Transitions

Chapter 53

A mile and a half, in the dark, over rough terrain. The daunting task was made minimally less so by the foresight of Greg Charles, who'd brought along night vision goggles for each member of the team. While they were still far enough away to chance a few words spoken aloud, the rest heard the sarcastic voice of David Rossi.

"Great, now I can see the roots I'm tripping over!"

As anxious as they all were to get to Henry and Will, they knew their success would be inherently linked to their patience. So they moved along slowly, trying to avoid injury, and trying not to startle the animal life. They found little success with using their radios here in the thick woods, but hoped for better when they reached the clearing that held the cabin. Hotch tried to signal JJ every ten minutes by turning and flashing a light in her direction, letting her know they were still moving…. but he had no idea if she could see it at all. By plan, she would wait a full hour before getting into the SUV and driving directly up to the cabin.

For the young blonde profiler, it seemed like the longest hour of her life. She thought, and re-thought, and re-thought again on the plan. Her mind raced from that, to images of her son and soon-to-be ex-husband, suffering at the hands of the vicious unsub. And then it raced again, to memories of the exchange she'd just had with Spence. The acknowledgement of what had been growing between them all this time, the confession of love. And, from there, her mind kept going, inevitably, to the thought of that love remaining unfulfilled. Declared in the midst of this life-or-death crisis, how could it be expected to thrive?

Her prayers were with Henry, and Will, and Spence. She tried fervently to visualize Henry, safe and whole, in her arms. That was as far as she could get. It felt selfish to ask for all of it. To ask to have Spence by her side as well. And yet she craved it.

She forced herself to watch the second hand count down to the hour, and then started up the SUV. Even in the vehicle, the traveling was difficult, as the roads were made of dirt, and poorly maintained.


Time passed much more quickly when you were struggling for every step of forward progress. Twice Emily stepped into an area that was boggy, the second time turning her ankle. She was noticeably limping as the party moved on.

"Lean on me." Reid was at her side. "It helps, trust me. I remember from when I had my bad knee."

His 'bad knee' had been acquired when he threw himself in front of a victim, and took a bullet meant for the man. He'd been on crutches, and then a cane, for months.

Emily gratefully accepted the offer, and allowed Reid to become her human cane. Together they hobbled toward the cabin, lagging a bit behind the others.

They were too close to the clearing to chance being heard by the unsub, so Emily kept her voice at a whisper.

"It'll be okay, Reid. They'll both be okay."

Without explanation, he knew that Emily's 'both' referred to Henry and JJ, not Henry and Will.

"They have to be, Emily. I couldn't…."

She looked at the anguish on his face and wanted to comfort him. "You won't have to."

They reached the periphery of the cabin clearing a little behind the others. Hotch moved over toward them and took stock of Emily's injury.

"Stay here with Alex. Rossi and Greg will be on the far side. Morgan, Reid and I will try the cellar."

He wanted good coverage of the area from the outside, should Arnold somehow leave the cabin. And he needed the muscle of Morgan, and the connection between Reid and Henry, on the inside. They had to be able to trust that Henry would come to them, should he be free to do so. The three of them moved off into the shadows, in search of the cellar door. Rossi, thankfully, established contact with JJ and apprised her of their situation. Moments later, he watched as she pulled the SUV into the clearing.

The cabin was in near darkness. They could see very dim light through one of the curtained windows. No doubt Arnold was keeping it dark so he wouldn't have an adjustment period if he moved between outside and inside. They could only guess that the inhabitants were in the room with the faint light, which did, indeed, appear to be the great room.

The site plans were accurate, allowing Hotch, Morgan and Reid to easily locate the door to the rudimentary root cellar. It was made of wood and, testimony to the false sense of security of living in a rural area, there was no lock on it. Their main concern was whether it would make noise as they opened it. All three stood, poised, waiting for an opportune moment.

JJ's arrival provided it. The sound of the engine and the car door…..which she made a point of slamming….were loud enough to distract the unsub from anything happening at the back of the house. The trio managed to get the door open, and began to feel their way down a few steps dug out of the earth. They chose not to chance using a light source. Instead, they kept their night vision goggles in place. They were less useful in the dark, damp cellar, but they allowed the men to move without having to feel every inch of the way. The space was small, enabling them to traverse it quickly, to reach a three step entry to what they presumed was the kitchen. They dare not enter it yet, but stood poised at the thin wooden door, listening.

From the front porch, JJ yelled, "Karl Arnold, I'm here!" It had been agreed that she should use the unsub's name, to let him know that he'd been identified and, hopefully, to intimidate him. But the responding male voice didn't sound at all intimidated.

"Come in, 'JJ'." The way he said it felt almost pornographic. She followed the instruction and pushed the door open, entering a room that was dimly lit, which allowed her eyes to adjust quickly. She could barely make out a shape in the far shadow. The voice came from that direction.

"Have a seat, 'JJ'." Every time he said her nickname, he infused it with something vile.

"Where is my son?" she demanded.

"You're not being very gracious now, are you? Your host just invited you to sit."

