New York: 2010
It’s late, and it’s raining, and her umbrella is back at the office, tucked between the filing cabinet and the wall. She’s already halfway to the subway station, there’s no real point in going back for the damn thing.
And isn’t that just typical of her luck recently?
It’s been a terrible week, with clients cancelling orders, and others demanding last minute changes they’d only just been able to accommodate. She knows she shouldn’t see it as a bad thing, business is still doing well, despite the current economic situation as Doug is always pointing out in his ‘always look on the bright side’ way. It’s just that she knows how much had already been spent on those cancelled orders, and how much extra the changes will cost.
She sighs, pulling her jacket a little tighter around herself before hurrying out onto the street, hurrying as best she can in kitten heels and a pencil skirt. It’s not raining quite as hard as it was before, but it’s enough that she knows she’ll be soaked through before she’s made it even halfway to the subway.
There’s a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye as she passes an alley, then there’s something around her neck. She wants, desperately, to breathe but she can’t, all she can feel is the pressure on her neck, even as she kicks out and tries to rip the thing choking her away. She doesn’t even notice as her bag drops from her shoulder.
Sunlight flittered through the curtains, offering meagre illumination for Ashley Seaver to use as she navigated the bomb site that was her apartment. Her blonde hair was a mess of knots, dangling around her shoulders and obscuring parts of the lettering on the oversized t-shirt she wore to bed. It was only through sheer luck that she managed to reach the kitchen without kicking or tripping over something.
Grabbing the open carton of orange juice from the fridge, Ashley gave it a cursory sniff before taking a long drink. It had been a long week, filled with neighbour canvasing and trawling through stacks of paperwork, made more interesting by the occasional staring match between her partner and the cops they were working with. She was looking forward to her one day off, or at least the day she had off provided nothing new came up.
Her boss had decided that, after nearly two weeks without rest, her people needed a day off. They hadn’t made any progress on their case, none of the leads turning into anything solid, and, cold as it might sound, the victims weren’t going to be any less dead. If they were going to get anywhere, they needed to have clear heads, and that meant not working themselves until they dropped from exhaustion and too much cop shop coffee.
Ashley sighed, lowering the carton and eying her apartment critically. She really didn’t want to be thinking about the case on her day off. Considering the logistics of getting her apartment into a state considered habitable was somehow much more appealing.
Ashley would be the first to admit that she wasn’t exactly the neatest of people, she left caps off bottles, and the toothpaste, she didn’t always wash up her plates and she tended to leave her muddy shoes wherever they landed. It was part of her charm, or so her mother was always telling her.
The only problem was, very few of the people she had dated shared her mother’s feelings on the matter, though it had been even more of an issue during her years at college. She was lucky, this time, that her current housemate and significant other had been too busy to notice the growing mess. Mellie had a lot of patience when it came to the mess Ashley tended to leave behind, and didn’t yell at her for leaving notes in pen in the margins of books, but she did have her limits.
Ashley moved to stand in the middle of the mess, hands her hips and sighed. It was going to take her most of the day just to get the level of mess somewhere close to acceptable.
Barnaby, her two year old mutt, whined at her from his position on the couch, offering a feeble tail wag of encouragement. His food bowl was somewhere under the mess; she’d had to use one of the throwaway plates to feed him the night before, which had been about the point that she’d actually noticed what could politely be called a disaster.
So much for being a responsible pet owner and girlfriend.
She shook her head, laughing at herself, only she would get depressed over having to tidy up. All she needed to do was approach it like it was a case, organise each of the steps she needed to take to get the apartment back into a state the rest of the world would consider liveable. The first two items on that list being ‘wash all the dirty plates’ and ‘get a load ready to take down to the laundry room’.
She was an FBI agent, she’d been trained to do more complex and life threatening things that tidying. She was not going to be defeated by her own dirty clothes.
Or the strange thing growing on Monday’s takeaway.
Ashley paused, looking down at herself and laughing softly. Getting dressed probably ranked higher on the list than anything else, especially if she intended on actually taking stuff down to the laundry room. Wandering around in nothing but one of her old college t-shirts wasn’t likely to be well received, and she’d never been able to wander around in anything less than jeans and a t-shirt.
It was almost half past two in the afternoon when her phone buzzed it’s warning before the familiar ring tone started up, summoning her out of the kitchen, drying her hands hurriedly on a towel before picking up the phone.
