Transitions

Chapter 52

Hotch convened the team emergently. They were joined by Greg Charles and Captain Proulx of NOPD.

Proulx began. "The call came in at 10:06 PM, and the operator notified us right away. It looks like it was from a cell phone, but it must have been a prepaid. The number didn't pan out to anything. And they weren't on the line long enough for us to get a reliable location."

"Garcia?" was all Hotch said to his tech analyst, who was listening in.

"On it, Sir." She would try to use a program of her own design to narrow the information down. "Can I get it electronically?"

Hotch looked toward Proulx, who nodded and got on his own phone to make arrangements.

The unit chief turned back to his team, seated around the table. He looked directly at JJ as he spoke. "We have a recording. Are you ready?"

She sat, willing her trembling body to be still, and nodded. Reid moved close, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

"All right." Hotch signaled Blake, sitting at a computer, to start it. All of them tensed as they listened in.

"911, what's your emergency?"

They could hear the sup-supping of a child who'd been crying. And then a hoarse male voice, whispering, "Go ahead, say it."

More crying….actually, more like the soft moan of a child getting started on a good cry.

"Say it!" It was more audible, but the adult was clearly trying to keep his voice out of the call.

"Ugghh.." They could hear some kind of grunting in the background, followed by Henry screaming, "Daddy!"

More sup-supping. More murmuring, the hoarse voice again whispering, "Say it!"

Then Henry spoke clearly, his words interrupted by the hiccupping of his sobs. "Mommy! It's me, Henry! Mommy!"

They heard the adult voice again, whispering, "Good."

And then Henry seemed to go off-script. He added, "Uncle Spence! Disappear us, Uncle Spe…..!"

It ended abruptly in the middle of the word, the unsub apparently angry about Henry's ad lib. But the call had its desired effect. Hotch looked around the table at his team. JJ was dissolved in tears, her hands covering her face, Reid holding her in an iron grip. Emily's eyes were closed, her face a strange mixture of sorrow and rage. Rossi and Blake shared a glance of empathy. Morgan was angry. Very angry. His fist pounded the table.

"God damn it!" He turned to his unit chief. "I want this guy, Hotch! I want him bad."

Morgan's ferocity served as a rallying cry for the rest of the team. JJ took an audible deep breath in an attempt to calm herself. She was known for her poise under pressure, and she made a distinct effort to find her way back to that persona now. Reid, watching her struggle, and able to feel the battle going on in his arms, oozed his pride at her.

Rossi, the voice of experience, had been waiting for some sign that it was all right to proceed. JJ's visible victory over her panic served as that sign.

"All right, what does this tell us?"

Emily was all business now. "That the unsub has some sort of message for us."

"But, what?" Morgan agreed with his old friend, but needed something more explicit.

Alex spoke up. "The message was aimed directly at the mother." They all understood her depersonalization of the phone call. It would help them to function.

"And we know that the father is still alive." JJ's contribution was unexpected, but welcome. She was finding her way back to her profiler self.

"It sounds like he's threatening the father in some way." Hotch observed.

"And it sounds like he cut Hen…the child….off when he went off script. Which means there's a message that we still haven't heard." For Reid, this was anything but depersonalized.

"Agreed." Hotch turned back to Captain Proulx. "We need any further calls to be forwarded to us immediately. I can have my technical analyst help with the arrangement." Proulx nodded his agreement.

They were sure there would be another call, but they would have to wait for it to come in. As they did, Kevin Lynch gave them an update on the search for the Replicator's identity.

They could hear the admiration in his voice as he reported. "Penelope found him! Or, we think she did. And Dr. Reid. Well, Dr. Reid helped us a lot, actually."

"Kevin." Hotch had the same 'hurry up' in his voice that he often did when Garcia went off on a tangent.

"Yes, sir. Well, Agent….Doctor Reid noticed that there was a recent notation made in a case from..….it looks like about seven years ago. The file was updated to note that the unsub died in prison. Looks like he managed to hang himself somehow."

"The name, Kevin?" Hotch's patience was being tried.

He and Reid answered at the same time. "Karl Arnold." Reid had found the notation, but was only now learning of the connection to their current situation.

