Chapter 1: Renewal
“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.” - Mary Pickford
It had been three weeks since she was released from rehab. She had gone to various meetings over the weeks, but none seemed to fit. The general meeting was filled with reformed partiers in their early 30’s with boring desk jobs. She tried the women’s group, but there she was surrounded by bored housewives and vapid socialites. These people couldn’t possibly understand what drove her to drink.
As a last-ditch effort, she decided to try one more meeting. Steeling her courage, she headed over to the local Presbyterian church, which had generously donated space one night per week. She saw the sign on the door. Beltway Clean Cops.
She walked in with all the dignity she could muster. She scanned the room and noticed that she was the only woman present. She was used to that, though. When she joined the FBI, it was even more of an old boys’ club than it is now. She took a seat and began observing.
Her turn came, so she stood up and began to speak. “Hello. I’m Erin.”
She had been Section Chief Strauss for so long that she didn’t remember what it was like to be just Erin. She continued, “I have a problem. I’m an alcoholic. I didn’t want to admit it because I have to project an air of unflappability in order to succeed as a woman in the FBI. I tried to quit on my own several times, but I failed. Two of my subordinates finally had to do an intervention after I got drunk on a case and nearly tipped off the suspect that we were onto him.”
“Even then, I tried to deny it. I begged them not to send me away. But I’m grateful that they did. I’ve been clean for three weeks. It’s a struggle every day. I can only hope it gets easier.”
As she finished her monologue, she looked out at the others present at the meeting. She expected to see judgment, derision, pity, or disdain. Instead, she only saw understanding. She scanned the crowd and was surprised to see a familiar face sitting in the back.
She was glad she hadn’t seen him sooner. She probably wouldn’t have had the courage to make her confession if she had known someone here would recognize her.
After the meeting was over, she tried to slip out unnoticed, but there he stood, right in the archway near the courtyard, as if he was waiting for her. She was tempted to ignore him and walk on by, but something in his eyes compelled her to stop. “Agent Reid,” she said neutrally.
“Not here. Here we leave our ranks at the door. It’s just Spencer,” he said.
She nodded. He looked at her for a moment and said, “It does, you know.”
“I beg your pardon?” Erin said.
“You said you hope it gets easier. It does.”
The moonlight filtered through the trees and illuminated Spencer’s head in a soft halo. He looked angelic, and his purity made her want to confess all of her sins. She simply said, “I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”
He reached behind her ear and produced a gold medallion. Erin flinched slightly at the intimacy of the action. “Where did that come from?” Erin asked.
Spencer grinned like a child. “I’m a magician, and a magician never reveals his secrets.”
Spencer’s face got serious as he cleared his throat and continued, “It’s my one year medallion. It took me two and a half years to get it. I want you to keep it until you get your own.”
“To remind you that it’s possible.”
“No, I mean why are you helping me? I’ve been a thorn in the side of the BAU since day one. I know that ‘Bitch’ and ‘Ice Queen’ are two of the more polite nicknames that people have for me. Just a few months ago I nearly got your team disbanded. I would expect you to gloat at my downfall, not reach down to lift me up,” Erin said.
“When I was doing Dilaudid, nobody helped me. Hotch and Morgan and Prentiss all knew I had a problem, and they did nothing. I guess they thought I would come to my senses eventually. It was so hard to do it all by myself, and I almost didn’t make it. No one should have to go through this alone,” Spencer said.
After a long pause, Spencer broke the silence. “Call me anytime, day or night, if you need to talk to someone.”
Erin’s face softened. She took the proffered coin and placed it in her handbag. “Thank you.”
“Hell is yourself, and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” -Tennessee Williams
Chapter 2: Remember
“Remembering is painful, it's difficult, but it can be inspiring and it can give wisdom.” - Paul Greengrass
Erin Strauss arrived at work in the morning for her second day back from leave. She sat at her desk and began reviewing case files. After reading a particularly gruesome file about a serial killer who targeted 9-year-old girls, she felt the need for a drink.
Without thinking, she opened the desk drawer where she kept her private reserve of alcohol. Her face fell when she saw it was empty. She felt mildly violated that someone had been in her office in her absence. She reached into her purse for a breath mint to distract herself.
As she was digging around in her handbag, she touched a gold medallion. She pulled it out and remembered the conversation she had last night with Spencer Reid.