“Seaver.” Ashley stared numbly out the window at the rain as she listened to the message, their killer had struck again. Ashley swallowed hard, forcing herself to thank the agent and confirm that she understood the message before hanging up.
Barnaby dragged himself out of his bed, tail wagging, and pressed his bulk against her legs, whining softly as he stared up at her with his big dark eyes. It took Ashley a moment before she could force herself to move, blinking and bending down to pull Barnaby into her arms, burying her face in his fur for a moment. She let him go, ruffling his ears and wiping at her cheeks before heading into the bedroom to get changed.
She changed into a still warm from the dryer pair of suit trousers and a dark sweater before fetching her gun and credentials from the locked drawer of the desk in the corner. She didn’t once let herself think about the last crime scene, the way that victim had looked. She wasn’t going to think about it, or let herself wonder if, had she stayed at work just a little longer the night before, had she seen something in what they had, this victim could have been saved.
The past was beyond her control, all she could do was keep moving forward, no matter what.
She cast one last look around the room, making sure nothing was out of place before she stepped back out into the main room, tugging the bedroom door shut behind her. She tugged on her flat black dress shoes and then, with a glance out the window, she grabbed her umbrella from the sofa.
“I’ll be back when I can,” Ashley told Barnaby solemnly, picking up her keys and opening the apartment door, a feeling of dread gathering in the pit of her stomach, “whenever that is.”
It had been raining almost every day for a week, and it showed. Ashley tightened her grip on her umbrella as she made her way from the subway station to the crime scene. She didn’t own a car, living in New York and as close to the field office as she did, she’d decided that she didn’t need her own. The FBI had a seemingly endless supply of cars for them to use, on the rare occasions they actually needed them.
She fished her badge out of her pocket as she approached the cordon, collapsing her umbrella and tucking it under her arm then showed her badge to the police officers on guard before ducking under the tape. She offered them a weak, and somewhat apologetic, smile before turning away and following the sound of her boss’s voice around the corner and into an alleyway.
Daraca MacTaggart, Ashley’s boss, stood a little way into the alleyway, speaking to the medical examiner. MacTaggart looked her typical professional self, dressed in a trouser suit and dark overcoat, long red hair loose around her shoulders.
Ashley’s partner, one of the New York field office’s more senior agents, Philip Donavon was standing a few feet further into the alley than MacTaggart, talking to two of the detectives who had been working the case since before the FBI had been called in. The first two bodies had been found in the same district, and hadn’t drawn much attention. The third body, on the other hand, had drawn a whole lot of attention and had been found on the Upper East Side.
Ashley had been in the field office, hidden behind her desk and Donavon’s bulk, when the victim’s parents had stormed in. She heard them tell MacTaggart that the killer should have been caught before their daughter had been killed.
That the killer should have been caught before he’d moved onto ‘better prey’.
She flinched at those words. She’d read the newspaper mentions of the other murders, she knew they hadn’t been poor, or homeless, that neither of them had been working the street. They’d been normal, average New Yorkers, no more deserving of what had happened to them than any murder victim ever was.
MacTaggart had been informed, a few hours after she’d finally managed to convince the family to go home, by various city officials that she was being placed in charge of a task force. Ashley had wondered how many more victims it would have taken for that to happen, had the third victim not been from money.
Ashley kept her focus on Donavon as she walked towards him, not wanting to risk a glance at the body until she was stationary. She still hadn’t quite gotten used to the sight of dead bodies, though she had coped fairly well with her first two violent crimes cases.
She knew she needed to get used to it, had been told by Donavon that she would, that it was just a matter of getting used to it the more often you were exposed to it. She still wasn’t sure if he’d been joking or not when he’d suggested she spend a day watching autopsies.
She hoped he had been.
Donavon, who was more Latino than his name suggested, and tended to curse in Spanish whenever he was frustrated, was more patient with her than any of the police detectives were and she was grateful for it. She hadn’t expected to be plucked from white collar crimes in Denver and assigned to violent crimes in New York.
He glanced sideways as she came to stop beside him, offering the two detectives a smile but not interrupting their conversation. She glanced back towards MacTaggart, watching the other woman’s expression as she listened to the ME’s report.
MacTaggart, or Daire as she preferred to be called, was someone whose opinion Ashley very much respected. In her brisk way, she’d made Ashley as welcome as possible in the six months she’d been working under her, though she had made it clear that she expected a high standard of work from her new junior agent.