"Where is my son?" Louder this time.

Arnold's mask of civility fell. "If you want to see your son again, you will do as I say. Now, sit!"

She could hear the edge in his voice, and couldn't risk his losing control. She still hadn't been able to tell if he was holding a weapon. Reluctantly, JJ sat in the chair that was obviously meant for her. It had been placed in the center of the illuminated part of the room, out of reach of everything else.

"See that by your right wrist? On the arm of the chair? Attach it around your wrist." It was a plastic tie. Obviously Arnold meant that she should not be able to move freely.

JJ tried not to look as anxious as she felt as she silently pulled the plastic through the slot, and fastened the tie.

Now that her dominant hand was restrained, Karl Arnold moved forward enough that she could see he did, indeed, have a gun in his hand.

"Pull your weapons out of their holsters, and place them on the ground."

JJ kept her eyes glued to Arnold as she took the gun from her belt, and did as he instructed.

"Both of them, Agent. The ankle piece as well."

It had been worth a try. But now JJ used her left hand to remove that weapon as well.

"Kick them away from you."

She did so.

Now, finally, Arnold moved fully into the light. He was surprisingly small, but muscular. Some might call him "wiry". Slight enough to appear non-threatening, strong enough to accomplish his evil deeds. He moved close to JJ, taunting her.

"FBI agents don't look so intimidating up close, you know."

She stared straight ahead, trying to make out what…..or who….else might be in the shadows, hoping for both Will and Henry. If they were there, they were silent, and she tried not to think about what that might mean. But she simply couldn't see.

Arnold moved closer to her, holding his gun on her. He crept to her left side, cautious, lest she should try to attack him despite being partially restrained. But the gun held her in place. Without warning, he raised the gun and struck her in the head, stunning her. While she was immobilized, he managed to use a second plastic tie to secure her left wrist to the chair as well. Now she was fully restrained.

She hadn't quite been knocked out, but JJ still had difficulty focusing her vision after the unexpected blow. Her head pounded, and she felt nauseous.

In the cellar, they could make out that JJ was now unarmed, but didn't realize she was fully restrained. And they were completely unaware of the blow to her head.

Now that he had her where he wanted her, Arnold returned to the shadowed area. JJ could hear a ripping sound, and then another dim light went on. Now she could make out a figure, also bound in a chair, on the far side of the great room. She couldn't focus enough to make out his features, but she knew his voice right away. He'd used it as soon as the tape was pulled from his face.

"Cher, are you all right?" It was Will.

The blow to her head was still having its effect. It took JJ almost a full minute to straighten out her thoughts and speak. When she did, it was about her son.

"Where's Henry? Will, where's Henry?!"

"I don't know. He," Will's head seemed to nod in the direction of the unsub, "took him. I think he took him outside."

"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Such rudeness! Here I am right in the room with you, Detective, and you speak of me as though I wasn't present. Where's your southern gentility?"

Will spat at him. "Shaddup!"

The anger was audible in Arnold's voice as he made his way over to Will. "Do you need a reminder, Detective LaMontagne?" And he punched Will at his right cheekbone. JJ thought she could hear something shatter.

"Will! Are you all right?" As her eyes became adjusted to the dim light, she could see evidence that he'd been beaten, probably more than once. His face was completely swollen and bruised.

It took him a moment more to recover from the latest blow. "All right, Cher. I'm all right."

Now JJ turned her attention to the unsub. "Where is Henry? Where is my son?"

Arnold made a show of looking around the room, puzzled. "Where's Henry? I could swear I put him here somewhere….."

JJ knew she was being mocked, and held her tongue. Arnold continued, snapping his fingers.

"Oh, that's right, I put him somewhere... else. Now, if only I could remember where…." He made a show of stroking his chin in a gesture of thought.

"You bastard, what did you do with my son?!"

She'd been so angry, she'd tried to rise from the chair, falling back into her seat when the restraints held her. She was infuriated when Arnold reacted by laughing at her.

In the cellar, all three men were struggling with self-control as they listened to the exchange happening in the great room. Then they heard Arnold try to go back on script.

"Would you like to trade yourself for him, Agent? Let me kill you, if only I'll let your son go?"

He was very obviously trying to reenact the scene with Reid, Maeve and Diane. But everyone listening knew how that had played out. JJ refused to go along. She wanted to break the pattern of replication here and now.

"No. You wouldn't let him go anyway. You're a sick, deluded man who was raised by a sick, deluded father."

The Son of the Fox stared at her, an indecipherable look on his face. "What would you know about how I was raised? You profilers, you think you know people. You think that, because you know one thing about them, you can predict everything else. Well, you're wrong!"

JJ thought she heard more than anger in Arnold's tone. It seemed to contain hurt, and resentment as well. Hearing it, she realized it was time for her to draw on her old liaison skills. She purposely, and with great effort, tamed her anger. When she spoke to him now, it was with her 'victim/family' voice.

"Tell me, then. What is it that we don't understand? What do we have wrong about you? Help me understand."