“You said you hope it gets easier. It does.”
“I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”
“It’s my one year medallion. It took me two and a half years to get it. I want you to keep it until you get your own.”
“To remind you that it’s possible.”
She held the medallion in her hand and ran her fingers across it. She heard footsteps and quickly tossed the medallion back into her purse. There was a knock on her door, and she looked up to see her visitor.
“Agent Hotchner. What can I do for you?”
“I didn’t get a chance to welcome you back yesterday. I trust you’re settling in?”
Strauss shut her desk drawer. “It looks like you did some house cleaning in my absence.”
“I figured you would need the drawer space for case files.”
She was grateful that he allowed her to save face. “Of course. How thoughtful of you.”
Hotch excused himself and Strauss went back to perusing grim files. Twenty two days sober. Only the rest of her life to go.
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. - Albert Einstein
Chapter 3: Run
"To succeed, you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you." -Tony Dorsett
Spencer Reid walked into the breakroom at work to grab a cup of coffee. As he stirred in his sugar, he saw movement in his peripheral vision. He looked over and saw Erin Strauss enter the room.
“Ma’am,” he said, nodding politely.
“Agent Reid,” she responded.
Reid regarded Strauss for a moment and saw that she looked tired. Not physically tired, but emotionally tired. Tentatively, he asked, “How are you doing?”
“Fine. Thank you for asking,” she responded as she poured her coffee.
She excused herself before the conversation could continue. Reid walked to his desk and began reviewing case files.
About an hour later, Strauss walked into the bullpen and said, “Agent Reid, could I please have a word with you in my office?”
Reid stood up and followed Strauss. Morgan and Prentiss exchanged looks of concern. As Reid walked past them, Morgan whispered, “Busted!”
Reid and Strauss entered the office, and Strauss shut the door. Reid said, “What can I do for you, Chief Strauss?”
Her face softened, “It’s just Erin right now.”
They stood in silence for a few moments. Strauss continued, “How do you do it? How do you see the horrors you see every day and not retreat back into the world of addiction? I only have to read about them and what I see makes me want to get drunk and forget it all. You’re right in the middle of it.”
“It’s a struggle every day. Some days are easier than others, but after some cases, I’m tempted to go find the nearest drug dealer because it all seems so futile,” Reid admitted.
“What stops you?”
“When I was a child, my mom used to tell me a story. A girl was walking along a beach covered with starfish. The starfish had been caught on the shore during high tide, and when the tide receded, they got caught on the sand. They were dying because they were drying up. The girl picked up the starfish one by one and threw them back into the ocean.”
Reid continued, “An old man walked by and said, ‘Why do you bother? You can’t possibly save all of them. You’re not going to make a difference.’ The girl picked up another starfish, threw it into the ocean, and said, ‘I made a difference to that one.’”
“I can’t stop all of the criminals in the world. I can’t save everyone, but I can save some people. And if I go and get high, I’ll lose all of that. I’ll destroy myself, I’ll hurt the people who love me, and I won’t be able to throw any more starfish back into the ocean,” Reid concluded.
“What do you do when you want to get high? How do you stop yourself?”
“I run. I always heard people talk about the ‘runner’s high’, so I thought I would give it a try. When I run, I have a chance to think without distractions. And the high is real,” Reid said. “You’re welcome to join me if you like. If I’m in town, I run at 6:00 every morning in Memorial Park.”
“I just might,” Strauss said. “Thank you.”
On Saturday morning, Reid arrived at the park and began to stretch. Just as he was ready to take off running, he heard his name being called.
“Erin!” he said with a smile.
They started off on a slow jog, and they increased the pace as they got warmed up. “This is exhilarating,” Erin said. “Usually I go to the gym and use the stair stepper. I had forgotten what it feels like to exercise in the fresh air.”
They kept running, and then suddenly it started raining. Within seconds they were drenched. They ran to a nearby tree and took shelter under the leaves. “It wasn’t supposed to rain today,” Strauss said.
Reid said, “Sudden rain showers are caused by a collision of cold air and warm air high up in the atmosphere. The ancient Greeks believed that Zeus caused the storms as retribution for men pursuing women that he wanted for himself.”