In all honesty Ashley much preferred MacTaggart’s hard management style to the overly friendly approach that her boss in the Denver field office had taken, despite the effect it had on the rather epic candle that Ashley found herself holding for her new boss.
There were days when Ashley honestly found herself wishing that she could grow up to be just like Daraca MacTaggart. Right up until the moment that her brain asked whether the world would actually survive having two Daracas. The answer was most invariably no.
Daire had a tendency to make as many enemies as she did friends, and she didn’t have a particularly warm personality. Ashley had heard it said that having an ice queen as the New York Special Agent in Charge was almost a tradition.
Ashley swallowed hard, forcing herself to focus on the crime scene, instead of her list of ‘reasons why Ashley is hot for Daire’ that had a tendency to run through her head when her boss was around.
Looking sideways Ashley forced her expression to stay neutral as she took in the body. It was a woman, or at least Ashley was fairly sure it was a woman, judging from the long dark hair that was splayed out around the head, and the suggestion of breasts amongst the wreckage of the torso.
Ashley took a long deep breath through her mouth, shifting a little to take her umbrella in her hands. She needed the feel of the weight in her hands to distract herself from the fact that she really would rather either be throwing up, or not looking at the body. Or possibly both at the same time.
Ashley hadn’t seen the other three victims’ bodies in anything other than pictures, and they had given her the distance she’d needed to be able to examine them. She could look at a photo and not want to throw up. From what she’d seen, each body was worse than the one before, the violence that bit more pronounced, the body that much more damaged.
She didn’t understand how people could do things like this, and it’s a question she’d been pondering almost her whole life.
She doesn’t know how they can stop seeing the person, the owner of the body that they leave behind, how a person can have such a low opinion of another to be able to kill them in such horrific ways.
She wished that she could call killers monsters as easily as everyone else seemed to, but she couldn’t. She could still remember how loved her father had made her feel, how much she’d craved his attention. He hadn’t been like other people’s dads, but he’d been her dad so it hadn’t mattered.
Her father had never been a monster to her.
Ashley let out the breathe that she hadn’t even realised she was holding, loosening her grip on her umbrella and turning away from the body, just as the ME moved back towards the body and away from a grim looking Daire. Donavon touched Ashley’s elbow, his dark eyes meeting hers as he silently asked if she was ok.
Ashley swallowed hard then nodded, somehow managing to smile at him. He watched her carefully for a long moment before he nodded, turning his attention to Daire as she approached, hands tucked into her pockets.
The two detectives, Connor and Markham, stiffened a little. It was unusual for the SAC to be at a crime scene, and the police weren’t happy with having to share the investigation with the FBI as it was. Daire had been trying her best not to step on toes, but Ashley had a feeling that her hand was being forced.
“Detectives,” Daire nodded to them, “do you think this was the same guy?” She motioned towards the body, with a detachment that Ashley admired. It wasn’t a question that really needed to be asked, but Ashley guessed that Daire was just making absolutely certain. None of them had seen the original three crime scenes outside of the files.
“It’s the same guy.” Markham, the older of the two, answered.
“Four victims in five months,” Daire commented, “but there’s no increase in pace between kills, even though the violence has increased.”
“And no pattern to the dump sites, yet.” Donavon added, shifting his weight a little. He was probably jones-ing for a cigarette.
Ashley glanced back at the body, hesitating before asking the question that she wanted to know, “Do we know who she is?”
Connors snorted, “You still collecting names kid?”
Ashley glared at him but didn’t take the bait. Connors hated paperwork almost as much as she hated the smell of his cologne. She honestly didn’t know how he’d managed to survive in the police force for so long.
“Not yet.” Daire answered, ignoring the glare that Ashley was aiming at Connors, and the finger that he showed in reply. “Considering her shoes, we should get a name pretty soon,” she added after a moment, turning to watch as the ME started the process of moving the body. The crime scene techs had gotten as much as they could from it, which given the weather, Ashley had a feeling was very little.
They all stood in silence for moment before Markham spoke up, “We might have a lead.”
Daire’s eyebrows lifted, ever so slightly, “A suspect?”
Markham nodded, “The last victim, Keri Holden, she used for a while,” Ashley could hear ‘as all rich kids do’ in his tone; Markham liked stereotyping people he didn’t like, “and the second victim was caught on camera, talking to the dealer that Keri used.”