This news was met with a sharp intake of breath from Emily Prentiss. The Fox. She remembered her interview of the man who'd killed at least eight families. It was when Arnold told them that George Foyet, 'The Reaper', had been a fan. When he'd shown them the Reaper's letter. When Haley was still alive.

"And?" Hotch also remembered that interview, and all that had ensued, only too well. But he was accustomed to winning his battles for control, and he did so now.

"And it happened just about ten months ago. Just before the Replicator's killings started." Kevin was continuing with the report.

"And…." Garcia's voice was back on the line now…."it seems that Karl Arnold Jr. is studying at George Mason University." Pause. "In Fairfax, Virginia."

Glances were exchanged all around the table. This was where they'd traced the IP address to. "His son, Baby Girl?"

"Yes, my chocolate god, his son. He got his BA in Law, Criminology and Society. It's a popular major there. He's enrolled in master's classes now."

Emily remembered seeing a photograph of the Fox's family. She'd had the impression that the son was younger. But maybe the photo had been old. "What's his age, Garcia?"

"Twenty-two. He was almost fifteen when you guys arrested his father. It looks like..." They could hear her at her keyboard as she spoke. "...he did okay for a year or so after that, but then he got into some trouble, spent some time in juvie. It was...let me see, harder to get into these...there...assault, as best I can tell. Just physical, not sexual...and a second arrest, also for assault, at nineteen, but he got off on that one. He cleaned up his act after that, and managed to get into college. Smart, too. Graduated magna cum laude."

"Studying criminology," mused Rossi. "Great major for law enforcement...and criminals. What do we think?" he wondered. "Like father, like son? It's possible the father's death was the trigger."

Reid turned to his superior. "Hotch, the Fox….he was…" A family annihilator. He couldn't bring himself to say it aloud. But he could tell from the look on JJ's face that she remembered as well.

Hotch brought them back to reality. "If it is his son…if it is Karl Arnold, Jr….so far, he's shown a different inclination. He's not been aiming at families, he's been replicating cases we've solved."

"His own little study in criminology." Blake blushed. She hadn't meant to say it aloud.

Rossi shook his head in disagreement. He saw it differently.

"That's just his methodology. He is a family annihilator, like his father. He's targeting us. As a family. We're the ones he wants to annihilate. He's not necessarily looking to kill us, he just wants to annihilate us as human beings."

Emily was pensive. "You know, the Fox always started with the kids. He killed them first, and then the wife...and he made the father watch, to the end. Think about it. I mean, with us...when it got personal...he started with Reid." Their youngest. And now he was targeting the next in line.

The genius swallowed thickly. It had nearly annihilated him. JJ had even used the word with him. But I'm still here. And I'm still fighting. He didn't annihilate me, and I won't let him do it to JJ…and I especially won't let him do it to Henry!

With Emily's remark, the rest of the team had turned in Reid's direction. Each of their reactions was similar to his. He was still with them, getting healthier every day. The Son of the Fox hadn't accomplished his aim so far. And they were determined to see to it that he didn't accomplish anything further.

Hotch got the discussion going again. "All right, we think we have our unsub. And we think we know his trigger, maybe even his purpose. But we need him. We need a location, and a strategy."

Reid spoke confidently. "He'll call back. Or he'll have Henry call again. He didn't get his message across before. He'll want to make sure we get it. Otherwise, he'll fail in carrying out his plan. I remember we profiled the Fox as an organized killer, confident, a planner, someone who did extensive research on his victims."

Morgan was nodding, remembering the profile. "Didn't the Fox have OCD?"

"He did, you're right." Emily remembered something else. "I think he kept pretty extensive records, didn't he? Some sort of journal about his planning and the killings? Could the OCD be inherited? And the record-keeping?"

"Oooh, you're right, Emily! Did I mention how much I love having you back? Well, I do!" Garcia was gushing. "I'm off to snoop. Now that I have a name, finding a specific computer is oh, so easy. If he's been keeping things electronically, I'll find them. Back in a jif. Poof!"

