The blueprints for the construction of one human being requires only a meter of DNA and one tiny cell. … even Mozart started out this way.— L.L. Larison Cudmore
Savannah had to leave for work before him, this morning, so Derek scrambled eggs for both of them while she showered.
“Mmmmm, smells good,” she said, buttoning up her shirt as she came downstairs. “You going to keep spoiling me like this even after the baby’s born?” She gave him a warm kiss on the lips—not passionate, but loving. The kind of kiss you gave when you were comfortable and affectionate and solid in your relationship and could let passion come in its own time. Derek liked it, a lot more than he would have thought a decade earlier.
“I’d love nothing better,” Derek said with a smile. “But it depends on how frazzled the baby has us. What I’ve heard, those first few months we’ll be lucky if we’ve got the energy to nuke a frozen breakfast sandwich.” He handed her a plate and let her dish up her own eggs.
“Fair enough,” Savannah said. “Hey, you got any plans for tonight?” She set her eggs on the counter and got out the orange juice and two cups.
“No,” Derek said, dishing up his own eggs. “Not unless we get called out, why?”
“Hank’s room is mostly done, for now,” Savannah said. They’d spent the weekend, which miracle of miracles they both had off, painting the nursery; they’d gotten most of the furniture they’d need through strategic garage saling, one of Savannah's hobbies. “And I should be free tonight, too. That means we don’t have any more excuses.” She handed him his juice as he joined her at the counter.
“The spare room,” Derek said with a groan.
“The spare room,” Savannah said. “I hate having my exercise bike in the living room, and I know you’re none too fond of keeping your weights in the office. With the gym turned into Hank’s room … we need the boxes gone from the spare room to set up the gym in there. We’ve said for the last year, almost, that we were going to unpack the last of the boxes one of these days. It’s time.”
“I know, I know,” Derek said. He sighed. “I just hate spending what little downtime we have cleaning and unpacking.”
“Try doing it with swollen ankles,” Savannah said dryly. “And I'd rather do it now than when we have a baby to take care of." She took a bite of her eggs. "Hey, that’s the thing about getting married," she said, talking with her mouth full. "It’s not just about the fun stuff, any more—it’s about doing all the boring life-maintenance stuff together, too.”
“Yeah,” Derek said. As a kid—and even as a young man—he'd thought that marriage brought with it all kinds of boring, every-day activities, the kinds of think Savannah called 'life-maintenance.' But the thing was, all adults had to do those sorts of things. Sharing your life with someone just meant you didn't have to do them alone. He lifted up his own plate of eggs. “But some of that boring life maintenance stuff is more fun than others.”
"Hey, speak for yourself," Savannah said. "You may like cooking, or at least not mind it, but you at least reliably get something edible out of it. I don't enjoy cleaning and organizing, but at least I get the satisfaction of accomplishing something, unlike when I try to cook."
"I guess I'm just gonna have to be the chef in the family, teaching Hank how to feed himself so he doesn't starve," Derek said with a smile.
"Add it to the list of father-son bonding activities," Savannah said with an indulgent smile. "Just don't think it means you'll get out of setting him a good example in the cleaning and organizing part of things, too."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Derek said, remembering how badly it had gone for him when he'd tried to pull a 'man of the house, don't need to clean' thing on his sisters as a teenager. His sisters had been bad enough, but when his mother heard about it … "Mama would never let me hear the end of it."
"How is Fran doing, by the way?" Savannah asked.
Derek shrugged. "Still plotting out how much time off she can take when the baby's born, and wishing we lived closer."
"I wish she lived closer, too," Savannah said. "And my parents, as well. But I'm not moving to Chicago—or Minneapolis—any time soon."
"Why not?" Derek asked, curious. They'd never talked about it; both were fairly rooted here in the DC area with their jobs, so it had never come up.
Savannah gave a huge mock shiver. "The cold! God, I hate the cold. So many months, you can't go outside without getting your nose frozen off. I never much cared for sledding, and I always lost snowball fights, and by the end of the winter we were all going stir-crazy. And all the ice, and having to shovel the snow … here we get just enough snow for it to be a treat for Hank once in a while, and not enough to make everybody miserable."
"Sounds like you've put some thought into this," Derek said with a smile.
"My mom always said snow builds character," Savannah said. "Personally, I always thought that was a crock, unless she meant it built a character of fighting with your siblings and being absolutely miserably frozen solid."
"Well, Hank doesn't have siblings yet," Derek said.
"Let's not start planning for future kids until we see how we do with the first one," Savannah said.
Derek nodded. "Right. But whether he is an only child or the first of several, I think we can safely provide enough character-building activities without subjecting him to six months of snow every year."
Derek sipped at his coffee while he waited for Monday morning roundtable to begin. Garcia was fussing over her stuff to get things set up as the others trickled in. He hoped there wouldn't be a callout today; in addition to tackling the spare room after work, the team had been going pretty steadily, the last month, and he could use some office time. Another few days of normal before diving into some sicko's head would be welcome. Not to mention, cases involving kids were hitting him a lot harder than they used to. He wondered how the parents in the BAU stood it.
Judging from Garcia's calm, business-like attitude, he was in luck. If there were an urgent case, she'd be working faster, and if there was anything too creepy she'd be upset.
Sure enough, the meeting began with normal business: individual consults handed out and reported back on, administrivia, follow-up on cold cases still open and closed cases awaiting trial, all the little things and boring details that kept the BAU running.
"Oh!" said Garcia, "I almost forgot. I got a call from Detroit last night, Agent Rossi, they wanted to know if you had anything more for them—they found another two together."
Detroit. Derek couldn't think of Rossi mentioning a consult from Detroit recently. But then, Detroit tended to send them more "ordinary" stuff than any other big city in the country. A couple of precincts had figured out that BAU consults were a cheap way of getting help for understaffed departments, so anything that could be stretched to fit the BAU's criteria got sent along. Derek didn't begrudge them; they were trying to do as best they could with few officers, no money, and all the problems of a city that had been crumbling for so long and was now in the process of reinventing itself.
"The overdoses?" Rossi shook his head. "I gave them everything I had. But if they found two together—same history on both?"
"I'd say that kicks it over into serial killer territory. That's just too many coincidences."
"Care to share with the class?" Hotch said.
Rossi turned to him. "Couple of weeks ago I got a consult from the Detroit PD. They wanted to know if they have a serial killer on their hands, but they weren't even a hundred percent sure they were dealing with murders at all."
"Staged accidents?" Reid asked.
"Drug overdoses," Rossi said. "Prescription drug overdoses from known addicts living on the street. Now, that's nothing surprising. But all of them had been gone from the streets for months, and in that time they'd been clean and well-fed and not using, given the state of their bodies."
"Again, not surprising," Hotch said. "They get into rehab, get clean, get off the streets, then slip back into old habits. Unless there were unusual numbers or the bodies were obviously dumped, I can't see why that would raise any red flags. Unless—were they all a similar type?"
Rossi shook his head. "They looked like they'd overdosed where they were found, and if they were staged it was a damn good job of it. And they were all races, ages, and body types. They did all have one thing in common: they were all women of childbearing age who had had a baby recently—a baby there was no record of."
Derek sat up straighter in his chair, thinking of the Reinmans. Robert Reinman had kidnapped, raped, and tortured street women and runaways, forcing them to bear children for his wife to raise and then murdering them. "Now, that's one we've seen before." But the Reinmans had been careful to select women who were ethnically similar to them so the children could pass as their own.
"Michigan does have safe harbor laws," Reid pointed out. "And private adoptions. It could just be that they were handed over anonymously or privately, and the police haven't been able to track them down given their limited time and resources. How many are we talking about?"
"Eleven in the last year that we know of," Rossi said, "counting the latest two. Detroit's a big city with a lot more squatters and homeless per capita than average, but that's still pushing credibility. And two women at once, who have both been off the streets and gotten clean, and both had babies recently that we can't find, and both overdosed together?" He shook his head. "I suppose it's possible it's a coincidence, but not likely."
"Still, without proof that these women were murdered, or that the infants really are missing, I can't justify sending the team," Hotch said.
"Come on, Hotch," Derek said. "You know as well as I do that every cop in Detroit is overworked, underpaid, and drowning in crimes they don't have the resources to solve. And a bunch of homeless junkies dying would be low priority on the totem pole even if they had enough people to investigate everything. If we don’t step in, this will never even get looked at."
Hotch frowned. "Garcia, have they asked us in?"
Garcia nodded. "We have a standing invite with this case if we spot anything we want a closer look at."
"All right," Hotch said. "Rossi, you and Derek look over what you've got, including the two new cases that just came in. If you can find something definite, we'll go. If not, I'll send the two of you for an in-person consult. It's the best I can do."
"There's no pattern to when the bodies appear," Rossi said. "Time of day, time from one death to the next, time of month, nothing."
"And no pattern to how long the women were missing before their bodies were found," Derek said. He looked at the board they'd set up. "Kaleesha Jones was missing for almost two and a half years; Mindy Prescott for ten months."
"Assuming she wasn't already pregnant when she disappeared, that's a pretty tight timeline for impregnation," Rossi said. "Even if she didn't carry the baby to full term, she would have had to become pregnant within a month or two of when she was taken."
"There's no sign of mistreatment during the missing time," Derek said. "No new scars, no fresh injuries, few bruises. They were washed and healthy, they'd been eating well. It's exactly what you would expect to see if they'd been in rehab or something."
"Except Garcia hasn't dug up any rehab records for them during the missing time, and their families say they hadn't seen them, so it would have to be some off-the-books thing. Maybe a cult?" Derek threw it out.
"They get back on the streets, but not for long," Rossi said. "Not long enough to pick up the layer of grime that comes from not having a clean house and a shower and clean clothes every day. They get drugs, and overdose."
"But not their drug of choice," Derek said. "Kaleesha and Jenny and Ashley and Teri were on crack, Kimberly and Erica and Mindy were heroin addicts, Ebony and Tiffany were on meth, and Lori and Amanda preferred E. Yet all of them overdosed on oxycontin instead. If they'd wanted to get high, you'd think at least one of them would have gone for their drug of choice."
Rossi shrugged. "In some places prescription drugs are cheaper on the street; we'll have to check. It's not a smoking gun."
"Yeah, but all the same drug? And where did they get the drugs?" Derek asked. "If they'd gone to their usual dealer—or whoever replaced him while they were gone—they'd have probably gotten their usual drug, if they could afford it. Instead, they all got something that could be found in any pharmacy."
"If they were being held by someone who was keeping them in good condition, he might have had access to medications of some kind," Rossi pointed out. "They were well-taken-care-of, including for the birth. Ten of them had had tearing during birth which had been stitched: neat and professional-looking. That says medical training, and possibly access to a pharmacy if the unsub works in the medical field."
"Except a pharmacy would notice if enough oxy to overdose on was going missing regularly," Derek pointed out, "and they'd report it."
"If it were a legitimate pharmacy," Rossi said. "If the unsub works there, he or she may be able to cover it up."
"Two possibilities I can see," Derek said. "One, there is no unsub, they were at a rehab center we haven't found yet, the babies were given up for private adoption, the mothers stole the drugs on their way out the door, and someone is covering up the missing oxy. It's unlikely that they would all have overdosed, but possible. Two, the unsub was getting rid of them and figured this is an easy way to dispose of the bodies, because who looks twice at a junkie who overdoses, and it was easier to get prescription drugs than street drugs."
"Which, again, suggests medical connections," Rossi said.
"Or a relative who's got chronic pain problems and can be stolen from," Morgan pointed out.
Rossi shrugged. "Enough for eleven overdoses in just a couple of years?"
The two men stared at the board, with pictures of eleven women pinned to it. They really were a wide variety, ages fifteen to thirty-eight, black, white, Latino, Native American, different socio-economic backgrounds, who'd lived on the streets in different parts of the city.
"You know, if this really is a serial killer, I can't figure out what he wants them for," Rossi said. "There's no evidence of any kind of violence or trauma. And they're healthier when they die than they are when they disappear; they'd be more difficult to control. He's not keeping them weak."
"Maybe that's why they're killed," Derek suggested. "They're stronger, harder to control; when they get to be a problem, he takes them out and gives them an overdose and stages the body to look natural."
"Yeah, but what's he getting out of it?" Rossi said. "We're obviously not dealing with a sadist, here. He's not getting off on torturing them, because there isn't any torture. And the kind of organization to abduct all these women without a trace, hold them for years with medical care, and then dispose of them with plausibly staged overdoses so that it doesn't look like murder—this is not someone lost in their own reality. This is someone with a plan and resources. But I can't figure out what they're getting. It's why I've been hesitant to label this as a serial killer."
"Maybe it's the babies themselves," Derek said. "Maybe that's what he or she is getting out of it."
"There's easier ways to get babies," Rossi said. "Artificial insemination or surrogacy, for one. If you can't get pregnant yourself, there's adoption. Can be expensive, but keeping eleven women for months or years is more expensive if you want them healthy. Or you could kidnap one: find a park somewhere, pick up a baby while the mother's back is turned."
"Yeah, but if there's a kidnapping the whole country goes on alert," Derek pointed out. "It's pretty risky. Nobody cares when a homeless addict disappears. Still, if they just want a baby, why eleven women? That's a lot of babies. Why all the different races, unless you want to be the next Angelina Jolie? I mean, if someone was selling them, white babies would be more valuable."
"I don't know," Rossi said. He looked at the clock. "Unless you have something brilliant, I don't think we're going to come up with anything solid enough to take the whole team to Detroit."
"Nothing brilliant yet," Derek said. "But eleven women in the same time frame, in the same city, disappear, get clean, get healthy, have babies who also disappear, and then die of a prescription drug overdose shortly afterwards? There's something going on here."
"No kidding," Rossi said. "I know we're missing something obvious. Babies. If it is about the babies, where are they going after they're born?"
"The mothers can take care of them, at least until he kills them," Derek pointed out.
"Yeah, but what happens after the mothers are killed?" Rossi said. "I mean, babies take a lot of work. If he's not selling them to adoptive parents, that's a lot of man-hours."
"If he's keeping them alive after their mothers are killed," Derek pointed out. "We're assuming the infants are still alive because they weren't with their mothers, but that many dead babies would have raised all kinds of alarms. And babies are smaller than adults, easier to dispose of quietly." Damn, but he hoped that wasn't the case. Now that he was watching Savannah fill out, knowing there was a baby in there … he couldn’t help but wonder if some of the women on their board had looked like she did now, early in their pregnancies.
"Maybe he's got other girls he hasn't killed yet, who are taking care of them," Rossi pointed out. "Or, hell, even homeless men. We don't know that these are all the missing people, all we know is that these are the only ones who've been killed in a way that fits the pattern."
Derek cocked his head. "Are we sure these are the only ones? I mean, some of those women were missing for a couple years when they were found, and when you add the duration of their pregnancies, we're not talking someone who became active only in the last year. At least three, minimum."
"Assuming that the father of the babies is the one killing these women, and not an unrelated unsub abducting pregnant women," Rossi pointed out. "And no, we're not sure. When it looks like an overdose of a homeless person, the ME may not even bother to do a thorough enough examination to find out they're new mothers, and may not flag it even if they do. There could have been earlier bodies in another city somewhere; there could have been earlier bodies in Detroit that just weren't noticed. There could have been other bodies in this time frame that were examined by a different ME and not noticed."
Derek shook his head. "I'm going to go see if Garcia has had any luck," he said.
Rossi gave him a distracted nod as he stood up and left.
On the way to Garcia's office, Derek got himself a bottle of water, sipping slowly as he turned the facts of the case over in his head.
"Hey, baby girl, tell me you got something," he said, sticking his head in.
Garcia turned to him. She was in blue and green today, and as cute as usual. The amount of work she put into looking good, she'd probably be upset to realize how little of it he paid attention to. All he knew was it made him smile to look at her. "Sorry, my chocolate stallion, I have no help for you. Which is kind of suspicious in itself," she pointed out. "I have not been able to trace the whereabouts of any of those women during their missing time: no police record, no rehab, no womens' shelters, no homeless shelters, no doctors' visits or ER trips or clinic visits, no prenatal care, no midwives, no baby delivery, no baby. None of their relatives have a new baby, except for one where there are pictures of the pregnancy all over Facebook. Not a single baby in the adoption or foster care system that I can match with any of these women, not a single baby abandoned at a church or hospital in the right time frame that matches the right ethnicity of the mother. Eleven babies, gone without a trace."
Derek shook his head. Garcia could do wonders, but only if there were records. If the babies were being kept somewhere, if the unsub had done the detox and midwiving himself … there wouldn't be anything. "Here's something else to look for," he said. "We don't know when this unsub got started, or if there was a learning period or anything. If you could look for any similar cases earlier or in other cities, that would be awesome. And we think the unsub may have medical knowledge, even access to a pharmacy. If there have been any suspicious oxy thefts from a pharmacy that might be related, let us know."
"I'll do my best."
"You always do, Garcia." Derek smiled. "If there's anything to find, you'll find it."
“Thank you, Derek,” Garcia said. She smiled. “And how is Savannah doing? I haven’t talked to her in like a week. A whole week! She could be showing by now!”
“She is showing,” Derek said, “but not enough that it's obvious through her clothes, unless you're looking for it. She’s complaining about swollen ankles and being tired all the time, but she looks fabulous.”
“And you look like a proud papa-to-be,” Garcia said. “It’s a good look on you. Just remember, she’s the one doing all the work, at least for now.”
“I’m helping all I can,” Derek said. “I’m just looking forward to the time I get to really hold him.”
"Any idea how long you're going to be gone, this time?" Savannah asked as they rummaged through boxes.
"No clue," Derek said. He pulled out a knickknack and squinted at it. He couldn't even remember where he'd gotten it, it wasn't cute or pretty or weird enough to be a conversation piece. Why had he even bothered packing it? He held it up in case Savannah liked it. She shook her head, and he tossed it in the Goodwill pile. It was amazing how much of this stuff they didn't need or want, when you combined two adults' worth of posessions. "It depends on if we spot something to give us some direction once we get there. If we don't, it could be a real short trip—just a day or two. If we do see something, then we'll call the team in, and who knows how long it will take?"
"Or who knows, you may solve it all by yourselves," Savannah suggested. "Either way, I hope you're back soon."
"We'll be done and I'll be home before your ultrasound next Monday," Derek said, "if I have to fly back myself."
"Two in a row? With your schedule?" Savannah rubbed her tummy. "Daddy's trying his very best to be a good Daddy," she said to the slight roundness there. "Even if he should know better than to make promises he may not be able to keep."
"Savannah," Derek said, trailing off.
"What?" she asked. "Derek, I knew what I was getting into when I started going out with you. Yes, it would be easier if you had a less demanding job … but the same could be said of my job. You don't have to sugar-coat it. We'll make it work. I just would rather have realistic expectations than get my hopes up. You know that, or you should by now."
"Yeah," Derek said.
Derek rolled out of bed as quietly as he could, the next morning and threw on some clothes. He'd packed the night before, and was going to grab a granola bar on the way out. Before leaving the bedroom, he paused. Savannah looked so cute, sleeping like that, and he didn't want to wake her. But still … he leaned over and brushed a kiss to her forehead, then gently lifted the covers and pressed a kiss to her stomach. "Good bye, Hank, be good for your mommy while I'm gone," he murmured.
"Time 'sit?" Savannah asked.
"Way too early, go back to sleep," Derek said.
Savannah didn't answer, already drifting off again, as Derek left for the airport.
In Detroit, there was nothing they could see on the two new bodies that hadn't been in the reports, and likewise nothing at the place the bodies had been found. They still couldn't even tell if it was just a dump site or if the women had died there. And if there was a pattern to the locations, they couldn't spot it on a map. No obvious clusters, no obvious holes, no obvious rotation. Spencer could have done the geographic profile faster, but Derek and Rossi were competent at it, and it was about as unrevealing a map as Derek had ever seen.
