There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses.
~George Bernard Shaw
She was buttoning up her pants when she heard her cell phone ring. She'd left it on her bedside table and grabbed it the when it bleeped again. The screen was lit up with the announcement of a message from Penelope Garcia and her finger slid across the screen to open it. Round table in thirty.
She turned to the bed and quickly pulled the covers straight. The sheets had been a mess when she woke up and now that she pulled the dark purple comforter back in place and picked up the cushions she had put on the floor the night before her gaze lingered a little longer on the side of the bed that had been empty when she woke. She picked up the pillow and as she plumped it up she could smell the faint hint of shampoo left behind. A smile graced her lips as she put the pillow back in place.
JJ then turned to the mirror that hung on her bedroom wall, ran her fingers through her blonde hair and opted for a quick ponytail instead of trying to work with her stubborn blonde locks this morning before slipping her cell phone into the pocket of her black slacks. She tucked her shirt in, grabbed her blazer of the bed and picked up the dirty clothes she had left in the corner of the room the night before.
As she went to put them in the hamper she noticed there were already a few items of clothing at the bottom and the smile on her face widened as she dropped her clothes on top. She then walked across the room and unlocked the safe that was hidden inside her closet to take out her gun and badge. She clipped both to her belt and then walked out of the bedroom and into the room across the hall, switching off the bathroom light as she passed by.
"You ready, buddy?" she asked her son.
Henry turned around with a huge smile on his face. He was dressed in his favourite jeans, sneakers and a blue long sleeved shirt with a beach themed picture on it. "Ready, mommy."
"Did you brush your teeth?"
"Washed your hands?"
He nodded and his blue eyes were bright. "Yes."
"Cool," JJ smiled as she scooped her son up and blew raspberry kisses into his hair. Henry giggled and screamed as he squirmed in his mother's arms. His feet hit her in the stomach but she ignored the sharp pain, opting to just put her son down instead. "Remember auntie Jessie promised she would make you pancakes this morning before taking you to nursery?"
"Pancakes!" he cheered.
"Go grab your bag," JJ encouraged him and watched as her son ran back across his room and took the small Thomas & Friends rug sack. He put it on and turned around to his mother with a beaming smile. JJ felt her heart swell with pride at her son's happiness. With his blonde hair and blue eyes he was almost a carbon copy of her. When he ran back towards her and grabbed her hand, she heaved a sigh.
"Ok, big man. Time to go."
She locked the door to her apartment behind her and put the keys in her purse. Henry clung to her hand and waited patiently alongside her for the elevator. They stepped inside once the doors opened and listened to the catchy, albeit somewhat annoying, jingle that played on the speakers. A few seconds later the doors slid back open and JJ and Henry walked out of the apartment building.
She dropped Henry off at Jessie's place. She was a friend she'd gotten to know when she took her baby classes not long after Henry was born and she'd been fantastic in looking after Henry when she started work again. If she was called into work, Jessie could always accommodate Henry. Her son was five days younger than he was and the kids were the best of friends. As far as Henry was concerned, Logan was his brother.
After leaving Jessie's place JJ joined the crappy morning commute to Quantico. She wasn't a fan of this route but it was the best she could do right now. She listened to the newsreader on the radio announcing that the economy was on its way back up before mentioning last night's sports results and she smiled to herself when she heard the Redskins had won. After that the music kicked back in and she drummed along on her wheel to the latest hits.
She drove through her favourite Starbucks drive-thru, ordered a triple latte and smiled at the girl behind the window who handed her the cup. She continued her journey through the traffic and eventually pulled into the parking lot of the FBI building in Quantico. She found a bay closest to the entrance and got out. The sound of a car pulling up a couple of bays down to the right made her turn around.
She watched as Morgan got out of his car and waited for him.
"Morning," he greeted her as he caught up and held the door for her. JJ smiled in thanks.
"Good morning to you too," he answered and didn't miss the glint in her eye. "You're exceptionally bright for a Monday morning."
"You know me," JJ grinned. "Always smiling."
They took the elevator up to the BAU bullpen together and when they stepped out they ran into Rossi and Hotch walking in the direction of their meeting room. They joined them and when they walked in found that Reid, Blake and Garcia were already present. JJ's eyes met Blake's across the room for a moment before slipping into an empty seat next to Morgan and picking up her tablet.