“What about the first victim?” Daire asked.
Markham shook his head, “We were lucky to get that much this fast. You know how many cameras there are covering this city? You add in the time frame and you’ve got a hell of a lot of camera footage to go through, even with facial recognition.”
Daire sighed, then nodded, “Once we’ve got a name, we’ll look and see if we can find any connection with our latest victim.”
They all stand, watching the body bag being lifted onto the gurney then wheeled off, before Daire spoke again. “There’s nothing else we can do here.”
Eight hours later, Ashley read though the autopsy report, as she sat across from Connors in the conference room that they’ve taken over. It reads a lot like the others.
Their latest victim, Madison Keller, was strangled, and her throat was slit. There were no signs of sexual assault, but the cut to her throat has been shallow enough that it had taken her a long time to bleed out. The killer had spent that time inflicting the majority rest of her wounds, though she had been dead before they’d finished mutilating her body. The weapons used looked to be the same ones as had been used on the other victims, based on the initial analysis of the wounds.
And that was all they knew.
Ashley sighed, dropping the report and looking up, staring at the section of their incident board that showed the first victim. Anna Wright had been found two days after being killed, by which time it had rained and the dumpster her body had lain behind had leaked, corrupting what evidence had been found.
The killer had cut themselves at some point, as they’d been attacking Anna, leaving stray blood splatter on the sleeve of Anna’s coat. At least that was what the crime scene techs had said in their report, explaining why the blood couldn’t have been Anna’s, but they hadn’t been able to recover a testable sample.
It was the one mistake that the killer had made, and they couldn’t even use it to find the son of a bitch.
Ashley shook her head, pushing the autopsy report to one side and picking up her new stack of folders, the preliminary results of the background check she’d run on Madison. Donavon was busy interviewing her family, finding out what he could about her, while Markham chased up his lead.
Across the room, two other agents were trawling through the finer details of the other victims’ lives. There really was no end to the invasion of privacy that was murder.
Ashley scanned the first page, Madison hadn’t lived close to any of the other victims, and she’d worked across town from them. It was possible she could have crossed paths with Keri Holden, if the Holden’s had ever done any business with Madison’s firm. Ashley noted it down as something to check when she had the copies of Madison’s financials she’d requested.
She’d just moved onto Madison’s education history, feeling a little like she was reading a CV rather than background check, when Markham stormed into the room, Daire and Donavon a few steps behind.
Markham pinned three photos to the incident board, then stepped back with a dramatic flourish.
The grainy prints, which Ashley guessed had come from CCTV footage, each showed one of the victims close to the same man. Keri was clearly talking to him, doing a deal for whatever her vice had been, Madison seemed to be trying to convince him to back off, while Debra was deliberately avoiding him.
“We’ve got him.”
It had taken an hour for Daire to agree to send a tactical team with them to collect their suspect, with the specific warning that he should be brought in alive for questioning. They still hadn’t connected him to Anna, so he was still just a person of interest.
Ashley wasn’t so sure that Markham agreed with that. He’d been on this case for five months, with both Anna and Debra’s families pushing him for answers. If she was frustrated after just a few weeks, she couldn’t imagine what it was like for him and Connors.
She drew her gun, following Donavon’s example, as they approached the building their suspect was known to use as a base, staying back behind the bulk of the SWAT guys and the two detectives. The weight of her flak jacket was still a little alien to her, especially with it hidden under her jacket. She was hot, despite the heavy rain, and she was worried.
Once they were inside it all seemed to happen so fast. Their suspect’s friends fled in all directions, the SWAT guys parting to let them past. They weren’t interested in any of them, this time. The suspect was cornered, and it seemed like he was surrendering, letting Connors pull him forward.
Then she caught sight of the gun he had in the waist of his jeans, sitting at the small of his back. He stumbled deliberately, pulling his gun and taking a step back, his back to Ashley and Donavon, aiming for Connors’ head.
Quantico, Virginia: 1996
The target sheet jerks just a little with each shot, like it’s caught a breeze. It’s most noticeable when he empties a clip quickly, barely pausing between each trigger press. On those occasions, it’s rare for him to manage to hit the exact same place, but when he takes it slowly, taking a breath between each shot, waiting for the target sheet to settle, he can normally hit the same place, over and over.
