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Chapter 1

Rise Up (Andra Day)
Sam Point of View

Labor Day was supposed to be a day to sleep in. Being up at six in the morning on the holiday just wasn’t natural. But we knew that we didn’t have any real choice. So, we forced ourselves to get up and Noah and I went to catch a quick work out while Mercy headed on into the bathroom to start to get herself together. We’d all showered the night before, but we’d also gotten deeply dirty again before sleep finally claimed us too, so, it was morning showers were a must as well. We’d suggested that she join us for some cardio before her shower, but she said she needed extra time to do something with her hair. By the time the two of us manly men did our quick cardio workout, which may or may not have looked a hell of a lot like Wii Fit step aerobics, and got back up to our bedroom, we were just in time to help Mercy lotion those hard to reach places…like her amazing ass. Then Puck and I decided to share a shower. It didn’t save water and we ended up running late because of it…but it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I’d long ago dealt with my slightly unexpected need for Noah’s cock…but sometimes, the fact that I needed to make love with him every bit as much as I needed to make love with Mercy just struck me breathless.

Just as we were getting out of the bathroom, Bubbie and Kurt arrived with our clothes for the day. “Alright, are the three of you clean, moisturized and all that jazz.” Kurt said in leu of a ‘good morning’.

We nodded. “Even used the face moisturized you said that we had to start using or you would start smacking us with it at breakfast.” Noah added just to be a pain in Kurt’s ass.

“Good,” Bubbie laughed. She disappeared into Mercy’s closet and reappeared with a pretty black lace bra and tanga panty set and a black shaper slip. “Mercy-Cede, go ahead and put those on.” Knowing Ruth Mayzer as she did, Mercy had, wisely, only put on her robe after she’d finished her moisturizing and lotioning routine. “Noah, you and Sammy…the silk CK boxer briefs…purple for Noah and blue for Sam, dress socks to match.” That was where we made up a little of the extra time we’d spent in the shower. It took us less than half the time to dip into our closet, grab our drawers and socks, put them on and get back into the bedroom Ruth and Kurt bustled into our closet and picked out the watches they wanted us to wear for the day.

Kurt and Bubbie took over and in no time flat, my hair was looking done, but not overdone. Puck’s millimeters long stubble had been spritzed with a protector-slash-moisturizer and brushed…though I still thought that was a scalp massage more than real hair brushing. Ruth took Mercy into the bathroom and they worked on her hair while Kurt ‘assisted’, read bullied, Noah and I through getting dressed. By half past seven, we were dressed in the suits they’d selected and tailored for us. Our feet shod in the shoes they felt would go best with the clothes. And it was kind of awesome not to have to even think about what we wore. Mercy came out and she had been poured into a houndstooth, sheath dress with a vee neck and elbow length sleeves that had like, fluttery, trumpet parts that went down to her forearms. The curve hugging dress stopped at the very center of her adorable knees. The dress was so traditional that it might have seemed a little boring, well not really on her sexy body, but maybe on someone else…still, Bubbie hadn’t punched it up with a red belt with two gold, open semi-circles for the buckle. I’d at first glance thought that the circles were Gs meaning that it was a Gucci belt, but Kurt was quick to educate me. “Very close Sam…the semi-circles do resemble Gucci’s double Gs…but Cedes’ belt and her bag are both Salvador Ferragamo…as are your belt, and both Puck’s shoes and belt.” He told me. I didn’t have to ask why…I remembered him once saying that he liked to slip us into similar pieces by the same designer just for ‘subtle thruple-cuteness’. So, I shut up and just admired the physical beauty of my wife as Kurt helped her into a pair of red leather pumps with strappy details over the top of her foot and ankle straps that closed with tiny gold buckles.

Hudson came in with a smile as Kurt was finishing up with Mercy’s shoes. “Her bag?” she asked after greeting us all. Bubbie held up a tote sized purse that was the same scarlet red of the belt and shoes. I wouldn’t have gotten that designer wrong…it had a small gold panel on the front with Ferragamo’s name on it. It even came with a matching cosmetics bag that Kurt quickly grabbed to put Mercy’s touch up stuff into. Hudson took the tote bag with a grateful grin and headed into Mercy’s closet for her iPad. When she came out, she materialized a brand-new set of ten colored fine tip pens from Straedtler. Last semester’s study days had seen Mercy declaring those her new favorite note taking pens ever. I noticed that Hudson had been shopping herself, because she’d brought out Mercy’s usual silver Mont Blanc Classique ballpoint, but she put that pen back and dug into her bag of tricks and soon a gold version of the super pen was placed in Mercy’s tote. Next, she slid in a leather-bound note pad with lots of clean white pages for Mercedes Jones impressions and thoughts during the meeting. Hudson knew Mercy well.

