead, he just handed over his mug for her ministrations.

She got serious for a moment, as she poured and fixed his coffee. "You didn't get much sleep last night, did you?"

He deflected. "I'll be all right. I'm used to it. I just need to get some coffee in me." He reached for the mug and began to gulp it down.

She wasn't so easy to deflect. "Have you been sleeping at all, Spence? Even at home?"

His shoulders slumped. He didn't have the energy to fight her this morning. "Sometimes. Never through the night. Last night was just a little worse than most, that's all."

She wasn't done. "Are you still having nightmares?"

"Not as much as before, because…"

"Because you're not sleeping. Spence, maybe you should have taken more time….."

"There is no more time, JJ. We have someone after us, and we need to figure out who it is and what he wants."

She was about to say that maybe he could have stayed behind, and rested, and still worked on the Replicator. But then she realized that it would mean he'd be alone, and off his game. He'd be at far more risk at home alone.

"Well, okay then. But I'm going to make sure you rest whenever we get a chance. Even for you, it's got to be hard to think when you're so sleep-deprived."

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Rossi, Morgan and Blake. Hotch had apparently been up before any of them, and was already at the sheriff's office. The rest of the team joined him after a quick breakfast.

Hotch repeated the assignments he'd made the day before. "Rossi, Morgan, Blake….you'll retrace the routes the first two victims took on the days they were abducted. And add on any routine sites that were a regular part of their lives. Reid, JJ….you'll come with me. We'll be interviewing their families."

He'd made his assignments with several specific purposes in mind. He needed JJ's insights as a young mother, but he also realized how vulnerable the case was making her feel. Reid was along for her support….and also because his unit chief wanted to keep an eye on him. He was glad to have the young agent back with the team, but realized that he still wasn't fully recovered from his trauma. Despite the chronologic impossibility, Hotch was feeling paternal concern for his two youngest agents this day.

Hotch made the introductions to Edward DeSimone. "We're very sorry for your loss. We're hoping that we can ask you a few questions that might help to catch the person responsible."

DeSimone had come a long way in the past two years, but he couldn't hide a residual bitterness.

"Let's hope you do better than our esteemed city police department." The air went out of him immediately afterward, revealing the gentle persona inside.

"I know Detective Farraday did his best. I could see the toll it was taking on him, as well as on us. But the chief of police was too bullheaded to admit failure, and wouldn't let Farraday call for reinforcements. I think he would have wanted you here two years ago."

Hotch had formed the same impression. "Detective Farraday met with me yesterday. He was only too willing to share everything he knows and thinks about the case. I think you had a good man at your side, Mr. DeSimone."

"Agreed." The widowed father of two escorted them into the family room, where the three could see the unmistakable signs of a household containing young children. A playhouse was set up in the corner, and there were blocks and puzzle pieces scattered in various locations around the room. Reid went to sit on the sofa, and had to reach under the cushion to pull out a small truck..…and a partially eaten cookie…. before he could get comfortable.

"Here, I'll take that." DeSimone reached for the remains of the cookie. He brought it to the kitchen for disposal, and returned with a baby wipe for Reid to use to clean his hands.

"How old are your children, Mr. DeSimone?" JJ started the inquiry gently.

"They're five and two. Two and a half. Rocco was only six months old when…..when… it….happened."

"Do you have help taking care of them?"

"Angelina's sister came and stayed with us for a while, afterward. But she's married now. I've got the kids in day care….Josh is in kindergarten, and goes to the day care afterward….and I've got a pretty reliable sitter. But I've had to change my job. Couldn't afford to be out of town as much as I was before."

Hotch caught the similarity between his own circumstance, with Jessica coming to help with Jack after Hayley was killed, and silently blessed his former sister-in-law once again for her selfless sacrifice. He'd also caught the implications of Edward DeSimone's statement.

"Were you away a lot when the children were younger? Before your wife was killed?"

DeSimone nodded. "I traveled pretty much every other week, for two to three days at a time. Angie was a saint for putting up with it."

"Did she have any help, Mr. DeSimone? When you were away?" Reid asked the question innocently, not even realizing it could be seen as an accusation.

He was slightly defensive. "Angie didn't need any help. She was born to be a mom. She was the one who did all the care even when I was home. I never really learned how to do most of it, until we lost her."