The ear protectors muffle the sound of each gunshot, and he knows he’s more used to that weird distorted noise than he is to the actual sound of a gunshot. It’s not that he hasn’t used his gun outside of the firing range; it’s more that these days at least, he’s spending more time on the firing range than he is in the field.
Aaron Hotchner sighed, clearing his gun. That had been his last clip, which meant he couldn’t really delay the inevitable much longer. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy his new job, it’s more that it’s taking him a while to get used to having to share a desk with two other agents.
Two other agents who don’t like him all that much and have a pool on how long his marriage is going to last. A pool that had started out as ‘does the hotshot actually have a wife, or is that just the name for his stick’ pool, up until Haley had come in to visit.
The problem was Haley had only visited him because she had been concerned that he wasn’t eating enough. Having a packed lunch brought to you when you worked in an office full of profilers, really wasn’t a comfortable experience.
Aaron handed his goggles and ear protectors over to the agent on duty and signed himself out. He hesitated at the door for a moment, taking a deep breath, centring himself before pushing the door open. He still had the five minute walk to the building the Behavioural Analysis Unit was based, but he’d learned early on that it was easier just to stay in ‘prosecutor mode’, as Haley called it, while he was at work.
He missed SWAT, where he’d just been one of the guys. Yeah, they’d all known that he’d been a prosecutor, and the first few weeks had been hell, but once he’d proved himself in the field, they’d pretty much accepted him. The problem was, while he knew this was just the same, that once he’d proved that he wasn’t just some ex-prosecutor with a political agenda, proved that the BAU was more than just a stepping stone for him, he wasn’t really getting the chance to prove himself.
Only the senior profilers went out in the field, and when they did it was almost always alone. They didn’t take any of the new guys with them, and there were times when getting them to teach him anything was a lot like pulling teeth.
For over six months now all he’d been doing was reviewing cases, making notes, reading textbooks and sitting through scathing reviews of his profiles. He knew that he wasn’t getting it right all the time, he was more aware now than ever before just how much he’d been relying on seeing the guys he was profiling.
Hostage negotiation he could do. He was used to having a file read to him over the radio, or reading it himself on the way to the scene, then using that information to get what he wanted. He knew how to read body language, how to tell when what he was saying was the wrong thing, or that someone wasn’t willing to listen to reason.
Crime scenes, he couldn’t read. He hadn’t figured out if it was because the photos were just that bad, or if he was just looking too hard for answers. The police reports were more helpful, some of the time, but he still felt like he was missing something. It was all just words on paper, subjective perspectives on something that he was meant to be looking at objectively.
Aaron sighed again, rubbing a hand over his eyes and slowing as he approached the main door. He stopped, taking a moment to enjoy the feel of the sunshine, and the light breeze, before heading in. There was a possibility that spending hours stuck in a bunker was getting to him, throwing him off his game, but that sounded too much like an excuse.
Aaron walked into the main area of the bunker that was the BAU command centre just in time to watch an irate looking Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi stalk towards Max Ryan’s office. Aaron winced a little as the door to Ryan’s office slammed shut. Rossi tended to get more dramatic the worse a case was, and recently it seemed like they just kept getting worse.
Aaron made his way to his shared desk, aware of the attention that his entrance had gained. Even if he hadn’t walked in at the exact moment that Rossi had decided to make a scene, he still would have drawn attention. It wasn’t just the state of his marriage that the office liked to discuss.
There were always bets, or so he had been assured by the researchers, on the prospective shelf-life of new profilers. He’d just drawn that little bit more attention because of his history. They all seemed to know about his short, but relatively successful career as a prosecutor, but none of them knew what he’d done since. The general consensus seemed to be that he wouldn’t last long.
Aaron eyed the desk, and the pile of files that seemed to have gotten bigger since he’d left for his lunch break. He knew where those files had come from; he might not be a decent profiler yet but it didn’t exactly need a profiler to notice that the other piles had gotten a lot smaller. It was going to be a long day.
Settling into his chair, the only thing that he wasn’t meant to have to share, he picked up the file that he’d been working on. It wasn’t a whole file so much as a collection of incident reports that might be connected. It was his job to figure out if they were, and why, or so Ryan’s notes informed him.
Aaron frowned, flicking through the files idly, before glancing up at Ryan’s office. He knew there was no use in going to Max Ryan for advice on anything. Ryan isn’t a terrible teacher, but he doesn’t have much patience outside of the classroom.