While Hudson was filling the black and brown leather portfolio cases that I knew Noah and I would be carrying to take notes during the meeting…or draw notes in my case…I looked over the Professional PA look she had put together for the day. Our petite personal assistant had braided her hair back into two tiny braids from her temples into a massive French braid that trailed down her back to her waist. Her ears were decorated with classic pearl studs. She was wearing a dark, charcoal gray pants suit with very clean lines and seriously sharp creases. She’d paired the suit with a lovely, light blue ruffle front blouse. Her black pumps were super pointy and super shiny even if they weren’t super tall. She looked good, well kempt, professional, and efficient…but at the same time, there was something really unobtrusive about her outfit. She wouldn’t stand out, but she would be there if needed. Something told me that was exactly what she’d been hoping for. She zipped closed each of the portfolios which now contained a legal pad, yellow for Puck and white for me, our silver Mont Blanc pens and our iPads.

Not long after I’d finished contemplating Hudson, Bubbie and Kurt literally lined us up for a final inspection. Mercedes looked amazing. She hadn’t been to see Rickie yet, but she had worked some kind of magic where her roots had been straightened and the rest of her hair was rolling curls and waves with straight ends. It almost looked like one of her wigs, just not quite as long. Few people would ever realize that when she woke up, it had been a purely natural afro. Her makeup was really light and natural too…almost like she’d woken up flawless and just slid on some lip gloss. Though, that was pretty much what Noah and I thought she did every day. As far as I was concerned, she was perfect without make up. Mercy’s jewelry was yellow gold; simple hoop earrings with a diamond at the top, three gold encased diamonds on a shorter gold chain, and a gold watch with a mother of pearl face. I was pretty sure that despite the simplicity of the jewelry, each piece probably had a designer name attached. I was also pretty sure that the necklace and earrings were from the same person. Kurt and Bubbie had started trying to help me recognize designers and stuff so that, in theory, I wouldn’t need notes on the red carpet any more. I wasn’t sure that it would work, but we’d see.

Noah was proclaimed well turned out and ready next. I recognized his sharp ‘pearl gray’ suit as Hugo Boss. It was paired with a lavender dress shirt, purple texture stripped tie and black Ferragamo driving moccasins. His watch was super silver. Technically, we both had stainless steel watches. But his had a silver face while mine was a navy blue…a shade or two lighter than my Canali suit. My shirt was a light, linen, ivory color and my tie brought the ivory, blue and the brown of my accessories all together. I had lucked out. I got to wear brown Chelsea dress boots rather than uncomfortable dress shoes. Bubbie straightened my tie and ran a loving hand over Noah’s stubble. “Other than wishing that my ‘original grandson’ would grow his hair out a bit more…I declare all of you too fabulous for words.”

“Its too curly.” Noah grumbled under his breath. Mercy and I disagreed. We’d seen pictures of him from elementary school…before he’d cut it into the mohawk. His hair was curly but it was, honestly, gorgeous. I had really nice hair, Noah’s was actively great. But it was his hair, so it was his choice.

Hudson handed each of us our bag or portfolio as we headed out. Bubbie and Kurt took a moment to straighten up behind us, because they were completely awesome like that. Not that we’d made much of a mess, but still they knew our closets better than Vi did, so it was just easier for them to put our stuff away. On the way down, we may have snuck into Lil Darlin’s room and kissed her cute, little sleeping face, before we headed to the kitchen. I should have been surprised to see Dad, Moms D and George at the breakfast bar, since they hadn’t told us that they were coming, but I wasn’t. The meeting with the FBI was about a major safety concern. Of course, our parents were going to make sure that they were there. Dad had even busted out a full suit with a tie and everything. His suit was brown, but his shirt was the same color as mine and his tie was almost identical to my own. I found that funny and weirdly comforting.