"Well, looks like it's not going to be an easy open-and-shut case," Derek said that night on the phone. "Nothing new is jumping out at us." He couldn't share the details of open cases—and, in all honestly, Savannah didn't really want to know the details of any of his cases—but he could share little things like that.
"Imagine my shock," Savannah said. "Well, if it were easy, they wouldn't need you to do it."
They chatted for a little bit—hospital gossip versus Rossi's grumpiness at having to fly commercial, and coach no less. Then they watched an episode of Empire together on Hulu, making snarky comments about the characters and (in Savannah's case) their clothes. The minor differences in synching were annoying, but they were used to it by now. By the time it was over, Derek was yawning.
"Just think," Savannah said, "In the not-too-distant-future we'll be doing this with Reading Rainbow and Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street instead."
"Can't wait," Derek said. "Love you."
"Love you too," Savannah said. "Good night."
"I'm telling you, Rossi, I'm starting to get discouraged," Derek said as they started out their second day in town. They were drinking coffee while going through the reports and trying to figure out another angle, someone else to interview, a new place to search, anything. "Every instinct I've got is telling me there's something here. I just can't figure out what."
"Yeah," Rossi said. "I know what—"
There was a knock on the door. Derek stood up as one of the local cops poked her head around the conference room door. Adams, that was her name.
"Hey, do you guys have any idea why the Air Force might be poking around this case?" she asked.
Derek and Rossi traded looks. "The Air Force?" Rossi said, skeptically.
Adams shrugged. "That's what they say. Guy says his name is Davis, and he's in civvies but he says he's a colonel and he's asking for information. Got a doctor with him, blonde woman, pretty, hasn't said much. Captain sent me to ask what you know."
"I have no idea," Rossi said. "But I'd sure as hell like to find out."
"No kidding," Derek said. What had they missed? None of the women had been in the military; none were the children of military personnel. He followed Rossi out into the bullpen.
Captain Aaronovitch was standing, arms crossed, in the center of the room, talking with a shorter non-descript White man in slacks and a nice shirt. "Look, Colonel, I have no idea why you're here," Aaronivitch was saying. "What the hell does the Air Force care about dead junkies in Detroit? If there's a Federal interest in this case, we've already got the FBI here, and I gotta say, I'd put my money on the Bureau's best profilers rather than the Chair Force. No offense."
Aaronovitch was a former Marine, Derek remembered as he watched. Rossi walked forward to join in, but Derek held back to take in the whole scene. A blonde woman he didn't recognize was also watching, and Derek wandered around the room towards her before taking a casual position leaning against the wall.
"What would you even do with the files if I gave them to you?" Aaronovitch was saying.
"I'd find that interesting, too," Rossi said. "Particularly since the Posse Comitatus Act means that you can't even assist civilian law enforcement unless the crime is taking place on Federal property."
That wasn't quite true—the Posse Comitatus Act had a few loopholes, such as terrorist attacks and cases when local law enforcement could not or would not maintain law and order, such as the LA riots in '92. But in any case, it wouldn't have been the Air Force called in to handle such a situation. What Derek found interesting was the way the woman cocked her head and frowned at Rossi's words, as if surprised at the notion the Air Force couldn't just go around poking its nose into civilian affairs.
"Ah!" Aaronovitch said. "SSA David Rossi of the FBI, this is Colonel Paul Davis of the US Air Force. Who seems to think the Air Force has a compelling—and yet classified—reason to get into my files."
"We have reason to believe that these dead women may have some connection to an espionage case we're looking into," Davis said.
"Are you from the Air Force Judge Advocate General or Office of Special Investigations?" Rossi asked.
"Homeland Security," Aaronovitch put in.
Derek raised an eyebrow. It was terrorism? Or at least vaguely connected to it?
"Military officers still can't do investigation of civilians," Rossi said. "I can't imagine what connection eleven dead junkies in a state that doesn't even have an Air Force base could have with an Air Force espionage investigation. In fact, I don't even think there's an Air Force base in any of the neighboring states."
"Oh, there's Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio," Davis said. "But this isn't connected through them." He sighed. "Our project concerns highly-classified research that was stolen. It's classified enough that there aren't very many JAG and OSI officers with good enough clearance to work this case—and they're all focusing on the best leads we have. So Doctor Keller and I have been sent out to do leg work for some of the wilder leads."
"And one of those leads is here in Detroit?" Aaronovitch asked. "What the hell kind of military research would lead here?"
Derek scowled. The kind that experimented on people—if you needed live subjects, who better than random junkies who wouldn't be missed? But what would military research have to do with pregnancies or missing babies?
The blonde woman beside him shook her head. "Kinda silly, isn't it?" she said. "We're all trying to get to the bottom of this, and they're more interested in a pissing match than helping each other out. We don't even know this is connected—if they'd just given us the information, we'd be out of your hair by now. Instead, they're turning it into World War III."
"There's a good reason for wanting to control who has access to case files," Derek pointed out, "particularly when dealing with a possible serial killer."
"You don't think we have something to do with the disappearances," she said, turning wide eyes on him.
"Lady, I don't know who you are," Derek said.
"Oh! Sorry." She stuck out a hand. "Doctor Jennifer Keller."
"Special Agent Derek Morgan, FBI," Derek said, shaking her hand. "You with the Air Force, too?"
"No, I'm a civilian," Doctor Keller said. "But I've been working for the Air Force for the last several years."
"Ah," Derek said, as if that explained anything. "Look, ma'am, no offense, but your whole excuse for being here is fishy. The Air Force has no jurisdiction here, no reason to be interested in this case, no way to have found out about this through legitimate channels, and no power to do anything even if you found something. You can't treat American civilians like enemy combatants, and you can't arrest them because you're not a police force. On the other hand, organized serial killers regularly try to inject themselves into the investigation, both to gloat and to keep themselves informed. If you are who you say you are, you have no reason to need the case file. So why take the chance?"
"Because there's more going on here than you have any clue about," Keller said. "There is a massive operation going on, and we know there's a problem but we're running into every kind of dead-end you can imagine. Honestly, this probably has nothing to do with our case. If you'd just give us what we need, we could check Detroit off our list and move on."
Derek crossed his arms. "I don't have the authorization to share that kind of information in an ongoing investigation," he said. It was a lie, but a plausible one to someone who'd spent time working in the snarl of red tape that was the military. "But maybe if you tell me what you're looking for, I can tell you whether it's connected."
"I'm afraid that's classified, Detective …?" Colonel Davis had apparently finished with Rossi and Aaronovitch.
"Supervisory Special Agent Morgan, FBI," Derek said.
"Agent Morgan," Colonel Davis finished.
"No luck?" Doctor Keller said.
"Not yet, anyway," Davis replied.
Derek raised an eyebrow. He seemed awfully confident he'd get those files.
"What now?" Keller asked.
Davis shrugged on his jacket. "Now, we call headquarters, and take a drive around the city looking at those properties."
Keller smiled at Derek. "Agent Morgan, we may be seeing you again."
"Doctor Keller," Derek said. He watched them as they left. This case got weirder all the time.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?" Rossi asked, coming up next to him.
"Time to call Garcia."
It didn't take Garcia long to get back to them with a video call. J.J. was with her on the screen.
"Well, there is a Doctor Jennifer Keller working for the Air Force at something classified, and Colonel Paul Davis does work at the Pentagon on something equally classified." Garcia touched a button, and two ID photos appeared on the screen.
"Yep, that's them all right," Rossi said. "What can you tell us about them?"
The two pictures disappeared and Garcia exchanged a look with J.J. "Not much, I'm afraid," Garcia said. "When I say classified, I'm talking seriously classified. I can't count how many walls I have run into trying to find out what they do for a living. Davis is your standard career Air Force officer. Or he probably would be, if I could find any current records for him besides his Pentagon address. Keller is apparently some kind of medical genius, list of awards and degrees and journal articles as long as my arm, glowing commendations, right up until she signed up for some classified project. Not much currently, except that she's licensed to practice medicine in the state of Colorado. I called J.J. in to see if she knew anything from her time at the Pentagon."
"Keller I don't know, but Davis is one of the top liaisons at the Pentagon for Project Blue Book," JJ said.
"Project Blue Book?" Derek asked.
"It's been around since the mid-90s," J.J. said. "It's a joint military-civilian operation, and very few people who join the project leave it for something else. Lots of fatalities and medical discharges for an operation on American soil, but no transfers. They tend to be very loyal, and closed-mouthed about what they're up to out there in Colorado Springs. Weird things come out of it that never get explained properly. They're involved in half the urban legends in the intelligence community. Aliens, gods, psychics and ESP, you name it, if there's a weird story or tall tale going around, Project Blue Book will turn up somewhere in it."
"And now we get to be a part of that," Derek said, visions of X-Files rising in his head. "I am not weird enough to be Mulder and not enough of a redhead to be Scully."
"You joke, but they've got a lot of power," J.J. said. "If they're interested in something, they tend to get it. They take over investigations and operations, they don't contribute to them. It's a pattern. They show up, ask nicely, and if they don’t get what they want, they call up the chain of command and pretty soon you've got a four-star general or a cabinet secretary in your own chain of command ordering you to comply with no questions asked."
"Doctor Keller seemed surprised that we didn't just hand over everything we had on the spot," Derek said. "Guess that’s what they're used to."
"I still don't get the connection between this Project Blue Book and our case," Rossi said. "What could possibly have gotten stolen that would connect to dead junkies in inner-city Detroit?"
"The kind of research that needs human test subjects?" Derek suggested.
"Shouldn't there be signs of medical procedures besides childbirth, in that case?"
Derek shrugged. "Maybe they're trying to breed kids with ESP or alien DNA?" Or what they thought was ESP or alien DNA, anyway.
On the screen, J.J. shrugged. "Hey, I know some people who would believe that, coming out of Project Blue Book."
"Aliens? Telepathy?" Rossi shook his head. "This is real life, not bad sci-fi."
Derek spent that evening reading a baby book JJ had recommended to him. Despite Reid pointing out—at length—how little was really known about infant health and development, and so how often the ‘best practices’ changed, Derek wanted to go in to this whole thing as prepared as he could. When his phone rang, he pounced on it, answering with a video call.
“Hey, how are you doing?” he asked when Savannah’s face popped up.
“Tired,” she said. It was kind of dark, but she seemed to be sitting on one of the bar stools at the counter in the kitchen. “You know, I worked longer hours in my residency, but I’m more worn out now? I hope this is just an effect of the pregnancy that will go away when he’s born.”
“Well, you’ll be able to hand him over to me and to daycare, and get some rest without having to take care of everything for him yourself,” Derek said, trying to be supportive.
“And I will appreciate that, believe me,” Savannah said. She shifted uncomfortably, making a face. “But then there are all those late night feedings? And even if we split those, it’ll have an effect. I’m sure we’ll manage just fine, but Sharelle is giving me grief for being a first-time mom at age forty.”
“With a lot of cracks about changing diapers in our walkers, I’ll bet, knowing your baby sister,” Derek said with a grin.
“And taking a bus from the retirement home to see his college graduation,” Savannah confirmed. “Oh, dinner’s ready, just a sec,” she said, putting the phone down and standing up.
Derek waited as she retrieved a frozen dinner from the microwave. She had a whole freezer full of healthy, good-tasting meals that she mostly lived on when he wasn’t there to cook.
“Hey, you think I’m not nervous?” he said when she came back. “I’m forty-six, I’ll be in my mid sixties when little Hank graduates high school. But we’re doing this together, and we’ve got great families and friends. We’ll figure it out.”
“I know! I don’t doubt that,” Savannah said around a mouthful of veggies. “I just wish I had more energy to do it with.”
“Me, I hope he gets his act together and has kids sooner than the two of us did,” Derek said. “I don’t want to hold my first grandbaby when I’m in my eighties.”
Savannah laughed. “Slow down there, tiger! He’s not even born yet, and you’re talking about grandkids? First things first! You’re worse than my mom!”
“Your mom has three kids and four grandkids already, with a fifth on the way,” Derek pointed out. And she got an earlier start.” He shrugged. “I love kids, you know? And I’ve always loved playing with my nieces and nephews, and Jake and Henry, but I never really realized how much I wanted kids of my own until I figured out you were pregnant.”
“You’re going to be a great dad, Derek,” Savannah said with a smile.
“I’m certainly going to do my best,” Derek said.
The next day, Captain Aaronovitch called them in to his office as soon as they arrived at the station. "I have been ordered to cooperate with Colonel Davis and extend every courtesy," he said. "Not just files, but anything else they might ask for. Don't suppose you have any idea what the hell this is about?"
"Wish we did," Derek said.
"Our people tell us they work for a very classified project, the kind that gets all kinds of rumors flying about," Rossi said. "What the truth is behind those rumors? No idea."
Aaronovitch shook his head. "This whole thing—" his phone rang, interrupting him. "Sorry," he said, picking it up. "Aaronovitch," he barked into it. He frowned, listening. "What?" Derek couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, but whatever it was, Aaronovitch got hopping mad. "That fucking idiot—!" He shook his head. "Look, I'll be there as soon as I can. For now, try and keep a lid on it. And DON'T let that moron make it any worse!" He slammed the handset down and grabbed his jacket.
"Busy day?" Rossi asked.
"Major pileups on the Van Dyke and the Chrysler Freeway, break-in last night at the RenCen which has General Motors and the Japanese Consulate and Ally Financial screaming at me, and now—!" He shook his head. "Look I do not have time to deal with classified Chair Force bull and a bunch of dead druggies."
"We understand," Rossi said. "We can liaise with them."
Derek raised an eyebrow at him. Although, he supposed it would put them in a good position to try and get information from them in return.
"Thanks," Aaronovitch said.
The first thing they did after leaving Aaronovitch's office was call Garcia and JJ and fill them in on local developments.
"No, it doesn't surprise me at all," JJ said. "Project Blue Book has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. They want something, they get it. Doesn't matter whose jurisdiction they have to trample over. It's said they have a direct line to the President."
"Awful well-connected for a bunch of geeks doing woo-woo fake science," Rossi commented. "Let's think about the espionage angle, here. Assuming they're right, and it is all connected, what do dead junkies and missing babies have to do with anything?"
"Well, if Derek was right last night about genetic experiments …" Penelope said.
"No, hold on, back up, let's talk about espionage for a little bit," Derek said. "Let's assume it's not a cover for whatever they're really interested in. So, somebody spies on their little operation in Colorado—"
"It's not a little operation," JJ said. "And they've got another research station in Nevada, too. And possibly others."
"Somebody spies on their operation and comes away with some sort of prototype," Derek went on. "Espionage implies a foreign government, yeah? So wouldn't they naturally have taken whatever-it-was back to their home country? In which case, even if they needed test subjects, they could probably get a lot better-quality ones than homeless addicts, with less risk of being caught. Why stay in the US? Why come to Detroit of all places?"
"Detroit's services are pretty overwhelmed," Rossi said. "There are some really vibrant and growing neighborhoods, but a lot of abandoned buildings, too and areas where renewal is only starting to take hold. Lots of turnover, lots of changes in the last few years. Good place to go unnoticed, if you can look superficially normal. But you're right, why stay in the States?"
"Unless it's not military espionage, but corporate," Garcia said. "I've been doing some digging. Project Blue Book subcontracts some of its work to various corporations, both prototoypes and finished products that they need produced in mass quantities. Some of which make it out to other projects or civilian applications, but many of which don't. I bet there are a lot of non-military applications for some of it. Maybe somebody else wanted in."
"It could be the Trust," JJ said.
"What Trust?" Rossi asked.
"What do you know about the NID?"
"National Intelligence Directorate," Rossi said promptly. "One of the more secretive alphabet soup organizations out there. Supposed to provide civilian oversight for certain military projects, turned out to have a lot of corruption that they're still weeding out a decade after the first allegations came out."
"You don't know the half of it," JJ said. "Threats, bribery, assault, stealing interesting technology from military research labs and selling it to unscrupulous corporate leaders who, among other things, take classified information and military research and filter it out into civilian companies for profit. And since everything they do is illegal anyway, they're not too fussy about the ethics of their experiments. It's a real mess, and even though they think the NID itself is clean now, they didn't manage to dismantle the corrupt operations—just force them out of the NID. They're still operating, but now they call themselves The Trust."
"Are we really taking the 'renegade mad scientist' option seriously?" Rossi demanded.
"Hey, it's not like we have any other leads," Derek pointed out, "and if Project Blue Book's been around for this long with this kind of power, they have to have produced some kind of results, which somebody else might want. JJ, can you and Garcia come up with a list of corporate leaders tied to this Trust thing?"
"We can try, but no guarantees we won't miss anything," JJ said. "Anything in particular you want us to look for?"
"I want to see if any of them have property in Detroit," Derek said. "Yesterday, as they were leaving, Davis and Keller were talking about looking at properties. It's a good bet they weren't looking for a vacation home."
"And if it is a mad scientist, they'll need a place to do their experiments," Garcia said. "On it."
"And if it's your garden variety serial killer, he'll still need a place to run his fake rehab center," Rossi pointed out. "Given the number of abandoned properties in the city I suppose a wild goose chase is better than a needle in a haystack."
Davis and Keller showed up not long after that and were shown into the conference room the FBI team was using by a desk sergeant. Like the day before, Davis was in civilian clothes.
"Captain Aaronovitch is a bit busy, today," Derek said. "He asked us to fill you in on what the police have so far."
"But not what you have?" Davis said, catching the nuance.
Derek and Rossi exchanged a glance. True, they didn't have orders from their superiors to share, and just because the Air Force could get orders to get a local police department to cooperate didn't mean they could get the same from the FBI. On the other hand, they really didn't have anything that wasn't in the police files.
"We're willing to cooperate in the spirit of interdepartmental harmony," Rossi said, "but we'd like some … reciprocal courtesy."
Davis frowned. "Our case is classified."
"And both of us have pretty good security clearances," Derek pointed out. "Not to mention, you said yourself yesterday that neither of you are trained investigators. I'm sure you're both excellent in your fields, but this isn't it."
"We, on the other hand, are the experts in criminal investigations," Rossi said. "If there's a connection, and we know what it is, it will help both our investigations."
Davis shook his head. "I'm sorry. At this point, I think we've got most of what we need, and while your security clearances may be pretty good, you're not cleared for this project."
And that was that. Derek was disappointed they hadn't gotten much out of the conversation, but given the weakness of their hand he hadn't expected to be able to get them to spill the beans. He supposed it was enough to note that both Davis and Keller were confident, but on the alert—they'd found something.
They were reviewing the casefiles again when Garcia and JJ called back with a preliminary list of suspected Trust properties.
"This isn't anything near complete," Garcia cautioned, "and some of these may be perfectly innocent. Well, innocent of Trust connections, anyway, a lot of these jerks have other nasty things buried they don't want anyone knowing about. For at least a couple of these, after the case is done I'm tying up what I've found in a bow and sending it off to the white collar division. Or local PDs, as appropriate."
"Thank you, Garcia."
After looking at the list of properties, Rossi shook his head. "That's a lot of places to check out. Time for some local expertise." He stuck his head out of the conference room door and called Adams in.
"How can I help, sir?" she asked.
"We're looking at a list of properties in the Detroit area that might be tied to this case," Derek said. "If any of them have any unusual activity, that sort of thing."
"I'll probably only be able to help with my actual patrol area," Adams said.
"We'll be checking with other precincts, too," Rossi said. "You guys know Detroit a lot better than we do, after all. It's your city."
"Wouldn't know it with the way you guys and now the Air Force have been showing up all over the place," Adams muttered.