JJ reflected on how much her job had affected her parenting choices. Before returning from maternity leave, she'd made sure Will was skilled in every task related to Henry's care. Not just because I needed help, but because I knew how dangerous both of our jobs were. Are. I knew either one of us could be left to parent him alone. It was a large part of what had contributed to her emotional reaction on the day she'd almost lost them both. Will had gone along with her, sharing the hands on care, until after they were married. Then he wanted to revert to what he considered to be the 'traditional' roles. She'd been parenting Henry alone ever since, with Will assuming the role of babysitter.

She felt Reid nudge her, and realized she'd been distracted from the conversation at hand. Her teammate subtly recapped for her benefit.

"So, Mr. DeSimone, you said your wife was running errands without the kids on the day she disappeared?"

"Call me Eddie, please. It feels strange enough to be talking about this again. The formalities make it worse." He shifted in his seat. "Yes, she'd left them at her friend Charla's. Josh's birthday was coming up, and she wanted to be able to shop for him without a million questions."

"And you never heard from her?" Hotch wanted clarification.

"She called me right after she'd dropped them off, said she was going to run a bunch of errands. The shopping for Josh's birthday…..and, it was my guess, for our anniversary. It's on….was on….May 15."

The words resonated with Reid. He sympathized with this man, not much older than he, who'd also lost his great love. He could hear the difficulty of pushing the present into the past….and then wondering if it was even necessary, or right. Maybe everything is just an eternal 'present'.

Now JJ rescued Reid from his reverie.

"I understand the minivan was found in a landfill?"

Eddie was nodding. "A week later. Still with the car seats, the toys, everything. Except Angie."

His voice broke at the last, indicating the depth of pain that lingered. "Charla called me that afternoon, because she had to go and get her kids from school, and Angie still hadn't come back. Hadn't answered any of her calls. I tried calling then too, but it went to voice mail."

"The police never did find her phone, did they?" It was part of the record, and had been recounted by the detectives yesterday. Neither cell phone had been found. They'd wondered if the phones had been discarded, or if they'd become trophies.

"Never did. And I would give anything to have it back. We'd taken the kids to the park the weekend before, and I got some great photos of them with Angie, playing on the swings. We used her phone because mine was running low on juice. They would have been the last pictures I had of her."

"How are the boys doing with this, Eddie?" JJ was using her low, soothing voice.

"They're back to a pretty even keel. Josh had nightmares and tantrums for months afterwards. Now I think he would barely remember her without my showing him pictures and video. The pediatrician says it's because he doesn't have enough stored memory of her. So she says I should keep Angie present for him, 'til he's old enough to remember her on his own. And Rocco….." DeSimone's voice became completely choked. "I don't think he'll even realize that he had a mom. He watches the video with us, but it's like watching a TV show. He has no sense of relationship to her. His own mom…"

Reid watched JJ out of the corner of his eye, and saw her purposefully swallow down tears. She was almost always composed on the job, but this case, and this interview in particular, was challenging that composure in a big way. Hotch realized it as well. He brought the interview back to the facts of the disappearance and what had preceded it.

"Eddie, the police said Angie kept a family calendar hanging in the kitchen. I understand they returned it to you after the investigation. I'd like to review it with you."

When DeSimone left to get the calendar, Hotch turned to the other two. "Go out and check in with Garcia and the others. We should know if they've come up with anything we should investigate here, before we head to see Mr. Romano."

He noticed when JJ briefly closed her eyes and took a deep breath at the mention of the next interview. It was as though she felt a need to gird herself for another ordeal. It was a very telling gesture as to how deeply she'd been affected by this interview.

"JJ, if you'd rather sit the next one out…"

She shook her head vigorously. "It's my job, Hotch. These men lost their wives….and these kids lost their mothers. The least I can do is see that it doesn't happen to yet another family."

Reid tried to contain the pride he thought might be visibly exuding from him as he followed her out to the SUV.

"Have I ever mentioned to you that you're amazing?"

"What does that mean?" She had her cell out, prepared to call Garcia.

"It means, I could see how hard that was for you, and yet you went ahead and did what you had to, for the sake of the case."

"And you didn't?" She saw his reaction. "What, you think I didn't notice?"

"No….not exactly. I guess I just didn't realize you were watching."

"Well, whether you want me to be or not, Spence, I'm still worried about you. So, yes, I was watching. And I noticed. It was hard for you when he mentioned the anniversary."

He swallowed. "I'll get past it. I have to, right?"

She looked at him, while her brain searched in vain for the right words. She had to settle for whatever came.