George loved Noah. It was clear in the way his eyes had lit up when Puck walked into the kitchen…just like my father’s had when they lit on me. I loved him for that alone. Anyway. George loved his son and he loved me and ‘Cede’ but no way was he wearing a tie except to occasions so formal that his only choice was in the type of tie he could wear. Instead, he wore a blue, black and gray plaid dress shirt under a gray blazer. Granted, he wore them with jeans, but the gray wash jeans looked both designer and brand new so there was no doubt that the effort was there to look more dressed than a normal Monday. Of course, neither Dad nor George looked as put together and ready for whatever the meeting might throw at us as Moms D. She looked super professional in a navy blue, knit business dress with three quarter length sleeves softened with scalloped hems and neckline.

Danica Jones was a beautiful woman. Standing there in our kitchen she looked less like a fifty-year-old oral surgeon and more like the next Black Mrs. America. Her navy dress wasn’t as form fitting as the dress Mercy was wearing, but it did hug her body until the pleated skirt belled at her waist. It was accessorized with pink suede pointy toed pumps, a pinkish taupe bow belt and matching tote bag. Her jewelry was rose gold, the watch highlighted with silver and her necklace and earrings highlighted with mother of pearl. Moms D had done something completely different with her hair. It made me have to suck in a breath of surprise when my brain caught up with my eyes. It looked like she had died it blonde and turned it into locs that went down to her waist. Her own hair was not that long, and she’d not colored it in any of the pictures of her that I had ever seen. She must have seen my look of confusion. “Oh, these are faux locs, Sam-Baby. Veronica talked me into them. What do you think?”

“I think that you’re still the prettiest mother-in-law Puck and I could ever have lucked upon.” I said honestly.

Noah clapped me on my shoulder. As he went over to hug the grown folks. “You look just as gorgeous as your amazing daughters. I bet Benton loves ‘em.” He told her with a wicked grin.

“Boy stop.” She chuckled. I knew that chuckle. It was the same one Mercy gave Artie or one of our friends when they said something that made her remember making love with me and Puck.

Mercy just smiled and went and gave her mother a huge hug. “Momma, I’m not surprised that you guys came. But I thought that the Dads were attached at the hip. How happen you came with these two and Daddy stayed home?”

Moms D grinned. “Your father would have loved to be here with his partners in crime. If it weren’t for the fact that it was a lot easier to clear my calendar for a couple of days than it would have been for your father, you know he’d be here. Just the same as Gabby and Bekah. Hell, if it were possible all six of us would have been here.”

Bubbie laughed. “It might be wrong, but I would so feel bad for those poor FBI agents if they had to deal with all six of you in one meeting. The guys are bad enough, mothers are far more vicious when protecting their young. Why do you think I’m not going? It’s a hard-enough fight every day not to track the SoB down and kill him with my bare hands…if I heard something in that meeting that would make it easier to do…I don’t know that I could continue to resist temptation.”

To move us past that threat of violences, Bautista started shooing everyone towards the dining table. There she had laid out a healthy breakfast of slice of avocado toast with topped with fried eggs and a quinoa and fruit salad. In no time at all we each had filled our plates and were enjoying our meal. As we partook of the delicious food, the conversation was kept pretty light. Dad, Moms D and George told us how Stevie and Stacey were enjoying eighth grade and how Sarah was handling high school. They shared stories about Mother Richardson’s new space and how much fun Sloane and Double A were having at the preschool. Danica even had news about our Pumpkin’s first day of pre-K. Apparently, the Montessori program she’d been in the previous two years had left her very advanced compared to her peers. Given that she was at the older edge of her class, the principal had asked Shelby and Dave to consider advancing her to kindergarten. The hope was to get it all done and over before the kids really got settled into their classes. Everyone was pretty sure that it was a great idea, but it was up to Shels and Dave. As great as the conversation was, we were on a schedule. Woody and Caesar showed up with Hitta and a big ass limo to convey the seven of us and Ethan to the Lower East Side Rangeman NYC offices.