The rest of the team had very little else to work with at the moment. One thing they were unable to account for so far was how the unsub had gotten to the cabin. Will's vehicle had not been at the site, indicating that perhaps the three had fled the area in it. But there was no additional vehicle at what was a fairly remote location. They simply couldn't explain how the unsub had been able to travel there without leaving some indication of his mode of transportation. Unless he had been on foot. Which meant there might be another location in the bayou where he'd left his vehicle. That would bear investigating.

Reid had another thought. "Guys, now that we think we know who it is, we're thinking he might operate like his father, right? Taking a family..." He flashed a look in JJ's direction, not wanting to cause her more anxiety, but realizing it had to be discussed.

"But, remember, he started out by replicating other cases. And he used the word 'zugzwang' with both JJ and me. I really think we need to consider that he's trying to replicate what happened to Maeve. When we do find him..." making certain to use the word 'when' and not 'if', "...we need to be prepared for him to go in either direction. He may be wanting Will to watch, just as his father would...or he may be wanting JJ to bargain, and to watch." Just like me.

Later, he would be surprised that he'd been able to speak so objectively about it. He was, essentially, describing terror visited upon JJ in either circumstance. But the differences were important, and they needed to be considered if the team was to have any hope of success.

There were nods all around the table, acknowledging the truth of Reid's point. As he looked at them for their responses, Hotch noticed the fatigue in all of the faces as well.

"We've been at this non-stop since we landed, and things are about to break. I want everyone to get some food and as much rest as you can manage. We'll need sharp eyes and sharp minds when the call comes in."

As the group dissembled, Reid started to urge JJ to lay down for a while, but she begged off.

"I want to wash my face. If Henry sees me like this, he'll be scared. Remember?" Her cheeks were coated in the mascara that had run down from her eyes.

She was reminding Reid of when she and her son had sought shelter with him. And she was trying desperately to assume that Henry would see her again.

He tried to smile. "I remember. Go ahead."

As she watched JJ walk away, Emily approached Reid. "How are you holding up?"

He flashed her a look and snorted. "Am I upright? Because I can't tell."

She chuckled. "Well, you haven't lost your sense of irony, have you?" She moved to stand in front of him.

"Seriously, how are you? You're so close with Henry, and with JJ…" She watched him for a reaction as she spoke. "And now it looks like this unsub was particularly targeting you, when Maeve…."

He cut her off. "Maeve didn't die because of the Son of the Fox, Emily. She died because of a deluded woman's jealousy. He just took advantage of it."

She nodded. "You're right. So, what does that tell us about him? So far, he's hurt strangers, killed them, even...but not us….and not the people close to us…."

He picked up on her train of thought. "So maybe he's a little intimidated…...so, do you think he wouldn't actually hurt Henry? Or Will?"

She shook her head in frustration. "Hard to say. He could be annoyed that he didn't totally take you out with Maeve's death..."

She couldn't suppress a smile at that. She was thrilled that he seemed to be on solid footing, despite what had happened. But his resilience might also have angered the unsub. Reid understood and agreed.

"And that might be enough for him to decide to change his MO. He might actually go after us, now. Or after JJ's family."

She couldn't lie to him. "He might."


Forty five minutes later, the call came in. EMS forwarded it immediately, thanks to Garcia's facilitation. The team heard it in real time now, in progress.

"Mommy. I need my mommy." Henry sounded subdued, even flat, no longer crying. The effect on the listeners was more chilling than the previous call had been.

The EMS operator was still on the phone with him. It had been decided to try to keep the call as 'routine' as possible. There was no way to predict how the unsub would react if a member of the team came on the phone.

"Sure, honey. What's your name?"

"Henry. I'm Henry."

"Okay, Henry. What's going on, Henry?"

Silence, and now indeterminate whispering in the background. "I need my mommy."

"Okay, sweetie. Where are you? Where should I tell your mommy to go?"

It was the wrong thing to say. The Son of the Fox picked up on it immediately. The operator hadn't asked for the child's last name, or who the child's mother was, or how to reach her. He'd intended to have this play out longer, but it appeared his fun was over. It was clear that they were already on to him. Henry's voice was replaced with his.

His voice was filled with venom as he spoke. "Little Henry here misses his mother. Especially since his father….well, he's a little ...indisposed. But you'll see about that."

Despite all that Will had done to her, JJ was stunned at the statement, and it showed on her face. Emily, sitting beside her, reached over and put her hand on her good friend's back.