“You know more little factoids than anyone I’ve ever met. If there’s ever an office Trivial Pursuit match, I want you on my team,” Strauss said.
“Thanks. My mother read to me all the time when I was a child. When she was reading was the only time she was really present,” Reid said wistfully.
The rain stopped. As they ventured out from under the tree, Strauss shivered. Reid offered her his sweatshirt. Strauss accepted it and said, “There’s a great coffee shop around the corner. Do you want to go grab some breakfast? My treat.”
They walked to the cafe and ordered coffee and pastries. They sat at a table near the window and watched people go by.
Hotch walked in, accompanied by a woman with brown hair. As they walked past, he got a puzzled look on his face and said, “Chief Strauss, Dr. Reid. Good morning.”
“Aaron,” Strauss said as she nodded.
Strauss overheard Hotch’s breakfast companion say, “Friends of yours?”
“My boss and one of my team members,” Hotch responded.
Hotch’s subtle correction stung Strauss. True, there was no love lost between the two at the beginning of their working relationship, but she thought after all they had been through that they merited the label ‘friends’.
“Are you ok?” Reid asked.
“I’m fine. Just got lost in thought for a moment.”
They finished their pastries and left. When they returned to the park, Strauss said, “You were right. Running does help. Maybe I’ll keep doing it.”
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
Chapter 4: Repentance
There is a proverb - “Confession is good for the soul.”
Erin Strauss was a believer in checklists. They were concrete and controllable. She breezed through the first three of twelve steps with ease. She stalled on step four.
She spent Memorial Day weekend at a silent retreat in the mountains. While she was there, she pulled out her pamphlet and read once again.
Step 4: Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
She got out her pen and started to write. She stopped, got up, walked around, and then sat down and tried again. She repeated the process over the course of the weekend.
On Monday afternoon, she had finally filled ten pages with her faults. She felt relieved. She went home and slept soundly.
After work on Tuesday, she walked around the neighborhood. She saw a small church and walked inside.
The church was empty. The smell of incense wafted into her nose, and the candlelight illuminated the stained glass windows. She sat down in a pew and looked at her pamphlet again.
Step 5: Admit to God, yourself, and another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.
She knelt down and began to pour out her heart. She prayed for half an hour before she had completed her list. She stood up and looked around, relieved that she was still alone.
Step five was 67% complete. God, check. Herself, check. Now to find another human being.
She supposed she could go find a priest. Surely a priest has heard it all before. But she knew she needed someone who has done more than just hear people’s sins. She needed someone who has been there. Someone who knows what it’s really like and who wouldn’t let her get away with anything less than a full confession.
She got in her car and began to drive. She arrived at her destination and hesitantly walked up to the door of a charming townhouse. She rang the doorbell before she could lose her nerve.
Spencer Reid answered the door. Erin said, “I brought your sweatshirt. Thanks again for letting me borrow it. It’s washed and folded.”
“Come in,” Spencer said.
He looked into her eyes and said, “This isn’t about my sweatshirt.”
“How did you know?”
“I’m a profiler. That, and if all you wanted was to return my shirt, you could have left it at the office.”
“I’m working on step five,” Erin said.
Spencer gestured to the couch. “Have a seat. Would you like some water?”
Erin sat down. “Yes, please.”
Spencer handed her a glass of water and then joined her on the couch. Erin said, “I hope I’m not inconveniencing you.”
“Was step five hard for you?” Erin asked.
“It was the hardest one,” Spencer said.
To break the ice, she said, “I feel like I should be starting out with ‘bless me, Spencer, for I have sinned.’”
They both laughed a little, then the mood got serious. Erin began her monologue. “It all started about five years ago. Agent Greenaway had just left the BAU under suspicious circumstances, and I suspected serious problems on Agent Hotchner’s team. I recruited Agent Prentiss to gather information and report back to me.”
She continued, “Agent Prentiss eventually resigned rather than betray you. I felt guilty over the position I had put her in, and I began drinking. I thought it would get rid of the guilt. It didn’t. I stopped drinking for a while, but then I started drinking again after the Foyett case. I saw the trauma that Aaron was going through, and it pained me.”
“I offered him retirement with a full pension, but he turned down the offer. I have to admit, the offer was selfish of me,” Erin said.
“How was that selfish?” Spencer asked.