One of the founders of the BAU, Ryan has only ever taken one person under his wing; Jason Gideon. Aaron knows Gideon’s history, it’s hard not to, and he knows it’s a whole lot more impressive then his own. Aaron doesn’t have Gideon’s academic credentials, once he finished law school that had been it, until now. He’d spent the first month in the BAU reading the textbooks with a dictionary on the table beside him.
Gideon himself is starting to teach, but he seems to favour teaching young recruits, and it’s rare for him to spend enough time in the office for Aaron to ask him for any advice. He’d tried once, and been given a suitably vague answer in response. One that he was sure would have made sense to the more senior profilers, but which had only confused him more.
David Rossi is a whole other problem. Of all the senior agents, he’s the one that Aaron worries about, though he knows it isn’t his place. On the few occasions they’ve spoken, there’s been a wariness in Rossi’s eyes. It isn’t that Rossi hasn’t helped; it’s more that, by his own admission, Rossi’s a better teacher in the field than in the classroom. Aaron’s still wondering why no one has started a pool on how much longer Rossi will last before he retires. Ryan already has one foot out the door as it is, and he looks less haunted than Rossi does on a good day.
Katie Cole, the last of the most experienced senior agents, isn’t the teaching type. She’s happy enough to talk to him, and give him a nudge in the right direction, but she doesn’t have the patience, inclination, or time to take any of the junior profilers under her wing. She’s given Aaron the warmest welcome though, always insisting that he call her Katie instead of Ma’am or Cole, and hauling him off for the occasional break to talk about something that isn’t profiling.
They have a similar background, and she’d happily told him about some of her more interesting cases, though she’d never told him what had made her decide to become an FBI agent. He can guess though, from the look she gets sometimes, when she’s working a certain type of case, but he never presses.
He knows better than anyone that sometimes it’s better not to push.
He sighs again before refocusing on the file, ignoring the irritated look that Jenson throws him across the desk, and the muttered comment about lawyers from Massley on his right. Ryan’s note, which uses excessively simple language, tells him that as he needs to work on the accuracy of his profiles of arsonists, he had been assigned this case specifically.
There were days when Aaron honestly wondered if Ryan were really as good a profiler as people said, or if he just really didn’t like Aaron, and didn’t care if people knew.
If Aaron had really been looking for a way to take a step up the ladder as badly as everyone seemed to think, he wouldn’t have joined the BAU. He’d had enough offers since he’d joined the FBI, he could have taken a position on a White Collar unit, his family would have been happier if he had.
Aaron shifted his weight, managing not to flinch as the toe of a dress shoe hit him solidly in the shin, before picking up his pen and starting to write notes, going through the incident reports in order. Once that was done, it was a matter of searching through the textbooks and the case files on known offenders and comparing factors.
Aaron looked up as whirlwind Rossi reappeared from Ryan’s office, stilling as the other man pointed at him then one of the briefing rooms, his expression grim. Aaron nodded his understanding, not really knowing what else to do, then watched as Rossi vanished into his office. It took a moment before he managed to get himself moving, rearranging his files before standing and making his way to the briefing room.
He wasn’t sure what to expect; as far as he knows he hasn’t done anything to upset Rossi, and if he had he knows he wouldn’t be meeting with him in a briefing room. Unless he’d done something bad enough that Rossi felt the need to make the reprimand public.
Aaron walked into the briefing room to find Katie already settled at the table, her reading glasses perched on her nose as she read through the thick file on the table in front of her. She glanced up for a moment to offer him a faint smile before returning her attention to the file.
Katie seemed to have the only copy of the file, but there are four notepads spaced out around the table, with a collection of pens piled in the centre. Aaron made his way to the closest chair, sitting down and picking a pen from the pile, trying his best not to look nervous.
Generally the profilers work alone, but he’s heard, via various sources, that the higher ups want that to change, and soon. The problem is, it’s not an idea that’s been finding much support within the BAU, and Aaron knows as long as Ryan one of the people in charge, that attitude isn’t likely to change.
Ryan and Rossi, with their maverick ways, might get the job done, but they’ve caused problems, and everyone knows it. The thing is, Aaron knows that isn’t the reason for the suggested changes; he can still remember the newspaper headline that had appeared a few months before he’d joined the BAU, it’s not unusual for the unsubs to become obsessed with their profilers.