Upon our arrival at the sleek and ridiculously modern reception area of Rangeman New York, we saw that Darcy, Haja and Daniel had beaten us there. They were talking with Ms. Plum and a tall built Rangeman with a tattoo of a flaming skull on his forehead. Interestingly enough, Haja and Mr. Tattoo…whose name was totally escaping me and I kind of felt bad about that…they were looking mighty cozy. Brantley entered right after us and our contingent was complete. Ms. Plum came over and greeted us. “Mercedes, I love those shoes.” She smiled warmly at our wife. “Puck, aren’t you ready to have some hair, yet? I’ve seen your grandmother, mom, uncle…you have great hair don’t you.” not letting him answer she moved to me. “Sam, you and your father look so much alike. But I think you have your mother’s eyes.” I loved Stephanie Plum. She was Jersey through and through…but there was so much southern warmth in her that I couldn’t help but like her. She chatted with all of us as she showed us up to a large conference room on the second floor of the building.

The room held a large rectangular table that had seating for twenty-eight. Ranger Manoso and Ms. Plum were at the center of their side of the square, the head of the table. Arrayed on either side of them were Lester Santos and our account manager, Trigger. Trigger Stapleton was a shorter and stocky, very muscular guy with a blonde crew cut and brown eyes. In talking with him, I’d learned that he’d gone into the Marines to pay for college. By the time we met him, he had a degree in account management and loved math in a deep and strange way which was funny since he looked like the kind of guy who bullied math nerds until they cried. Lester sat next to Ms. Plum and then Trigger was next to Lester. At Ranger’s side was Tank, then Hector and Manny Ramos had the last seat on that side. I had only met Hector and Manny once or twice, but Hector made me more afraid than any other human being I’d ever met…there was something about his very aura that told me that he was an often underestimated danger.

The side of the table against the far wall, the side next to Manny, was filled by members of the BAU. I noticed that the FBI was more diverse than I would have believed. While their center seat was taken by a white male about the same age as my dad and George, there were three women, one of whom was black, and a black guy who totally looked like he could have been a Rangeman himself. I smiled at the dude who looked like a textbook mafia don and when he smiled back, I recognized him as David Rossi. MeMaw loved his books. The last guy, he really threw me for a loop. He had eyes just like mine…Puckett eyes. Not the color. His eyes were more hazel leaning towards brown, but the shape of his eyes…they were definitely Puckett eyes. All the way down to the way they bagged when we didn’t sleep enough. I knew how many sleepless nights it took to create those slender folds, too. I started to say something when my train of thought was interrupted.

“Cede, I just want to point out that of the four male feds here, only one of them is wearing a tie.” Puck grumbled loud enough to make even the tie wearing fed crack something resembling a smile. Something I was pretty sure he didn’t do a whole lot.

“Yes, Noah, I see that only one of them is wearing a tie. However, you are wearing a tie as a sign that we respect the time and effort they are expending to keep me safe in a legal fashion that will allow Corbin Richardson to get what he deserves without me, you, Sam or any of our relatives possibly having to serve time in a maximum-security penitentiary for murder. So, shut the hell up about having to wear that god damn tie before I strangle you with it.” He may have spent the better part of the car ride from Harlem to the Lower East Side complaining about having to wear a tie on a holiday that wasn’t religion centered.

Still, he was smart enough to shut up about the tie as Mercy, Noah and I arrayed ourselves in the three center seats on the side of the table directly across from the FBI agents. Mercy was, as always centered between Puck and I. Ethan took a seat next to me with Haja on his right. Daniel and Hudson sat on Noah’s other side. The three parents, Brantley and Darcy were seated along the last side of the quadrilateral table. Once our team was in place, Ranger started our part of the meeting. I said our part because I was almost positive that Rangeman and the Feds had already discussed somethings that morning. “Allow me to make the introductions. Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner,” tie guy acknowledged the introduction. “He heads the Alpha Team of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI. He and his team are working to bring down Corbin Richardson and his network of corrupt law enforcement officers and elected officials. To his immediate left is SSA David Rossi, followed by Dr. Tara Lewis, SSA”. The Black woman was tall even seated. She was thinner than Moms D or Mercy, but no where near as emaciated as Arielle Harris. I could honestly say that her eyes were strikingly forthright and intelligent. She personalized her navy-blue suit with a feminine burgundy dress shirt that was left open a very professional two buttons. “At the end is Dr. Spencer Reid, Supervisory Special Agent.” The man with the Puckett eyes was taller still and so very thin I knew MeMaw and Grandma Mae would want to feed him the second they met him. He looked more like a college professor than an FBI agent. His blue check dress shirt and solid purple tie was covered with a blue cardigan rather than a blazer. He was rocking navy Dockers and his shoes were so comfy looking. His eyes, shaped entirely too much like mine, shined with like fifty times more intelligence than mine did. His hair was longer than I’d expect for an SSA, and the same color as mine and Stevie’s…near the end of winter when we’d been out of the sun for too long.