“My marriage was on the rocks at that point, and I had been attracted to Aaron for quite some time. I tried to get him out of the job he loves so that I could get in his pants,” Erin said.
Spencer uncomfortably asked, “Did you ever make a move on him?”
“No. It wouldn’t have been appropriate. He was a grieving widower, and I’m his boss. But so help me, if he had retired, I probably would have done it.”
She continued, “I started drinking on the job. The cases became too much to handle while sober. I just couldn’t read about all of those horrible things. The director noticed a change in my behavior, and he suggested I get help. So I took a few months off to get my head together. During that time, my husband left me. He said I wasn’t the woman he married. It was my fault. His father was an alcoholic, and he couldn't stand to be married to one, too. He took the children. I get to see them every other weekend.”
“When I came back to work, I thought everything was fine, but coming home to an empty house was too much. So I started drinking again. When I joined you on the case at the military academy, I was drunk the whole time. I flew off the handle at the colonel and almost wrecked the whole case. Aaron convinced me to get help, so I went into rehab.”
By this point a few tears slid down Erin’s face. She took a deep breath and said, “Will you forgive me?”
“I’m not the one who can grant you forgiveness, Erin. You haven’t wronged me,” Spencer said.
“You’re right, I suppose,” Erin said with defeat.
“You’ve made a lot of progress. It’s hard to voice weaknesses, especially for people like us,” Spencer said.
“What do you mean, people like us?”
“People who don’t look like a stereotypical agent. When people think of a mental image of an FBI agent, they picture someone like Hotch or Morgan. They don’t picture a woman or a scrawny nerd,” Spencer said.
He continued, “We have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, and even then it doesn’t always work. You’re the only person who calls me Agent Reid. Everyone else calls me Dr. Reid. It’s a constant reminder that I’m not like everyone else. I worked hard to become an agent, but that is so rarely noticed.”
Erin nodded, thinking back to her early days in the FBI. “You know, it’s amazing. I actually feel lighter now. I didn’t realize the weight I had been carrying around.”
“Anytime you need your burden lifted, just let me know. I’m never more than a phone call away,” Spencer said.
Saint Augustine of Hippo said, “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”
Chapter 5: Reception
“True friendship isn’t about being there when it’s convenient. It’s about being there when it’s not.” - Unknown
Erin Strauss opened the invitation and read it with dread.
You are cordially invited to the annual fundraising dinner for the DC Women’s Business Fund.
Friday, June 8, 2012
7:00-8:00: Cocktail hour
8:00-9:00 Dinner and keynote speaker
Cocktail hour. How was she going to make it through a cocktail hour without drinking? It’s not like she could skip the gala or arrive late. She was on the board of directors.
She had been sober for 47 days, and she feared it would all fall apart around her. She reached into her purse, and her hand grazed Spencer Reid’s one year medallion. Suddenly an idea hit.
She picked up the phone and dialed. On the other end of the line, she heard, “Reid.”
“Spencer, it’s Erin.”
“Chief Strauss, what can I do for you?” Reid’s formality alerted Strauss to the fact that he was not alone.
“Are you able to talk?” Strauss asked.
“Yes, ma’am. We’re on the plane on our way back to Quantico. We caught the unsub this morning,” Reid said.
Strauss heard the telltale latching of an airplane lavatory. “I can talk without being overheard now, Erin. What’s going on?”
“I have a favor to ask you,” Erin said.
“Of course. Anything,” Spencer responded.
“I’m on the board of the DC Women’s Business Fund, and the annual fundraising dinner is on Friday. There’s going to be a cocktail hour, and I need someone to keep me from getting into trouble. Will you go with me?”
“I’m not sure I’m the best person to go with you to a party. I tend to ramble and bore people. I’ll probably accidentally embarrass you. Why don’t you ask Hotch to go with you? He would help you out,” Spencer said.
“You know I can’t ask Aaron to go with me. He should be spending time with his son. And besides, well, you know...” she trailed off.
Spencer remembered Erin’s recent confession and suddenly felt bad for his careless suggestion. “Ok. I’ll do it.”
“Thank you. I’ll pick you up at 6:30 on Friday.”
At 5:00 on Friday, Reid threw a few files into his messenger bag and headed toward the door. He ran into Morgan, who said, “You seem to be in a hurry to get out of here. Do you have a hot date tonight?”
