Noon, Saturday, Springfield, NJ:
Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. No-one would really blame him, Tommy decided, if he stepped on all the cracks he could find.
The sidewalk stretched out before him with beautifully even-spaced ones, broken edges in the grey concrete. The sky was grey, the road was grey, the buildings on either sides were grey, the clouds gathering and blocking out any sun that might have reflected off windows or added some warmth to the air.
The wind bit at him, sharp-toothed, and he shoved his hands further into the pockets of his jacket. The hoodie underneath helped some, but what he really needed was gloves. Maybe a hat. Definitely a cup of coffee. He could wrap his hands around the mug, heat seeping right down into his bones, and let the caffeine take the edge off.
The bench by the bus stop was dry when he collapsed onto it for a minute. Just for a minute, while he figured things out. His phone was smooth and warm against his fingers and he pulled it out and flipped it open. No missed calls, no new messages. No kidding.
Frank and Mary had the number; it had been one of the things Frank had insisted on, way back when, even though Tommy was the one who had been paying for the phone. Frank had insisted on that, too.
Frank and Mary had the number, but there was no chance that they would call. Miss Campbell from the group home might; she had always seemed to like him. At least she’d had a smile on her face at the beginning of every appointment and never freaked at him for just sitting there silently during the sessions.
His thumb caressed the buttons; everything in his address book, nothing on his speed-dials. There didn’t seem to be much point.
He’d worn out his welcome at Josh’s cousin’s place. Not that Josh had said anything, but he hadn’t needed to. The signs were there; no-one needed some weird kid crashed out on their couch for longer than a week, even if he had tried – a little – to make himself useful.
Better to hit the road while it was still his own idea, let the ever-present itch under his skin be the reason he was putting boots to pavement, instead of waiting for the boot up the ass.
He dialled, by rote rather than out of any decision on his part, waited for the familiar click and whine. The number had been for the old house, the voice mail linked to a phone number that would be reassigned any day now.
It had still worked two days ago.
You’ve reached the Shepherds, Frank, Mary and Tommy. We can’t come to the phone right now, but leave a message at the tone.
They’d never changed the message.
Whatever. It’s not like that meant anything.
He pushed himself off the bench and kept moving, no destination in mind, he just wanted motion. He broke into a run, the sidewalk flying by underneath, chewing up the yards and spitting them out behind him, his bag thump-thumping against his hip and his feet slamming down against the grey and the grey slamming back up against him, and this was pure.
The sidewalk ended and Tommy skidded to a halt, jumped up onto the curb that was all that remained. His backpack thumped against his hip, his phone was still in his hand, forgotten. He hit the button to disconnect.
He had nowhere in particular to go, other than ‘away’ – away from the group home and pitying glances and people who knew both too much and nothing about him at all.
He’s the one who was given back.
Two sets of parents didn’t want him.
So what’s wrong with him? I bet it’s something awful.
Alone was infinitely better.
He glanced up, brushed the fall of bleach-white hair from his brow, surveyed the businesses that lined the street. Personal trainer, sub shop, hair place- there. The little cafe would work for coffee and a chance to figure out his next move. He had $127 in his wallet, and five months until he was eighteen and out of the system’s reach. Totally doable.
Allowing himself to be buoyed, for a moment, by the suggestion of optimism, Tommy pushed open the door and walked in to the light and the warmth.
12:30 PM Saturday, Downtown Manhattan, NY:
There were four of them clustered by the diner door when Eli’s bus pulled up, Cassie’s blonde ponytail brightly visible where her head was bent down against Billy’s dark hair. Teddy looked like hell, half-curled practically into Billy’s lap and his fingers knotted white through Billy’s as he talked.
“...and she was just gone.”
So Jonas hadn’t been messing with him; that was good to know, and awful at the same time. It would have been a lot better if this had been some colossal practical joke. “Teddy?”
Teddy looked up and actually smiled a little when he saw Eli, despite the grim look in his eye otherwise. “Hey.”