“To his immediate right is SSA Jennifer Jareau,” Agent Jareau was a thinner, but healthy looking, blonde with big blue eyes and a smirk of a smile. She was wearing black slacks and a black blazer with a form fitting navy top. She wore barely any makeup and yet she seemed to be as put together as anything. The thing that struck me was that she seemed to be the smallest female, and yet, the most dangerous woman on their side of the table. “Then we have Technical Analysis Penelope Garcia.” Much like the first time I’d seen the bubbly woman, the first thing that came to mind when looking at Penelope Garcia was WOW. Not in a disrespectful way. I mean, yeah, she was a beautiful woman, if not traditionally so, with a bright and sunny smile. The main reason for the wows was just plain old shock at her career field. Nothing about her said anything at all to do with the FBI. Penelope Garcia was thick…at least as thick as Mercy, if her curves were less pronounced. She was wearing a brilliant aqua dress that lit up her blond curls and brown eyes. It was probably sleeveless from the way the arms of her light beige sweater fit. The sweater was embellished with two branches upon which sat two happy little brown birds. There were bright green leaves arrayed around the branches. In her hair, she wore a matching aqua flower with green leaves to tie in her sweater. Her glasses even matched the flower in her hair. Her necklace, earrings and bracelet all played up the green of the leaves. Her makeup was Mercy or Bubbie perfect. “Finally, we have Supervisory Special Agent Derek Morgan.”

I was man enough to admit that Derek Morgan was, what Santana called, universally hot. He was the most dressed down of the FBI crew. He was wearing a navy smedium Henley that I think was in my closet too. His slacks were more denim than cotton and I was sure that Bubbie would have rather popped him with the belt he was wearing than allow him to wear it in her presence. There were some serious feelings between Morgan and Garcia. We’d seen it the night of our concert. We saw it that morning. With the seven members of the BAU introduced to for us, Ranger then made us and our team known to the BAU. He started with the three of us and worked from there. Then he gave a quick refresher on his team, all of whom were in black suits, though only Ranger, Lester and Manny wore ties. I was pretty sure that Ranger’s and Ms. Plum’s suits were both Armani, Tank’s was FUBU and I think Lester, Trigger and Manny were wearing Ralph Lauren and Hector’s was Brooks Brothers. I was pretty proud of myself for knowing that.

“Now that the introductions are out of the way, Agent Hotchner has the floor.” Ranger told us all bringing the meeting to order.

“Thank you, Manoso.” Aaron Hotchner said calmly. “With the marked escalation of the unsub, Richardson, at the VMAs two weeks ago, it has been determined that we now need to move our investigation into a more active phase. This meeting is the first step in that process. First, we hope to ensure that everyone involved is on the same page.” After going over a list of crimes centered around Richardson’s sick obsession with Mercy that seemed to date back to the very beginning of our music career, Agent Hotchner turned the BAU presentation over to Agent Jareau.

“Richardson is a blend of what we traditionally refer to as the lust or predatory and acquaintance or intimacy seeking stalker archetypes. He has some pervasive sexual deviations and is currently fixated on Mercedes as his ultimate fantasy.”

Puck looked confused. “Pervasive sexual deviations? What does that even mean? ‘Cause as far as I’m concerned as long as all parties are over the age of consent and they willingly give it, there is nothing deviant about sex.”

Rossi laughed. “I tend to agree with you, Kid. But Richardson has a bad habit of not understanding the concept of affirmative consent. My contacts have put us in touch with several of his previous victims. His MO seems to be to seduce women into sex with him, just to force the woman to then entertain a large number of other men and those men are then allowed to rape Richardson’s victims as well. He seemingly has issues performing in simple, consensual, one on one sex with women for more than a few weeks. Even then without rougher and more dominating activities he becomes less and less able to perform in that context.”

That left me confused. “So why doesn’t he just try and find a woman who enjoys the same things he does?”