Reid was staring at the table in front of him, listening intently for anything that might give them the information they so desperately needed. He tried to focus on the noises in the background….and found them remarkably similar to those they'd heard earlier today, at the cabin.

The EMS operator was still trying to play along. "Henry? Are you still there? I can call your mommy if you tell me her name. Or, honey, maybe you can just tell me your last name?"

No response.

"How old are you, Henry?"

The unsub dismissed her. "Get off the line. I want to talk to 'JJ'….SSA Jennifer Jareau. Aren't you there, Agent Jareau?" His voice was dripping with…..something despicable.

She sat up straight in her chair. "I'm here."

The muffled "Mommy!" they heard in the background broke the hearts of all those listening.

"Well, "JJ", it seems we have an interesting situation here, doesn't it?"

Reid had moved over to her, and he and Emily each had an arm around her. JJ kept her eyes open, hoping not to visualize what might be happening to Will and Henry. She kept her voice low, in order to control it.

"I don't understand. What do you mean?"

"Don't be coy with me, Agent. I mean that I have your emasculated husband and your young, innocent son here with me. You tried to take the boy from him, didn't you? You tried to keep Henry from his father?"

"What?! No, I didn't. I didn't fight custody. We share….."

The unsub spoke over her. "Don't argue with me! You took this man's son from him. And the weakling let you. Do you know what it's like for a son to grow up without a father? Do you?"

He was screaming into the phone now, clearly agitated. JJ would have done anything to get him to calm down. She was frightened that he would lose any control he had, and aim his anger at Henry.

Arnold, Jr. was still ranting. "Well, I know what it's like for the son. And now I have your son. If you want him back, you'll have to plead your case with me."

"Okay, all right. Anything. Tell me what to do, and I'll do it."

"Will you, Jennifer?"

"Yes, of course. Please, tell me where you are and I'll come and talk with you."

There was silence for a few seconds. All of them hoped it would be prolonged, because every second was a step closer to Garcia being able to locate the source of the call.

"You'll figure it out. After all, you're a profiler. Time for you to earn your paycheck, isn't it? Just make sure you come alone." The call ended abruptly.

Immediately Reid reported what he'd heard, squeezing JJ's shoulder as he spoke. "There were the same animal sounds as we heard at the cabin this afternoon. Do you think he's gone back there?"

Emily was studying JJ, but listening to Reid. "How could he be there? The call was too clear, and we only had spotty connection at best."

Rossi agreed. "Emily's right. But so is Reid. I heard the same sounds. I think he's in the bayou, but not at Will's cabin."

"Where, then?" wondered Alex.

"People, people," Garcia was interrupting them. "I was able to triangulate his signal. He's in the bayou, all right. But it looks like he's east of where Will's cabin was."

"How far east, Garcia?" Hotch was feeling the urgency of locating them.

"About a mile and a half. I called up a satellite map, and there's a large clearing. It looks like a larger building and two smaller outbuildings."

"It's probably where he left his vehicle today. No wonder we couldn't find it." Alex thought she'd found the solution to one conundrum.

"All right," said Hotch, "We head back up there. Garcia, is there a staging area?"

"The nearest would be at the spot where Will's cabin was."

Hotch turned to the others. "We'll take two vehicles, in case we need to separate when we get there. We'll meet at the cabin. No one does anything alone, is that clear? Wait until we're all assembled there. We need to be extremely careful."

As the group filed out to the SUVs, Hotch pulled JJ aside. "Are you all right?"

She just looked at him. "I know my son is alive. For now, that has to be enough."

The unit chief, who'd almost lost his own son to Foyet, nodded his understanding. "When we get there…..you won't have to go in alone. We'll figure something out." They'd lost too much to the Son of the Fox already.

She gave him a grim smile. "I know exactly what I have to do, Hotch. I'm ready."


The ride into the bayou was long….three hours long…..and mostly silent. Morgan and Prentiss rode in front, JJ and Reid holding each other's hands in the back seat. Several times Reid, seeing JJ folding in upon herself, tried to draw her out with small talk. Emily picked up on his intention, and tried to help, but each attempt fizzled. JJ simply didn't have it in her. She only had visions of Henry, at the hands of a violent family annihilator….who was out to annihilate her family.