Reid mumbled, “I wouldn’t exactly call it a date.”
“Well whatever you do exactly call it, have fun! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Morgan said with a smirk.
The drive home took less time than usual. Reid got ready for the evening, deciding on a charcoal suit, purple dress shirt, and a charcoal and purple tie. At 6:30 he heard a knock on his door. He answered it and saw Strauss wearing a black cocktail dress. “You look nice,” she said.
“Thank you. So do you,” he replied.
Strauss drove to the reception. When they arrived, they walked toward the building. Reid held out his arm, and Strauss took it as they entered.
A woman in her mid-thirties approached them and said, “Erin! So good to see you! Looks like you’ve traded up in the world. Who is your attractive date?”
Reid blushed. Strauss said, “This is Dr. Spencer Reid. He’s a colleague of mine.” She placed emphasis on the word ‘colleague’.
“Well, Dr. Reid, I’m Angela Monroe. I’m the chair of the committee. Thank you for coming tonight.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Reid said.
They mingled for a while, and Reid noticed that Strauss continued to glance longingly at the bar. He said, “I’m going to get a Diet Coke. What would you like me to pick up for you?”
Reid went to the bar and ordered their beverages. He returned and handed Strauss her water. She said, “Thank you for keeping me away from the bar.”
They continued to mingle. During a lull in the conversation, Reid said, “Tons of women keep staring at me. Do I have something in my teeth?”
“There’s nothing in your teeth. They’re staring at you because they’re attracted to you. You’re a young, tall, intelligent man with a badge and a gun,” Strauss responded.
Angela got on the loudspeaker and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming to the annual fundraising dinner for the DC Women’s Business Fund. Your generous support allows us to provide grants and loans to women in the greater DC area who wish to start their own small businesses. Please take your seats so that we can begin the dinner portion of our evening.”
Reid followed Strauss to the head table, and they sat down. Once everyone was seated, Angela picked up the microphone and said, “Before we begin, I would like to make a few introductions. I’m Angela Monroe, chair of the committee. I couldn’t administer the fund without the help of our board members, who are seated with me at the head table. I would like to introduce Dr. Sadie Miller, chief of surgery at Washington General Hospital, Professor Lily Chang, from the business school at Georgetown University, and Section Chief Erin Strauss from the FBI.”
The attendees applauded politely, and then dinner was served. The keynote speaker delivered a speech about the benefits that small businesses have for the local economy. At the conclusion of the speech, music started, and couples headed to the dance floor.
Reid turned to Strauss and said, “Would you like to dance?”
Reid led Strauss to the dance floor, and they began to dance. The band was playing a foxtrot, and he led her around the floor with ease. She said, “You’re quite good. Where did you learn to dance so well?”
“When I was in college, I took a ballroom dance class hoping that it would help me get dates. It didn’t work, probably because I was 14,” Reid said.
At the end of the party, Strauss drove Reid home. When she dropped him off, he said, “I had a good time, thank you for inviting me.”
“Thank you for coming with me. I’m sure you had better things to do on a Friday night.”
Strauss returned home to her empty house and went to bed. In the morning, she got up and read the paper while drinking her morning coffee. She skipped the front page section with its depressing stories about death, destruction, and mayhem. Instead, she picked up the society page. A headline caught her attention.
DC Women’s Business Fund Holds Annual Fundraiser
She started to skim the article, but her eyes were drawn instead toward the picture. Color drained from her face. The picture was of her on the dance floor in Spencer’s arms. They were both smiling. The caption said: Board member Erin Strauss, accompanied by Dr. Spencer Reid.
“Every picture tells a story. But sometimes it's hard to know what story is actually being told.” - Anastasia Hollings
Chapter 6: Relapse
“There are some things one can only achieve by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction.” -Franz Kafka
It was Saturday night, and Erin’s footsteps echoed in her empty house. Everywhere she walked, there were reminders of what she had lost. Her children’s rooms were empty. The bed she had shared with her husband she now slept in alone. Even the dog was gone. It was like a bad country song, but without the guitars.
She decided it was too depressing to be at home right now, so she got in her car and drove aimlessly. She found herself at a dive bar near Georgetown. Without thinking, she walked inside, sat down, and ordered a beer.
