He did his best to bury himself in some case files but, of
course, the bad thing about being able to read 20,000 words per minute, and
retain every single one of them, was that none of the files took him very long
to finish. Most of them were fairly straightforward, at least as profiling
cases go, and it didn't take him long to produce his advice. Consequently, time
moved very slowly as Reid waited for JJ to get back from court.
From the next desk, Blake noticed the frequent flicks of his wrist to check his watch.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"You keep checking your watch. Do you have to leave?"
"Oh. No, I'm just waiting for JJ to get back from court. The hearing was scheduled for three hours ago. I thought she'd be here by now."
"Is this just a custody hearing, or is it about all of the terms of the divorce?" The whole team was aware of the developing changes in JJ's status.
"It's about all of it. I guess that can take longer, huh?"
"It would be my guess." Alex had married later in life, and was still very much in love with her husband, even if he was half a world away. Her knowledge about divorce was rudimentary.
"I just hope she's all right. I hope the judge saw things her way."
"She was only asking for joint custody, right?"
"Yeah, but with Henry living primarily with her. I guess there's a difference between the decision-making power…..you know, medical decisions and such…..and actually sharing the kids physically, splitting the week. JJ thinks Henry is too young for that. She thinks it would confuse him. But she's not sure Will agrees, even if his lawyer does."
"Oh." Blake was still pretty reserved with the team. This already felt like too much personal information for her. She picked up a file and opened it, effectively ending the conversation, and leaving Reid to try to distract himself once again. When the files proved to be as ineffective as before, he decided a trip to Garcia's lair was in order. She was always up for a visit and some conversation.
The door was ajar, so he knocked on the door jamb before entering.
"Come in, random person."
It seemed Morgan had been struggling with his concentration as well. He was seated next to Garcia, throwing three-pointers into the wastebasket across the room.
"Hey, Pretty Boy, what's up?"
He squirmed under their stares. "All right, I'm worried about JJ. She's not back yet."
Morgan sat up. "Worried as in you're not sure how the case is going or worried as in you think something happened to her?"
Reid gulped. He hadn't thought about something happening to her at all. But considering their situation with the Replicator, he should have. He mentally kicked himself for not having insisted on going with her.
"I…..I was just thinking that the hearing was taking too long. That maybe it wasn't going in her favor."
Garcia saw the concern on his face and took pity. "Relax, Reid. I texted her a little bit ago. I….we…were worried, too." She made a face at Morgan. "She just replied. Court's out, and she's on her way here."
Reid fell into a chair, seriously relieved. "Did she say how it went?"
"I didn't ask. She'll tell us when she gets here, I'm sure. Here, Sugar, have a cookie. You look like you could use it."
Morgan eyed him. "Kid, relax. At least you know it was just the court case holding her up."
"Yeah, but I don't see why it had to take so long. Richard told her it was practically certain that she'd get what she wanted, since her mother's volunteered to help out. Something had to have gone wrong."
"Well, worrying about it isn't going to change anything. Come on, let's get out of Penelope's hair and get back to work."
Garcia reached out to him. "For the record, I'm worried too. But my godmotherly antennae aren't sending me any bad vibes, so I think it'll be okay."
Reid couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, well, if the antennae say it's okay…..that's different."
"Call me when she gets here!" trailed after the two men as they left the tech analyst to her toys.
Reid sat, watching her cross the room. He studied JJ's face for any hint of how things had gone, but she was obviously in 'professional mode'. Which wasn't necessarily a good sign. He waited until she'd gotten to her desk before he rolled his chair over.
"How did it go?"
"I need coffee." She headed in the direction of the refreshment bay, Reid following close behind her.
"JJ, how did it go?"
She stood with her back to him, and closed her eyes. It's not him you're angry with, JJ.
She turned and leaned on the counter while he poured coffee for both of them.
"He fought it. Every last thing. Even when his attorney had advised him not to."
Reid was very concerned now. "And? Did he win?"