The final ten miles of the ride were difficult in the near total darkness, and they felt every rise and dip of the unpaved roads. After what seemed to JJ to be an eternity, they arrived at Will's cabin, and got out to meet with the others.

Hotch felt every bit of the weight of his authority this night.

"JJ…."

"Hotch, I'm going in there. It's Henry. "

He wished he didn't agree with her, but she was right. It could only be her. But, as much as she'd learned in the past two years, she was still his least experienced field agent. A backup plan was mandatory.

"Yes, I understand. You have to go in. But I think Rossi and I have come up with something…" He reviewed the plan they'd hatched during the trip. It still wouldn't be an ideal situation, but it was all they had. Carrying it out required them to wait for the arrival of Greg Charles. He'd been detoured along the way, to get them the necessary information and equipment.


Charles wasn't all that far behind them, but it seemed to JJ that it was taking forever. She couldn't keep her body still, nor would her mind rest. She found herself desperately trying to control the uncontrollable by running scenario after scenario, considering every possible permutation of what might unfold. Not fool enough to trust Karl Arnold Jr. at his word, she made her own contingency plan.

She'd been standing apart from the group, who were giving her the space she seemed to need. All except Reid. He stood near her, not speaking, not intruding. Just being. Just staying close by, in case she needed him. And she did.

JJ moved to the far side of one of the SUVs, pulling him by the hand. When they were out of sight of the others, she turned to look at him, her eyes burning with intensity.

"Spence….if I don't come out….if I don't come out with Henry…..you'll get him, won't you? You won't let him be in there alone?"

Her words stunned him. This is what she's been thinking about? Failing? Not coming out? Done. He was done with this. It couldn't happen. He couldn't even bear the thought.

"JJ, I don't want you doing this. Let me go, let anyone else go. If something goes wrong….if….well, you're the one Henry needs. No matter what happens in there, it's you he'll need, afterwards."

She just looked at him steadily, sadness in her eyes. Lost love in her eyes. She was about to speak a truth that both of them already knew.

"It has to be me, Spence. He's made that clear. He'll …." She couldn't say the word 'kill'. But they both knew it. He would kill Henry and Will. If he hadn't already.

Reid couldn't say the word either. But he knew, perhaps better than she did. He'd been here before, just a few months ago.

"JJ, don't you understand? He wants to do it anyway. He just wants you to be there, to watch."

She shook her head, not in disagreement, but to try to rid herself of the image. "I have to try, Spence. You know I do."

He did. When it had been Maeve, and Diane, a part of him had known the outcome even before he'd entered the loft. And yet, he couldn't stop himself. He'd had to go in. If for no other reason than to show himself to Maeve. To show her that he loved her that much, that he would be willing to risk himself. That he would be willing to be witness to her death, if it came to that. That he would make certain that she didn't die alone.

And now, JJ needed to do the same for her son.

Reid couldn't hold it in any longer. Tears brimming his eyes, he reached for her, pulling her close.

"I do understand. I do. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry this is happening. I love you."

She clung to him, her own tears falling now.

"Thank you. Thank you, Spence. You've been…everything I needed. And so much more. And I wish…... I just….I love you, too, Spence." It felt so much like saying goodbye.

Reid broke their embrace and held her away from him, so he could see her. His eyes penetrated JJ's. He wasn't about to let this happen a second time in his life. He'd figured it out, and he was going to tell her.

"I love you."

She gave him a teary smile. "I know. I love you, too."

He shook his head. "No, JJ. That's not what I mean. I love you. As in, I want you in my life. Forever. I love you." Go for it, Reid. Tell her! "I'm in love with you."

For a few brief moments, her mouth moved, but no words came out. She looked surprised, maybe even shocked. He started to mentally kick himself, fearing he'd saddled her with a new worry just as she was about to enter a fight for her life, and that of her son….and his father. But then her face changed.

"You…..you love me? Really?" The words ended in a smile. Those blue irides drew him in, and he fell once again into her eyes.

He chanced a smile back at her. "Really."

"But I thought…..I thought it might be too soon. I didn't think…."