She could feel eyes resting on her and when she looked back up she noticed Blake still looking at her. When the brunette's lips curled up into a smile JJ couldn't help but smile in return. It was but a fleeting moment that was gone long before anyone would ever have noticed.
"Sorry for the early morning call," Garcia said as she opened up her tablet and tapped a couple of the pictures on her screen. They appeared on the larger screen behind her and three different headshots of three different people jumped up. Two were female, the last one was male. All were white but all looked different.
"You're off to Boston, Massachusetts because there is something seriously creepy going on up there," Garcia began and three more pictures appeared. This time of they were of bodies and the pictures had been taken at the crime scene. Each crime scene looked like it was in a forest, with leaves covering the ground and low hanging tree branches in all shots. "Karen Jenkins, Samantha Lewis and David Oldman were all found like this."
"They were all strangled," Rossi noticed and he sat up, intrigued by the crime scene photos. "The bruising around the beck is quite specific. And they're all naked."
"Stripping them off their clothing could point at a sexual motive," Reid suggested. "Or he is humiliating them, exposing them for the whole world to see."
Hotch nodded. "All autopsy reports confirm that the victims were strangled with bare hands. Clear finger-marks could be seen on the necks and in all three cases the hyoid bone was broken."
"Strangling someone with bare hands is intensely personal," JJ mused. "It involves getting really close to someone and literally feeling them take their last breath, watching the life fade in their eyes." She looked up from the tablet in front of her and back at the pictures on the screen. "This was personal."
"Is there any connection between these three victims?" Alex asked.
"Karen was a hairdresser, Samantha an IT consultant and Dave was in his last year as BCU," Hotch answered. "If their personal lives crossed, it didn't happen during their time spent at school or at work. There is no indication these three knew each other."
"So the killer chose them at random," Reid concluded. "But why? At first glance they appear to have nothing in common other than that they're all white. Karen's a blonde, Samantha's a redhead. Serial killers who cross the gender lines are incredibly rare. Most serial killers stick to one gender." He leaned back into his chair. "What would drive someone to kill both men and women?"
Morgan studied the three photos. "Something other than gender ties these people together. There has got to be some kind of connection we're not seeing."
Reid looked at him. "They all lived in different parts of town and their bodies were all found in public parks less than five miles from where they disappeared. There doesn't appear to be anything that connects them to each other and it seems that the unsub doesn't have a particular comfort zone, choosing to go back to where he found his victims instead."
"There is one more thing," Garcia said and the rest of the conversation fell quiet. She briefly looked at Hotch and he gave a quick nod, encouraging her to carry on.
"During the autopsies, the medical examiner discovered the number six burnt into each of the victim's left shoulder," Garcia continued and she pulled up three more photos. Her stomach dropped a little when she saw the burnt flesh and the bright red number on their flesh.
Hotch looked at the profilers sitting around the table. He could see the wheels turning in their heads now that this piece of information was added to what they already knew. "According to the ME they were all burnt antemortem."
"What does the number six mean?" Morgan wondered out loud.
"It could be an obsessive compulsive trait," JJ suggested and looked around the table to see most of the others nodded in recognition. "We've seen numbers used that way before."
"All three bodies were found within less than two weeks which means he's killing regularly," Rossi noticed as she checked the estimated time of deaths for all three victims and the dates the bodies were found. He had started to notice a pattern. "David Oldman was found three days ago."
"Which means it won't be long before he kills another one," Hotch said. "Wheels up in thirty."
They gathered their belongings and left the meeting room. It didn't take them long to grab their go-bags. They all kept them under their desks, always expecting the next trip, and the team of profilers left the bullpen within minutes. They all stepped into the elevator and JJ felt her hand brush against Blake's. She didn't make eye contact and focused instead on the doors slowly closing.
Half an hour later the Bureau's jet was up in the air and had set course for Boston. The team had found themselves a seat and various files lay spread out across the table. Before they left Hotch had printed off the full copy of all three autopsy reports and Reid was now studying the details.
"How long between them going missing and the bodies being found?" Blake asked him.
"Karen was reported missing by her husband on the Monday when she didn't come home from work. Her body was found early Wednesday by a jogger morning but the ME put time of death sometime on the Tuesday," Reid answered.