"No…..and, maybe. The judge gave me physical custody of Henry, with generous visitation for Will. He agreed with me that it would be better for Henry to have one primary home instead of being split down the middle. He even said he thought Will should stay with Henry at the house whenever he watched him during our away cases. But Will can take him to his apartment every other weekend, and for four weeks a year. And we'll split the holidays."
"So, that sounds pretty much like what you were looking for. What didn't go right?"
She heaved a sigh. "Will's fighting the child support, and the alimony. I could just make it without the alimony-I mean, I could make the mortgage. But kids are expensive, Spence. I can't keep the house if I don't have the child support. And Will knows that. Henry would lose his home, even if he stayed with me."
"How can he fight child support if you have primary physical custody? Don't you have the most expense?"
"Of course I do. But he made the argument that I'm away a lot, and he would be paying for those times he was watching Henry, and might have to pay a babysitter to help out, and he would spend money on the weekends. You name it, he went for it."
"Just to be difficult."
"Yep. And he succeeded. Maybe."
"Richard thinks the judge will rule in our favor, but he needed to give Will time to put together some documents. So we reconvene in three weeks."
He knew how much this court date had been weighing on her. Now another one loomed in the distance.
"I don't see how the judge can rule any other way, JJ. It will be all right. And three weeks isn't all that far away."
"I guess. It was just so maddening. And I could see that look on his face. That he was glad he'd made it difficult for me, even if he knows he won't win in the end."
He rubbed her back. "Just hold on. He won't win in the end, and this will be behind you."
"He won't be behind me for another fourteen years, Spence."
"You know what I mean. Once this is done, he can't hurt you anymore." He meant to see to it.
"I hope you're right, Spence. I just hope you're right."
"Watch, Meme!" The little blonde tucked a scarf up the sleeve of his sweater. She could see the bulge inside the opposite sleeve, and amusedly anticipated the next part of the trick.
"Now, ask me," the little apprentice directed his grandmother.
She obeyed. "Where did the scarf go, Henry?"
"Right here!" And he reached up the opposite sleeve and pulled out an identical scarf. And another. And another.
Sandy and JJ clapped. "That was amazing!"
Henry beamed at them and at his godfather. Reid laughed. "It works a little better with a stiff sleeve. But," he high-fived his godson, "Go, Henry! Great job!"
It was Sandy's last night before she needed to head home. She'd offered to find a replacement for her fundraisers, but JJ was adamant.
"Mom, you chaired these things. You've done so much work. Of course you need to be there." And of course I need you to be safe. She hadn't told her mother about the bouquet sent by the Replicator.
"Well, I'll be back as soon as things settle down. I want to show that judge that I meant what I said when I offered to care for Henry." She planned to return to town before the next court date.
"Thanks, Mom. You are absolutely the best. Isn't she, Henry?"
He ran over and threw his arms around his grandmother. "The best!"
Sandy spoke to her daughter over Henry's shoulder. "Jennifer, are you sure you don't want me to try to get someone to cover me? You already know you'll have to be away tomorrow."
"It's okay, Mom. Will has a few days off. He's going to come here and stay with Henry. I should be back soon. This is just additional casework relating to an old one, so it should be shorter. We don't have to investigate it from scratch."
"What if it does go longer?"
"Pen will come, or he'll stay with Karen. We'll manage, Mom. Really. But thanks so much for offering."
She felt guilty about impacting her mother's life like this. But she didn't see another choice. Not with Will being so obstinate.
Reid offered Sandy his own form of compliment. "Well I, for one, can't wait for you to come back. That pork roast was the best thing I've ever tasted."
Sandy beamed at him. She'd decided to make a personal project of fattening up Henry's godfather. "Just wait until you taste my chicken piccata!"
"Henry, you be a good boy for your dad, okay? He'll be picking you up after school today and you guys will have a great time together until I get back home." JJ was squatting in front of her son just outside of the preschool classroom.
"Okay, Mommy. You're gonna catch the bad guy?"
It was the most graphic either of the parents had gotten with their son. He wouldn't be ready to hear what they really did for many more years.