Eli dropped down to sit on Teddy’s other side, nudged him lightly with his shoulder to fill in all the things that he didn’t have words for. Cassie curled in behind them, and Jonas was... Jonas was nose-deep in his laptop again, propping the damn thing against the brick exterior wall and muttering under his breath as he did something. “Can’t you unplug from that thing for a minute?” Eli snapped, glaring.
“Nope,” Jonas shook his head firmly. “I got a hit, and I am not letting him get away this time.”
“Letting who get away?” Eli asked. Not even Jonas would be so oblivious as to be playing games right now.
“Thomas Shepherd,” Jonas replied, grinning with satisfaction, “is calling someone on his phone. Which means I have a lock, and we have a location. He’s currently hanging out in deepest, darkest Springfield, which means we have an hour to get our collective butts down there and smoke him out.”
“He won’t have his phone on the whole time, though-“ Cassie frowned. “How are we going to find him after that?”
“I have a location to start with now, we can worry about the next step when we get into the right township,” Jonas replied confidently.
This was going to end in disaster.
“Who’s going to New Jersey?” Eli asked, the main question that no-one else seemed to be wondering about. “In case you haven’t noticed, none of us have cars, and a cab would cost a literal fortune.”
“We are.” Billy’s jaw was set. “We need to find Thomas. The FBI hasn’t found him yet, but Jonas did. So we’re going to go get him and bring him back and make him tell them what he knows.”
That was ridiculous.
“That’s ridiculous,” Eli said, folding his arms in front of him. “Why not just call the cops and tell them that we have information? Let them go do the driving and pick him up.”
Cassie shook her head from where she was standing, looking down the street as though watching for someone. “We tried that. The officer on the phone called Jonas ‘kid’ and told him to stop wasting their time with pranks. I even tried calling my stepdad, but he didn’t pick up.”
There was always Doctor K.; Eli looked at Billy, but Billy was already shaking his head before Eli could ask the question. “No way. My mom’s already yelled at me for even asking about what’s going on. She’d ground me for life before I could tell her anything, and we’d be back to square one.”
“We’re on our own, Eli.” And little, stubborn Cassie lifted her chin defiantly.
A sleek silver car pulled up and parked at the curb beside them, and the sinking sensation of being steamrolled crystallized into a certainty. The girl in the driver’s seat was perfection; long dark hair loose over her shoulders, purple-tinted sunglasses perched on her nose, her hands resting on the bottom of the steering wheel and nowhere at all near 2-and-10.
Kate. Cassie’s BFF since forever, Billy’s slightly more rational partner in a dozen hare-brained schemes, and for Eli, the crush that wouldn’t die.
“Oh, no.” Eli shook his head, and was ignored. Cassie skipped over to the car and stuck her head in the open window and claimed a hug, while Jonas hauled a bag over his shoulder. It clinked suspiciously.
Teddy shifted beside him, rose to his feet. “So this is really a thing that we’re doing?” he asked Billy, and it was beyond weird to hear him so hesitant.
Billy grabbed Teddy’s hands in his. “Yes. We’ll find him, and he’ll help the FBI find her, and then everything will be okay.” He said it with such firm conviction that Eli couldn’t help but believe him.
Teddy’s face softened, and he pulled Billy into a fierce hug.
“Hey, guys. Are we going or what?” Kate had opened her door and was leaning her arms on the roof of her car, waiting for them.
And they were actually doing this, about to go barrelling down the turnpike crammed into Kate’s car like clowns at the circus. One last chance to talk some sense into someone.
“I think we should try calling the cops one more time,” Eli put his foot down, metaphorically, and stood up, literally. “Or the FBI. Let the authorities handle this properly.”
Jonas slid his bag into the backseat of the car, setting it down on the floorboard.
“Don’t tell me you’re wimping out on us, Eli,” Kate stared at him over the rim of her glasses, ridiculous purple things that probably cost more than he earned in six months. “Best case scenario, we save Mrs. Altman. Worst case, we find nothing, waste a tank of gas and come home, and the FBI have to do the hard work themselves.”