She had him. She knew it when he started pacing, looking back up at her now and then. She had him thinking, and soon she'd have him talking. Then, she just needed to get him to turn his back long enough for the interior cellar door to be opened.

When he started speaking, his voice was so soft that it was almost as if he was speaking to himself. But JJ drew him out.

"I can't hear you very well. There's too much noise coming from the generator. Can we move over there?"

He squinted at her, wondering. Was she trying to pull something? Was this a trap? But, in the end, the need to be understood trumped everything else, and he allowed her to rise and drag her chair across the room. She made a point of turning herself around, so he would have his back to the kitchen as long as he was facing her.

"Tell me." She said it softly this time. Not seductively. Just with empathy that…somehow….she managed to summon. Anything for you, Henry.

Karl Arnold Jr. started his story. As he began, his eyes seemed to be staring into some faraway past. JJ took advantage of the distraction to use her eyes to signal Will that something would happen in the kitchen.

"My father….he wasn't always sick. It just….happened. But, before that…we were a family. We loved each other. Or, at least, I thought so. He was a great dad. We used to do so many things together. He was a huge part of my life. And then, things just …changed. There was a distance between my mother and my father. I couldn't understand it. To this day, I don't know if he changed because she became so removed, or if she was reacting to a change in him. All I know is that my family...wasn't really a family any more. And my dad...my best friend...was gone. And I couldn't understand why. She never told me. And now they're both gone. I don't think I'll ever know."

He paused for so long that JJ thought he was waiting for a response. "I'm sorry."

He virtually ignored her, being consumed with the recollection of his family's dissolution.

"I….we…didn't know anything about what he was doing…..my dad. It took us totally by surprise, we were shocked. When you….when the FBI arrested him…we couldn't believe it. What you people said he did…it just wasn't him. He was a psychologist, he helped families."

JJ was in a dilemma. She wanted to give her colleagues their signal at just the right moment, but it was so difficult to know when that moment was. Arnold's pacing was bringing him back and forth across the room at the wrong angle for her colleagues to achieve a surprise arrival. Anything less than that would put them all in greater danger, including Arnold. And she needed Arnold to survive the ambush, because he held the answer about Henry.

Finally she realized that, if she wanted to distract his attention, and his line of sight, she would have to do the talking. She would have to get him focused on her.

"It sounds like you and he were close. That's so important between fathers and sons, isn't it?"

He almost went along with her, until he remembered the situation they were all in.

"Don't try to play me! You're the bitch trying to keep your son away from his father!"

The agitation worried her, and she tried to calm him again. "No, no I didn't. I know how much they love each other. It's why I agreed to joint custody."

She moved her eyes from Karl Arnold to Will as she spoke. Her ex looked abashed. It had been his jealousy, his not trusting the joint custody agreement, that had led him to run off with Henry. Which, ultimately, had led to this.

Will saw an opportunity to further distract their captor, and to offer an apology to JJ at the same time.

"She's right. I was just angry that my son would be living mostly with his mother. But I shouldn't have been. She's a good woman. She's a much better parent than I am. A boy should be with his mother."

Will had been gambling that his final sentence would be enough to set Arnold off. And he'd been right. The young man virtually exploded. And, as he did, three figures silently slipped through the door leading from the cellar to the kitchen.

"That's not true! She can't be a good parent! She's trying to take your son! A son shouldn't be without his father! You idiots! Do you know what happens to sons who grow up without fathers? They turn into me!"

"And me." Morgan stepped out of the shadows.

"And me." Followed by Hotch.

"And me." Reid stepped forward. All three had their guns trained on the unsub.

Arnold was startled, but not cowed. He had nothing to lose at this point. He was standing nearest to JJ, and started to move in her direction, gun cocked, clearly intending to harm her. Only Hotch and Morgan had line-of-sight shots.

"Karl Arnold, Jr., freeze! You're under arrest!" Morgan's voice was commanding. But not commanding enough. The man's finger started to move on the trigger. JJ saw Hotch ready to shoot him, and screamed, "No! He's done something with Henry! Don't shoot him!"

Her plea caused Hotch to hesitate, but the Son of the Fox now had a clear aim at JJ's head.

When the gunshot sounded, Reid found himself on the floor of the loft, staring at Maeve and Diane, watching as their blood pooled together. He felt like he couldn't breathe. Until he heard Hotch's voice calling him.

"Reid….Reid…." The unit chief recognized the signs. The staring, the hyperventilating. His young genius was obviously in the throes of a flashback. He moved over to put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Reid. She's all right. JJ's all right. It was Morgan's shot."

Hotch had to repeat himself several times before Reid became focused again. By then, he could see Morgan cutting JJ's bonds. When she was loose, she ran to where Karl Arnold was lying on the floor of the cabin, a gunshot wound to his left chest. He was bleeding profusely, and breathing with great difficulty.

"Tell me! Tell me where he is. Where's Henry?"

If she'd hoped for some kind of deathbed remorse, she was about to be disappointed. The Son of the Fox brought a weak, perverted grin to his face, and gasped his response.

"Where the sun don't shine."


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