Dr. Lewis answered my question. “That’s the problem with his psyche, a woman who enjoys the games he wants to play would not fill the need for the element of force…of dominance. In a true dominant-submissive relationship, the submissive often has far more control than the dominant. This unsub would find that too restrictive, too weak, too limiting for his sexual needs.”

George looked disturbed. “So, a man who cannot get off unless he’s hurting and raping his partner is fixated on our Cedes. Just want to point out that knowing that is making this whole situation worse, not better.”

Morgan agreed. “Unfortunately, when you hear the rest of what we have to share, it’s going to get a lot worse and it’s not going to get better until we catch him.”

Danica sat up straighter. “Well then, Agent Morgan, I’m going to need you all to just tell us what is going on with this asshole, and then tell us exactly how the FBI is planning to handle him. Because right now I’m scared for my daughter and that is making me just want to track the son of a bitch down, make small incisions on his every extremity…every single one, and pour salt water over them all then cover him with honey and stake his ass out on top of a fire ant hill in the desert.”

Stephanie Plum’s voice broke the silence that imagery invoked. “Whoa. That was alarmingly specific…and rather scary. Mothers are frightening when protecting their kids.”

“Babe, your mother ran over a killer in a bunny suit to save you.” Ranger said pointedly.

Ms. Plum nodded, “yeah, but that was pretty hands off compared to what she just described. I think I want to be like her when I grow up.”

Lester smugly looked around Ranger. “Yeah, when’s that gonna be? Half past never?”

There was a pen thrown, then returned. “Santos, Babe.” Ranger sort of barked. But something told me that he’d let it go on to bring some levity into the room. It was needed. The air had begun to get suffocatingly heavy with the fear we were all beginning to feel. “Hotchner, the floor remains yours.”

Hotchner nodded though something about his face told me he was as amused by the antics of Ms. Plum and Lester as we all were. “The Unsub has begun making moves towards his endgame. Garcia, working with Mr. Gutierrez, have found that he’s set up four different aliases.”

“Seriously high-quality ones, passports, socials, everything.” Penelope Garcia chimed in. She was really, really perky. But one look at Hector and I knew she spoke the truth.

Hotchner gave a slight nod of agreement before continuing. “Under those aliases, he has purchased airline tickets for two people to Bahrain, Dubai, the Maldives, Kuwait and Riyadh. We know that he has properties in three of those five locations, however we haven’t been able to ascertain if he has properties in Kuwait and Riyadh as well.”

“So, he’s planning to head out of the country when he can get his hands on her and go to a country with no extradition?” Darcy asked quietly. “How is he planning to get a drugged or tied up woman, especially one as famous as Mercedes Jones, through airport security?”

“He can’t.” Manny and Morgan said at the same time. “It’s a fucking feint.” Manny Ramos continued.

Morgan finished his thought. “He must have a private plane that he’s planning to use to get her out of the country. Something at a small private airfield.”

“How is he planning to get around a flight plan?” Tank asked.

Rossi chimed in. “He doesn’t have to. If he files one under one of his aliases…he’d be able to fly out without raising any red flags. Garcia, we’ll need to look into private airfields near the remaining concert cities.”

“Not all of them, the ones in Mexico and Canada, maybe Barbados…” I interrupted. “He’s not stupid. It would be harder to get to her and get out of the US than it would another country.”

Hotchner nodded. “Garcia, can you concentrate on Mexico and the French-Canadian stops first. A language barrier would be very beneficial for a kidnapping. It would make it harder for Ms. Jones to ask others for help.”

Dad laughed. “If he’s done his research, he’d go with Mexico. Mercy can speak French like she was born in Paris.”

“That’s definitely something that could work in our favor.” Dr. Reid said thoughtfully.

I studied him for a moment as Garcia started conversing easily with Mercy in rapid French. The more I looked at him, the more I was sure of my earlier assessment. Something about him screamed out to me and declared him family. I listened with half an ear as I tried to figure out the puzzle that was Dr. Spencer Reid. I was able to find a short bio on him online. It didn’t give a lot of information, mainly his educational history and information about his career. With a smile, I was able to focus back on the matters at hand. Well, as soon as I had shot an email to Penny Van Lanen-Hofstadter…her husband Leonard worked at Cal-Tech, where Spencer Reid had completed his undergraduate education and the first of his three doctorates. I shot a text to Darcy asking her to poke into Dr. Reid’s background and hit me with everything that she could find with the tech she had with her.