Derek ignored it; it wasn't the worst that they'd gotten from local PD over the years, and she'd been efficient and helpful the whole time they'd been there. "Here's a list of vacant properties in this precinct we want to take a look at," Derek said. "Anything you've noticed at any of them could be helpful."
"Well, for one thing, this one isn't empty," Adams said, pointing to a mall complex about a third of the way down the list. "Hasn't been empty in the three years I've had this beat. It's got a bunch of stuff in there. Not stores, but some kinda offices. Professional."
"What sort of professional offices?" Rossi asked.
"Consulting, maybe?" Adams said with a shrug. "I dunno, there's never been any trouble there, the landscaping and outside maintenance is kept up, there's always cars in the parking lot. A good mix of cars, too—nice ones and beaters. I figure the nice ones are the professionals, and the beaters are secretaries and security and janitorial staff. There's always someone there, round the clock, but only the beaters at night."
"And you didn't think that was suspicious, that it was occupied at night?"
Adams shook her head. "Naw, I thought it was sensible. I mean, besides doing janitorial stuff after hours, even just having cars in the parking lot will deter a lot of theft. Some of the scavengers are pretty damn bold. It's getting better, but why take the chance? And like I said, we've never gotten a call out there, and they keep it maintained and looking nice. It's pretty obvious that whatever they do in there, there are a fair number of good-paying jobs. I wish there were more like it, it would do the city a world of good. How'd they get on a list of empty buildings?"
"Possibly a mix-up somewhere," Rossi said. "What's the name of the group using it now, do you know?"
"SGT Solutions," Adams said. "It sounds like a consulting firm, like I said. You want I should look through the rest of your list?"
"Yes, please do," Rossi said, exchanging a look with Derek.
Derek left the room and called Garcia for the skinny on SGT Solutions. No need to get Adams' back up by investigating a business she liked in front of her.
SGT Solutions was on no tax list anywhere—federal, state, county, or city. It had no website, no ads, and as far as they could tell it had no employees. This gave them probable cause to investigate, not for murder, but for tax evasion. Aaronovitch was leery about harassing a business that was evidently doing well, because Detroit was in desperate need of more businesses, but Detroit was also in desperate need of funds to run city services, and so a business that didn't pay its fair share was a serious thing. But tax fraud wasn't his normal bailiwick, and while he couldn't see the connection between SGT Solutions and the dead women, he didn't mind the FBI doing extra legwork.
Derek and Rossi set up surveillance on the small mall with the discreet SGT Solutions sign. Adams had been right. There were two types of cars in the parking lot. Nice-but-unobtrusive, and beaters. They followed one of the beaters home and brought the driver to the station for questioning.
"Look, it's late, I'm tired, and I have no idea what you want with me, so can we just get this over with?" Marcie Hatzenbuhler was white, late-middle-aged with graying hair half-hidden under a bad dye job. She wore cheery yellow scrubs with ducks on them, like a nurse in a children's ward, although she had no nursing credentials. She was hunched over, leaning on the table. "I've got kids at home who need their dinners."
"SGT solutions," Derek said, looking through a file. "Interesting name. Want to tell us what it stands for?" He was seated at the table with paperwork in front of him while Rossi loomed behind him.
Ms. Hatzenbuhler shrugged. "They told me in orientation, but I forgot. Nobody ever uses it. There's different companies in the building that aren’t on the signs outside."
She didn't seem any more nervous than you'd expect from someone brought in to the police station unexpectedly, Derek thought. She looked like a waitress who'd been on her feet for a long shift, which made sense because she'd been a waitress for most of her adult life, until she'd been laid off in 2008 and hadn't been able to find another job. She'd maxed out her time on unemployment, and been on welfare for six months after that ran out before landing a job with what her W-2's said was "Gen Fam." She was raising three grandchildren, her son having died in a car accident and the mother being long out of the picture.
"What can you tell us about them?" Rossi asked.
"Why?" she said. "Why ask me, and not them?"
Rossi smiled. "Well, you see, there's a bit of a problem. Officially, they don't exist. On any paperwork we can find. This makes us … a little suspicious."
Ms. Hatzenbuhler frowned. "Is this some kind of tax evasion thing? Because whatever they're doing, I pay my taxes."
"We know, ma'am," Derek said. "And if this were a tax thing, we'd let the IRS handle it."
"What can you tell us about the organizations that use the SGT Solutions building?" Rossi asked.
"They're not gangsters or running a drug lab, if that's what you want to know," Hatzenbuhler said. "I'd've been long gone if that were the case. And I never saw any foreigners or people with funny accents, if you're worried about terrorism."
Derek held his peace despite his irritation. The US had always had a far greater problem with white terrorists than any other race, between white supremacists and anti-abortion fanatics.
"Then what did you see?" Rossi said.
She shrugged. "Well, I work for GenFam, which is a sort of orphanage and daycare center combined. We've got about sixty infants and toddlers that we care for full-time, plus we do daycare for the people who work in the building."
Derek kept his face still. Sixty. That was far more than he could account for in his worst-case scenario. Behind him, Rossi had his phone out, probably texting Garcia.
"Then there's the SGT people—they do some sort of medical research, I don't know what exactly, but they've got lab coats and really expensive equipment and computers. Maybe something to do with disease—they handle the vaccinations and stuff for our babies. I think they have a medical clinic, too, but we don't see that; they come to us, unless one of the kids is sick, and then we just hand the kid over and they take care of it. Then there's a burger joint in the mall's food court. Not bad food, and a real variety, so that's where I usually get my lunch. And on the other side of the food court is a drug rehab center for expecting mothers. I don't know if there's anything else in the place, I'm usually pretty busy and they don't like us wandering around outside the GenFam area."
Derek shook his head. No kidding they wouldn't want people poking their nose around the complex. But a private rehab clinic, that would be where the women were kept. They'd have to get Hatzenbuhler to mark out what was where in the building for when they went in. If the babies she took care of weren't in the system, they could go in with social services. And if she could identify some of the dead women they'd found as having been in the rehab, that would probably be enough for a warrant of the rehab clinic, too.
"You don't have any childcare experience or training," Derek said. "You were a waitress before you got hired there."
Hatzenbuhler snorted. "Look, Mister FBI, what kind of training do you think someone needs to take care of babies? You feed 'em, change 'em, rock 'em when they cry and sing 'em lullabies. It's not rocket science. And as for experience, I had two children of my own and I'm raising my grandchildren. There's experience for you. And they've had all kinds of training seminars for us, too."
"I'd like to ask you some questions about the rehab center," Derek said. He began laying out pictures of the dead women before they'd been killed. Drivers' license pictures from happier days, that sort of thing. "Do you recognize these women?"
Rossi's phone buzzed, and he showed it to Derek. It was a text from Garcia; GenFam was not legitimate. There were no foster-care or adoption agencies or group homes in the US with that name, and there were certainly no records of the sixty infants and toddlers Hatzenbuhler said they had.
Hatzenbuhler squinted at the pictures. "They from the rehab center?" She picked them up, one by one, and looked at them closely. "We don't really see them much, so I don't know what I can tell you. But sometimes if they're making progress they’ll let them go out and have lunch in the food court as a treat." She stopped on Kaleesha Jones' picture. "I recognize her," she said. "She's older, now, yeah? Likes to do her hair in cornrows? Her name's something ghettoish, starts with a K, I forget."
"Kaleesha Jones," Rossi said.
"That's right, Kaleesha." Hatzenbuhler put the photo down again. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because she's dead," Derek said. "All these women are dead, and we think they were at the rehab center in your facility."
Hatzenbuhler jerked back in shock. "What?" Her reaction looked genuine to Derek.
Derek laid out crime scene photographs of each woman next to their drivers' license picture.
Hatzenbuhler looked at the new pictures and relaxed. "Oh, you mean they got out on the streets and ODed. Okay. For a second I thought you meant we had a serial killer or something. I mean, it's tragic, but junkies die all the time."
"True," Rossi said. "But eleven women who overdose on prescription pain medications after being missing for months, all of whom gave birth to children we can't find during that time, that's a coincidence. And when we find out they were in a 'rehab' facility that's right next to a group home for babies that isn't in the system, with no records that we can find of who those babies are and where they come from, then I start to get suspicious."
"What are you getting at?" Hatzenbuhler shook her head. "It sounds like you think somebody was holding those girls in a basement or something. But from what I saw of them, they were well-treated. And we're talking large businesses with dozens of employees. Somebody would have noticed if there was something hinky going on. Somebody would have. I can buy one bad apple who tracks the girls after they get out and hurts them, maybe, but not … whatever it is you're implying."
"And the babies?" Rossi asked. "Where do the babies come from?"
Hatzenbuhler's lips twisted. "Lotsa kids get pregnant stupid and young, and can't handle it," she said. "Lotsa girls dump their babies and run. Happens all the time. Where do you think babies come from? We take care of them. We take good care of them. We've got one carer for every four infants, and one carer for every eight toddlers, all three shifts. They get good food, lots of attention, story time, music time, play time—we've got all kinds of toys and books and stuff. Not the cheap kind, either. Puzzles and tables and weird stuff that lights up as they figure out how to do stuff with it."
"And what about the medical care," Derek said. "I bet they get a lot of it. Do you know what happens when they go in for their shots?"
"Yeah, I do," Hatzenbuhler said. "They always have one of us in there to hold the babies. Usually it's Kendra or Beth, but sometimes if they're on vacation or something I'll do it. It's no big deal, just checkups and vaccinations."
Derek wasn't quite sure he trusted her—people often didn't see things they didn't want to see, and she wanted to believe the best of the care she and her coworkers were giving those children—but a bit of him that he hadn't even known was tense relaxed at her words. He'd seen a lot of evil, and a lot of evil done specifically to children. He hoped this would not be one of those times.
"How often do they do the checkups?" Rossi asked.
"Well, more often than I ever took my kids or grandkids," Hatzenbuhler said, "but then I couldn't afford to take 'em unless they were really sick, so I don't know. And like I said, it's usually Kendra or Beth. But … maybe every two weeks or so? Each kid has a progress chart with developmental milestones, I know that, but Kendra and Beth take care of it. But they're good people. They love those babies. We all do. They'd never hurt them."
"I believe you," Rossi said. "But there's still the fact that we don't know where they came from or who's paying for their care, or who their legal guardians are."
"They're safe, they're loved, they're well-cared-for," Hatzenbuhler said. "All the babies in the world with shit homes, and these are the ones you're investigating?"
"And what about their mothers," Rossi said. "Are they safe?" He gestured to the row of photographs in front of him.
If Marcie Hatzenbuhler knew any more, she wasn't telling.
"Sixty kids, all outside the system?" Aaronovitch said when they told him. "I don't care how good she says their care is, there's no honest reason for that. They could put them through any kind of hell they wanted, and nobody would ever know. Plus an underground rehab facility that's had people end up mysteriously dead, plus some kinda medical research lab, plus tax evasion and the Chair Force sniffing around … I don't know what this is all about, but I don't like it. I want to go in there before they even know we're looking," he glanced at his watch, "but it's too late today, even if we could go now, and I have no idea how long it's gonna take explaining this to a judge to get a warrant. If we let Hatzenbuhler go home, you think she'll call in to her bosses?"
"I don’t know," Derek said. "She doesn't like us, but her first loyalty is to the babies and her own kids. She needs the paycheck, but she didn't like the idea of those dead women, either. On the other hand, she's not convinced that anybody in the complex had anything to do with it. It's a toss-up."
"I'd keep her overnight, but we'd need to send someone for her grandkids, and social services is overworked as it is," Aaronovitch said. "And they're going to get a lot more overworked tomorrow. Sixty kids!"
"How about we hold her as a material witness, put her and her grandkids up in a hotel?" Rossi suggested. "This is a murder investigation—if we claim she's in danger, we can get the FBI to foot the bill. Then we can control who she talks to."
"Works for me," Aaronovitch said. "I don't know what kind of a warrant or force I'll be able to swing for you tomorrow, but I'll do my best. It may only be tax fraud and child endangerment. But it should be enough to at least poke into every business there. And we'll need social services, of course—that many babies, good God, they'll have to keep the current staff on, because social services won't have the manpower. Hell, we don't have the manpower, not to secure and search that whole building at once."
"I'll see if we can get some help from the local FBI field office," Derek said. "Kidnapping is a federal offense. Sixty babies—good chances some of them came from another state somewhere."
"What about the rest of your team?" Aaronovitch asked.
"We mostly focus on serial killers, spree killers, and other things like that," Derek said. "White collar crime is something else. If we're right, and the serial killing is just part of the larger picture, the local FBI office is at least as able to handle it as our guys, and they have the benefit of coming in fresh instead of jet-lagged."
"Tell you what, though," Derek said. "Our tech, Garcia, is a wizard, and she's already on the case. She's doing some investigating of the owners of that property, and known associates, and she'll keep us up to date on what she finds."
"I'd be satisfied with just some simple wire taps," Aaronovitch said, "but I don't know we have time, not if we're going to get in there before Davis tries to sweep this all under the rug. Not to mention, the guys funding the whole operation at least are probably outside my jurisdiction." He eyed the two agents meaningfully.
"I'll call Hotch, and see what he can do," Derek volunteered.
"Should we try for the IRS, too, see how much jurisdiction we can tangle everything up in?" Rossi said with a snort.
"Actually, that's not a bad idea," Aaronovitch said. "I don't know what the Air Force was doing, but I don't like the idea of them disappearing this whole thing under a classified stamp. The IRS won't step on our toes, but I doubt the Air Force will be prepared for them. And the county clerk, too—the prospect of actually getting back taxes for once might cheer her up…."
“I think I’m going to need more maternity clothes,” Savannah said. “I’ve only just started wearing them, and I’m already sick of my options. It just seems wasteful to buy a whole new wardrobe that I’m only going to wear for a few months.”
Derek shrugged. “We’ve got the money.” They both made decent salaries, but worked too hard to spend much of it, and Derek’s house rehabbing was a profitable sideline given DC's housing market. “And if you don’t want to do that, I know your sister is willing to lend you some …”
Savannah shot him a dirty look. Its impact was lessened only slightly by the small screen of his phone. “Please, Derek, I am not going to borrow clothes from my baby sister.”
“Okay, I get it,” Derek said. “I wouldn’t want to borrow clothes from either of my sisters, either.”
Savannah snickered at him. “Now, that I would pay money to see!”
“You don’t think I could pull it off?” Derek said, pouting. “Baby, I’m hurt.”
They traded trash talk for a little while, Savannah bursting out into giggles when it got too outrageous. Derek basked in the sound of her laughter.
“I miss you when you’re not here,” she said.
“I know,” Derek replied seriously. “I miss you too—and I miss little Hank, even if all I can do is look at your tummy. Still, the good news is that with the break we got today, it shouldn’t take us that long to wrap up and turn over to local law enforcement and the Detroit field office. I probably will be able to make that ultrasound appointment.”
Derek double-checked that the safety was on his gun and secured it in the holster. It was awkward to do while seated in an unmarked van crammed with fellow agents, but he wasn't the only one double-checking that his weapon was secure while they waited for the "go" signal.
There were three teams, plus an outer perimeter, and the idea was to hit the old mall simultaneously from three directions for maximum surprise. So far, Derek's team was the only one in place. His team had more social workers than cops or FBI agents, and the group taking on the clinic had several IRS accountants with just enough muscle to back up their orders. They wanted to make sure to catch everyone before data could be destroyed.
The radio crackled on, with an unknown voice giving the code that the mixed IRS/police team going after the medical clinic was in position. Rossi was with the squad taking out the 'rehab center.' Given that (if they were right) the rehab center liked to cover their tracks by killing their "clients," Rossi's team was in riot gear, albeit with tazers and flash-bangs with regular firearms only as back-up. For their group, the non-combatants would come in the second wave.
Derek's group was going in to GenFam with a group in bullet-proof vests only, escorting social workers. They carried 'non-lethal' weapons, but they all knew that a stray flash-bang too close to a child could be fatal. If he were a praying man, he'd pray they took the place fast and without trouble.
It could turn into a nightmare so quickly. If the staff tried to resist. If one of the cops, high on adrenaline, made a mistake.
He wished Rossi's team would get into place. The last thing he needed was more time to think of all the ways this bust could go bad.
At last the code came, and Derek sighed in relief. The van pulled out into traffic to drive the block to the mall, pulling smoothly into the parking lot and driving right up to GenFam's employee entrance as if they were making a delivery.
As it came to a stop, the van's side door was already rolling open, agents jumping out. The one in the lead used Marcie Hatzenbuhler's ID to open the door. As the squad entered, Derek saw another similar van pull up to an entrance a ways down—that would be the IRS. Rossi's group was on the other side of the building from them.
Derek followed the agents through the empty staff room into a bright, child-friendly room. Posters of Sesame Street characters lined the walls, and cribs with cheery mobiles hanging above them were clustered in groups of four.
A white, middle-aged woman was sitting in a rocking-chair feeding a baby from a bottle. "What—"
"Ma'am, this is the FBI," said the lead agent as the rest fanned out to search the premises. "We have a warrant to search this whole facility. We don't want to hurt or alarm the children, but we need you and your fellow child-care workers to get the kids together and out of our way."
"And I'm from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services," said the lead social worker. "We're investigating as well. We all want to keep the kids safe, right? Let's gather everyone together in a safe place, and we can go from there."
"Oh-okay," the GenFam woman said uncertainly, eyes darting around the room. "Can I … can I call my boss?"
Derek didn't hear the answer as he followed the flow of agents out of the room. Already, a woman in cheerful scrubs with two babies in her arms was being escorted back to the first nursery. A nearby room filled with toys and play equipment, with a low table at one end, was designated the holding area for the toddlers and their caregivers.
It didn't take long to search the GenFam area, row after row of empty storefronts that had been converted into nurseries and play areas, though it took a bit longer to get all the children and workers corralled and out from underfoot. There were no surprises—it was a fairly standard nursery/daycare—so they followed the plan and fanned out through the rest of the mall, leaving a few agents to keep GenFam secure.
The mall had three wings off a central gathering area; GenFam took up one of the wings, with the ‘rehab’ clinic and SGT in the other two. The food court was in the central area next to the GenFam area, and since it was between breakfast and lunch there were no customers. Derek led the agents in, securing the two kitchens in use first.
"Hey, man, what the fuck's going on?" asked the guy behind the counter, hands in the air. "I haven't done anything wrong!"
"I believe you, man," Derek said, knowing that a young black man caught in a police raid would rather hear from a brother. "But your bosses seem to be up to their necks in some real nasty stuff. You just keep cool, answer all the questions, you'll probably be home for dinner. Got any keys for the rest of this place?"
"Only to the other restaurant fronts," the kid said. "They're in my manager's office. Want me to get 'em?"
"Yes, please," Derek said. He followed him through the kitchen to a tiny office, where the kid searched through a door and came up with a key ring, which he handed to Derek.
Three shots rang out. Derek jerked around—it hadn't come from in here. He tossed the keys to one of the agents and barreled out of the restaurant in the direction he thought it had come from. Several agents went with him, though some stayed to secure the food court. He tried his radio, but got only static. It'd been working perfectly earlier. Some kind of jammer? Would make sense, if they were weapons developers.
The agent at the door of GenFam was alert and craning her neck out the door; it hadn't come from in there, thank God. He could hear kids crying, but that was probably just fear.
Two more shots, sound echoing down the tiled corridor. There was no interior signage, but if his mental map of the place was right, that was the SGT clinic area.
"What the hell?" He'd expected trouble to come from the rehab clinic—if they were right, that was the group kidnapping and killing women. They had to be armed and dangerous. But Hatzenbuhler had never seen any guards or weapons in the SGT area. That's why they'd sent mostly IRS with just a few cops for muscle. What the hell was happening in the clinic?