Four beers later, she went to pay her tab. As she reached into her purse, she brushed up against Spencer’s one year medallion. She was wracked with guilt as she realized that she had just thrown away 63 days of sobriety.
She paid and went to her car. She decided it would be unwise to drive all the way home in her condition, so she carefully drove to the only nearby location she felt was safe.
She parked the car and walked slowly up to the door. She rang the doorbell and waited. The door opened, and Spencer Reid stood barefoot wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. “Chief Strauss? It’s midnight. What are you doing here?”
“I didn’t want to be in my empty house alone,” she slurred.
He caught a whiff of her breath and then ushered her inside and guided her to a seat on the sofa. “Let me make you some coffee.”
A few minutes later, he returned with two mugs of coffee. He handed one to Erin and said, “What happened?”
“I failed. I thought I was strong enough, but I wasn’t.” She reached into her purse and handed Spencer’s medallion back to him. “Here. I don’t deserve it.”
Spencer said, “Hang onto it. It took me over two years to get it. I relapsed in the middle, too. Most people do. Don’t give up just because you had a setback.”
“I don’t even like beer,” Erin said. “I thought it would help me forget everything I lost. Instead, it just reminded me of why I lost it.”
“How did you get here?” Spencer asked.
Spencer looked disappointed, but he refrained from spouting off statistics about the dangers of drunk driving. “Don’t go anywhere until you’ve sobered up.”
Erin put her arms around Spencer and slurred, “You’re a good friend. You remind me of my son.”
At the mention of her son, Erin started to cry. She buried her head in Spencer’s shoulder. After a few minutes, she began to snore. Spencer carried her upstairs, removed her shoes, and tucked her into his bed. Then he tiptoed downstairs and settled in for a night on the couch.
At 7:00 in the morning, Erin woke up hungover in an unfamiliar bed. She breathed a sigh of relief when she realized she was alone and fully clothed. She racked her brain as to how she got there, and the last thing she remembered was crying on Spencer’s shoulder.
She looked around the room to get some insight into the man who was quickly becoming her closest friend. The walls were lined with bookshelves, and the books that filled them were, for lack of a better word, eclectic. She scanned the shelves and then her eyes fell on a small glass vial sitting in the corner of a shelf just below eye level. She read the label and it said exactly what she feared. She picked it up.
She walked downstairs and was greeted by the aroma of freshly cooked pancakes and bacon. She headed into the kitchen and saw Spencer making breakfast. “Good morning, Erin. How are you feeling this morning.”
She scowled at him. “Spencer. I found this on your bookshelf.”
“It’s not what it looks like,” he said.
“It looks like a vial of Dilaudid,” Erin said crisply.
“Okay, it’s only sort of what it looks like. I bought it when I thought Emily had died. I wanted to make the pain go away. But I fought the urge to use it. I stayed clean.”
“You know I could arrest you for possession of a controlled substance,” Strauss said.
“And I could have arrested you last night for DUI,” Reid countered.
“Well, I’m sober now, so dump this down the drain and then we’re even,” Strauss said.
Reid hesitated and then complied. “Do you want some breakfast?”
“No, thank you. I should really be getting home.”
“Erin, if you ever feel like drinking again, call me instead.”
She nodded and then headed to the door. When she reached her car, she saw a man walking his dog. He walked closer, and she felt a pit form in her stomach as she made eye contact with Derek Morgan.
"Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently." - Henry Ford
Chapter 7: Revelation
“People protect what they love.” Jacques Cousteau
It was a quiet morning. Hotch walked out into the bullpen and said, “Reid, my office.”
Reid followed Hotch into his office. Hotch shut the door and said, “I want you to know that you can always talk to me.”
Reid said, confused. “What’s this about?”
Hotch shifted. “It has come to my attention that there may be something going on between you and Chief Strauss.”
“We get along fine; there’s no problem between us,” Reid said.
“That’s not what I mean. There are rumors that there is fraternization going on.”
“Why would you think that?” Reid asked.
“Well, I saw the two of you eating breakfast together at a cafe on a weekend while she was wearing your Caltech sweatshirt. The society page of the newspaper reported that you accompanied her to a gala. You’re in her office behind closed doors several times per week. She calls you when we’re on cases, and you take the calls privately. And Morgan saw her leaving your house early Sunday morning looking disheveled,” Hotch said.