After the BAU team had shared all the information they’d amassed during their investigation, the Rangeman team took over. We knew almost all of the information they had discovered. Lester had done a great job keeping us in the loop. There was one very surprising fact. “Ramos feels certain that Richardson will more than likely strike at either the Winnipeg or Toronto shows.” Ranger said authoritatively.

Manny Ramos chimed in to explain, “Richardson is a very successful business man. He has enough ties to the music industry to know how concert sales and things like that work. I feel confident that he would, more than likely, wait until after the final show simply because to do otherwise would cause problems from a financial standpoint.”

Dr. Reid, Spencer, looked thoughtful. “This unsub could consider it a gesture of good will to Sam and Mr. Puckerman.”

“Even more than that, he’d believe that by waiting until after the last concert of the tour, it would leave Warner and their deep pockets out of the following fray.” Agent Rossi chimed in.

My Dad raised a point that had entered my mind too. “So, the question then becomes, do we concentrate only on the final concert?”

Ranger shook his head, but it was Tank that verbalized the Rangeman answer on the issue. “No, that would leave us flat-footed if we are over or underestimating him. Just as, while we might increase coverage at the Francophone and Hispanophone tour dates, we won’t run a short shift at the English speaking stops.”

“Moving forward, it might be wise to ascertain the caterers at the remaining venues.” Hotch suggested. “I know that, traditionally you’ve done background checks on the bartenders at the after party locations. But it would make just as much sense, and perhaps even be easier for the Unsub to try and cultivate the caterers that are handling KAMA’s after concert refreshments. That would allow him to drug Ms. Jones, or if he is as intelligent as he believes himself to be, all three of them.”

“Why all three of them?” Brantley asked curiously.

Derek Morgan picked up on his boss’ theory. “If the Unsub is smart, he would know that taking out Evans and Puckerman, without causing them long term harm, would give him a longer window of time to get Jones away and under control. That’s especially true if he concentrates on the time after the concert. That not only gives him more time, it gives him far fewer prospective witnesses than trying to kidnap her from a bar or a club.”

“That makes a certain amount of sense.” I said cautiously. My iPad dinged as I received a file from Darcy. When I opened the file, the very first thing I saw threw me for a loop. Darcy had managed to find a CV with a picture of Spencer’s mother, a woman who looked amazingly like Pamela Puckett and Sue Sylvester. Once again, the Puckett genes bred true. I didn’t get it though. Our family was seriously clanish. How did no one know about Diana Reid or her son? It hadn’t taken Girl Sam long to figure out that Coach Sylvester was probably the daughter of one of PaPaw’s sister’s. His eldest sister had gone off to fight the Nazis way back in the day and no one in the family had ever heard from her thereafter. I felt really bad that I hadn’t figured it out myself before Cousin Jean passed. Especially since I’d heard the stories same as all of us and been right there…I could have, at least talked to her. I’d tried one time to let Coach Sylvester know that we shared a family and was cut off at the knees. I was just happy that it wasn’t literally.

Anyway…apparently genius ran in that branch of the family tree. Diana Wright Reid had graduated high school at fifteen and had earned her doctorate by nineteen. By the time she was thirty she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Suddenly I knew exactly what happened. “Cousin Taby and Cousin Annie. They were actually triplets not just twins.” I blurted out looking Spencer Reid dead in his face. “Their momma was my PaPaw’s youngest sister, Auntie Phoebe. She almost died having the twins because she went into labor by herself after visiting Lake Tahoe to gamble. She said a nurse saved her and helped her deliver the twins before the doctor got there. But the nurse disappeared before PaPaw and the family got there to get Auntie Phoebe and her girls.”

The FBI agents all looked at me then looked at Reid. Then they looked at each other. The whole room was looking at each other in confusion. “I’m sorry. What?”

I flipped my iPad around. “His momma looks just like Tabitha and Angelica Puckett and Angelica’s daughter Pamela. The only other woman I know who shares that great a resemblance to those three…she’s family even if she doesn’t want to admit it. I don’t know what happened exactly, but Taby and Annie…they have always said that a piece of them was missing. Cousin Annie, she was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder long time back. Her poetry is amazing…makes you cry every single time. Cousin Taby has, um. Well, I can’t remember how to say it, but it starts with Schizo too. She paints though. Both of them are smarter than half the rest of us combined. So are Girl Sam and her twin sister Melanie, Pam’s daughters. Even if Girl Sam doesn’t like to admit it. She’s from that side of the family too.”

