The remote clattered to the floor as Reid raced for Henry's
room, his heart pounding. Even though she was repeating only the three words,
he could hear the despair in JJ's voice. He rushed through the doorway to see
her standing in the middle of the room, frantically pushing at her cell phone.
She was alone.
Reid's reaction was almost identical to hers as he took it in. "Oh, God."
Henry's bed was unmade, the indentation from his little body still visible in the Superman sheets. There were pieces of clothing strewn about the room, but many of his toys, and a large swath of clothes from his closet, were gone. And so was the little boy.
JJ's mantra switched from "Oh, my God", to "'Answer, damn it!" as she hit the 'call' button repeatedly, trying to reach Will. She stopped only when Reid put a hand on her arm.
"JJ, listen..." In the ensuing silence, they both heard it. The sound of something vibrating. Reid followed the sound out to the kitchen, and felt his heart sink when he saw a cell phone on the counter. He picked it up and looked at the caller ID, which read 'JJ'. It was obviously Will's phone.
She'd followed him out to the kitchen and recognized the phone right away. "Why would he leave..."
She stopped herself. There were too many possible answers to that question, none of them good. Calm down, JJ. Think this through.
She began to do so aloud.
"Maybe Henry was sick, and he took him to the hospital. He might have forgotten the phone."
She remembered when Henry'd had that febrile seizure a couple of years ago. But the dread in the pit of her stomach told her that it was an unlikely possibility, given what she'd seen of the state of her son's room.
Reid just looked at her, knowing she didn't really believe what she was saying. His stare forced her to voice what she really thought. In a much quieter tone, she said, "Or maybe he's taken him, and doesn't want to be found."
She closed her eyes as she said it, tears beginning to fall. Reid took her in his arms and held her close. He actually hoped that Henry was with Will. Because he knew there was an even more dire possibility.
Hotch was the first of the team members to be alerted, and he was the first to arrive, ready to do battle with the police about jurisdiction. Most of the time he was conciliatory with local law enforcement, but this situation was entirely different. The police were usually given charge of cases of domestic child custody disputes until such time as the non-custodial parent was thought to have crossed state lines. But, in this case, that joint-custodial parent worked for the DC Metro Police, and Hotch was determined to see that the case was investigated fairly.
And, especially in this case, where there was a presumed preexisting threat to the family from an unknown subject, the expertise of the FBI, and of the BAU in particular, was crucial. Hotch feared there would be an emphasis on the 'presumed' nature of the threat that would give his hierarchy the option to decline an aggressive investigation. And he was further concerned that, even if an investigation was opened, his BAU team would be considered 'too close' to it, and thereby prohibited from taking the case. He arrived to the LaMontagne household in full administrative armor, prepared to fight for the case, and the right to pursue it.
He badged himself past one uniformed officer in the street, and another at the front door. As he entered, he could see that JJ and Reid had been separated, and were being interviewed by two different detectives, JJ in the living room and Reid in the kitchen. He made his way to his former unit liaison's side. She looked up as she saw him approach and tried to stand, but swayed on her feet. He took her arm to steady her.
"Hotch...he's gone. We came home….. and they were both gone." Tear stains on her cheeks, voice gone flat.
He sat her back down, and took the seat next to her as he introduced himself to the detective.
"Why the big turnout?" He'd expected to see only a pair of uniforms for what the police would assume was a simple domestic dispute.
JJ understood what he meant. "Spence found blood. Just a smear, on the bathroom floor."
That changed things completely. Or not. Could one of them simply have sustained a cut? Or was this a sign of violence? Of resistance?
"Only in the one area?" Hotch was asking both JJ and the detective.
"That's all….so far," responded Detective Kiernan. "We've got a team on the way."
Hotch wanted to be able to sort through the investigative issues with the police, and then he very much needed to talk with his own team, the rest of whom were on their way. He turned to address Kiernan.
"Are you nearly done?" The two men shared a meaningful look. The detective understood what Hotch wanted.
"I can be done. I'll get my partner. We can talk outside."
JJ realized she was being excluded from the jurisdiction-related conversation, but was too distraught to care. She watched as the detective went to the kitchen doorway and signaled for his partner to join him. Reid followed the man out of the kitchen and almost ran into Hotch. He'd been looking only at JJ.
Now he turned haunted eyes to his unit chief. "Hotch...the Rep….." He was interrupted by Hotch's upheld palm.
His boss first passed him a nonverbal message, and then spoke. "Let's hope it's just Will. Stay with her, I need to meet with the police outside."
Hotch exited with the two detectives as Reid made his way over to JJ. She looked up at him as he approached, her eyes pleading with him to make this all go away. He sat and took her hand in his, using his other hand to smooth her hair, and then drew her over to lean against him. He was terrified for both mother and son, the two people still in his life who meant the most to him, and to each other. He prayed without real hope for a response. He'd long ago concluded that Spencer Reid's prayers usually went unanswered.