“No, worst case is we all get arrested for compromising an investigation,” Eli objected.
“It wouldn’t stick.” And how could she be so perfect and confident, and so annoying at the same time? His better judgement warred with his impulse to get in there, to go, to protect them all (from themselves, if nothing else).
"It's not that simple, Kate!” Eli shook his head. “Most of us don't have family money to buy our way out of trouble. And if we end up with criminal records, we can all kiss college goodbye."
"Then stay here," Kate shrugged, but her eyes never left Eli's face and he could feel her disappointment, tangible and fierce. "No-one's twisting your arm, Eli. But Ted needs us."
His gut twisted and clenched, he looked away. Looked over Kate's shoulder at the guys, at the grim shadows under Teddy’s eyes. "I didn't say I wouldn't help," Eli pointed out after a second ticked by. "Just that this particular plan is doomed to painful failure."
"You have a better one? That doesn't involve sitting around and waiting?"
And ... yeah. No. "No," he admitted, after a handful of seconds ticked by. "I don't."
Kate smiled, bright and blinding and beautiful, and god, he was so screwed. "Then get your ass in the car before Jonas loses the signal or the FBI realize that they’ve lost the boys."
"I call shotgun," Eli grumbled, returning Cassie's gleeful grin with a tight half-smile.
"What, you don't want to sit on Teddy's lap?" Jonas folded himself into the backseat, and Cassie pushed in against his side.
"Billy would so take him down," Cassie teased, then reached forward between the front seats to squeeze Eli's shoulder. Teddy slid in on her other side, Billy on his lap, and wrapped his arms around Billy's waist.
Teddy rested his chin on Billy's shoulder, and the look of simple gratitude that overlaid the panic in his eyes was enough to finish Eli's internal battle. "I'm glad you're coming," Teddy said simply.
"Yeah, well," Eli sighed, hauling on his seatbelt as Kate craned her neck to watch for an opening, then slid them into traffic. "Think of all the free time I'll have next year once college applications stop being an issue."
Billy snorted a laugh, but Teddy only smiled, thin and tired. Then he held his knuckles out, looked at Eli with eyes that said I get you.
Eli smiled, and bumped Teddy’s fist with his own. We’ve got your back.
12:30 PM Saturday, BAU Offices, Quantico, VA:
The hum and purr of Garcia's multitude of computers was the soundtrack of her life, the electronic white noise soothing and familiar. She spun in her chair to call up the search results on one of her main screens, the others flickering and jumping with more unspooling data. The screen flashed red, and Garcia bounced in her chair, clapped her hands with glee and stabbed blindly at her keyboard with the non-googly-eyed end of the fuzzy pink pen in her hand.
The video call opened with a bing and she blew a kiss at Derek Morgan as he backed away from the screen at the other end. "Now there's the face I dream about waking up to," she teased, but Hotch entered the frame before Morgan could reply. "Sir!"
Hotch's tie and jacket were off, that meant stress. Garcia wasn't a profiler, couldn't do that thing where they looked at which of your nails was broken and then told you what you'd had for dinner last night, but some things about her team, she noticed. "What have you got for us, Garcia?" Hotch asked without preamble, and that was her cue to switch into super-awesome-Garcia mode.
"I have got oodles of news for you, sir," she began. "The victim, Sarah Altman? She's not Sarah Altman, for starters."
"What do you mean?" Reid was off-screen, but she could hear his chair shuffle and she glanced to where he could have been.
"I mean that Sarah Altman, with that social security number, was a fifty year old who died from breast cancer in 1988." She called up the files, numbers highlighted, and sent them to Hotch's desktop. "So when I saw that, I ran the new picture against my facial recognition software, and-"
"You got a hit?" That was Morgan again, looking so happy, and didn't that look on his face just make her day?
"I did, oh love of my life. The new-and-improved Sarah Altman is actually - drum roll, please - Lenore James," she opened another set of pictures for display. "A social worker from New Jersey who worked at the Creche, and dropped off the grid in 1992.”