“I’m not fraternizing with her,” Reid said, slightly panicked.
“You’re not in trouble, Reid. If this is going to get anyone in trouble, it’s her. The FBI takes sexual harassment very seriously. If a section chief is using her position to take advantage of a subordinate, then someone needs to know about it so the situation can be corrected.”
“Hotch, it’s not what it looks like. I promise that Chief Strauss is not using her position to take advantage of me.”
“Then what’s going on?”
“I would rather not discuss it,” Reid said.
Hotch decided not to push the issue and said, “If you change your mind, my door’s always open.”
Reid left, and Hotch headed down the hall. He stopped outside a door with a nameplate that read Erin Strauss, Section Chief.
He thought about confronting her but then figured it would probably backfire. Instead, he decided to bide his time and use his profiling skills to find out what his boss was up to. He retreated to his office before being seen.
At the end of the day, Reid and Strauss found themselves leaving the building at the same time. Reid said, “I need to talk to you about something Hotch said to me this morning.”
“Spencer, just because we share personal things outside work doesn’t mean that you get to go over Aaron’s head when you have a problem. He’s still your boss,” Strauss said.
“He thinks you and I are fraternizing and that you’re using your authority to take advantage of me,” Reid said.
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him that he was wrong and that I didn’t want to talk about it,” Reid said.
“You could have told him the truth,” Strauss said.
“That would be violating your privacy,” Reid said. He continued, “But if you want to tell him the truth, you have my blessing. I don’t want to see you get brought up on false accusations of sexual harassment. It would destroy everything you’ve worked for.”
Strauss turned around and reentered the building. She walked down the hall and stopped outside a door marked Aaron Hotchner . She knocked and was admitted.
“Agent Reid told me what you said to him this morning.”
“I was doing my job,” Hotch said.
“It’s your job to accuse your supervisor of inappropriate behavior?”
“It’s my job to protect the members of my team.”
“I’m not having sex with him,” Strauss said.
“Then what’s going on?”
“What I’m about to tell you can’t leave this room.”
Strauss continued, “And I’m only telling you this because I have his permission to reveal his involvement.”
“Okay,” Hotch said.
“After I was released from rehab, I started going to meetings for support. I’ve been attending a meeting for law enforcement officers with substance abuse problems. I’ve been working through the twelve steps. Each person working through the steps has a sponsor - another member of the group who has gone through the steps before and is willing to provide support and guidance,” Strauss said.
Strauss continued, “Spencer is my sponsor.”
“I’m glad you have some support, and I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions,” Hotch said.
“Like you said, you were just doing your job.”
“People in general judge more from appearances than from reality. All have eyes, but few have the gift of penetration” - Niccolo Machiavelli
Chapter 8: Restitution
“It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and make amends for them.” Dale E. Turner
Erin had just returned home from the Beltway Clean Cops meeting, and she got out her notebook. She leafed through the pamphlet.
Step 8: Make a list of all people you have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
She picked up a pen, reached deep into her soul, and began to write. After filling a page with people she needed to talk to, she went to bed.
In the morning, she looked at the pamphlet again. Step 9: Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure themselves or others.
She arrived at her office and set down her purse. She held Spencer’s medallion in her hand for a moment to steel her courage. She headed to the bullpen and said, “Agent Morgan, could I please speak with you for a moment?”
“Yes, ma’am,” came the reply.
Once they entered Erin’s office, she said, “Please, have a seat.”
Morgan sat down and said, “What can I do for you, Chief Strauss?”
“I owe you an apology. When we were in the field at the military academy, I antagonized your suspect and jeopardized the investigation because I was drunk. I’m sorry.”
“That was months ago. We caught the unsub and everything is fine. No harm, no foul. I’m just glad you got the help you needed. We’re cool,” Morgan said.
“Thank you,” Strauss said.
She dismissed Morgan and exhaled the breath she didn’t realize she was holding. The first amends went well. Now she had to move on to the harder ones. Her ex-husband said he didn’t want to ever speak to her again, so she started writing a heartfelt letter.
When she finished the letter, she sealed it in an envelope and dropped it in the mail. She decided to make amends to her children on her upcoming visit with them next weekend, so there was only one other person she needed to speak with today.