But it's not for me. It's for them. Please bring him back to her. Please let him be okay. Please don't let her lose hope. Please. Please.
In short order, Morgan, Rossi and Blake arrived, each a few minutes apart. They pulled together chairs and huddled around JJ and Reid.
"Penelope wants you to know that it's killing her not to be here, but I dropped her off at the BAU. She can do more good there than here." Morgan's failure to use a sobriquet served to mark the seriousness of the circumstance.
JJ sniffed and nodded her thanks. Reid tightened his grip on her shoulder as Hotch came back into the house with Detective Kiernan.
"The police will investigate this as a possible domestic incident, with consultation from the BAU because of the ….unique circumstances. Detective Kiernan will be our liaison with DC Metro."
The detective addressed JJ. "I promise you we'll do everything we can, Agent Jareau. Even if it's a domestic, even if he's on the job….we'll get you your son back." He looked uncomfortable as he added, "We have a full crime scene unit coming, considering the blood. It would be best if you weren't around for it."
Reid could feel her tense up, and knew she was about to protest. He understood her need to be aware of every possible fact, but he also knew the process of evidence-gathering was not kind to the families of the victims. Especially if there turned out to be evidence of hidden blood, or presumed violence…..he didn't want her there.
"It's okay, JJ. We can leave and come back later. They'll share whatever they learn with the BAU." Turning to Kiernan, he added, "Won't you, Detective?"
The man nodded. "You'll know what we know, when we know it."
Hotch spoke up now. "Detective?" He'd already secured an agreement to have some time alone with his team.
Kiernan nodded at him. "We'll be outside."
Once the house was emptied of all but the team, Hotch pulled them in close. He needed to keep his voice low.
"I may have misrepresented the FBI's stance in this to Detective Kiernan. I've convinced him to have DC Metro call us in, but I still have to convince Strauss to give it to our unit."
Hearing that, Rossi made a silent plan to exert whatever influence he could on Erin Strauss' decision. Their relationship in the past may not have been smooth, but it had been important….and he intended to remind her of that, if it proved necessary.
Hotch was still speaking. "Regardless of her decision, we're on it. We'll have to be on stand down anyway….." He didn't say it aloud, but he may as well have. Since we have two traumatized agents. "….and I have no qualms about using any of the resources available to us."
He turned to JJ now, putting his hand out to touch her knee. Before he spoke, he flashed a look to Reid. The younger agent understood. Hotch was about to say it, to make it real. He pulled JJ closer.
"JJ….you know that this is probably Will. But…." He could see her fill up. She'd known, but had been trying to push the idea far from her mind. Now Hotch was going to force her to face it. "…it may also not be him. We know we're being surveilled, even taunted. You received those flowers only a few days ago…JJ, it's possible that this is the Replicator. He might have them both."
She nodded, unable to speak. She couldn't meet his eyes, didn't want to see what she knew would be there. Pity, sympathy for her loss. The idea made her angry. I haven't lost him yet!
Reid was looking at Hotch's eyes. There was no pity in them. Instead, they reflected a fierce determination. He jostled JJ to get her to look. He wanted her to see what he saw. There was hope, and purpose. We'll get him back.
The team reconvened at the BAU, where Garcia virtually erupted into the round table room to enfold JJ into her tight embrace.
"You're my girl and I love you, and I love that little boy too. Don't you think for a minute that we're not getting him back!"
JJ melted into Garcia's comforting clasp. Reid, watching, was grateful that she could find some measure of relief with her good friend. He smiled his thanks to Garcia as the team took their seats around the table. It took all of his willpower not to roll his chair right next to JJ's. They needed to keep some semblance of normalcy if they were going to be able to function.
Hotch wanted to lay out the case first. "All right, what do we know?"
Rossi started off, purposely keeping things as impersonal as possible. "We've got a child and his father, last known to be together…..when?" He turned to JJ.
She'd gotten control of her voice by keeping it low. "I spoke to them both last night, at Henry's bedtime. I didn't call again today. We were so busy….and I knew we'd be home tonight….." For JJ, there was no way to keep this impersonal. It was about Henry, and Will.
Blake came to her rescue. "Perfectly reasonable. Okay, so did you call on his cell, or was it the landline?"
"His cell. We pretty much always used them, because we always carried them with us."
Morgan analyzed what that told them. "Okay, so if it had been the landline, we'd know that they were definitely at the house when the call took place. With the cell, we can't be sure. But since his cell was at the house tonight, we know that he was at the house sometime between then and now."
Hotch turned to his technical analyst, who'd been working the whole time the team had been at JJ's.
"Garcia, what can you tell us about his cell phone use in the past 24 hours? No, make that 48 hours." Hotch knew they couldn't assume anything. The team had been gone for two days. Anything could have happened during that time.