"Garcia, you're the best."
"Praise from you is a balm to my soul, Derek. But there's more!"
An alarm was chiming in the background and she ignored it for the moment. Whatever search had finished running could wait. "I cross-referenced Sutler's notes, and the name Lenore James appears at least a dozen times. According to him, she was responsible for abducting a kid who was under her care.
"Young Derek Whitter-" Garcia's fingers flew across the keyboard and the pictures changed, this time medical records spread out across her desktop - and by extensions, Hotch's. "-excellent choice of name, was in foster care from the age of six months to eleven months, due to parental abuse. According to the few records Sutler was able to find, baby Derek had his arm broken during a scheduled visitation, and a few days after that, both James and the baby vanished. Like, entirely vanished, never to be seen again. A year after that, Sarah Altman and her young son Theodore show up in Seattle. Six years after that, they move to New York."
"She wanted to protect him," Reid shuffled into view on the edge of her screen, grabbing for a whiteboard marker. "She assumed new identities for both of them, to keep him out of the system and safe."
"What about the birth parents?" Hotch asked, leaning forward and resting his hands on the table.
"His mother, Anelle Whitter-" Garcia brought up the file again. "Died five months ago, in a car accident. DUI. Dad is listed as Mark Vale, also deceased. Drug overdose back in 1995. God," Garcia sat back, a lump in her throat, a memory of a knock at the door. "He really is alone."
"So it's not the father looking for him," Morgan said, grabbing a notepad and scribbling some things down. "Any other surviving relatives?"
"Got a brother on the mother's side." Garcia snapped back into work-goddess-mode. Magic now, brood later. Or wine later, either way. "Kurt Whitter, age 43, used to work for Reba Lighting and Electric in the beautiful city of Camden, quit the week his sister died."
Morgan nodded, unsurprised. "Her death was the stressor. Vehicle?"
"Negatory. He had a company van which is back with the company, and the only car registered to his sister was the one involved in the crash, and that was totalled."
"So we have no idea what he's driving. I’ll send a general APB." Morgan ripped the top page off his notepad and left the field of view. A door opened and closed somewhere off-screen.
"Do you think he knows?" Garcia asked. "That Sarah's not his biological mother?"
"I don't think so," Reid shook his head. "She went to a lot of trouble to hide the truth from everyone."
Hotch grimaced, not that unusual from his normal expression, unless you knew how to look. "And now, that effort may get her killed."
The door reopened and Morgan reappeared, a shorter, older woman with dark hair following him closely behind. She looked stressed, and more than a little exhausted. "We've got a problem, Hotch," Morgan interrupted. "The kids are in the wind."
Hotch and Reid looked up. "Altman and Kaplan?" It was phrased like a guess, but Hotch didn't make guesses.
"Jeff was supposed to pick them up at the apartment, but when he got there, the boys were already gone," dark-hair-with-stress replied. "He assumed they were on their way back here."
"Officer Casey heard them talking to someone when they left, assumed it was Mr. Kaplan," Morgan added, and Garcia could just feel his frustration, see it in the tight set of his shoulders.
"Billy's not answering his phone," Dr. Kaplan continued. "If they've been taken as well-"
Hotch shook his head, and glanced at the screen - and Garcia. "Let's not jump to conclusions yet; they could easily have gone somewhere to regroup for a little while. Can you call around to Billy's friends, Doctor? Maybe they've gone to someone's house. Or another parent might have seen them."
She nodded jerkily, every tendon in her neck tight and her face rigid with worry. "Yes, of course. I'll go do that."
Once Dr. Kaplan was out of the room again, Hotch's sympathetic-face vanished. "Reid, have Burdick get an APB ready to issue on the boys, as persons of interest only. Don’t send it yet. Garcia, put a trace on William Kaplan and Theodore Altman's phones. Find them."