He darted down the corridors, a couple of cops and agents at his back, glancing in each storefront to make sure they were empty. It took a little longer, but the last thing he wanted was to go in only to be shot in the back by somebody he'd missed. He swore under his breath. Even with all the different agencies they'd drawn from, this old mall was just too big to really secure quickly.
He paused at the edge of SGT, which had taken over one whole wing of the mall just as GenFam and the rehab clinic had in other parts of the building. No plate glass storefronts here—these were real walls. Which meant they'd be going in blind. Lovely. He was an FBI agent, not a soldier, and this was beginning to feel unpleasantly like a military assault.
The other agents caught up with him and clustered around the door, ready to move. He held up his hand for a count of three, then kicked the door open. One of the other agents darted through, low, followed by two others, then Derek.
They found themselves in a child-friendly waiting room, empty. Nobody behind the desk. A hall and two other rooms broke off from it, and Derek chose the one with the sound and light flashes of gunfire coming from it. This was a lab, full of equipment, with another door beyond. A woman in a lab coat had a gun out, peering towards the sound of gunfire, her back to Derek. "Freeze!" he shouted.
Instead, she whirled around and tried to shoot. He got her, instead—winged her, in the shoulder. Adrenaline had messed up his shot; he'd been aiming for her chest. Hollywood was the only place you could shoot to wound. In the real world, that was a recipe for missing your target altogether. Which was why you didn't shoot anything you weren't willing to kill.
Another agent darted in and kicked the gun out of the way. Derek grabbed his handcuffs and cuffed her to a lab table. The wound didn't look life-threatening, but with the radios down—he grabbed his cell and called 911.
"911, what is your emergency?"
"This is FBI Special Agent Derek Morgan, with the SGT task force. Our radios are out and there have been shots fired." Derek grabbed a sweater off a nearby table and pressed it into the wound as a bandage; the woman screamed, and he winced, but it was the best he could do. "I've got a perp down, gunshot to the shoulder, in the labs area. But be careful coming in, we've still got shots firing. You'll have to coordinate this by cell phone." A quick pat-down found she wasn't packing any other weapons, and so he left her to follow the sound of the action.
What he found was pure chaos. There were a bunch of scientists holed up behind a barricade of lab equipment, exchanging shots with the Detroit PD officers while the IRS agents took cover behind them. That much he'd expected. But there was also a group in civilian clothing, with unmarked bulletproof vests, firing guns that looked normal but fired some kind of energy blasts instead of bullets. They seemed to be concentrating on the scientists, but whether it was an internal faction, Davis and Keller's people, or some other group altogether, Derek had no clue.
With his guys coming in from behind, it didn't take too long before the guys in lab coats were either down or had their hands in the air, and Derek was relieved that the shooting stopped. That was the tricky part—it was always easier to start firing than to stop, once adrenaline and reflexes took over. Particularly in a situation as uncertain as this one, with a team put together at the last minute with no time to train together.
That just left a standoff with the unknowns. Both sides were yelling at the other to put their weapons down. The mystery guys claimed to be from the Air Force, but even if that were true, why weren't they in uniform? Derek put the safety back on his weapon, and he wasn't pointing it at anyone, but he wasn't putting it away until they had some more answers.
Finally, a familiar face was visible in the back of the newcomers. It was Major Davis. So, they really were from the Air Force. "All right, everybody, let's cool down. Weapons down, people, they're friendly." Well. He couldn't promise that, but they did all belong to the same government, at least in theory.
"Agent Morgan," Davis said, as both sides lowered their weapons. "What are you doing here? This is our case."
"Tax fraud and child endangerment?" Derek asked.
"What?" Davis frowned.
"That's what it says on the warrant," Derek said. "None of the organizations in this complex have paid federal, state, or local taxes. Some of their employees have, through a shell corporation, but not the businesses themselves. And they've got sixty infants and toddlers there that don't appear in any records. So. Tax fraud and child endangerment." He folded his arms. Sure, they could call in favors that would derail a normal police investigation, possibly even FBI, but he doubted they could override the combined might of the IRS and local social services. Not once arrests had actually been made. "And do you know why our radios are out?" One of the local cops had picked up a phone to report in that way, Derek noted with approval.
"It's not us," Davis said. "Probably something here in the lab. Our guys will look for it."
"That'd be great," Derek said. "We'll need their computers for financial records."
Davis shook his head. "Not possible, they contain classified information."
"We don't want any scientific data," Derek pointed out. "All we want is the financials and the kids' medical records."
"And if the medical records are classified?"
"You're going to have to give us something," Derek pointed out. "The Air Force is not social services and can't take custody of them. That means we need at least enough records to know what medical treatment is necessary now or in the future."
"How many did you say?" While they'd been talking, Doctor Keller had come in.
"About sixty," Derek said.
"Sixty?" She shook her head. "Major, we don't have the resources for that many." Meaning that they’d been planning on taking custody of the children, regardless of whether they had a legal right to.
"Doctor," Davis said with a pained voice.
"Look, we can fight about jurisdiction after this whole place is secure," Derek said. "Right now, my people are securing the childcare center and the rehab center and social services are taking the kids. How about this: we leave a mutual guard here so that nobody touches the computers until this is resolved, and right now we make sure the building is secure and the injured receive medical attention?"
"All right," Davis said.
"Sir, I found the jammer," said one of Davis’ men. He flipped a switch.
Derek tried his radio. "This is Agent Morgan, and radios should be back in business. The firefight in the SGT wing is over and the premises are being secured. Our friends in the Air Force are here and claiming jurisdiction. What's the status of the rest of the operation?"
"GenFam is still secure, and so is the food court," said Adams. "If the firefight's over, we'll continue searching the rest of the mall."
"Rehab clinic is also secure," Rossi said. "Morgan, you're going to want to see this."
"On my way," Morgan said.
"I see what you mean," Derek said, staring at the room that had been the main activity room for the women held prisoner here. Once, it had been the central hall of this wing of the mall, but partitions covered each storefront, turning it into a long, narrow room.
One of the long walls was taken up with life size photographs of the women whose deaths they'd been investigating, plus several more they hadn't found. Each woman on the wall had two photographs. In the first, she was clean and healthy and smiling. In the second, she was lying dead in an alley.
"That'll be useful at trial," Rossi said.
"If they were using the deaths as intimidation tactics this blatantly, it'll be pretty hard to claim they were accidents after the victims left," Morgan agreed. That was the worry, that the unsub(s) would claim the women had overdosed and died after leaving the clinic, and that a jury would believe them.
Derek turned to see a young white woman, heavily pregnant, watching the two of them. She was one of thirteen women, of varying races, seated at tables to one side. A social worker Derek didn't know but had seen in the briefing was with them.
"What's stupid?" he asked.
The woman jerked her head at the photographs. "Them. Sure, it sucks to not be able to leave or talk to anybody, and it sucks to be pregnant, but this place isn't bad. Nobody's raping me, beating me, screaming in my face, and I have enough to eat and nice clothes to wear and a safe place to sleep. First time in my life all of that's been true at the same time. We've all been in a lot worse places. Why risk your life to get out or make trouble? Stupid, like I said."
"Different people have different priorities," Derek said. "I'm Special Agent Derek Morgan, FBI."
"Jessica Smith," the woman said. She was in her early twenties, dyed-blonde hair (about a quarter inch of mousy brown roots showing), simple makeup, and plain maternity clothes. Her voice had been light and easy, but her arms were wrapped around herself. She wasn't as at ease as she wanted to seem. "I'm seven months preggo, right now. That's too late to have an abortion, right?"
"I'm afraid so," Rossi said, sympathetically.
"Twenty-four weeks is the cutoff," the social worker said.
"Is there a waiting period?" one of the victims asked. She was Asian, and slouching against the table. "Because I'm getting really close to that cutoff, and I've already spent two years of my life preggo, and I don't want to spend one more minute than I have to, sharing my body with their spawn."
"Fuck," Jessica said. "Dunno how I'm gonna feed myself, let alone anyone else. Can I just, like, leave 'em at the hospital?"
"Yes, Michigan allows that—no fault or blame," the social worker said. "And you'll have a social worker to help with all the practical stuff between now and then. We'll get you set up with services."
"Right," Jessica said skeptically.
"We'll be taking you to a hospital to get checked out soon," Rossi said, addressing the whole group, "after the ambulances are done dealing with the gunshot victims."
"We don't need ambulances," said one of the victims. She was a tall black woman, late thirties by the look of her, with her hair in cornrows. "Hell, I don't know if I've ever been this healthy. I mean, they made really sure their precious spawn were getting five-star residences."
"All right, we'll get some vans to drive you," Rossi said.
"Can we pack up our clothes and shit?" the Asian woman asked.
"No," Derek said, "right now it's all evidence. We'll get it to you as soon as possible." Except the stuff that would be needed as evidence for the trial, which they'd probably never get back. But there was such a wealth of physical evidence, most of which was probably irrelevant, that once it was documented, it could be returned to its owners. Their clothes, for example, would probably be released relatively soon, as soon as the crime labs could check it for blood or semen or other evidence of the women having been mistreated in their captivity. One or two sets of clothes might be kept for the trial, but they wouldn't need complete wardrobes for thirteen women.
"What the fuck are we going to do?" asked another woman—or maybe girl, she looked young. White, a little overweight, nervous. She was winding a strand of hair around a finger. "Ain't none of us got anything else in the world besides what we got here. Or anyplace to go."
"We'll get that sorted at the hospital," said the social worker.
"I'll call for a van to transport you all," Rossi said.
"I'll start searching the place," Derek said. He was really curious to know what was going on in the rest of the mall, but these women were the case they'd been called in to solve. "Anything I should be paying particular attention to?" He was curious to see what the women would say.
"Chris Johnson was the one who took girls out and dumped them," said a Latina in her thirties. "He was one of the on-site guards—he lived here. The only one living here to get a room to himself, and it's pretty big, with a desk in it."
"Yeah, but it's not like he was the brains of the operation, or anything," said the woman with the cornrows. "He wasn't even in charge here—that was Williams."
"You know where Williams kept her office? 'Cause it sure wasn't in our part of the building," the Latina replied.
"I think she was based in the clinic," Jessica said.
"Did you ever go to the clinic?" Derek asked.
"Yeah," said the nervous white girl. "That was where they implanted the embryos in us. And sometimes we got checkups there, though mostly they came here to do those. There's an examination room down the hall."
"Okay," Rossi said, putting down his cell phone. "There are two vans outside the door that will take you to the hospital, where they're going to check you over and gather evidence and make sure you're healthy. Then we're going to interview each of you individually, and the social workers will make sure you have places to sleep. We'll need a way to contact each of you, because we'll be asking you to testify at the trial."
"What about security?" asked the woman with the cornrows. "I know for sure you haven't arrested all of the goons here—and just because Johnson was the one who did most of the dirty work, doesn't mean the others won't. And it would make things a lot easier for them if we just … wound up dead in an alley like them." She jerked her head at the wall of photographs.
"We'll make sure you have police protection," Rossi said.
While Rossi and the social worker got the victims out, Derek looked around. There were already cops beginning to document everything; Derek stayed out of their way and let them do their job. They could handle the little details; it was Derek's job to be able to figure out how the little details created a bigger picture.
The place was a study in juxtapositions. There were no windows anywhere, and all the doors were heavy-duty and had sophisticated locks, giving it the air of a prison. And the pictures of dead women on the walls added to the grimness of the place.
But it was well-maintained, bright, with soothing colors and comfortable furniture. The lights were LEDs, tuned to give a natural spectrum of light that mimicked sunlight. There was a sophisticated home entertainment setup with a large TV, impressive speakers, and a wall of DVDs, CDs, and games ranging from video games to board games to playing cards. Next to that were several shelves full of books—fiction, ranging from great classics to the kind of cheap romance novels you could pick up in a grocery store. The bookshelves had been used to divide space up, creating a little reading nook. There were a variety of overstuffed couches and chairs around the entertainment center and library. Down the room a ways were the tables and chairs the victims had been seated at when he entered—nice tables with flower arrangements for centerpieces and cushions on the seats.
Clearly, the prisoners were meant to be comfortable. With the pictures of dead troublemakers keeping them cowed and complacent.
The rest of the complex was the same. Four storefronts had been turned into bedrooms for the women, each set up to house four people, though some of the beds weren't in use. Each bedroom had an attached bathroom in what had been the store’s stock area, with a large mirror, shower, and a large bathtub. Nothing fancy; linoleum, not tile; but clean and inviting looking, done in soothing, cheery colors and patterns.
The women had been allowed to decorate their space as they chose—each woman's area was different, and they'd been provided with posters and knickknacks. There were curtains and screens giving each woman some privacy. If you didn't count the cameras.
Another storefront held an exercise room (now with perpetrators sitting handcuffed on a large open floor mat, with cops guarding them), another a well-equipped kitchen (complete with a chart indicating who cooked and who cleaned for each meal, and a list of approved healthy meals to make). There was a room with cleaning supplies (again with a rota assigning who cleaned what, and when). There was an exam room. There was Chris Johnson's living quarters/office, the only room with no cameras and a lock on the inside. (Also, quite a pig sty, because it was the only room not on the cleaning rota.) There were guard stations at the exits.
"I've never seen unsubs keep their victims so comfortable," Rossi said, coming up behind Derek as he contemplated the computer in the exam room.
"They aren't exactly your usual unsub," Derek said. "And this is only one part of the operation. I wish Garcia were here to handle the computers—there's a lot we don't know, and the Air Force was already trying to deny us access to the computers in the SGT when I left there. I don’t trust them with the data."
"Neither do I," Rossi said. "I have BOLOs out on Chris Johnson and any of the guards who weren't on-shift when we took the facility."
"Good," Derek said. "Did the victims know whether he was the one who killed those girls, or just the one who disposed of the bodies?"
"They didn't say," Rossi said. "Why?"
"It would make sense that the doctors would do the actual experiments," Derek said.
"Could be," Rossi said. "On the other hand, Johnson seems to have been hired to keep their hands dirty, and this was definitely dirty work. Either way, it's something to look out for. I'm more concerned with catching the people who set all this up—I'd hate for them to blame it all on Johnson—or one of the docs—and slither out of this."
"No kidding," Derek said. "I hope Garcia and the IRS are in luck tracing the money trail."
Rossi nodded, and they left the exam room as one of Detroit PD's crime lab techs came to start processing it. "Things are pretty well in hand here—I wanna see the scope of the whole operation."
"If this is the whole operation," Derek pointed out. "Sixty kids—but only room for sixteen women? If we assume they've had sixteen women normally here over the last four years, that's three batches of babies, and still only 48 babies total. So where did the other twelve come from?"
"You think there's another facility we haven't found?" Rossi asked.
"Maybe … but if everything else is here, why have a group of the mothers be the only thing spread out? There's plenty of empty room here to expand into."
"Well, let's hope they've got good records," Rossi said. "And that we can trace this back up the chain and get the big fish who ordered it. Something like this doesn’t come cheap. It's not just the building, or the people—they had to do some serious renovations to outfit this place, and they've been doing this for several years. That kind of money, that size operation, off the books—there's a lot of powerful, rich people backing this. And if we don't get them now, there's nothing to stop them from trying this someplace else. Detroit isn't the only city in America with abandoned shopping malls that could be converted."
"That actually might be leverage to keep the case out of the Air Force's hands," Derek said. "People that powerful, you can't give them a sealed trial and hush everything up." Derek nodded to the agent outside GenFam as she opened the door for them. "Word gets out."
"Are you talking about the news crews outside?" Dr. Keller said, without looking up from where she was examining a medical chart, along with one of the social workers, a Ms. Gonzalez, and two of the agents who had been on Derek's team, Roberts and Dubanowski. Keller must have convinced one of the cops to vouch for her to get her past the agent at the GenFam door.
"News crews?" Rossi asked.
"Yup," said Roberts. "Showed up about five minutes ago—someone from the neighborhood must have noticed something. It's not like multiple vanloads of government agents is especially stealthy."
Derek and Rossi exchanged glances. That was possible; it was also possible that someone didn't want the Air Force taking jurisdiction and sweeping it all under the rug, and decided that making it as public as possible was a way of ensuring it. Or maybe someone wanted positive press for the police—taking out an operation preying on women and children would make for some goodwill in the community.
"What have you got here?" Derek asked.
"Well, they definitely were using … classified things they stole from us," Keller said.
"She wants to take some of the kids' toys with her," Roberts said. "I said no."
"Not until after they're properly documented, anyway," Rossi said. "Then we can talk."
"The kids seem to be in excellent health, both physical and psychological," Ms. Gonzalez said. "I wish all daycares and group homes had this kind of care. Dunno why they were doing it all off the books and out of the system—they would be one of our top facilities, if we'd known about them."
"We just sent thirteen women they'd been holding prisoner to the hospital," Rossi said. "Junkies kidnapped off the street, cleaned up, and used as brood mares. Some of them had been continuously pregnant for the last three years. Is this where the babies went?"
"Yes," said Keller. "But the women were just surrogates; they got the gametes from … elsewhere."
"So where do the rest of the kids come from?" Derek asked. "There weren't enough women to have had this many babies in this short a period."
"In vitro fertilization often results in fraternal twins or triplets—or more," said Keller. "That's true even when you're only trying for one baby. When you're trying to efficiently get as many kids as possible … well, they couldn't do too many at a time without risking the health of the infants, and the surrogates would need time between pregnancies to recover. But most of the pregnancies resulted in at least two live births." She shook her head. "Those poor women."
"What were they trying to do?" Rossi said. "Cloning? Were they using the babies as experimental test subjects?"
"They did take a lot of blood tests, and they were really interested in developmental milestones," Gonzalez offered.
Keller looked like she'd bit into a lemon.
"Doctor?" Derek said. "You know something?"
"It's classified," she said.
"If it has something to do with the welfare of these children, I need to know," Gonzalez said.
"Not … their immediate welfare," Keller said. "But it will probably come out anyway, and you'll need to know it for the long-term placement of the children. I still can't tell you without authorization."
"Then why don't you get it?" Rossi said.
"I can tell you that any experimentation … probably wasn't planned for the immediate future," Keller said. "If we're right about what their end goals were, they would have waited until the children were more mature. Adolescents, at least, before starting seriously in on that."
"So we're talking a really long game," Derek said.
"Yes," Keller said. "It also means that the children are probably relatively safe right now … but if we don't get the Trust cleaned up by that point, there's a good chance they'll want to abduct the children then, and continue on where they left off."
"All the more reason to take the bastards down now," Rossi said.
Keller sighed. "We've been trying for years. I wish it were that simple."
"Then, ma'am, with all due respect, maybe you ought to get out of the way and let someone else try," Derek said. "And the more information we have, the greater the chance we can actually do it."
"If behind-the-scenes maneuvers aren't cutting it, maybe things need to get out in the open," Rossi pointed out. "It's a lot harder to weasel out when the whole country is watching—and this case is tailor-made to get lots of press."
"It's not my call to make," Keller said. "But I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you," Derek said.
Rossi's cell phone rang. "This is Agent Rossi," he said, pausing to listen. "A lot of preliminary information. I've mostly been in the rehab facility—Agent Morgan's been in all three parts of the operation."
"Only briefly," Derek pointed out.
"All right, I'll send him over." Rossi turned off the phone and turned to Derek. "That was Aaronovitch. He's in the communications van, parked just outside the main doors into SGT. He's trying to figure out what to say to the reporters, and needs some perspective on what we've found."
"All right," Derek said.
"I'll call Hotch, fill him in, and get those wire taps in motion," Rossi said. "Be interesting to see who calls whom after that press conference …"
Aaronovitch was in the communications van, along with several cops monitoring the operation and the assistant DA, a White woman in a neat grey suit who was introduced as Ms. Wooten.