"So he doesn't keep them for a long time," JJ said. She chewed the inside of her cheek. "He doesn't seem to take these victims for his personal gain. If there was any kind of sexual gratification involved we would have seen signs of that. None of the victims were sexually assaulted."
"So if it's not his own gratification he's after then what is he trying to do?" Rossi interjected.
"He could be trying to send a message," Morgan suggested. "Leaving the victims naked strips them of their identity, it leaves them vulnerable and exposed to the world. Those are all things nobody likes to feel and posing a body in such a way suggests he's trying to tell us something."
"But's he's not leaving any clear signs as to what that message is," Hotch pointed out. "He doesn't take care of the bodies after he's killed them. There's no sign of remorse. He strips them off their clothing and then leaves them naked in a place where he knows somebody will easily find them."
"The bodies had been washed though," Reid piped up and several sets of eyes snapped in his direction. "The ME notes no trace DNA was found on the bodies, No hair, no fibres and in all cases the hair was still wet, suggesting they had been bathed or washed only shortly before he disposed of the bodies."
Alex ran her fingers through her hair and looked back at the crime scene photos in front of her. The victim's empty eyes stared back up at her, their skin pale and in some places beginning to turn blue. The purple bruises around their neck were a sharp contrast against the pale tone of their skin. "Bathing could be an attempt to get rid of evidence or he could be trying to cleanse the bodies."
"What would the reasons for cleansing be?" JJ asked.
"Anything from perceiving the victims as dirty to trying to symbolically wash their sins away," Morgan replied. He looked around the small aircraft. "We need to look at their personal lives and find out why the unsub picked them. At first glance there is nothing that ties these strangers together but there has got to be something that made them stand out."
"There is always something that ties strangers together," Rossi ominously cut in. "If you look deep enough."
"Ok," Hotch said. "When we get to Boston Reid and Morgan go check out the crime scenes, JJ and Blake will talk to the families and Rossi and I will visit the Medical Examiner's office.
David Oldman's body hasn't been released for funeral yet."
JJ glanced at Blake. She had felt the brunette's eyes rest on her but now that she turned to look at her, Blake turned the other way. JJ bit back her sigh and picked up the folder with the photos that lay on the table in front of her. She could feel the plane begin its descend into Boston and it wouldn't be long before they were back on solid ground. As she glanced out of the window she noticed the grey skies. It looked like the weather in Boston was about to be as crap as the weather they left behind.
An hour later they had picked up the three black SUV's loaned to them by the Boston FBI Field Office and the team split into three to follow up their various leads. Morgan and Reid were the first to leave the police station where they had met up with the Lieutenant in charge. JJ and Alex were next whilst Hotch and Rossi were about to take the third car and drive to the medical examiner's office.
When they reached the car and Blake unlocked it, her eyes briefly met JJ's. "Did everything go alright this morning?"
"Yeah," JJ smiled, feeling an unexpected blush creep onto her cheeks. "I don't think he even noticed."
Blake climbed into the vehicle. "Good."
JJ took a deep breath before getting into the passenger seat and buckled up. She put her hands in her lap and watched as Blake put on her own seat belt before switching on the radio. The silence between them lasted for several more seconds before JJ spoke again. The tension was rising. It seemed that in moments like this, neither of them quite knew how to handle themselves.
"Listen, Alex, you could have asked Rossi or Hotch to come with you," she suggested. "You don't have to do this with me if you don't want to."
"I'm fine," Blake insisted as she turned the engine. Her brown eyes found JJ's blue ones and she briefly put her hand on the blonde's knee. "Really."
"Ok," JJ said, biting back a comment that would have destroyed the moment between them. She took her cell phone from her pocket and opened up the maps. A red dot indicated that the satellite had picked up her GPS. "Where do their families live?"
"Karen's fiancé lives up in Beacon Hill, David Oldman's father lives in Charlestown and Samantha's parents live in Jamaica Plain," Alex replied. "Which one do you want to hit first?"
"I don't know," JJ answered, casting a sideways glance at Blake. "You decide."
Blake nodded, pulled back her hand that had been resting on JJ's knee and put the car into he gear. The absence of her touch almost immediately left JJ feeling cold and she averted her eyes as Blake drove off the parking lot and joined the traffic that was heading in the direction of Charlestown.