Order received. "You got it, sir," Garcia replied, and severed the connection. More searches to run, and hope to God that the kids called someone in the next fifteen minutes. If not, there were red light cameras and street cameras, footage she could pull, gotta get someone on that. Pull up bank accounts; some kids had cards these days, or access to family accounts, so that was another option, which also opened up the possibility of ATM cameras…
Garcia’s fingers flew across her keyboard, windows and files popping up across a half-dozen monitors. Behind her on a subsidiary screen, a red 'trace complete' note flashed, for the moment unnoticed.
1:30 pm, Saturday, 19th Precinct:
Without knowing anything about their vehicle – or even if they had access to one – it was going to be almost impossible to track down a pair of teenagers who didn’t want to be found. JJ caught herself staring at Reid’s carefully marked-off map again, and turned away. Neither Billy nor Ted had their cell phones on, for one thing. What teenager turned his phone off unless he was either grounded, or had gone to ground? Doctor Kaplan’s calls had turned up nothing, and now they had officers canvassing the kids’ usual haunts and coming up with another big fat zero.
In the meantime, they were no closer to finding Lenore than they had been an hour ago. Garcia had found an apartment address for Whitter in the Bronx and Prentiss and Rossi were already en route, while Morgan and Hotch were headed for his last known address in New Jersey. It left JJ to wrangle the precinct and Reid going over Sutler’s notes, the pile of papers in front of him gradually expanding outward to cover the table in semi-organized concentric circles.
So when Hotch’s computer beeped and Garcia’s face appeared, it was more than a relief, it was a godsend. “Hey, Garcia.” JJ pushed her chair around the table so that she could be seen in the webcam more clearly, and gave Garcia a hopeful smile. Burdick stepped in behind, setting down the file they’d been going over, and nodded. “Have you got anything new?”
“I do, as a matter of fact,” Garcia replied, and JJ leaned in. Garcia was frazzled; more so than usual, anyway, waving a pen with a bird on one end that bobbled on a spring when she spoke. “I had a couple of the interns running video from the toll roads leading into and out of the city, and I got a hit.” She tapped furiously at her keyboard for a second and a series of grainy images popped up on the screen. “This was taken about ten minutes ago at the toll booth on the I-78 West. Unless I need my prescription renewed, are those not our boys in the back seat there?”
The pictures were small and poor quality. JJ had to squint, and she leaned to the side to let Burdick get a better look. The silver car had been caught on-side, Teddy Altman and Billy Kaplan visible sitting behind a dark-haired driver, more kids packed in the car along with them. “Garcia, can you run your facial recognition software to get IDs on the other four?” JJ asked, sitting back when Burdick placed his hand on her shoulder.
Burdick shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Agent Jareau.” His face contorted for a minute in – disappointment? “I know those kids; all of them. The blonde girl in the back seat is my stepdaughter, Cassie. The driver is her best friend, Kate Bishop. The other boys are Eli Bradley, and Jonas Pym.” He said that last name with a dark scowl that made JJ wonder if she should fear for the kid’s safety when Burdick got his hands on him.
“These kids are a close-knit group.” It wasn’t a question, just a prompt to keep him talking, and she either needed to spend more time around profilers, or less – she was starting to pick up too many of their tricks. JJ pushed her chair back to put a little more space between herself and Burdick, and let her see his face more clearly.
He nodded. “Cassie and Billy have known each other for years, through the precinct. They were thick as thieves when they were small. Cassie’s father – Scott Lang.” He paused, but only for a second. “He was a cop as well. Got himself killed in the line of duty. If anything happens to Cassie, I don’t know what Peggy would do.” He rubbed his forehead, everything about him tight and tense and unhappy. “That whole pack hang out together too much, and they egg each other on into stupid, reckless things.”
“In my experience,” JJ replied, “Teenagers don’t need a lot of encouragement to do stupid and reckless things. I think it comes in the DNA.” She put a sympathetic hand on his arm, and he dropped his head. “Do you have any idea where they might be going?”
He shook his head. “Into New Jersey? I can’t even begin to guess.”