"Yep, we're gonna catch the bad guy."
"And Uncle Spence?"
"Uncle Spence and I will catch the bad guy together. All of us will, little man."
"Okay, Mommy. I'll be good. Daddy said we're gonna have lots and lots of fun while you're gone!"
Of course. "Well, just make sure that your 'fun' includes brushing your teeth and getting to bed on time, little man." She knew enough not to hope they would eat healthy as well. "I'll be back before you know it."
He threw his arms around her neck. "I love you, Mommy!"
"I love you too, Baby."
"Everything all right?" Hotch settled himself into the seat across from JJ on the plane.
"Yeah. It's just…..it's always hard to leave him, you know? But now, with all of this going on…it's especially hard."
Hotch's eyes were sympathetic. He'd had the same difficulty leaving Jack. The situation now couldn't help but remind him of when the Reaper had threatened them. He'd been terrified for Jack and Haley then. And rightly so.
"He's with Will, isn't he?"
"Yes. At least I get to leave him with a cop. That makes me feel a little better."
"Let's hope this case wraps quickly. I'll have you and Alex re-interview the family of the last victim. They won't know her, but they'll remember you. As I recall, you had a pretty good rapport going."
"We bonded, yes. I think I reminded them of their daughter."
Hotch nodded. "Rossi and I will take the latest victim's family. Reid and Morgan can go to the site where the vehicle was found, and then I'd like to get Reid going on a geographic profile. He was close when we were out here before, a couple of years ago."
"I remember. He had a strong suspicion, but he needed another point for triangulation."
They both smiled at JJ's having learned part of Reid's lingo.
"How is he, JJ, really? He seems to be functioning, but….is he?" Hotch knew his two youngest profilers had grown quite close.
"He's getting there, Hotch. He has his good days and his bad days, but there are more good than bad now. I think he might have turned a corner. He's got a long way to go, of course, but he's headed in the right direction."
"Good." It was all the senior profiler said. In his thoughts, he traveled back to that time in his life when he was the one who mourned. He'd been lost for a long time after that, no matter what it looked like on the outside. He hoped JJ was right about Reid. He hoped she was glimpsing the inner man, and not the façade.
"Mr. and Mrs. Banfield, thank you for agreeing to see us. This is my colleague, Alex Blake."
All four of them shook hands and went to the rear porch, where Mrs. Banfield had set up a tray of lemonade and cookies. She spoke as she poured.
"You're looking well, Agent Jareau. It appears motherhood agrees with you." They'd last met four years ago, when JJ was newly returned from maternity leave. Having just lost her only daughter, Mrs. Banfield had commented on the irony of JJ's having just become a mother, while she herself had just ceased being one. It was such a telling sign of the woman's grief and loss, and it had stayed with JJ for a very long time.
"Henry is four now. It's a great age. Too young to get into too much trouble, but old enough to be excited by the world."
"You must miss him tremendously when you're away like this. I don't know how you can do it."
JJ recognized the remark as arising from the woman's grief, but it struck her nonetheless. We never know what life has in store for us. We assume we'll have tomorrow, but we never know. She made a vow to herself to treasure every minute of Henry's life.
"He's with his dad. We manage, between us." No need to mention the state of their marriage.
Alex spoke up. "Mr. and Mrs. Banfield, I'm sure you've heard the news. Another young woman has disappeared, in much the same way as Heather did. And as Jessica Sanchez did, two years before Heather. We're hoping you can help us try to find her by telling the story once again. We realize it's painful, but we also still have hope that we'll be able to bring Ashley Brinks back to her family."
Mr. Banfield spoke up. "It's been four years. It was only two between Jessica and our Heather. What makes you think this is the same person?"
"The circumstances. Just as with Heather and Jessica, Ashley's car was found with her work clothes neatly folded inside her workout bag," Alex explained.
JJ added, "All three of them had put in a full day's work and then failed to show up to an evening appointment. We think the unsub….the person responsible…..may have met them at or near the gym."