"I've been mostly in the rehab clinic and GenFam," Derek told them. "Not much time in SGT, aside from the firefight."
"I've been arguing with Davis for the last ten minutes," Aaronovitch said grimly. "And I've been in there myself. I know as much as anybody outside his team does about the labs."
"All right," Derek said, and gave them a rundown of what they'd found, what they suspected, and what Keller had told them.
"This case is going to be huge," Wooten said when he was done, eyes gleaming with anticipation. "And it's got everything. I don't know what we can make stick—or to whom—but it'll be fun to try."
"More immediately, we've got to figure out what to tell the press," Aaronovitch said.
"Well, the whole thing's big enough that whoever was backing this—the Trust, whoever that is—will find out soon," Derek pointed out. "Ideally, we'd tell enough to get them running scared, make mistakes, but not enough that they can use it to cover their tracks."
"Not to mention, telling enough so that the Air Force can't just disappear this all from under our noses," Aaronovitch said.
"And possibly even to get them to open up a bit more on what the hell the Trust was trying to achieve," Derek said.
"Let's start with things we can't say, because of the ongoing investigation, and go from there," Wooten said.
"Obviously, the less said about their being a larger investigation, the better," Aaronovitch said. "But it's going to be obvious that an operation this size had to have a lot of money from somewhere."
"We should play up the local police involvement," Derek said. "It was your coroner who spotted the pattern in the bodies, and one of your officers who spotted this place on a list of supposedly-empty buildings. Keep them focused on the local policing and human interest side, and that should distract them from the IRS and FBI—and the Air Force."
Wooten nodded. "Yeah. Keep them complacent—our jurisdiction is a lot more limited than yours is."
"You're okay with just being consultants?" Aaronovitch asked. "You guys were the ones who cracked it, after all."
"I'm not in this for personal glory, and neither is Agent Rossi," Derek said. "And we're not in it for FBI glory, either. Catching these bastards before they can do something like this again is a lot more important than the publicity."
It hadn't taken them long to put together a statement. Aaronovitch was no great shakes as a public speaker, but Derek wasn't bad at it and Wooten's experience in the courtroom stood her in good stead. By the time they were ready all the local news stations and several local bloggers were camped outside, with quite a crowd of curious onlookers. Clearly, someone had been spreading the word that something interesting was happening. A quiet word in Aaronovitch's ear had gotten a cop in plainclothes discreetly recording the crowd in case someone interesting showed up. Not all SGT employees had been at work that day.
Derek stood behind and to the left of the podium that had been set up, a kind of living prop for the narrative of inter-agency cooperation they were giving, watching the crowd for suspicious behavior and giving only half an ear to the conference itself. Aaronovitch praised the coroner's office for noticing the pattern of dead homeless women who'd given birth regularly. Wooten praised the police department for noticing that the mall complex should have been empty, and figuring out that this was where the missing women probably were. Aaronovitch praised the DA's office for quick action to get a warrant once they had sufficient evidence. The Bureau was mentioned as "assisting" the execution of the warrant—Derek stepped up to give a few words on the FBI's strong response to kidnapping, and to praise local law enforcement for their work in combating such a crime, especially perpetrated on those most often forgotten. Wooten and Aaronovitch together praised social services for their care for women and children. The Air Force and the IRS were conveniently erased from the story.
"Is it true they were experimenting on the babies?" came the first question.
"No, but their records indicated they were planning to in the future," Wooten replied. "The children were well-cared for, but this was intended to be a long-term program—they wanted a healthy baseline for their tests."
"Were they funded by Big Pharma?"
"I can't comment on that aspect of the investigation yet," Aaronivitch said.
"What's going to happen to the children?"
"Right now, they're in the care of social services," Wooten said. "I assume they'll be trying to find any relatives these children might have."
"Were the fathers part of the project, too? Were the women raped?"
"The impregnation was done medically," Aaronovitch said. "Aside from being kidnapped, held against their will, and forcibly made pregnant against their will, the women who survived do not seem to have been treated badly."
"Oh, well, aside from all that," someone in the crowd called out, causing some laughter. "What about the women who didn't survive?"
"We'll be prosecuting their murderers—and everyone who participated in the conspiracy that led to their deaths—to the fullest extent of the law." Wooten gave the reporters a firm nod.
The questions went on for a while, ranging from insightful to inane, and Derek kept half an ear on them while he watched for anything unusual. Nothing jumped out at him; nobody was acting suspicious. But it was part of the job. There were a hundred procedures like this, and ninety-nine of them would reveal nothing on any given investigation, but one of them would. And since you never knew which one until after the fact … you did them all.
Still, he was glad when it was all over and he could go back to the active investigation. He was debating what his priority should be when Garcia gave him a call. "Hey, baby girl, whatcha got for me?"
"Derek, my chocolate stallion, you were looking good on TV just now," Garcia said.
"You were watching?"
"You made CNN," Garcia replied. "Lot of talking heads talking about it, and the first conspiracy blogs posted before the press conference—they didn't have many actual details, but they were taking things and running with them. This is a really sexy case, like something out of a movie. There's rumors about an interagency task force, and until they get up and running I'm tracking down any online connections before they can erase them."
"Assuming they don't have some sort of automatic wipe system to destroy data and cover their tracks that's already been put into place," Derek pointed out.
"From what I see of their systems so far, I doubt it," Garcia said. "Anyway, point is, Rossi's already given me access to the computers in GenFam and the rehab facility, but not the SGT computers themselves. And I think that's where the mother-lode is, so I really need into them."
"That's not going to be easy," Derek said. "Davis claims they've got classified stolen research on there, and he doesn't want anybody but his people working on it."
"I don't care about the research, but I need to know who the researchers were getting their orders from and where the money was coming from," Garcia pointed out.
"I'll see what I can do," Derek promised, and went to find Davis.
He was not the only one. Rossi and Gonzalez had been pressing Keller for details, and she'd said Davis was the one to give the authorization. Derek found them in a conference room in the SGT area, Davis on the phone, Rossi, Gonzalez, and Keller waiting. Davis finished his call and glanced over at them, frowning. "Agent Morgan, I'm assuming you also have a request?"
"Our tech goddess, Agent Penelope Garcia, needs access to the SGT computers in order to trace who they were talking to—where the money was coming from, who gave the orders, that sort of thing. She doesn't need the science bits, just the financials and contact stuff—who was giving the orders, where the money came from, that sort of thing. And she needs it now, before they can cover their tracks too well."
Davis folded his arms and looked off to the side, obviously thinking hard.
"Look, man, you're going to have to tell something," Derek said. "I've heard there's going to be an interagency task force looking in to this. It's not gonna be the Air Force's show."
"It isn't the Air Force's show now," Davis said. "We're the guys on the ground, but we're not the only ones making the calls. That's the problem."
"What does the IOA say?" Keller asked.
Derek filed away the acronym for Garcia to look into.
"Suspiciously little, considering the size of this Trust operation," Davis said. "O'Neill's put the decision about how much to reveal—within reason—in my hands."
"Well, that's good, then," Keller said. "Less bureaucracy to fight through."
"Yeah, but if somebody doesn't like the way I play it, it's enough rope to hang me with," Davis said. "If this makes the chink that pulls enough stuff out of the shadows that we start talking disclosure—even if it's not my fault—I'm the scapegoat."
Keller shook her head. "General O'Neill wouldn't do that."
"He wouldn't," Davis said.
"Who's General O'Neill?" Gonzalez asked.
Derek sighed internally. He could have learned a lot just from listening to Keller and Davis talk.
"General O'Neill is the head of our department," Davis said. "Good guy. Doesn't micromanage. Generally trusts the advice of the man on the spot. But he's got enemies, too, and if this blows wide open, they could use my choices as proof he needs to be replaced, because he's the one who gave the go-ahead."
It didn't sound like politics in Project Blue Book were much different from internal FBI politics. It was interesting, though, that it had to be explained to Keller. Was she low enough on the totem pole not to have to know these things, or was her part of the project largely insulated from them?
"As for the techie access," Davis said, "we've got computer guys of our own who are pretty good."
"Good at criminal investigations, or good at whatever the heck research you guys do?" Rossi asked. "Because there's an art to investigation, and Garcia's the best there is. I'm sure she'd be happy to work with your guys, but things will be quicker if she gets the go-ahead."
Davis hesitated. "I've already got our people working on it," he said. "I'll give them her contact information, they can work with her."
Derek got out one of Garcia's business cards and handed it over. Davis took a picture of it and texted it to someone.
"And what about us?" Gonzalez asked. "If we're going to take care of those kids, we're going to need to know what they were doing."
"Not to mention, we can't profile them if we don't know what they were trying to accomplish," Derek pointed out.
"You found them without it," Davis said, finishing up with his phone.
"Mostly through luck and reasoning things out from your appearance," Rossi said. "That's not going to take us much further."
Davis sighed. "Right. And I have orders to cooperate, and see if we can use this as leverage to see if we can take the Trust down once and for all. Let me think for a second, figure out what I can say without breaching classification too badly. Doctor Keller?"
He and the doctor went off and spoke quietly together for a bit. Derek couldn't hear what they were saying, and they had their backs to him so he couldn't try to lip-read.
"All right," said Davis at last, "here's what we can tell you. This is all classified, and you cannot reveal it to anyone outside of the investigation. Our project does a lot of high-level research in a wide variety of areas, ranging from medical to engineering to pure theory. In the course of that research, we discovered a while back that there is a certain rare gene complex—we call it ATA—that is useful to us. Or, rather, people who have that gene are useful. We don't experiment on them, but we do use them."
"How rare are we talking about?" Rossi asked. "One in a thousand?"
"Rarer than that," Keller said. "We don't have a wide enough population base to really give concrete numbers, but more like one in a hundred thousand. And if you restrict it to people who have a strong enough expression of it to be really useful, it's more like one in a million."
"So, in the entire US, there are only about three hundred or three-fifty people who are really useful to you, but there's three thousand you could use," Derek said. "That must make recruiting a priority. How many do you need?"
Keller shrugged. "It varies, depending on what we're doing at any one time. Figure, a minimum of five, but more is good, and the stronger the better. But certain career paths make some of them more interesting to us."
"We're always on the lookout for people who have it," Davis said, "so we can offer them jobs. Like I said, we don't experiment on them, but the Trust would like to. And they'd also like to have their own people with ATA, under their control."
"The gene is rare and we're classified," Keller said. "It's hard to find people with it, and we keep a close eye on the ones we know about and their families even when we don't try and recruit them."
"Which would make it hard for the Trust to get their hands on people with that gene, for research or use," Gonzalez said. "So they decided to grow their own."
"Exactly," Keller said. "They stole gametes, kidnapped women of childbearing age that nobody would miss, and set up their own little baby factory."
"But how valuable is this gene, really?" Rossi said. "This is an awful lot of trouble to go to, what are they getting out of it?"
"That is highly classified and will remain so," Davis said. "But it's worth it. It's definitely worth it. It's the key that makes a lot of other things possible."
"And we just have to take your word for it?" Rossi said.
"Yes," Davis said. There was no give in his body language; that point was non-negotiable.
"So how did they get the gametes, if you're watching people?" Derek asked. "Actually, let's start with how you guys identify people with the gene."
"Health screenings," Keller said. "If you've got federal employee or military health insurance, you get a free genetic screening for predispositions to certain kinds of inheritable diseases. But they also look for this gene, and tell us if it's present."
"What about HIPAA?" Gonzalez asked, appalled. "That breaks every confidentiality law on the books!"
"We have an executive order allowing it," Davis said. "And we only get information about ATA. Nothing else. If you've got it, you go on our list for possible recruitment—most people we never contact at all, for one reason or another. But we do flag their file."
"And I take it the Trust got hold of this list, somehow?" Rossi said.
"They must have," Keller said. "We're still investigating that part of it."
"So they know who's got the gene they want," Derek said. "You've got to warn people to be on the lookout."
"That's something my superiors are considering," Davis said.
"How did they get the gametes?" Derek asked. "They knew who, but how did they get them? And how did you find out about it?"
Keller sighed. "A year or so ago, one of the women in our project with the gene was on vacation when she was in a car accident, had to go to the hospital for emergency surgery. When she got back, she had a physical exam with our doctors, who found out that one of her ovaries was missing … even though the damage that required surgery was in her upper torso, not lower abdomen. The doctor who performed the surgery disappeared. We went looking through our record and found other suspicious accidents and surgeries on women from the list, but we couldn't figure out what they were doing."
"Then, last month, one of the male gene carriers we work with found a one-night-stand trying to smuggle a used condom out with him in the morning," Davis said.
Derek noted the genders—male carrier, and the one night stand was a "him." The gene carrier was confident enough in his bosses to admit to a homosexual encounter. It said something interesting about a military-run program.
"It's a lot easier to get a guy's sperm than a woman's eggs," Keller said. "But the one-night stand didn't know anything besides the fact that somebody gave him $1,000 to sleep with our guy and bring a used condom out with him. We weren't able to trace his contact."
"And then you knew you were missing eggs and sperm, and started looking for babies?" Rossi asked.
"It was one of the possibilities of what they were doing with it," Keller said. "There are others, but this was the simplest one."
"And I'm afraid the others are classified," Davis said. "You're going to have to trust us to run them down."
"So, the babies have parents out there who aren’t involved in this," Gonzalez said. "Could some of the parents take custody of their children? None of the surrogates are interested, and I don't blame them—they got all of the hardship of pregnancy, with no chance to bond with the babies after birth. Not to mention being kidnapped and impregnated against their will. And even if they wanted them, there are too many babies per woman."
"I hope so," Keller said. "It would probably be the best outcome for a lot of the kids. I'll be matching up kids with parents and notifying them. But I doubt all of the biological parents will be interested—or able—to care for all of their children."
"Then there's security concerns," Davis said. "What if the Trust comes back for them?"
"You can't lock these kids up their whole lives," Derek said. "Besides, if the parents have the gene, too, what's to stop them from coming for the parents? If this is a real worry, you have to notify all the people on the list."
"Again, not my call," Davis said. "I'm only authorized to reveal details to investigating agents."
"In any case, given that all the children have two parents with the gene, they probably have fairly strong expressions of it," Keller said. "Stronger than either parent. That makes them more valuable."
"The investigating team will have to know, at least," Rossi pointed out. "They'll have to know whose genes got stolen and whose didn't—victimology can be crucial."
"Not to mention, you've said that some of the parents at least aren't part of your program, they're from the larger list," Gonzalez said, folding her arms. "If you're going to let them know their genes have been stolen and used to create children—and I think you have a moral obligation to do so—you're going to have to explain why it happened. At least a little, at least as much as you've told us."
"And if you want to keep it from happening again, the people on the list need to know what to look out for," Derek said. "Whether or not the Trust actually stole their DNA for this operation, they're at risk in the future. And so, presumably, are their families—what if the Trust wants to run another experiment, and decides it would be easier to get at siblings of the people on the list, see if they're carriers, too?"
"If they haven't already," Rossi pointed out. "You should double check to make sure where all the samples came from. Because for all you know, the Trust is putting together their own list."
"Our team is going to need the list," Derek said. "So we can be checking up on them and their families, see if the Trust has been poking around." He held up a hand to forestall the protest Davis was opening his mouth to make. "Look, I know you guys have been keeping a loose eye on them … but you almost missed this. How much manpower do you have on that?"
"A lot more now than a couple of months ago," Davis said.
"Great," Rossi said. "Any of your guys trained in victimology? No? Then it's a good bet our guys will be able to pick up on things your guys miss."
"It's not anything against your people, I'm sure they're really smart and dedicated," Derek said. "But this is what we do for a living. I wouldn't try to tell your guys how to fly a plane, or how to do … whatever it is kind of research you do. Let us help you. Let us do our jobs."
Davis cocked his head. "All right, I'll send you guys a copy of the list," he said. "As for making it public … that I'm going to have to get permission for."
While Davis was on the phone with his superiors, Derek and Rossi checked in with the BAU. Garcia confirmed that a task force was being put together. Derek was shocked; government agencies moved at the speed of bureaucracy, no matter how urgent it was; he would have expected it to take a week or more just to decide that it should be done. Regardless, it would take time to put together, so for now it was just their team. It took a while to fill them in on everything that had happened; Derek really wished they'd chosen to fly them in to be here for the raid. Given the size of things, they should have known the investigation wouldn't be over when the facility was shut down.
After a bit, both Derek and Rossi's phones dinged, with an email from Davis. Since they were using Rossi's phone to talk, Derek checked on his. It was the list of ATA gene carriers, with permission to share it with the team. Out of curiosity, Derek pulled up the list. It was in alphabetical order. Derek scrolled down to the Ms. One in a hundred thousand were pretty long odds … but he was a government employee, and he'd taken the free screening when it was offered. It hadn't revealed any problem genes or anything of interest.
That they'd told him. Because there it was, his name, in black and white.
Was one of those kids in GenFam his?
"Derek? Hey, Derek? You okay there, buddy?"
Derek realized that Rossi was talking to him. He seemed … very far away. It was hard to focus on anything other than the rushing in his ears. "Davis sent us the list," he said. "Of ATA gene carriers."
"And?" Rossi asked, brows knitted in concern.
"I'm on it," Derek said, holding up the screen for Rossi to see.
Rossi swore briefly. "Look, I'm going to have to call you back," he said, ending the call and bringing up the list on his own phone. Derek went back to staring at the list. There was some other notation that he couldn't make sense of, but he couldn't tell whether it was a medical code or military.
"Yeah, there you are, all right," Rossi said. He scrolled down a little further. "I'm not."
"I've got to …" Derek trailed off. Who did he need to talk to? Keller? Maybe. Gonzalez, if he could; he trusted her more. He walked out, towards GenFam.
"I'll go with you," Rossi said.
It was a short walk, giving Derek little time to settle his head. They found Gonzalez in one of the infant rooms at GenFam, giving instructions to one of her social workers. Derek waited, impatiently, for her to be done. "Ah! Agent Morgan, what can I do for you?" she said at last.
"Is one of them mine?" Derek asked.
"He's on the list of gene carriers," Rossi said.
"Is one of these children mine?" Derek asked again.
Gonzalez's eyes widened. "Agent Morgan, I'm so sorry—we haven't been able to identify the parents, yet. The files here don't have them, and I'm told that the SGT files are encoded. Doctor Keller could probably tell you, she's working on the computer end of things. I think she's in the office, here."
"Thank you," Derek said.
Keller was in the GenFam office, comparing files between the desktops there and a laptop. It was obviously ruggedized, meant to take a beating. On its lid was a symbol Derek didn't recognize—an upside-down V with a small circle above it.
"Doctor Keller, I'm on the list," Derek said. "Is one of them mine?"
Keller looked up. "Oh! Agent Morgan, I didn't know. Let me check." She bent over the laptop, clicking through a document and searching down through it.
This was stupid. Even if he was on the list, it was a long list. There were several times the number of people on it as there were babies in the facility. Most of the people on the list would not be victims of this crime. Odds were, he himself was not. If Reid were here, he'd quote the odds.
Derek was still jittery.
Finally, Keller slowed and stared at the screen, body language closing up just a bit, and Derek knew.
"I don't know whether to give condolences or congratulations," she said, still staring at the screen.
Derek sat down heavily into an empty chair. "Both?" he said. "When … have you found records on how?"
Keller shook her head. "I'm sorry, Agent Morgan. Best I can do is tell you that your sample was logged into the system with the first batch, almost four years ago now."
"Long before Savannah came into the picture, at least," Rossi said.
"What?" Derek said.
"Well, if they're getting male DNA from one night stands … she might find it reassuring to know it was long before her time," Rossi pointed out.