It was sounding to Reid like JJ might have had been thinking about this more than he would have expected. Can it be? Could she…..?

He shook his head now, not able to fully explain.

"I didn't think it could ever happen for me. Not after…but, I don't know, maybe you were right. You said I didn't have to mourn her forever to preserve her memory. That I could incorporate it. Do you remember telling me that I would always hold her in my heart? That, if I fell in love again some day, that loving her would have helped make that next love richer?"

JJ, eyes full, just nodded at him, holding both of his hands in hers.

"Well, I didn't believe you."

They both chanced a chuckle at that.

"But it didn't matter. I grew into it. I understand now. Loving Maeve made me more open to love, period. I loved you before, and I gave you up…"

She cast her eyes away from him, embarrassed. He'd had to give her up because she'd connected with Will…..who was partially responsible for the risk she was about to take.

He released one of his hands to reach out and turn her face back to his.

"No matter. I gave up the dream…..but never the love. It's always been there. I thought it might be changing, turning to something else….but I was wrong. I love you, JJ. I think I always have. I know I always will."

She was crying now. "I was a fool, Spence. I made mistake after mistake with him."

He interrupted her. "Henry wasn't a mistake."

She had to nod. "You're right, he wasn't. He's the light of my life. So, something good did come out of it."

She looked back up at him. "Even if I didn't know what I wanted then, I know now. I want you. I love you, and I want us to have a life together, too. All three of us."

His eyes held her immobile.

"We will. All you have to do is come back to me."

She knew he was trying to instill confidence in her. And the incentive was everything she could ever have wanted. She tried to smile again.

"Just that?"

"Just that."


Their exchange was interrupted when another SUV pulled into the clearing at Will's cabin. Greg Charles had arrived with a set of architectural plans and an infrared sensor.

"You were right." He directed his comment to Emily. "Jeanette was the way to go. She got David to give us the name of the cabin owner. And the guy still had the plans with him. Place is only three years old. Has full power, including wireless. Probably accounts for the good transmission of the phone calls."

He unrolled the plans on the hood of the SUV as they all stood around to study them.

"Most likely he'd be in this one large room with them….a great room, I guess you'd call it. It's the only real living space besides the two bedrooms. The main advantage to us is that this place is built into a hillside…..and there's a root cellar of sorts. More of a meat cellar, really. They keep the carcasses there after they dress them. And there's an outside entrance to it, so they don't have to drag them through the house."

"A root cellar in Louisiana?" Alex knew the water table was usually too high for that kind of thing.

"Only happens in situations like this, with the advantage of the hill. Providence shining down on us," replied Charles.

"So we can get in through the root cellar…and end up….where?" Morgan wanted details.

"You end up in the kitchen, which is open to the great room. So we need Providence to keep shining on us, because it will all depend on which direction he's looking."

"And how much noise the door makes when we open it." Rossi was typically sardonic.

"I don't think he'll be able to hear much, Rossi.. Listen to that symphony of….what?" Emily couldn't name all of the animals, but she was sure Greg Charles could.

"You name it, we have it here, from the grasshopper to the gator, to the black bear. And birds….you'd think they'd be quiet at night, but not in the bayou. I think Agent Prentiss is right, any sounds you make will be largely masked by the animals."

"And I can make a point of talking over it," offered JJ. "I'll listen for you."

Within a few minutes, they had the remainder of their plan mapped out. The rest would traipse through the woods, while JJ would wait for them to be situated, and then drive up to the cabin in one of the SUVs.

She watched as Reid got ready to leave with the others. There was no more time for them to be alone. No more chance for reassurance, no more time for discovering what they really were to one another. Not that he could have said it to her anyway. It didn't matter, the size of his vocabulary. He had no words for this. And even if he could find them, he wouldn't have been able to get his mouth to work. His eyes would have to convey the message. And they did, as the team was setting off. Reid turned back to her and looked his message.

I love you. I can't do this….any of this….without you. I'm afraid. Please, please, come back to me.

JJ knew she couldn't afford to go into this with anything less than full confidence in her task. She would come out again, with her son. They would have their time together, to explore what the three of them might become. She looked that message back at Reid. And more.

Thank you for loving me. For holding me up when I needed it. Now I'm going in, strong, because of you.


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