And you really didn’t want to be the person who has drawn the attention of a killer, who wants nothing better than to prove to you just how wrong your profile is.
Aaron looked up, pulling himself out of his rather dark thoughts, as Nancy King, one of the quieter researchers and Rossi’s preferred aid, slipped into the room, looking a little paler than usual. She’d told Aaron, during one of their early morning break room conversations, that she’d considered profiling, for a while, up until she’d seen her first dead body. That had been the point that she’d decided to stick to the safety of the office.
He’d found the case file, wondering how bad a scene it had been, and having seen the rather grisly crime scene photos, which had only given a vague impression of what it would have been like to actually see the body, Aaron couldn’t really blame Nancy for her decision.
She settled into the seat beside him, smiling her thanks as he handed her a pen, before she started to twirl her blonde hair between her fingers idly.
Next into the room were Ben Wilkes, another researcher and Hamilton Daye, another of the junior profilers.
Aaron tensed. He knew Hamilton all too well, they’d been at law school together and they hadn’t gotten along. Hamilton had never spent the same amount of time studying as the rest of them, preferring to spend his father’s money on other pursuits. Aaron had never understood the way a man could keep betting, while continuing to lose.
Where Aaron had made a successful law career for himself, Hamilton hadn’t had much success until he’d joined the FBI, taking a position on a violent crimes task force. According to the researchers and the other junior agents, Hamilton had excelled, earning himself a place within the BAU following a record number of closed cases. Aaron hadn’t managed to figure out how true the stories were, and he didn’t care enough to make any effort to look into them.
He could understand hero worship, and he wasn’t about to purposefully ruin it for any of them, no matter what his personal opinion of Hamilton was.
They were waiting for a few minutes before Rossi strolled in, looking calmer than he had when Aaron had last seen him, a collection of files tucked under his arm.
“You’re all here, good, we can get started,” Rossi settled himself into the seat next to Katie, dropping the files onto the table, “with the details of this case, it seems the best time to try the director’s suggestions.”
Hamilton offered Rossi a sympathetic smile, “We’re doing a group profile?” His gaze drifted to Aaron, his smile wavering a little. Aaron resisted the urge to roll his eyes; he hoped Hamilton didn’t decide to play passive aggressive alpha male for the whole case. From the size of the files, this wasn’t going to be a simple or quick case.
Rossi’s eyes narrowed a little, but otherwise his expression remained the same, “We have a serial killer in rural North Dakota, he’s killed at least eighteen women over the past nine years. So far they haven’t been able to find much evidence at any of the crime scenes, partly because in the majority of cases the bodies haven’t been discovered for some time.”
Aaron frowned. It seemed odd that they hadn’t been called in sooner; murders were rare in North Dakota, a statistic Haley had mentioned on occasion while he’d been working as a prosecutor. Serial killers would stand out in a place where it was unusual for more than five people to be murdered a year. “Are they sure that they’ve all been killed by the same person?”
Rossi opened one of the files and pulled out a pile of faxed photos, throwing them onto the table between them. “What do you think?”
Aaron hesitated for a moment before leaning forward to drag the photos closer, spreading them out across the table. Despite the poor quality, and the state a number of the bodies appeared to be in, he could see the similarities in MO. “There are some differences, but considering the fact that North Dakota has one of the lowest murder rates, it’d be too much of a coincidence to have more than one person killing in the same way.”
Rossi nodded, clearly approving, “With the lack of evidence, and the most recent body, they decided to call us in.”
It was clear, from the look on Katie’s face, and the tone of Rossi’s voice, neither of them was feeling particularly charitable towards the police in this case. To have eighteen victims in nine years and to know that they’d been killed by the same person, but to not call for the BAU for at least a consult, was far from a good thing.
“What was the longest time between a victim being killed, and the body being found?” Aaron asked, wondering if maybe that would explain it. The bodies in some of the pictures looked to be in a more advanced state of decay than others.
“Two years,” Rossi answered, “this guy likes picking out of the way locations for his kills. Some of the bodies were just far enough from the road that no one noticed them until they actually stumbled across them. The most recent victim wasn’t found for over two weeks because of the snow.”
Hamilton frowned, “Is it deliberate?”
Rossi shrugged, “It’s hard to say. It’s a rural enough area that the victims could be walking home from work, and the police reports don’t give a whole lot of detail on the victims, besides their names, the last place they were seen, and the ME reports on their bodies.”