"Savannah," Derek said with a groan. What the hell was he supposed to tell her? He didn't even know how he felt about it, yet! He wiped a hand over his face. "So, I've got a four year old kid? Or, no, wait, three year old?"
"No, they didn't always start cooking up kids right away," Keller said. "Gametes came in a couple of waves, and they didn't always have enough surrogates ready to be impregnated. Your sample …" she checked her computer. "They did basic checks on it, but didn't use it until a little over two years ago. It resulted in triplets, two boys and a girl, whom they named Tabitha, Uzziah, and Vaniah."
"What the hell kind of names are those?" Rossi asked. "Tabitha's old-fashioned, but Uzziah? Vaniah?"
Keller shrugged. "They had a lot of names to pick, so they did it alphabetically by theme. First twenty-six kids were named after plants—Asper, Birch, Cypress, and so on. Second batch were named after Bible characters. Your three were at the tail end of that. They're currently on animals—the last three born were named Jay, Kudu, and Lark."
"Whatever happened to nice, normal names like Mary and Joseph?" Rossi groused.
"There's a Mary and a John in the Bible batch," Keller offered. "But honestly, the name scheme was mostly for their convenience and amusement.”
"What about last names?" Rossi asked.
"There, they just took the easy way out and used the most common surnames in the US, assigned by birth order. So the first kid got the most common surname in the US, second the second most common etc. Agent Morgan, your kids are listed as Tabitha Carter, Uzziah Phillips, and Vaniah Evans. Though, of course, they don’t have actual birth certificates or anything," Keller pointed out. "Legally, none of these kids exist yet. When we register them, we can put any name we want for them on the paperwork."
Derek had heard what they said, but none of it felt real. He couldn't quite think straight. Give him a bomb or an obsessive unsub, and he knew exactly what to do. This, though, knocked him for a loop. He and Savannah had been planning for Hank's arrival, and he here were three more children. He was already planning to be a parent, so why was the news he already was one such a shock?
"Can I see them?" he asked.
"Of course," Keller said. "Let's talk to the social workers."
She led them out of the office back to the main area, the long hall of this wing of the mall. Unlike in the "rehab" area, most of the old stores still had their glass fronts, allowing them to see in to each room, where groups of children played, napped, colored, were read to, and did all the other things children should. One group was singing along to a CD. It looked like a normal daycare, except for the cops and social workers keeping a watchful eye over everything.
"You need to step down from the investigation," Rossi said.
"What?" Derek said. He wanted to take down the Trust. He wanted the operation more than shut down, he wanted the people in charge destroyed so they could never do anything like it again.
"Your mind's not going to be on the case," Rossi said. "It's going to be on those little ones you just found out about, exactly like it should be. And even if not, it would be a conflict of interest."
"Come on, Rossi," Derek said. "We've investigated personal things before."
"Yeah, and it didn’t always come out all rosy," Rossi pointed out. "Besides, this is different. If he'd lived, Foyet could've made all the noises he wanted to about a biased investigation, but we had more than enough evidence to prove he did it no matter how much work Hotch put in to the investigation. The Trust, though—the people backing this? They've got serious money. Their lawyers will have lawyers. And I bet you anything you please that none of them ever set foot here. There will not be a scrap of physical evidence. If we're going to nail them to the wall, our investigation is going to have to be airtight. You know I'm right, Derek."
"Yeah," Derek said with a grimace.
Keller stopped outside a room no different from all the rest. Like the others, it was filled with bright colors and cheery toys and child-sized furniture. Like the others, it had a sign in the window with the age of the kids inside, and their names. Tabitha C., Uzziah P., and Vaniah E. were all listed. Derek stared at the multiracial group of kids listening to a story and wondered which three were his.
"Do you want to go in now, or wait until the end of the story?" Keller asked.
"We can wait," Derek said. He wasn't afraid, he assured himself. He just didn't want to disrupt things more than he had to. It was already a pretty scary day for such little kids.
"So, what's your perspective on all this, doc?" Rossi asked.
Keller hesitated. "Honestly? I'm relieved," she said. "When we found out the Trust was stealing gametes … this was only one of the possibilities. Knowing how they usually operate, it could have been a lot worse. Science without ethics is a very scary thing. Particularly when you're talking human biology."
"What else have they done?" Derek asked.
Keller shook her head. "Classified. And while they'll have to declassify at least something about this one, given the number of babies, any previous Trust experiments will not be included."
"Then how are we supposed to catch them?" Rossi growled.
"By focusing on this case," Keller said. "The NID will handle the classified parts. And we'll be keeping an eye on them, to make sure they haven't been infiltrated again." She shook her head. "I know it's not ideal. It would be a lot easier if the program were disclosed to the public in full, and honestly when I joined up I would never have believed they could keep it under wraps as long as they have. But nobody wants to be the one holding the bag when it happens."
"Holding the bag?" Derek asked. "You make it sound like there's going to be a backlash when whatever you do goes public. What kind of experiments do you do?"
"Backlash is going to be a mild word for it," Keller said. "All the crazies and crackpots are going to come out of the woodwork. There will be people who think the Trust is right, that we should be willing to go anywhere, do anything, that our moral judgments have been a betrayal of the—U.S."
Derek noted the break; she'd been going to say something else, and changed it at the last second.
"There will also be people who think we're amoral monsters, armchair quarterbacking with no idea of the complexities of the issues we've faced. How it all plays out in the end, nobody has a clue." Keller shrugged. "I think people should know, but I don't want to be here when they find out."
Derek shook his head. "All due respect, ma'am, in my experience, people who say 'You just don't understand the complexities' are usually just covering for their own bad actions."
"And with all due respect, Agent," Keller said, stressing his title without ire, "your experience is mostly with serial killers and other criminals. You really don't have any idea what we're … working on."
"After hearing a little about what lead to this fiasco, I think I can guess," Rossi said.
Keller looked him up and down. "You strike me as a level-headed kinda guy, Agent Rossi," she said. "Pragmatic. Not prone to flights of fancy. A realist. Am I on the right track, here?"
"You are," Rossi said.
"Then no," Keller said. "I think you have just enough information to make some spectacularly inaccurate guesses. The genetics is … a weird, really unexpected spinoff of our main focus."
Throughout this conversation, Derek had been watching the children through the window. The caregiver had put down the books and the children were starting to get up and run around. "Hey," he said, at a loss for what to do.
"Do you want me to go in and have her bring them to you?" Keller said. "Maybe get settled in the reading area, talk to them there."
"That sounds good," Derek said.
Keller nodded, patted him lightly on the shoulder, and went in to talk to the woman in charge of the children. Derek headed over and took a seat on the beanbag she'd been using during story time.
It didn't take long to get three children corralled and over to where Derek sat, although one of them—a boy—protested leaving the ponies he was playing with. A woman in cheerful scrubs scooped him up, grabbing a toy for him to bring with him. Keller led the other two over by the hand.
"You're Agent Morgan?" said the woman said, thinly veiled hostility in her voice. Derek realized she was one of the GenFam caregivers—they would be using them, under supervision, until they found temporary placements for all the children.
"Yes," he said.
"These are Tabby, Van, and Zee," she said. The one in her arms had started making horse noises and galloping his toy horse up and down her arm.
"Which one's which?" Derek asked.
"Well, Tabby's the girl," the woman said, nodding to a little girl with ribbons tied around her two little poufy ponytails, holding on to Doctor Keller's hand. Like all the children in the room, she was wearing jeans and a t-shirt; hers was green, with a train on it.
"This here's Zee," she said, plopping a little boy in a red shirt with a fire engine down on the mat in front of Derek. Zee clutched his horse and stared up at Derek. "And Van's the other one." Van wore a yellow shirt with flowers on it.
"Hi," Derek said, shyly. "I'm your Daddy. Do you know what that means?"
The children stared at him. Zee put his horse in his mouth.
"Do you remember 'Guess How Much I Love You?'" the GenFam lady asked. "It's Rachel's favorite book."
"Bunny," said Tabby.
"That's right, it has rabbits in it," she said. "Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. Big Nutbrown Hare is Little Nutbrown Hare's daddy."
"Just like I'm your Daddy," Derek said. He collected himself. He did, actually, have training in how to deal with small children; just, it focused on traumatized children, or children who might be victims or witnesses. And he'd been reading up, since he'd figured out Savannah was pregnant, and of course he'd spent some time with Henry and Jack at this age.
It was, he realized, different when they were your own. And didn't know you.
"That's a great horse, Zee," he said. "Does it have a name?"
Zee took it out of his mouth and looked at it. "Horsey."
"Yes, it's a horse," Derek agreed. "Do you know what sound horses make?"
Van made a surprisingly realistic neigh. After a few more questions, Derek got the GenFam caregiver to bring over the rest of the farm set over for them to play with, and he sat and played farm with them.
Van was the quietest; he didn't say a word the whole time, although he could do the sounds for most of the animals. Tabby talked the most; she and Van played together, while Zee mostly galloped his horse around the rest of them.
As they played, he studied them. Zee's skin was several shades lighter than his, though not quite as light as his sister Sarah was, a warm amber. Van's skin was almost as dark as Derek's, but a little tawnier. Tabby was somewhere in between. All three of them had flatter faces than he did; less prominent noses and brows. Zee and Van had prominent eyelid creases, while Tabby's eyes were more like his. He wondered if their mother was Asian. He wondered if they all shared the same mother. He wondered if Hank would look like them.
Eventually, it was naptime. Little cots and blankets were brought out, and he helped settle the three children alongside their peers. He thanked Stacey, the GenFam worker who had been so frosty when he arrived; she'd warmed up a little, after seeing him play with the kids. Then he left to go find Ms. Gonzalez.
She had taken over one of the staff rooms as a center, and was coordinating with a whole team. "Ah, Agent Morgan!" she said, looking up as he came in. "Congratulations, it's two boys and a girl. I can't even imagine what you must be going through."
"Yeah," Derek said. "Bit of a shock. What, uh, what happens next?"
Gonzalez sighed. "Don't suppose you'd be willing to take custody of them here and now, would you?" she asked.
Derek let out a short laugh. "You're joking, right?" he said. "I only just found out. I haven't even told my wife about this, yet. And I'm five hundred miles away from home. I'm planning on taking them … but I'm gonna need a couple of days to make arrangements."
"That's about what I figured," Gonzalez said, nodding. "I hope it's sooner rather than later? This whole operation has given us a huge crunch. We're trying to get all the children into emergency foster care placements, so we can turn the GenFam caregivers over to the cops for questioning, but we just don't have the space—we're reaching out to the surrounding areas, seeing if anyone can help. Long-term, it would be best if we could find the families for all these children, but Keller won't release the names of the genetic donors until Davis authorizes making the gene thefts public, and he says he's waiting for his superiors to make a decision." She shook her head. "Long term, we shouldn't have problems finding homes for them—even if the genetic donors don't want them, they're all young and healthy enough to be attractive to adoptive parents. But in the short term?"
"I gotcha," Derek said. "I'll see what arrangements I can make to take custody of them. What do they have that I'll be able to take? I don't have anything for toddlers."
Gonzalez shrugged. "All of the clothes were shared in common between kids of the same size. We've already had the cops go through all that sort of thing for evidence; we'll be divvying it up equally between the kids. I think it works out to three or four outfits per child? And each child has at least two stuffed animals that are their own and nobody else's, and a blankie. Everything else was shared in common. We're trying to divvy up the toys and books, too, so the kids can take their favorites with them into the system." She sighed. "It really is such a beautifully well equipped facility, I'd hate to see it closed and left to rot. What do you think the odds are that the tax fraud will end with the building being confiscated? I've got contacts who might be interested in setting up a childcare center if they could get a nice facility already set up for it."
"No clue," Derek said. "What will I need to take my kids?"
"Long term?" Gonzalez said. "Long term, a lot. Short term, a diaper bag, car seats, child-appropriate foods, someone to help you get them back home because you do not want to have travelling alone with three toddlers be your first experience of parenthood. Oh, and birth certificates for them."
"I'm assuming they don't have them already?" Derek asked.
"Nope." Gonzalez smiled grimly. "Sixty kids, completely outside the system, with nobody knowing they existed. No way to send them to school when they got old enough, not without raising a whole bunch of red flags. Makes you wonder what the long-term plans were, eh?"
"I know," Derek said grimly. "It's bad enough what people can do to mess with kids who do have contact with outsiders."
"I imagine we've seen a lot of the same things," Gonzalez said. "People can be pretty terrible to kids."
"Yeah." Derek folded his arms. "At least these kids are getting out before anything could happen to them."
"Yeah." Gonzalez shook her head. "Anyway! Paperwork. We're starting on the process of getting birth certificates for the children. We need the list of genetic donors from Keller to put in the 'parent' places. And we're debating what to put in for 'mother'—legally, it's the surrogate, but .…" She shook her head. "Which reminds me. One other thing you'll need, for taking custody."
"What?" Derek asked.
"Permission from the biological mother and the surrogate," Gonzalez pointed out. "One of them might want custody. One of them might want partial custody. They might not want either. But regardless, you'll need their agreement for anything other than temporary custody."
"Oh, hell," Derek said. "I never even thought about that."
"Michigan law states that the legal mother is the woman who gave birth, regardless of who the genetic donors are," Gonzalez said. "But if there's ever custody hearings for any of the kids this place cooked up? I wouldn't want to be any of the lawyers involved. The law doesn't really … cover things like this. Better to have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed and not need the courts at all."
One of Gonzalez's people was hovering, waiting for a chance to speak with her, and Derek stepped back to let her get on with her work.
Keller was not in the office she'd commandeered, and neither was the ruggedized laptop she'd been working on. He'd need to talk to her eventually, get the name of the kids' mother—mothers? Did they all share the same biological mother? Did they share the same surrogate?—but he was just as happy to postpone that for now.
Rossi was in the SGT area, investigating the staff, when Derek found him. "Hey, how did it go? You looked pretty good with those kids."
"They're really cute kids, man," Derek said. "I don't think it's really settled in that they're mine, but they're great."
"I got some pictures of you playing with them," Rossi said, pulling out his phone. "And I've been nice and haven't even shared them with Garcia, yet."
Derek rubbed his forehead. "Have you told anyone on the team about this?"
"Not yet," Rossi said. "I can, if you want me to."
"I would really appreciate it," Derek said.
"Now, Savannah, that's all on you," Rossi said. "And your mom and sisters."
"Yeah." Derek sighed.
"Look, why don't you go back to the hotel and start making phone calls?" Rossi said.
"I don't even know what to say," Derek said.
"Normally, I'd say the truth is a pretty good place to start, and that isn't wrong, but … "
"It's just that the truth is so unbelievable," Derek said.
Derek sat on the hotel bed for a few minutes, staring at his phone, trying to get up the nerve to call Savannah. She was at work right now, he knew. They usually texted, when one or the other was at work, but this he couldn’t explain over a text.
But he could ask her to call back, he realized, buying himself some time to figure out what he was going to say.
Please call ASAP, he texted.
But when his phone rang a few minutes later, he was no closer to figuring out how to explain this whole mess.
“Derek, is something wrong?” Savannah asked, right off.
“Yeah,” Derek said. “Yeah, something’s wrong.”
“Does it have to do with the case?” she asked. “I thought it was going well.”
“We found them, all right,” Derek said. “The mothers and the kids, both. And the lab that was running things.”
“It was a science experiment, then?”
“Yeah,” Derek said. “Genetic experiments. Look, I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but you need to know, and they’re going to have to make at least some of this public.”
“You know I can keep a secret, Derek,” Savannah said, “but why do I need to know? Do you need a medical consultation for something?”
“I wish it were that simple,” Derek said. He summarized what Davis had shared: one rare gene complex, genetic testing with results forwarded to Project Blue Book, sperm and ovaries stolen and used to cook up babies. After that, he paused for a reaction. Until she accepted all this craziness, there was no point in springing the rest on her.
“Derek, today isn’t April 1,” Savannah said.
“No, it isn’t,” Derek said. “Wish it was. I wish this whole case was one big April Fool’s joke. But it isn’t. I can’t vouch for what Davis told us, but I’ve seen the kids and talked to the surrogates myself. It was definitely a breeding program. And I don’t think Davis is lying. He’s hiding a lot, but he’s telling the truth as he knows it.”
Savannah was quiet for a bit. “This feels a bit like a science fiction TV show plot.”
Derek snorted. “Yeah, Rossi and I have noticed that.”
Savannah was quiet for a bit longer. “Derek, why is this important for me to know? Am I on the list somehow? Because I haven’t ever had major abdominal surgery, so they can’t have taken one of my ovaries.”
“You’re not on the list,” Derek said. He braced himself. This couldn’t be put off any longer. “I am.”
“You are … what?” Savannah asked. “You are … are you on the list? Derek?”
“I’m on the list,” Derek said. “And apparently I was in the first batch who got their sperm stolen. About four years ago. They didn’t actually use it until about two and a half years ago, when they cooked up three kids with it. They’re about a year and a half old—I haven’t seen their records, yet.” That was something else he needed to get from Keller.
Savannah was quiet. He could hear her breathing, though.
“They took the genes four years ago, baby, before I met you,” Derek said. “I don’t even remember anything about whatever one night stand must have stolen them.”
“Derek, I know you,” Savannah said. “I know you would never cheat; you don’t have to reassure me about that. It’s the least of my worries. What … what happens next?”
Derek sighed, and rubbed a hand over his head. “Next … next I call Mama about this. And then I figure out what I need to do to take custody of my kids.”
There was silence on the other side of the line. “Savannah? Baby, what are you thinking?”
“I don’t know what I’m thinking,” Savannah said. “It doesn’t feel real. Ask me in a week.”
“In a week I'll probably be home with three kids,” Derek said.
"If it takes that long, you'll miss the ultrasound for Hank." Savannah's voice was quiet, not judging. Her matter-of-fact tones were almost worse than an accusation. If she'd been mad, he could have responded with righteous indignation. But there was no defending against this truth, that his new children might get in the way of being there for the child he shared with her.
"Oh, baby," Derek said. "Yeah. I will try so hard to be back, but … there's so much to do here before I can take the kids home."
“What about the mother? What if she wants them? Or wants one or two of them?”
“Then we come up with a custody agreement,” Derek said. “If they were going to a good home, if the mother wants them, I have no problem with that. I know the surrogates aren’t going to want custody. The biological mothers … no clue. But local social services are overwhelmed, they want me to take custody as soon as I can. I'm not letting them go to foster care or a group home. And … no matter what the bio-mom says, these are my kids. Whether or not I end up with custody, I want to know them, be a dad to them. I don’t want them growing up without me.”
Savannah didn’t say anything.
“Savannah? Baby, you like kids,” Derek reminded her, stomach churning. That was the one thing he hadn’t been worried about. Savannah liked kids, and they were already having one together. What would he do if she didn’t want these new kids? He couldn’t take care of three on his own, no matter what kind of childcare he found. He just couldn’t. And he didn’t want to lose Savannah and Hank.
“Derek, there’s a big difference between wanting one kid, and getting four all at once,” Savannah said. “I’m barely ready for the one we’re having together. I am definitely not ready to be mom to three who aren’t even related to me!”
“What do you want me to do, girl, just dump ‘em?” Derek said, voice raising. “Leave ‘em in foster care? Ask my mom to raise her grandbabies, be a deadbeat dad?” He tried to reign in his frustration. Savannah’s reaction was perfectly reasonable, and she wasn’t the one he was mad at. He was furious at the Trust, at the whole situation, but nothing good could possibly come from taking that out on Savannah. No matter how satisfying it felt in the short run.