"Sir, he took JJ's call last night, and then nothing until earlier today. It looks like he called a number that reaches Henry's school about eight in the morning, and then he called a number that reaches his attorney at two in the afternoon. After that, nothing. I'll have to go back and look at the day prior."
It was sounding more like this was all Will's doing. Had he called Henry out from preschool? Had he made an arrangement with his attorney? As likely as it sounded, none of them were willing to make the assumption.
Morgan continued the review of facts. "We know said father was unhappy about the outcome of a divorce and child custody hearing, and was fighting the monetary support."
JJ was briefly surprised to hear that Morgan knew, but took in the embarrassment on Garcia's face and knew how he'd found out.
Blake recounted, "We know that many of the child's clothes and toys are gone. What about the father's things? Did he still have some at the house, or would there have been a bag?"
JJ surprised Reid with her answer. "He'd left some things for when he stayed over with Henry. He probably didn't need to bring a bag."
Reid hadn't realized there was a remnant of Will left in the house. Not having the time to try to analyze why that made him react, he moved the conversation in a different direction.
"We know that JJ received flowers with the message 'Zugzwang'. The same message I got when Maeve was taken."
Morgan continued in the same vein. "And we know that we've got someone surveilling us. Presumably that same someone is replicating killings from cases we've already solved."
Rossi finished. "And we think that the same person has done all three….sent the 'Zugzwang' messages, surveilled us, and done the killings. But we have no proof of any of that. Best not to presume anything."
JJ reentered the conversation, her voice completely toneless. It was the only way she could get it out.
"And we know that there was blood."
Reid gave up trying to pretend this was a typical case. He brought his chair next to JJ and covered her hand with his. He could feel her trembling.
Hotch tried to assure her. "So far, we only know of a smear in the bathroom, which isn't all that unusual in a household with a young boy." He gave her a grim smile, which she tried to return.
He went on. "Thankfully the police are considering the home a crime scene, and not simply the site of a parental interference with custody. We should have substantially more information about who was in the house, and what might have gone on there, in a day or two."
JJ had never realized how agonizingly long 'a day or two' could sound until she heard it referenced in this context. She'd said it so often, to so many family members. Now, to have it said to her…she understood why it offered no comfort. Instead, it meant the loved one was in danger, perhaps in pain, for one or two days more, and it felt intolerable.
Blake wondered, "Will we get NCMEC involved?"
"NCMEC?" echoed Garcia.
"The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children," explained Morgan. "They issue amber alerts, assist families, can even help with investigations."
"Should I put out an amber alert?" Garcia was itching for something concrete to contribute.
"It doesn't qualify. Will had the right to be with Henry, and we have no proof that he's done anything wrong...so far." Even if it had met the criteria, Hotch was reluctant to issue the alert. Somehow it seemed like it might play into the Replicator's game…..should it turn out they were dealing with the Replicator.
"It's been seven hours since we found they were missing," Reid pointed out. "I don't think this is going to turn out to have been just a mistake, or a miscommunication. They're gone."
"And we're gonna find them." Rossi reached over and squeezed JJ's free hand as he pushed back his chair. "Time to get to work."
As the team dispersed to their desks, Reid followed his unit chief back to his office.
"Hotch, I think we need to consider something else."
The senior agent turned around to listen. Clearly Reid hadn't wanted JJ to hear what he had to say.
"The Replicator didn't take Maeve. But he knew that Diane had her. He was obviously watching Maeve as well as me."
Hotch knew enough to wait Reid out. His genius had that look about him.
"The clothes, the toys…..they make it look like Will took Henry, and maybe he did. But that doesn't mean the Replicator isn't involved. Think about it. He sent JJ those flowers, and then this happens. I think he was watching them. I'll bet anything he knows where they are."
Hotch nodded, absorbing the idea. And then grimaced, following the concept to its logical conclusion.
He confirmed it with the young agent.
"Reid, what does your gut tell you?"
What his gut told him terrified Reid.
"I can't be sure, but...JJ and I are the only two of us he's contacted specifically. And we know what happened after he contacted me. I think...God, I hope I'm wrong, but...he's a replicator, Hotch. He might try to replicate it. What happened to Maeve. Only, now he's threatening Henry."
Hotch added, "And making Will disposable, like Bobby." Neither voiced it, but both had the same thought. And planning to force JJ to watch.
The younger man's eyes were filled as he spoke.
"I can't let her go through what I did, Hotch. We have to find them." He choked on his own words. "We can't lose Henry. We'll lose her too. And I can't lose either of them."
It was the first time he'd acknowledged the re-igniting of those feelings for JJ, even to himself, but it didn't surprise his unit chief.
Hotch knew how high the stakes were. If this should come to pass, if the Replicator succeeded in his plan, they would all be lost.