“They could be heading for the adoption agency,” JJ guessed, “but that building was sold a long time ago.” JJ looked back at the screen and Garcia glanced up from one of her other monitors. JJ could feel her pulse picking up speed; she had something concrete to latch onto, which was better than chasing ghosts.
Contingency plans slotted into place, she had four, no, five things to do immediately, twelve that would spin off of those, and first and foremost among them- “We need Kate Bishop’s license plate and car registration, Garcia,” JJ requested, “and fill Hotch in.” She turned back to Burdick. “I think it’s time to send out that APB.”
1:30 pm, Saturday, somewhere near Newark, New Jersey:
The highway wasn’t too busy, thank god, and they flew along a few miles over the speed limit. Kate was definitely doing it specifically to drive him nuts. Eli glared at her and she just grinned, giving him a look over the rim of her glasses. The speedometer edged up another notch. “Feeling the need for speed, Eli? You keep staring at the dash.”
“You’re going to get us pulled over,” Eli pointed out helpfully.
“You worry too much.” But a half-minute later their speed edged down slightly, and he sat back in the passenger side seat, mollified.
“Crap, I lost it again,” Jonas complained and Eli craned his neck to look behind him, just in time to get half-clobbered by a metal can that Cassie was pushing forward between the two front seats.
It was mounted on a stand with flashing lights. A pair of wires trailed down from the can, and duct tape was wrapped around the whole thing, a strange blend of a Frankenstein experiment and something you’d see on Mythbusters. Neither of those options inspired a lot of confidence. “The hell?”
“I need you to hold that out the window,” Jonas instructed, balancing his laptop open on his knees while Cassie tried to untangle the wires. He looked up when Eli didn’t move, blinking at him. “As high as you can get it, and hold it there. Kate, can you get off the highway and – I dunno – find something residential?”
Billy laughed, though there wasn’t much joy in it, shifting on Teddy’s lap. Kate veered sideways across three lanes, heading for an exit and Billy yelped, grabbing Teddy’s shoulder to steady himself. “You finally made a ray-gun? What’s your first target in your quest for ultimate world domination?”
“Today New Jersey,” Cassie intoned solemnly, “tomorrow the world.”
Kate hit the button to send Eli’s window rolling down. “If that thing is carrying any form of high-test firepower, Pym, you’re walking home.” But Eli recognized the slightly manic glint in her eye that suggested she was thinking along different lines entirely.
“It’s an antenna.” Eli could practically feel the eye-roll burning through the back of his head rest. “I lost wi-fi when we hit the highway and I need to see if Shepherd has moved again.”
The wires snaked over Eli’s lap and he propped his elbow in the window. The wind from the highway speeds battered at his hand, and he shook his head. “Not gonna work.”
“Drive slow,” Jonas ordered, “and Eli, get the cantenna on the roof, k?”
The airstream slowed down as they turned onto a street lined with houses and Kate dropped speed. Eli grumbled and muttered and shifted up to try and reach higher, propping the antenna half out of the window and as high up onto the car roof as he could reach.
“Is it working?” he heard Cassie ask, but didn’t look around to see what Jonas’ reply was.
“Maybe Teddy will have better-“ Eli started to say. But Teddy was staring out the window, his eyes glazed over and fixed on some faraway point. “Never mind,” he murmured, tucked his ankle under him to press himself up higher, and sat the cantenna on the roof of Kate’s car.
“Wait!” Jonas raised his voice, and Kate slammed on the brakes. Eli jolted forward, Billy came close to toppling out of Teddy’s lap; and Cassie let out an ‘eep!’ of protest. “Stop here,” he added, grinning. “Give me three minutes, the cantenna five degrees to the left, and that Red Bull you keep stashed in your backpack, Billy. I’m going to make some magic.”
2:00 pm, Saturday, The Bronx:
Whitter’s apartment was in a building that only the most polite of people would call ‘run-down.’ ‘Disaster area’ was more appropriate, and frankly Rossi was amazed that the landlord actually cared enough to file the records that Garcia had managed to find. Black stains creeping up the walls in the hallway announced the reason for the overpowering smell of damp, and the tile floor was stained with a hundred unidentifiable things. Whitter was on a month-to-month lease, had been here for two months now, and from the looks of the mailbox (empty) and the newspaper at the door (today’s), he was still kicking around.