“No, Derek!” Savannah’s voice was tight with frustration of her own. “That is NOT what I am saying, and don’t you dare put words into my mouth. If you were the kind of man who could do that to his own kids, I wouldn’t be with you. But that doesn’t mean I like this, and it doesn’t mean this is any easier on me than it is on you. I have a right to feel bad about this, Derek! I have a right to resent the way it’s going to take focus from our baby. I have a right to be scared about how the hell we’re going to handle three toddlers and an infant at one time! I have a right to need time!”
It was Derek’s turn to be quiet for a bit. “I hear you, baby. I hear you.” He swallowed. “How … how much time are you going to need?”
“I don’t know, Derek, these things don’t happen on a schedule,” she replied. “It won’t get in the way of us putting together a home for those kids, I can tell you that. It will not break you and I up. If it causes ongoing problems, we can get counseling to work through it, because what we have together is worth it and our child—and your children—deserve a good home and a family.” She paused. "You haven't contacted the birth mother yet, have you?"
"No," Derek admitted. "I don't even know who she is, yet. And, who knows—if we're lucky, she'll want custody."
"Yeah," Savannah said. "I'm sure they're great kids, and I want them to have a good home, but it would be so much easier if that was someone else's home, even for part of the time." She sighed. "But I hate to tell you, Derek, I don't think our luck is that good."
"No kidding," Derek said. "If our luck was that good, I'd never have been on the list to begin with. Although maybe we can split the kids like in Parent Trap? She gets two, we get one?"
"If you do that, keep Tabitha. I'd like a daughter."
"The bio-mom may want one, too," Derek pointed out.
“Well, maybe she'll want all of them and maybe she'll want one and maybe she won’t want any, but if we do end up with custody, we'll need a plan. What needs to happen on this end? Have you given any thought to childcare? Or where they're going to sleep?”
“I haven’t,” Derek admitted. “Mostly, I’ve been getting through the shock myself. And worrying about the paperwork and stuff that needs to happen. And trying to figure out how to get the kids to DC—I know you can’t get time off on such short notice, but Mom probably can, and if she could fly out here, there would at least be two of us to take care of getting the three of them through to DC. I really wish we’d taken the whole team out here with the jet—that would have made things so much easier.”
“No kidding,” Savannah said. “Three toddlers and two adults flying across half a continent—sounds miserable. And that’s assuming your mother can do it." Savannah was quiet for a bit.
“What are you thinking?” Derek asked.
“I’m thinking that with four children under three years of age, it’s probably cheaper to get an au pair than put them in daycare,” Savannah said. “Even if it’s more expensive, it can’t be that much more expensive. And given our respective schedules …”
“… the convenience would be well worth some extra cost,” Derek said.
“I’ll look into it,” Savannah said. “And I’ll ask my boss what kind of parental leave I can get for this—it’s sort of like an adoption, isn’t it? At least, for me?”
“That’s probably the closest, yeah,” Derek said. “I'm pretty sure that I can only take sick leave for this if they're actually sick, and that anything else comes as unpaid leave. Normally, I'd say that's fine—we're doing good, financially—but with an extra three kids, the budget's going to get a lot tighter than we planned. I've got a lot of sick leave banked, though—maybe I can get Hotch to sign off on using some for this.”
“Won’t know until we ask,” Savannah said. “Oh my God, Derek, where are we going to PUT them all? It’s a big house, but four kids plus us? Plus an au pair? It’s not THAT big.”
“Well, for now, at least, these three should probably sleep in the same room,” Derek said. “Triplets? Is that what we call them? They may be triplets, I don’t know—I think they’re all the same age, but I don’t know if they shared a womb.”
“Triplets sounds good to me, let’s not worry about anything fancier,” Savannah said.
“The triplets are used to sleeping in a room with a lot of other kids,” Derek said. “They’re going to have enough to get used to, keeping some things the same would probably be good. So that’s one bedroom for us, one bedroom for Hank, one bedroom for the triplets, and a bedroom for the au pair. That’s four bedrooms—perfect. It won’t work forever, but it’ll do for now.”
Savannah was quiet for a minute. “You know what that means, don’t you?” she asked. “That means we’re really going to have to put all the stuff in boxes in the spare bedrooms away, instead of just rummaging through for stuff when we need it. And not just a box at a time, either—everything.”
Derek groaned. “Baby girl, don’t remind me!” He was going to miss having a home gym. Maybe he could finish the attic, turn it in to a weight room? It would give him something to do; he'd miss working with his hands if he didn't have a project, but given the sudden expansion of their family, it wasn't like he was going to have the time to renovate any more houses for the forseeable future.
“Think the au pair would do it for us? Or your mother?”
“We could check about the au pair, but I think Mom would just laugh at us.”
Savannah heaved a mournful sigh. “Yeah, I think that’s about what my mom would do, too. You know, something just occurred to me. You haven’t told me what their names are.”
“They had this weird scheme going, where they’d pick a theme and then go through each kid born naming them in alphabetical order by theme. My three were at the tail end of the Bible set, so they’re Tabitha, Uzziah, and Vaniah.”
“Wow, those are awful names,” Savannah said. “Tabitha’s not bad, I suppose.”
“They call them Tabby, Zee, and Van,” Derek said. “I'm torn. I really don't like those names, but on the other hand, they're old enough to know their names and they're already having a lot of change in a short period. I don't want to confuse them, so we'd have to choose something similar. I can't think of any Z names besides Zack, which I'm not crazy about. Vance wouldn’t be bad, I suppose, but it’s not exactly filling me with joy.”
“Savannah,” Derek said, and then hesitated, wondering how to say it.
“We talked about naming the next boy after your father,” Derek said.
“You talked about it, mostly,” Savannah said. “Honestly, it’s not that big a deal to me—my father is alive and well, he doesn’t need someone to carry on his name. And if he did? I’d want it to be a child he was biologically related to. I’m not his only child, one of my siblings can name a kid after him.”
“You’re not holding out for another boy of ours?”
Savannah laughed. “Derek, how many kids do you want? We’d been talking about two, or maybe three if we really liked being parents. Now we’re going to have four. Would I rather have two of my own kids than one of mine and three genetic experiments? Sure. But four is more than enough. Besides, think of how it would feel to them if our biological kids got the family names and they didn’t—wouldn’t they feel excluded? I wouldn’t want that.”
“Me, neither,” Derek said.
They were both quiet for a while, and then Savannah had to get back to work.
When it was over, Derek lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a little while, completely drained. God, what a day. He needed to talk to his mother, get some advice, and hopefully a little help. She’d raised three kids by herself; surely he could raise four with Savannah and an au pair to help. Then … he couldn’t even think what came next.
The sooner he called, the sooner she could get here, if she could come. He called her.
“Hey, mama,” he said, when she picked up.
“Derek, this is a nice surprise,” his mother said. “But calling in the middle of the day on a week day—is anything wrong?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, something’s wrong. I need your help. Can you take some time off work, hop on a plane or a train to Detroit?”
Mom paused. “Detroit? Why? And why not just drive?”
“Because I'm probably going to need you to help me fly back to DC, and you wouldn’t want to leave your car here,” Derek said. “The why is a bit complicated, Mama, and you might want to be sitting down.”
“I’m sitting down now, Derek, and you’re scaring me,” she said.
“It’s nothing to be afraid of,” Derek said. “Nobody’s hurt, and nobody’s gonna be hurt. But it’s a bit hard to take in.” He outlined the news for her, and it went quicker this time, having practiced with Savannah. When he had finished, his mom was quiet for a bit. He waited, nervously.
“Derek,” she said slowly. “Derek, do you mean to tell me I have three grandbabies I’ve never met?”
“Yes, Mama,” he said. “I called as soon as I found out myself. Well, after I called Savannah.”
“I’ve already missed a year and a half with them—of course I’ll be out there as soon as I can. And you’re going to need a lot of help to get them home. I’ll do what I can, but there’s no way Savannah can take off work? Two adults to three toddlers isn’t that great a ratio to get them through an airport and a plane ride.”
“She can’t get off work, Mama,” Derek said. “Not on this short notice.” Well, he hadn’t asked her to; she was having a hard enough time as it was. “Besides, she needs to be there to set their room up for them so they have a place when we get there.”
“Oh, that’s right,” his mother said. “Well, that’s important, too. And I know neither of your sisters can get off on such short notice. We’ll just have to manage. I’ll tell Marla I’m going to be gone, and make my travel arrangements, and call you back.”
“You won’t have any trouble?” Derek asked.
Mama laughed. “That’s one of the benefits of working for a small business, Derek—there’s no bureaucracy to fight through. Marla understands about family emergencies, she won’t give me any trouble.”
"Their mother might want them," Derek cautioned. "I might not even need your help if she takes all three of them."
"Then in that case it's even more important that I come now, to see them before they end up wherever she lives."
"Okay. I'm looking forward to seeing you."
"I’ll let you know when I’ll be arriving in Detroit."
"Talk to you later, Mama,” Derek said.
Hotch was the next phone call.
“Derek, how are you doing?” Hotch said. “Rossi told us everything.”
“Still in shock,” Derek said, relieved he didn’t have to tell the story a third time. “I don’t really know what to think, or how to react. I’m mostly stuck on the practicalities, now; I haven’t had time to sit down and process it.”
“Well, any help you need with the practicalities—anything from baby furniture to babysitting—let us know and the team will pitch in where we can, you know that.”
“I know,” Derek said, “and once it’s sunk in and I can really think about this, you guys are going to be high on my list of people to call. Right now, though, could you thank them for the offer and tell them what I most need is space to catch my breath?”
“Of course,” Hotch said. “You know what you need best. Just don’t forget we’re here for you. And Garcia may be hurt if you don’t at least tell her personally you need space.”
“I need to call her anyway about travel arrangements,” Derek said.
“What are they like?” Hotch asked. “The kids.”
“The kids … they’re so cute, Hotch, you know how toddlers are. They all have their own personalities, you know? I don’t think it’s going to be hard to love them. But … I really, really want to take the fuckers behind this down. You guys have got to promise me you’ll get them.”
“We’re doing our best,” Hotch said. “It’ll be a while before the task force is all settled out, but we’ve already gotten a whole slew of background files from the NID. Heavily redacted, but enough to begin with, anyway. I can’t understand how this has been let go for so long—the NID and the Air Force have been working on it, but neither is really equipped for this sort of investigative work. Already, we’ve spotted some promising leads that they missed completely. You were right to bring in the IRS; the tax fraud at the Detroit operation was too slick to be a one-off thing. They’ve done this before, and the IRS is hopping mad about it. That alone cracks open new avenues.”
“Hey, if it’s good enough for Capone, it’s good enough for the Trust,” Derek said. “Shut down the money trail, and you shut down the operations. This thing took serious money.”
“Exactly. If nothing else, tying up their funds and getting the IRS up in their business will distract them from the rest of the investigation.” Hotch paused. “But you do realize that Rossi was right? You can’t be involved, even tangentially. Hell, they probably won’t let the BAU keep this once the task force gets set up, it’s not in our normal wheelhouse and we’re too close to you.”
“I know,” Derek said. “I don’t like it, but I know. Besides, at least until everything gets settled, the kids have to be my priority.”
“And you, and Savannah, and Hank,” Hotch said. “Your family is going through a major change, Derek; it’s going to take time to handle. You can’t just say it’s all about the kids, because the kids are going to be affected by what you do, and how you act. I’ve never been where you are, but I know there have been a lot of times that I told myself that I was doing everything I could for Jack, but I didn’t see how not taking care of myself and my other relationships was affecting him.”
“Jack’s fine, he’s a good kid,” Derek said.
“He is, but there’s a lot he shouldn’t have had to deal with that I just didn’t see,” Hotch said. “Take whatever time you need. I’ll square things with the Bureau. Between accumulated sick leave and unused vacation time, you should have as much time as you need to get back in the swing of things. And if you want my advice, you’ll let me put you on light duty for a while—consults and cold cases and paperwork, so you can be home for them every night and build something stable.”
“Thanks for taking care of the leave time,” Derek said. “As for the light duty … we’ll see.” He was a profiler. He loved being a profiler, and there weren’t many who could do his job as well as he did. And you could do this job and be a parent—Hotch and J.J. proved that, as did Kate.
But Hotch had his sister and J.J. had Will and Kate had Chris, all of whom had less time-consuming jobs. Savannah’s career … was almost as bad as Derek’s, for time and stress load. And all of them had fewer kids than Derek now did.
He wanted to be a good dad to his kids, all of them, no matter how they came to be.
Hotch’s offer was something to think about.
The conversation with Garcia wasn’t the hardest, in and of itself; Garcia was, as usual, easy to get along with and very sympathetic. It was just that Derek was so drained, already. It wasn’t even five o’clock, yet, but Derek felt like the day should be long over. So much had happened. Garcia assured him that she would hold the Trust’s feet to the fire, and cooed sympathetically, and promised help with the kids once he got them home, and took charge of booking his travel arrangements home (after all, he was here on business—his flight back to DC, although not the kids' or Mama's, was covered by the Bureau). Derek mostly listened and absorbed her support and love. She ended with a big kiss, and a promise to contact Savannah that evening and see what she could do to help get ready for the children, and a shoulder to cry on if she needed it.
“Thank you so much, Garcia,” Derek said. “Thank you for being there for her when I can’t be.”
“No problem, Derek,” Garcia said. “I will see you—and those beautiful babies—when you get home. Now get some rest, you sound exhausted, and you’re going to need all your energy to deal with the mini-Dereks tomorrow.”
When Rossi got back to the hotel, Derek was sitting at the desk trying to get organized. He’d gotten lists online of the bare minimum things a toddler needed, and gotten recommendations from the front desk on where to buy them. He’d looked up information on how to fly with small children. He’d looked up Michigan laws on surrogacy and custody and birth certificates and every other legal issue he could think of. He’d started a list of what changes would need to be made to the house. He’d spent a lot of time staring off into space trying to get his thoughts in order.
“How are you doing, Derek?” Rossi asked.
“Not bad,” Derek said with a shrug. “Still in shock.”
“No kidding. How about Savannah?”
Derek shrugged. “Hard to say. Not happy about it, but …”
“Nobody’s happy about it,” Rossi said.
“Yeah,” Derek said. “She seemed accepting, at least. We’ll see how it goes. We're hoping the biological mother will want custody.”
“Well, they finally decided we can make the breeding program public, even if the Air Force won’t say what they were trying to do with it or what the gene complex is good for. It'll be on the late news tonight."
"Won't that get the conspiracy theorists hopping," Derek said.
"Fortunately, that's not our problem," Rossi said. "They'll start calling the parents tomorrow morning. Keller says she'll probably start with your kids' mom, so you can figure things out from there."
"Right," Derek said. Hard as the conversation with Savannah had been, at least he knew her. This woman—whoever she was—didn't know him from Adam. Pretty awkward thing, to be discussing children with a woman you didn't even know.
"Hey, I don't think I sent you those pictures," Rossi said. He pulled out his phone and fiddled with it, Derek's phone dinging as the pictures arrived.
Derek looked at them. There was Zee with his horse, off in his own little world, while he and Tabby and Van played together. In the first picture, Tabby's mouth was open—probably talking. He looked through the pictures. They were such cute kids. Whatever happened, their welfare had to be the first priority, whether that was with him and Savannah or their biological mother. He forwarded the pictures to Savannah and his mom.
"So, what are your plans?" Rossi asked.
Derek shrugged. "Pick up my mom from the train station in a few hours, and get some sleep," he said. "Tomorrow, talk to the biological mother about custody, and figure out what needs to happen to get the kids where they need to be."
"Will you be taking them?"
"If the mother doesn't want them, yeah," Derek said. "Savannah's already looking into childcare and sorting out bedrooms and such."
"Yeah," Rossi said. "You know, I, too, got fatherhood somewhat belatedly sprung on me—"
"—but you learned about your daughter after she was grown and didn't need you anymore," Derek said. "Bit different when they're still in diapers."
Savannah called him back when he was eating dinner—he'd decided that he couldn't handle going out to eat, and called in for room service.
"I got the pictures you sent," she said. "They're really cute kids."
"Aren't they?" Derek said, his voice softening. "Tabby's a talker—not quite up to full sentences, but I doubt it'll be long. Van's the quiet one, but you could tell he was paying attention and thinking even if he didn't say anything."
"Zee really loves horses, and … did he spend that whole time playing by himself?"
"Most of it," Derek said. "But he got roped into the larger game, sometimes. You know, they didn't even know what a Dad was? The childcare worker had to explain what it was. There was a dad in some book they knew, though, that made it easier."
"Those bastards," Savannah said. "I just … who would do a thing like that? Treating children as a commodity to produce. I suppose we should be grateful those assholes gave them toys and books and things."
"I think they wanted a psychologically stable baseline," Derek said. "Given the way they treated the surrogate mothers, I highly doubt it was for the kids' own welfare. I'm off the case—too closely involved—but I really hope they nail those bastards."
"No kidding." Savannah sighed. "Hey, what book was it that they knew?"
Derek frowned trying to remember. "It was about rabbits? Little brown hare, or something?"
"I'll see if I can find a copy," Savannah said. "And maybe a book about mothers, too."
"That would be great." Derek smiled.
"I keep refreshing the CNN website," Savannah said. "Like maybe seeing it in the news would make it more real. But they only have the same story they've had all day, just the kidnapped women being forced to bear children, no mention of where the sperm or egg donors came from—there's a part of me wondering if this isn't a really tasteless joke on your part."
"Baby, you know that's not me," Derek said, "but I kinda wish it were some kind of joke, too."
"I keep pinching myself, hoping I'll wake up—maybe it's a dream, or a hallucination, or something. Seeing those pictures, though, that really … made those kids come alive. They're not just theoretical, you know? They're real kids with real needs."
"It's going to take a lot of getting used to, no matter what happens. What did your mother say? Is she going to help you with the kids?"
"Yeah," Derek said. "Her train gets in about midnight tonight—and her last text said it was only about a half-hour late. She'll meet the kids, and if the biological mother doesn't want custody, she'll help me move them out to DC. They're contacting the other biological parents tomorrow morning, so I'll talk to her then."
"It'll be nice to see her," Savannah said. She and his mom got on great. "I just wish it were under better circumstances."
"Yeah," Derek said. "I know what you mean."
"Oh, look, the CNN website has breaking news," Savannah said. "And ... there we go. 'Shadowy Cabal Steals Human Genes for Experimental Babies.' Not a bad headline, I kind of expected something more sensationalist."
"Oh, there will be more headlines, it'll come," Derek said, bringing out his tablet and finding the CNN website. "Let me look at it." A quick glance showed it to be about what he'd expected. Most of the details were right, but not all; some things were wrong out of confusion or a simple failure to fact-check, but others were misrepresented to make the story more sensational. Not that it needed much help in that department.
"I think I'm going to tell my parents, now," Savannah said. "Somehow, it's a lot more believable when you see it on CNN."
"Maybe they'll come out to help with the kids," Derek said optimistically.
"It'd be nice, but I doubt they'll be able to," Savannah said. "Neither of them have bosses as flexible as Fran's, and they want to be here for the baby's—Hank's birth."
"Yeah," Derek said.
"And they might have to get a hotel, because we might not have room for them," Savannah said. "Which adds to the expense."
"Speaking of rooms, how's it going?"
"Well, now I wish we'd stayed up to finish instead of leaving it half-done because you had to be up early to catch your flight," Savannah said.
Derek winced. "Yeah. Look, if you need help, call Garcia—she can get the team rallied out to help, I'm sure they'd be happy to help in any way they can until I get back. And after."
"If there were heavy lifting, I would be all over that," Savannah said. "But mostly it's opening boxes and making decisions about where to put it or if it should go. And I can do that with my stuff, but some of yours I'm not quite sure what to do with. And I certainly can't toss any of your stuff without asking."
"Hey, if it's been in boxes since we moved in, I probably don't need it whatever it is," Derek said. "But if you're worried, text me pictures of whatever you have questions about."