She walked down the hall and knocked on Aaron Hotchner’s office door. “Come in,” she heard from the other side of the door.
She entered and said, “Agent Hotchner, do you have a few minutes?”
“Of course,” Hotch said as he gestured toward a chair.
Strauss sat down and said, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.”
Hotch nodded. Strauss continued, “As you know, I’ve been working through the twelve steps. I’m on step 9, where I need to make amends to the people I’ve wronged. You’re at the top of that list of people.”
Strauss continued, “Wait, that didn’t come out quite right. I’m not here solely because of a checklist. I really have wronged you, and I’m genuinely sorry.”
There was silence for a moment as Strauss waited for a response. Finding none, she kept talking. “I’ve made your work life a living hell for years. I sent Agent Prentiss to try to get dirt on you, I’ve tried to end your career more than once, and I’ve tried to break up your team. In return, you have tried to be a listening ear, you covered for me twice while I was ill, and you’ve been an outstanding agent.”
She handed a file to Hotch. Hotch responded, “What’s this?”
“Your annual performance review. A few years ago, I said that I would make sure you never got promoted. It was wrong of me to say that. You’ve been exemplary, and you’re an asset to the bureau. I know you don’t want to leave the BAU. I’m only a few years away from retirement. Once I leave, I want you to replace me as section chief,” Strauss said.
“You don’t have to buy my forgiveness with a promotion,” Hotch said.
“I know. And I’m not trying to buy your forgiveness. You’ve earned this. All I’m doing is ensuring that our prior tension won’t stand in your way. When I came back after rehab, I tried to resign. I walked into the director’s office, told him that I was through, and I recommended you as my replacement. He agreed with me that you’re the most qualified person to replace me, and that you did an excellent job in my absence. But he convinced me not to make any hasty decisions about leaving the bureau,” Strauss said.
“I’m glad you took his advice,” Hotch said.
Strauss smiled and said, “Aaron, I know I don’t deserve it, but will you forgive me?”
“Of course,” Hotch said, as he delivered one of his rare but brilliant smiles.
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” - Bruce Lee
Chapter 9: Redemption
“Every moment of resistance to temptation is a victory.” - Frederick William Faber
Erin Strauss was hiking alone in the woods. She reached into her pocket and pulled out two round metal discs. In her left hand, she held the coin that had been on loan to her for the past 429 days. In her right hand, she held the one that was now her very own.
She continued to hike to the top of the mountain. When she arrived, she saw a waterfall cascading down the side of a cliff. Impulsively, she found herself climbing out into the middle of the stream.
She stood on a rock at the base of the waterfall. She stepped into the spray and let the cool, clear water wash away all of her guilt, regret, and pain. She stood there for several minutes, until she felt completely clean. When she returned to the trail, she saw a dove fly overhead.
She placed the medallions back in her pocket and dried off. She hiked back down to her car, arriving just as the sun was setting. She stopped for a meal at a roadside diner and then drove back to D.C. She picked up her cell phone and hit the speed dial.
“Reid,” came the voice on the other end of the line.
“Spencer, it’s Erin. Is it ok if I come over?”
“Of course,” he said with concern.
Ten minutes later, she found herself walking up the familiar driveway to Spencer Reid’s townhouse. She knocked on the door, and he answered it. “Come in,” he said.
Erin walked inside and looked around. The place looked the same as the last time she was there, a testament to the fact that in this ever-changing world, some things could be counted on to be constant. “What’s on your mind?” Spencer asked.
“I have something for you,” she said as she reached into her pocket. She placed the medallion in Spencer’s hand and looked into his eyes.
Spencer broke out into a huge smile and said, “I’m so proud of you, Erin!”
“I couldn’t have done it without you, Spencer. I owe you a great debt that I will never be able to repay.”
“There’s no paying back in recovery. There’s only paying forward. That’s what step twelve is all about. Someday you’ll find someone who is walking down the lonely road toward overcoming an addiction - someone who will need a trail guide who has been down that path before. Sponsor that person,” Spencer said.
Erin nodded and reached up and pulled Spencer into a tight hug as a tear of joy and relief slid down her cheek.
“This is not the beginning of a new chapter in my life; this is the beginning of a new book! That first book is already closed, ended, and tossed into the seas; this new book is newly opened, has just begun!” C. JoyBell C.