"Is it the same gym?" Mr. Banfield voiced the obvious question.
Alex shook her head. "Different each time. But the pattern is the same."
Mrs. Banfield demonstrated the resolve that had engendered JJ's respect four years ago. "It's been so difficult, as I'm sure you can appreciate. We still have our bad days, but we're learning how to live with them. We try not to dwell on it. But if it will help keep another family from having to go through what we did, we'll help. We'll tell the story again."
"They are amazingly steadfast in this, aren't they?" Alex was commenting to JJ as they entered the conference room.
"I don't know how they do it. I think they just have a really strong relationship between them."
"So many relationships fall apart under that kind of stress. I really admire them." Alex poured coffee for both of them.
Reid was standing in front of the map, so deep in thought that he hadn't even noticed the women returning. JJ waited him out until, finally, he turned around, surprised to see her.
"Five minutes already. You must see something there, Spence. What is it?"
He turned around again, marker in hand. "Well, now that we've got a third set of coordinates, it's much easier to see a pattern. See, here is the cluster of points relating to Jessica Sanchez…..her home, her work, the gym she went to, and the location where her car was found. And here….." he arced the marker to a more distant spot….."is where her body was found."
Alex was intrigued. She walked closer to the map, sipping her coffee. "There are already markings on that part of the map."
"Correct. That's the cluster that belongs to Heather Banfield."
JJ had heard this part of the story already, four years ago. "Yes, Jessica's body was found very near the area where Heather lived and worked."
Alex wondered. "Was there a connection in the timeline? Did he dump one and take another right away?"
Reid shook his head. "No. Jessica's body was found two weeks after she disappeared. Heather wasn't taken for another twenty three months after that. But there was a pattern between her disappearance and the finding of her body. It was also two weeks."
Morgan had been on the phone outside, now reentered the room and joined the conversation.
"Both of them had been dead under three days when they were found, so we think he holds them for a while before he kills them."
"Ashley's only been gone two days now, so there's hope that she's still alive." JJ finished what they knew, and turned back to Reid. "Spence, you said you'd noticed something?"
He drew their attention back to the map. "Four years ago, I thought that a next victim might be targeted in the area where Heather Banfield's body was found. It would have given us a triangulation point. But nothing happened. There was only that two year interval between the first and the second killings, but now it's been four years."
"Maybe there was another one that wasn't recognized," Morgan offered.
"No, I don't think so." Reid disagreed. "Because then the next disappearance wouldn't have happened in the area where the last body was found. He would have moved on to a different area by now. But look, Ashley Brinks was taken from the area where Heather Banfield's body was found. It's the right location, but the wrong timeline. No, I think something got in his way. Something delayed him for two years. But I think he's living somewhere in this area." He shaded in the space formed by the triangulation.
Hotch and Rossi returned from their interview of Ashley Brinks' parents and were quickly brought up to speed.
"Anything with the parents?" asked Morgan.
Rossi had heard it all before. "Great kid, hard worker, no trouble. Until she disappeared. Same as all the others."
Hotch added a few details. "She'd belonged to the gym for only two months, but went four times a week. We stopped by there. No one saw anything, no one remembers anything."
"I suppose we've already checked for overlapping gym memberships from all three sites." Alex had learned not to assume anything.
Hotch nodded. "We also had Garcia run a visual recognition program over the photo IDs of the members. Nothing."
"And we ran it on all of the gym employees as well," offered Morgan.
"And the employees from each of their workplaces," added Rossi.
Alex understood their frustration. They had a pattern, they'd narrowed down a search area…but they couldn't find the hook. They couldn't put it all together.
"So, it looks like the gym is the common theme. But it doesn't play out that there's a member or a worker in common. Could this be a team?"
Morgan shook his head. "Same DNA on both victims. Not in the system. Everything else was wiped down."
Rossi pointed out their task. "We need to figure out what might connect these gyms beyond the members and the staff. There's got to be something."
JJ's eyes widened as an idea came to her. "I think I might know!"