"Maybe not 'past' it, Spence. But you'll learn to live with it. With the things that remind you of your own life. Mostly, I've been able to do that. But, right now, with all the recent stuff about Henry…..well, I think my defenses are down."

He squeezed her shoulders. "That's why you have me!" He'd tried to say it lightly, almost as a joke, but she knew the truth behind it.

She laughed. "What a pair we are. Let's call the real reinforcements."

She got Garcia on the phone first. "Anything, Pen?"

"Well, yes and no. According to their credit statements, they both shopped in the same mall. But it's also the largest mall in a fifty mile radius, so that might not mean anything."

"Same stores?" Reid didn't want to dismiss it prematurely.

"Some, but those were mostly the maternity and kids' clothing stores. There aren't all that many of either in the mall."

JJ was with Reid on this. "Still, we should probably check it out. I'll talk to Hotch about it."

"Anything else, Garcia? On this case….or the other one?" The one that threatens us. Reid's voice rose in pitch with the second phrase.

Now she sounded annoyed…but not with him. "I've got queries running in the background, but this new case has pretty much been taking up all of my time, my love. But don't you worry. Penelope Garcia will come through. I always do, don't I?"

"Always!" came back to her, in stereo.

The interview with Christopher Romano was similar in many ways to the one with Eddie DeSimone. He'd been a more hands-on father from the beginning, putting him at a slight advantage when he suddenly had to single-parent three children under six years of age. But he'd still been completely overwhelmed by the task, and the grief that surrounded it.

"My mom moved in with us, thank God. I don't think I could do this without her." The elder Mrs. Romano had taken the younger children to a playground while the BAU team interviewed their father.

"Tina was the best mom, ever. She said it was all she'd wanted to do since she was a little girl. And the kids were happy, and well-adjusted...before. After, they all went through a tough time, even the baby. We're starting to get back on an even keel, but Kyle….he's our six year old….he remembers that it happened around this time of year, around Mother's Day. He'd made something for Tina with his class at school. And they're starting to talk about making something for the moms this year as well. He was crying about it just a couple of nights ago. He remembers her best, you know?"

He'd kept his voice steady until the end. Realizing the pain his son was experiencing….would possibly experience for a long, long time….brought back his own.

They went through the rest of the information quickly, looking for both unique information and any similarities with either of the other two families' stories. JJ had been present for all three interviews, making her observations vital to the process.

When they were finished, and heading back to the sheriff's office, Hotch asked for her opinion.

"Well, there are a lot of similarities. They were all younger women, in their thirties. All of them were full time moms. And, according to each of their husbands, each of them was 'the best mom ever'."

Reid had an additional observation. "All of their children were young, no older than six at the time they went missing. They all live in middle class areas…upper middle, maybe."

"All right then," Hotch said. "Let's look for differences. We need a leverage point to get started here."

Reid was still recounting similarities. "I think all of the women were of Italian heritage. The two murder victims' husbands names are Italian, and the women's first names go along with that. And even Francesca O'Toole is, well...Francesca."

"Angie DeSimone was blonde, but that doesn't have to mean anything. There are blonde Italians, I think. And, besides, her last call was to her hairdresser."

"So, maybe not a phenotype in common, but maybe a heritage?" Reid wondered how someone came to learn another's heritage in casual contact.

"Someone looking for a good Italian mother?" Even JJ wasn't sure if she should be serious about this?

"Something to bring back to the rest of the team," declared Hotch. "If that's the commonality, how would the unsub find them. How would he look for them? Where does a woman show off her maternal skills?"

Once they'd gathered back at the sheriff's office, Hotch put the questions to the whole team. Without any discussion, each of them turned and looked directly at Rossi.

"What? I'm Italian, but do I look like a mother to you?"

"Well, you had one, didn't you?" Blake spoke for the rest of them.

"Yes, but I didn't pick her out. She came with the package."

Hotch stepped in to rescue his old friend. "Let's stick to the 'mother' theme for now. We can worry about whether or not she has to be Italian later."

"All right, then." Morgan was ready to move on as well. "They were all mothers, all described as 'great' mothers, all killed on Mother's Day. So mothering definitely has to mean something to the unsub."

Blake took it up. "So, maybe the unsub has a grudge against his own mother, and is transferring his anger."

JJ wondered if the opposite might also be true. "Could he have lost his mother? Maybe he's trying to replace her by taking the women?"