Which meant that they were going to have to interview the families of all of the victims when they got to North Dakota, provided they lived in the area. Aaron just hoped that he wasn’t paired with Hamilton for the interviews.
“There’s no discernible pattern in the placement of the bodies,” Katie added, “or in the timing. Where normally you would expect the number of victims to increase as he becomes more confident, it doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Hamilton had pulled the photos towards him and was frowning at them. He held up two of the pictures, and Nancy winced, shifting in her seat. Even with the quality, there was no disguising how violently the women had died. “Other than being killed with a knife, there’s a lot of difference between some of these.”
“So, because of the differences, you want to argue that we’re dealing with more than one killer?” Rossi questioned, his eyes narrowing. Aaron wondered if Hamilton was disagreeing just to have something to say, which wasn’t really the best idea.
Hamilton hesitated before shaking his head, “It could be the same unsub, but it could be a team, or just people repeating what they’ve heard about. It’s a rural community, odds are most of them know the details of the killings.”
Aaron stared at the other man for a long moment before looking at Rossi, who was eying Hamilton. Aaron couldn’t tell if it was a good or a bad glare, but it was best described as ‘calculating’. Hamilton must not have worked all that much with Rossi during his year and a half with the BAU.
After a minute Hamilton shifted a little in his chair, lowering the photos.
“I’ll give you it could be a team, but I seriously doubt that all of these victims are a result of people intentionally copying a killer.” Rossi said finally, his tone mild. Aaron could see a lot of interview in Hamilton’s future, Rossi’s way of giving him an opportunity to investigate his theory. “Now, I need each of you to head home and pack a bag. We’ll be gone at least a week, if not longer, so pack enough to cover that long. Be back here in two hours, we’ll sort our travel plans then.”
They all nodded their understanding, waiting for Rossi and Katie to gather their files and leave before they followed. Aaron wasn’t looking forward to telling Haley that he was going to be gone for a while; she always hated it when he couldn’t say how long something was going to take.
Aaron was the first one to make it back. He hadn’t spent long at home; Haley hadn’t asked many questions and hadn’t seemed too concerned, but he knew that; had he spent more time in the house, she would have started pressing. She’d always hated it when SWAT assignments had kept him out of the house overnight, worrying when she didn’t get word that he was all right.
They’d both thought, with the BAU being a much less dangerous assignment than SWAT, that they’d be more comfortable with it. The problem was they hadn’t considered the fact that in all the years they’d been together, they’d never spent much time apart.
Katie appeared from her office a few minutes after he’d taken up residence in the break room, her go bag in one hand, with a mass of suit bags slung over her shoulder. She silently dropped her stuff on top of his and accepted a cup of coffee. “Dave shouldn’t be much longer, I could hear him yelling at the Sheriff through the wall.”
Aaron winced, it was bad enough normally, with the general opinion of the FBI being what it was, without Rossi giving the locals a reason to give them a less than pleasant welcome.
Nancy appeared in the break room, towing a suitcase, which she added to the pile, “I called ahead, reserved us some rooms.”
Katie smiled, reaching out to squeeze Nancy’s hand, “You’re a life saver, thank you.”
Nancy shrugged, smiling at Aaron as he handed her a cup of tea. It was always good to know what people liked to drink, and to remember how they liked it. His mother had taught him that, and it had come in handy a lot over the years.
“I always book Agent Rossi’s rooms.”
“Is it a good hotel?” Hamilton ambled in, sports bag slung over his shoulder, store bought cup of coffee in one hand.
Nancy frowned, “It’s a motel.”
Aaron had glanced quickly at a map, or at least that had been the plan, but finding Redmond on the map had taken a little while. He was impressed that she’d managed to find somewhere for them all to stay, and ultimately a bed was a bed. He had a small selection of cleaning supplies in his bag, supplied by Haley, to cover making his room liveable.
Hamilton made a face, and looked like he was about to comment until Rossi stepped into the room, trailed by the ever silent Ben.
Rossi held up two sets of car keys, before tossing one set to Katie, “We’re driving. Wilkes, Daye you’re with Cole. Hotchner, King with me. We’ll swap around at the first rest stop if we need to.”
It was going to be a long drive, but at least he didn’t have to spend it stuck in a car with Hamilton.