They knocked, announced, then kicked the door in with extreme pleasure – at least on Rossi’s part – and he had to admit that he was more than a little disappointed not to find the bastard at home. The apartment was all of one room, a futon in the corner passing for a bed, an arrhythmic clicking coming from an old bar fridge that was groaning its way towards death.
There were two other doors. Rossi wrenched one open, his firearm up, but there was no way for a person to hide in the half-empty shelves of the linen closet. “Clear,” Prentiss announced from the bathroom, and she reappeared with a headshake and a frown. “We missed him.”
“But not by much. There’s just the one ad circular at the door, and it’s this morning’s. He left last night or early, before the delivery came through.”
The place was dim, threadbare curtains drawn, but even in the faint light Whitter’s obsession was splayed out for them across every surface. The walls were plastered with images, newspaper cuttings and pages pulled from notebooks, the torn edges marking their origins.
“Now we know where Sutler’s notebook went. I wonder where the rest of it is?” Prentiss turned to look behind them at the small painted wooden table piled high with scraps of paper and scrawled notes, and brushed a few of the pages aside with a gloved hand.
“Not just the notebook.” Rossi pointed to a couple of the images on the wall: photographs of a woman and infant, her dress and hairstyle marking it as early 1990s, maybe late 1980s. Some cuttings from newspapers regarding the troubles with the Creche, with Preston Sutler’s byline circled. A couple of computer-generated age-ups, variations on the same young man printed and plastered beside each other, over and over, and each of them vaguely familiar.
“Prentiss, look at this.” Rossi gestured, and she moved over to stand beside him again. “This kid remind you of anyone?”
Prentiss nodded, slowly. “None of the images are quite right, but if you take them together – they could be Ted Altman, or someone related to him. Do you think this is a photograph of him and his mother?”
“I’d be willing to bank on it.” Rossi nodded. “Whitter’s looking for his nephew, and he took Lenore James in order to find him.”
“That explains why he didn’t kill her,” Prentiss tensed, and she met Rossi’s eyes. “And it means there’s a good chance that she’s still alive.”
“But only until he gets what he wants – or he decides that she’s not going to give him the information that he needs.” Rossi glanced at his watch, the swoop of the second hand now marking a distant countdown. “Given his track record, I don’t think we can count on him having a whole lot of patience with her. It’s possible that she has only a few hours to live.”
Rossi thumbed the speed dial button set for Aaron Hotchner as he pulled the phone from his pocket. “Hotch and Morgan are en route to Whitter’s old place now. Call Reid and see if he can narrow down our search area again. And Garcia, see if she’s come up with anything new. He’s looking for the boy, and knows where he lives. Whitter won’t have gone far.”
2:00 pm, Saturday:
I expected… what did I expect? To see a monster in the woman who stole my blood, to see evil and heartlessness and avarice all collated.
To feel guilt, perhaps, or to be reminded of my own humanity when I came face to face with Anelle’s murderer. Not this; I see only clarity in the flame, in my duty.
To smell blood and smoke and taste ash upon my tongue, to see my sister’s face as she burned, as she must have burned. That, at least, I have.
She might have survived the crash, the fire, even as she dangled so that the blood flowed to her head, hung by her belt as the fire licked and tasted and blackened skin so pale and pure.
I would have loved her still, nursed her back. Had she wanted to live, she would have fought. The way Lenore fights now, and for the same reason.
Lenore has the son that she stole from Anelle, the reason to live that my sister was denied. And so the fire that I hold beneath her fingers licks at flesh, turns soft pink skin hard and red, blushing bright and thick. I see Anelle, the metal crumpled and folded around her.
They said she did not scream as she burned.
Lenore will scream as she burns. But not before I find him. In her memory, I will have us reunited. Blood calls to blood, and I will bring him home.