"Hey," Derek said. "You like garage sales so much, maybe we should have one ourselves, instead of taking it all to Goodwill or wherever."
"Don't even joke about it," Savannah said. "Do you have any idea how much work they are? No, I like going to them, not hosting. Particularly now. Neither of us have the time, and we're not going to have any energy to spare for a long time to come."
"I figure we don't need furniture for the triplets right away," Derek said. "After all, kids'll sleep anywhere, won't they? We can make a nest of sleeping bags and blankets and stuff on the floor for the first day or two."
Savannah was quiet for a moment. "It's not ideal, but it could work. And it would be one less thing to worry about. Or I could call up Garcia, and I'm sure she would find something cute and functional and people to bring it in and set it up."
"She'd probably be happy to help," Derek said.
"Do they need a crib or a bed?" Savannah asked. "If they're a year and a half old, they could be ready for a bed, couldn't they?"
"I have no idea," Derek realized. "I'll ask tomorrow."
"I keep coming up with questions," Savannah said. "There's so much we don't know. There's so much I have no idea how we're going to handle."
"I know, I feel the same way," Derek said. "But you know what? We're strong and smart and we've got good family and friends, we'll figure out how to—"
"Derek," Savannah interrupted, "you know how sometimes you try to fix things or solve things when I just need time and space to express my feelings without jumping on them like they're a problem?"
Derek paused. "This one of those times?" Garcia had them, too. He was starting to realize that a lot of women did. He hated it—when he saw a problem, he wanted to fix it.
"This is one of those times. I know we're going to figure it out, but let me vent a little about it first."
"Okay," Derek said, steeling himself to bite his tongue for the next half-hour or so. He snapped the keyboard on to his tablet and opened up Evernote—just because Savannah didn't want solutions now didn't mean he couldn't keep track of the problems to fix later. "Fire away."
The train had only been about half an hour late, which Derek supposed wasn't bad, considering it was Amtrak. Still, by the time they'd gotten back to the hotel and gotten his mother a room, it had been close to two in the morning. The next morning, Derek was barely up in time to catch the hotel's continental breakfast. Normally, on a case, he was up early enough to work out and still eat before the rest of the team came down. Either he was more tired than he thought, or his brain and body had recognized that he was on downtime from work. Or, possibly, both; the emotional rollercoaster of the last few days had taken its toll, and Derek hadn't survived over a decade with the Bureau's toughest unit by ignoring his mental health.
The TV in the corner of the breakfast room was tuned to Fox News, and the case was the lead story of the day. There were no new details; the talking heads were largely rehashing what had been released the night before, with added prurient interest in the more shock-worthy aspects. The stolen sperm and eggs figured greatly in that discussion. How did the victims feel about it? Could the surgeons who had stolen the ovaries be found and prosecuted? Should the male victims be ashamed for having had the one-night-stand that resulted in stolen sperm, or just for not noticing the condoms being smuggled out?
The 24-hour news cycle had often been a bane to him and the BAU, in their work, but he'd never been such a personal target of it, before. It was … grating. To say the least. He looked around for a remote to change the channel to ESPN or something, but couldn't spot it.
His mother came into the breakfast room and filled up a travel mug with coffee as Derek finished the last of his cereal.
"Ready to go?" she asked. If she noticed what was on TV she didn't mention it, which Derek was grateful for.
Derek was impatient to get the arrangements made and finished.
"Oh, nonsense!" his mother said. "We can take care of the boring stuff while they're down for their morning nap. I want to meet my grandbabies, first. And if you're going to be taking custody of them in the next few days, you really ought to spend as much time with them as you can before taking them away from the only home they've ever known."
"Mama, the biological mother may want them," Derek said.
"In which case, you probably won't see much of them—she could live anywhere in the country. So you should see them as much as you can now."
Derek opened his mouth, and then realized that there was no possible answer to that besides: "Of course you're right, Mama."
"And don't you forget it," she said, giving him a satisfied nod. Their IDs were checked as they entered the mall, and again when they entered the GenFam area; Derek led his mother to the room where his three kids were. There were fewer rooms in use today; some of the children had probably been placed with foster care families. But Tabby, Zee, and Van were in the same room that they had been, this time playing a color-matching game, each with their own set. Van seemed more interested in stacking things up and knocking them over than playing the game the way it was meant to be used. Derek hid a grin as the stack of colored blocks tumbled down again and Van laughed.
A quiet word to the caregiver, and the three children were set up a small ways away from the other kids. Fran got a beanbag chair to sit on, while Derek sat on the floor.
"Hello," she said. "I'm glad to meet you. I'm your grandma. Can you say Grandma?" In short order she had the kids calling her something vaguely like grandma, and Derek pushed down a little jealousy. After all, he hadn't worked on the kids calling him 'daddy' the day before. Language lesson over, they played color matching until Tabby looked like she was getting bored, and then they all joined in a game of stacking and knocking towers over with Van.
All told, they spent an hour with the kids before it was nap time, during which time Derek got his first lesson in diapering. (It wasn't as gross as people made it out to be.) As the kids lay down on their cots, Derek glanced out the window to see Gonzalez watching. He went out to meet her, Fran following.
"Ms. Gonzalez," he said. "How's it going today?"
"Well, we've notified all the biological parents by phone," she said. "And we've got official letters in the mail—not all of them believed us."
"Fair enough," Derek said. "It's not a very believable story, and if they haven't seen the news yet …" he shrugged.
"There's talk of putting the list of gene carriers online, but that's not my department." She handed Derek a folder and turned expectantly to his mother.
"Oh," Derek said. "Mother, this is Ms. Gonzalez, from social services. She's in charge of the kids. Ms. Gonzalez, this is my mother, Fran Morgan. She's here to help with the kids if I get custody."
"If?" Ms. Gonzalez said, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, the bio-mom may want custody," Derek pointed out. He flipped open the folder, to find a woman's face staring up at him. A glance at the paperwork found that it was the triplets' mother. Allison Lin was Asian, with an oval face, flat cheekbones, and a nice smile. She was a lawyer, and she lived in Arizona.
"Oh. You, uh, obviously don't know about the relative ratios of fathers to mothers," Ms. Gonzalez said. "It was a lot easier to steal sperm than ovaries. So consequently, there are only seven biological mothers. It works out to about nine kids per mother? And she's one of the first ones they got, so she's got a few more than that, I think."
Derek flipped through the file until he found it. "Eleven," he said, eyebrows raising.
His mother winced. "That poor woman. Eleven toddlers."
"Even if she wanted custody of all those children, she couldn't possibly do it," Ms. Gonzalez said. "Which means for most of her children, it's the fathers or foster care."
"Ah," Derek said.
"It's good you have family to help," Ms. Gonzalez went on. "I'm glad to meet you, Ms. Morgan. You seemed to be forming a good rapport with your grandchildren."
"Well, I hope so, too," Fran said. "They're good kids. You know, when Derek told me about this last night and asked me to come, I spent a few hours wondering what horrible conditions these kids were being held in—I've heard just enough of Derek's work to assume the worst. You wouldn't expect thieving, kidnapping, murdering mad scientists to take decent care of children and infants. But this place is pretty nice, and you can tell the children have been well looked-after."
"Oh, I know it," Ms. Gonzalez said. "It could have been so much worse."
"I'd like to contact Ms. Lin," Derek said, lifting up the folder. "See what she wants, and then we can move forward with the next steps." He glanced at his watch. 11:15; that would be 9:15 in Arizona. She'd be up, and as a lawyer she probably wouldn't be at work on a Saturday morning.
"And I'm afraid I've got a lot of work to get back to," Gonzalez said. "It was nice meeting you, Fran; let me know if you need anything."
Derek wandered off to find a quiet room to call from. Once he was in a utility room with the door closed, he dialed the cell number in the file.
"This is Allison Lin," said a professional-sounding female voice.
"Ma'am, this is Agent Derek Morgan of the FBI," Derek said. He winced. Why had he opened with that? He wasn't calling on official business.
There was a pause. "Is this … is this about that case up in Detroit? And my stolen ovary?"
"Yes, it is," Derek said. "I'm not working the case, though. I called because …" he searched for a good way to say it before realizing there wasn't one. "I'm the biological father of three of your children, and I'd like to talk about custody arrangements."
"They are not my children," Allison said immediately. "They are children made with my DNA. Legally, in both Arizona and Michigan, they are the children of the woman who bore them, and that is not me." The polished lawyer gave way to a woman who sounded frazzled and frustrated. Derek wished he'd taken the time to arrange a video call of some sort; he wished he could see her face. "I know that sounds cold, but I am really not a maternal person. I do not like kids, I do not want kids, there is no room in my life for kids, and I would much rather that those children have a good and loving home with someone who wants them than with someone who'll resent them for disrupting her life."
"Hey, you don't have to justify yourself to me," Derek said. "Not everybody's cut out to be a parent. And in my line of work I've seen too much of what happens when parents don't want their kids, or resent them, or just aren't ready for them."
"I know that," she said. She let out a sigh. "I just … my mom is going to kill me for giving them away. She doesn't get it, I'm the only girl so it's my duty to provide her with grandchildren to spoil. And, you know, maybe she'll take custody of one or two, and my brother and his partner might be interested in adopting—I don't know if they're thinking about children, and I haven't had a chance to talk to them about it—but I, myself, will not be taking custody of any of the children created with my DNA."
"Well, that simplifies things," Derek said. "My wife and I are currently expecting our first child. And we were talking about having more. Three toddlers all at once plus the baby is more than we would prefer, but we can handle it."
"Oh, that's wonderful," Allison said with relief. "I hope that all the kids get good homes with people who can love them and take good care of them, that just can't be me. I've been trying to figure out what the legal implications of the whole mess are. I don't think I actually need to sign away my parental rights because as I said, both Arizona and Michigan laws are clear that the surrogate is the legal mother even in cases of gestational surrogacy, at least until she signs the child over to the biological mother, which obviously hasn't happened here. But if you give me your contact information, I will send over a family medical history and any other information you need."
"All right," Derek said, and gave her his email and snail mail addresses. "I'll be taking the triplets home to DC with me in a few days, but if your mother or brother would like one or two of the kids, just let me know."
"With eleven children, total, I can pretty much guarantee that at least one of the fathers won't want the kids, or won't want all of them," Allison said. "Law of averages, if nothing else. Chances are, even if my family does take a couple—hell, I might have a cousin or two who'd be interested—there'll be kids going into the foster care system. If you're willing to take them, they're yours."
"Okay," Derek said. "Say, my wife and I don't really like the names they gave them, but we want something close so they don't get confused or anything. Van and Zee are the two we'd like to rename. Do you have any preferences? Maybe something from your family?"
There was a pause. "I don't … I never really thought about it? There are some Chinese names that begin with Z, if you like, but none that are particularly meaningful to me, anyway. I don't really care."
"Okay," Derek said. He couldn't think of anything else they needed to discuss. "You have my contact information if you need anything."
After the call ended, Derek tried to remember what Savannah's schedule was, today. She worked the occasional Saturday, but he didn't think today was one of them. He called, and she answered on the first ring.
"Derek! I was wondering how it was going. Is Fran there? Have you had a chance to talk to the biological mother?"
"Yes to both questions, baby," Derek said. "Mom got in last night, and this morning I talked to the biological mother." It only took a few minutes to fill her in on Allison Lin's positions, and when he finished, Savannah was quiet.
"Okay," she said at last. "Now we know. I'll figure out what we're doing for immediate nursery needs, and get Penelope and Hotch to call out your team and get it all set up. And start doing serious look at our childcare options. How long will your mom be with us?"
"About a week, I think," Derek said.
"Good. You've talked to Hotch about leave?"
"I'm pretty sure he'll sign off on using sick leave for this," Derek said. They spent some more time working on logistics, and then Derek called Garcia to give her a heads up and confirm that he needed tickets for three infants and his mama, going back to DC as soon as they could arrange it. After that he went to find Ms. Gonzalez, again, to fill out paperwork. While he was doing that, Garcia called back with flight information; he winced at the total, but honestly, four tickets on short notice could have been a lot worse. And, since she'd managed to get them tickets for Sunday, Derek would even be back in time for Savannah's ultrasound appointment.
The rest of the day was a mad scramble to get everything they'd need for the trip home—carseats, diaper bags, diapers, kid-friendly foods, a surprising amount for just a few hours. Fran had discussed what things were being provided for the kids out of the GenFam stock with Ms. Gonzalez, which Derek had already done, and then she'd talked with the GenFam employees who knew the triplets best and asked what sorts of toys and books they liked, and what their favorite foods were (and if there was anything they wouldn't eat), which Derek hadn't thought of. So when they hit the toy area of the big box store they were shopping in, they knew what things would most effectively distract the kids from the misery of commercial air travel.
They carved out a few hours to play with the kids, after their afternoon nap. Derek read them "Guess How Much I Love You"—he texted the name to Savannah—and tried to teach them to call him Daddy. Tabby was best at it; Van was trying, but still not very good with his words, yet. They were cute kids, although he'd have to watch that Zee didn't completely dominate the other two. Tabby was louder, but Zee got his way more often.
When they'd gotten everything taken care of that they could, they went out for dinner with Rossi, who filled them in on the generalities of the case.
"It's just strange, you know?" Derek said. "Being taken off an ongoing case. I mean, I've put cases in the cold case file, and I've had times where I did an initial evaluation and then handed it over, but leaving a major case in the middle doesn't happen often."
"You should be glad of it, though," his mother said. "Right now, your first priority has to be the kids. Once they're settled and you and Savannah have had time to get to know them a bit, then you can jump back into the swing of things. Not back on this case, obviously, but on others. I know I wasn't ever happy with your father's duty schedule, but we made it work. You'll make it work, too."
From there, the conversation turned to Derek's childhood, and old family memories. Some of them were embarrassing, but Derek appreciated it; he liked being reminded of his past, of the strong foundation that his family was, in this time of upheaval.
That night, back at the hotel, he had a chance to look—really look—at the medical records Keller had given him. A lot was redacted, he could tell, but things like height and weight and vaccination records were all included, along with documentation of every cold and sniffle they'd ever had, and every developmental milestone they'd achieved. Most of it was understandable to a layman, though Savannah would want to give it a thorough going-over.
What bothered him were the pictures. One per child for each month the children had been alive, and two sonograms per child per month prior to that. Cold and clinical, the photographs showed each child in nothing but their diaper. Sometimes there was an adult hand in view, to hold them in the desired position.
There were no other photographs. No pictures of their first smiles or steps. No scribbled artwork. No brown babies held in loving arms.
It was a reminder that despite the cheery, well-stocked nurseries with excellent staff, the children were not children to their captors, but rather commodities, experiments.
Derek closed the file and called Savannah.
"Well," she said, after he described the photos to her. "I guess we'll just have to make up the lack with lots of pictures from here on out."
"Yeah," Derek said. "We'll do that."
The flight the next day was miserable. Derek had been hoping they would sleep in the air, but Zee cried most of the time, which kept setting Tabby and Van off. He was fine, once they got back on the ground; it was probably the changes in air pressure. You couldn't explain to a toddler how to make their ears pop, and while Tabby and Van had eaten their cheerios and fruit snacks (and probably swallowed enough in doing so to make their ears pop), Zee wouldn't.
"So he's in pain and tired and hungry," Derek said, frazzled.
"A triple threat," his mom replied.
Derek tried to ignore the glares of the other passengers as he tried to stop his son's tears and felt like the worst father ever.
Savannah met them at Reagan National Airport. Derek greeted her with a kiss, a limp and tired Zee in a sling across his front. Tabby and Van were in the two-seat stroller Derek had been pushing, while his mother grabbed the luggage.
"Hi, there," Savannah said to Zee. "I'm Sa—" she stopped took a quick breath, and started over. "I'm Mommy. What's your name?"
Zee buried his face in Derek's chest. "He's a bit worn out, right now," Derek said.
"We'll probably have a better time for introductions after they've had a nap," Fran commented.
"You all look frazzled," Savannah said.
"It was a rough flight," Derek said.
Savannah squatted down in front of Tabby and Van. "Hi, I'm Mommy," she said. But the middle of an airport was no place for trying to explain to a toddler what a mother was, so they trooped out to the parking lot.
Derek almost walked by the minivan.
"What's this?" he asked, when Savannah stopped in front of an unfamiliar Chevy Astro.
"I borrowed it from Brian at work," Savannah said as she unlocked it. "What, you didn't think we'd fit me, you, your mother, and three kids in either of our cars, did you? Not enough seatbelts."
"We're gonna have to get new cars," Derek said with a groan. "Minivans."
"At least one," Savannah agreed. "Add it to the list of things that need to be done immediately. You know, Derek, I much prefer a nine-month waiting period to prepare."
"So do I," Derek said, grouchily. "Hey, Mama, you want to take Zee so I can get the carseats in?"
"Sure," Fran said. Derek handed the child over and wrestled with the seats. Improbably, it seemed to have gotten harder to install since he'd put them in the Bureau's SUV for the drive from GenFam to the Detroit airport. But at last it was done.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. The kids were a lot more cheerful after they took a nap; Derek wanted one himself, but there was too much to do.
That night, Derek and Savannah curled up around one another in bed. Derek was the big spoon. "I've missed you," he whispered into her hair.
"I missed you, too," Savannah said, sleepily. She snuggled back into him and they fell asleep together.
The next morning was incredibly hectic, getting all three toddlers up, changed, dressed, and fed. Breakfast was particularly challenging. "We need high chairs," Savannah said. "Preferably before their next meal."
"I don't think we have room for three high chairs, even if we removed three dining chairs," Derek said. He didn't want to have to use the dining room, but the kitchen table was cramped for six people even with the triplets in regular chairs.
"We can find a way," Savannah said, "but I want them strapped in so they can't get up and down and stand on their seat and wander away from the table when our backs are turned. Especially when it's two adults and four children under two years of age, and not three adults and three toddlers."
"I bet you can find booster seats with straps," Fran said thoughtfully.
After breakfast, they had some time to play with the kids (reinforcing "Daddy" and "Mommy" and "Grandma" as much as possible), before Derek and Savannah had to leave for her sonogram. Derek watched in awe at the sight of his unborn child wiggling away.
"Hey, there, Hank," he whispered to Savannah's tummy, "can you wave for the camera? Wave for Daddy?"
The tech and Savannah both laughed at him. "Well, he can hear you, by now," Savannah said, "but somehow, I really doubt he understands."
"Of course he does," Derek said, mock-seriously. "Look! He's waving his hand right now!"
"If you say so," Savannah said.
Everything was fine and normal, and the appointment was quick and easy. They left the doctor's office with a picture of Hank in hand, and their next appointment scheduled.
It was a relief to be back home with Savannah, and (however temporarily) get a break from dealing with the kids. Derek could already tell they were going to be a lot of work. Worth it, but still a lot of work.
"We need to take a family picture," Fran said when they got home. "I'd like a formal portrait, but for right now, can I just take something on my phone?"
"Sure," Savannah said, and they corralled the kids into sitting with them on the couch while Fran got her phone out and turned on the camera app.
"Hey, I have an idea," Derek said. He put Tabby down and went to the kitchen where the ultrasound picture had been stuck to the fridge. He got it and brought it back. "We need to make sure Hank's in the picture, too. Savannah, why don't you hold this over your stomach?"
Savannah laughed. "Sounds great."
Derek got himself and Tabby situated again, and Fran took their picture. The first picture of the new family all together.
"As parents we carry the blueprints, the dreams of what our family could be. The plans change, the whole thing goes way over budget, there are unexpected additions, and the work never ends. Still, through the messiness of construction we see each other with such depth and hope.… We draw energy and inspiration from our dreams; our simple, common motivations."—Lisa Ross