"Why would he kill them then?" Rossi wasn't so sure about JJ's idea.

"Maybe it's not intentional." Reid was speaking with the voice that said the idea was still hatching in his brain. "Think about it. It looks like the victims were suffocated, and then given CPR. Maybe he didn't mean to kill them."

"What, Pretty Boy, you think he accidentally hugged them to death? C'mon now." Morgan had his own doubts about this line of thinking.

Morgan's response raised a question in Blake. "Could the chest injuries have come from something besides CPR?"

Hotch was paying attention. "What are you thinking, Blake?"

"I'm wondering if both the suffocation and the injuries to the ribs and sternum could have been caused by the same crushing process. Whether accidental or not."

Reid had seen the medical examiners' reports. "My guess is that they would say it could be consistent."

Rossi felt like they'd gone around in a circle. "Great. The deaths might have been accidental….or not. The chest injuries might be from CPR….or not. Our unsub might be showing remorse…..or not."

Morgan finished for him. "And he may be targeting mothers because he's angry at his own...or not."

Hotch recognized the sound of fatigue when he heard it. Despite the circular thinking, they'd made some headway in the case. They were a day closer to Mothers' Day, but it wouldn't do their case any good to have his profilers trying to solve it when they were exhausted. He dismissed the team for the night.

"We'll get an early start tomorrow. Sleep on it. Come back with fresh ideas. Tomorrow, let's find Francesca O'Toole."

The team shared a light supper together at the town's diner. Morgan left the table early, in search of a gym. JJ and Reid followed soon afterwards, and walked together to the hotel.

"Will you be able to sleep tonight, Spence?"

"As much as I ever can, I guess. It's just that, as soon as I lay down, my mind goes on overdrive. I can't stop thinking..."

JJ couldn't even begin to imagine what it might be like when this particular mind was on overdrive. "I'm calling Henry to say good night. Would you like to speak with him? He's always a pretty good distraction, isn't he?"

Reid chuckled. "My little buddy. Sure, let's call him."

She followed Reid into his room and took out her phone. She kept the first part of the call private. Reid tried to busy himself with his book, so he wouldn't appear to be eavesdropping.

"Hi, Mom...No, not yet...It's going okay, I guess...Mom, you know I can't really tell you about it. I just called to see how you and Henry made out today...He did? Great! That's my son!...Oh, right, yes..and your grandson. Hey Mom, can you put him on? Spence and I want to say goodnight to the hotel...No, why would you think?...Okay."

She hit the 'speaker' button and motioned to Reid to join her. "Hi, Buddy, how are you? I have Uncle Spence with me."

"Hi, Henry! Are you being good for your grandmother?"

"Hi, Mommy! Hi, Uncle Spence! Mommy, I was the best reader in school today! I got all the words right!" This was the news Sandy had shared with JJ a few minutes ago. The class was sight-reading, and Henry had embraced the process. Hearing the news, Reid turned to JJ with a big grin on his face and proudly tapped his own chest, mouthing the words, "My godson!". Aloud, he shouted, "Go Henry!"

JJ smiled at her son's accomplishment and the enthusiasm it had been met with. They proceeded with a three way conversation that ended with JJ 'reading' Henry a story, and Henry returning one to her. Finally, his "Meme" joined them for prayers and goodnights.

JJ was still smiling as she ended the call and turned to Reid. "Okay, I've put one of my boys to bed. Time for the other one."

He was flustered. "Huh?"

"Get changed. I have an idea."

He eyed her warily as he backed into the bathroom with his sweats and T shirt. He might not know what she was up to, but he did know enough to obey.

When he emerged again, she'd drawn the curtains and the room was lit only by a single dim light.

"Lay down."


"Lay down. You don't sleep standing up, do you?"

Again, he obeyed. JJ picked up one of the books he'd had lying on the desk. She'd reached out and chosen it randomly, then saw that it was the Merton book, The Seven Storey Mountain. The one that she'd found so dry when she'd tried reading it at his apartment. Great.

Reid was watching her, and saw what she meant to do. She was going to read him to sleep. Like she used to do for Henry. I remember.

He noticed the expression on her face as she recognized the book. "Go to chapter seven. It will be better."

It was. He'd always found the sound of her voice soothing. Tonight, it soothed him into a deep sleep, his first in well over a month. JJ saw that he was out within the first twenty minutes. But she continued to read, silently. He was right. It was better.

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