“I’m…sorry.” Reid tried to brazen his way out. But I knew.

“Just stop. You even lie like me. Your momma, your eyes…I’m betting you babble too. You’re a Puckett. I can feel it down to the very root of me.” Mercy grabbed my hand hoping to soothe me and keep me calm. I might have been getting a little manic.

There were a lot of assessing looks. Everyone from the Rangeman team, Spencer’s team and Team KAMA were cataloging the It was Manuel Ramos who translated what Hector had to say about what he’d quickly found while everyone else was trying to figure out if what I was saying was true. “June Wright Nurse and mother of Diana Wright, only child. She passed away before your eighth birthday. She and her husband, an auto mechanic named, Matthew, also deceased, moved to Reno, unexpectantly in July nineteen sixty with their infant daughter Diana. Doctor Reid, if she did steal your mother from her family, there is no one left to be punished for the crime.”

“The two of you do have the same shaped eyes. Your hands are kind of the same. And oh yeah, your grandmother and grandfather left Truckee, California for the much larger Reno in one hell of a hurry, Boy Genius.” Garcia spoke up. “Heck, he even rambles like you do.”

Spencer Reid looked scared, and kind of mad. “You don’t understand.”

I shrugged. “I understand that nobody who is my blood kin should ever look as lonely in a crowd of people as you do. I see that your friends, they are worried for you. But I’m not a threat. I don’t want to do anything but let you know that you and your mom…you’ve got family out there who, even though we’ve never met y’all, love you. Hell, she don’t even have to stay in whatever place she’s in. Cousin Taby and Cousin Annie they live together with their care takers, a couple of younger Puckett cousins who make sure that they get their meds and have what they need. Cousin Diana could live with her sisters. Might be good for all three of them to finally feel whole.”

“She…doesn’t do so well with strangers.” Spencer finally said. “And my team is my family.”

I nodded. “I get that. Trust and believe me…I can completely understand making a family of those people you’ve walked through fire with or would do so for. And I don’t actually want to shove myself into your world. But I just…sometimes my mouth just starts to run, and my filters don’t catch what they should.”

“That must be a genetic trait, huh, Pretty Boy.” Morgan teased. “So Hotch, does this change the plan?” Spencer looked grateful as all get out for the return to the reason for the meeting.

“Wait, what plan?” Mercy asked.

Hotch looked thoughtful. “It is rare for us to bring a victim in on the case like this, but for the next planned steps, we will need your cooperation.”

“If it’s going to keep my daughter safe…you have the cooperation of every single soul in this room.” Danica assured them.

“Hell yeah. Of course you do. What do you need us to do?”

“We need, ideally, to insert two of our agents with your tour for the remaining tour stops.” Agent Jareau stated calmly.

“Can we have Spencer?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.

My father’s voice cut through the room before anyone else could say anything. “Samuel Craig Evans.” His voice was stern and sharp…filling the room without anyone getting even the impression that he was yelling. “Leave it for now. Let Dr. Reid have time and room to figure out how he feels about all of this.” I wanted to point out that it hadn’t seemed like it was news to the genius. But Daddy knew me well. “Just because a thing is known doesn’t mean it’s been emotionally processed. You Pucketts are a lot to deal with under the best of circumstances. Let the man get his legs back under him. I know you’re enthusiastic about getting to know him and welcoming him back into the clan…but let your cousin breathe and let his boss talk.”

I hung my head in embarrassment at the chastisement and shame at the need for it. “Yes Sir. Sorry Spencer.”

Aaron Hotchner looked a little amused but he was also giving my father an appraising look. In fact, he looked like he wanted to be Dad when he grew up, which was kind of funny since they looked to be almost the same age. Thankfully though, he didn’t pay any more attention to the Puckett family drama. “As Agent Jareau stated, we need you to accept two federal agents into your touring entourage. Unfortunately, Dr. Reid would, probably, not be a good fit for this assignment.”

“Okay, so which of your agents can sing or dance?” Mercy asked beside me. “Dr. Lewis?” she guessed.

The older Black woman shook her head with a chuckle. “Oh no…out of respect for the possibility that the natural sponge I use was at one point sentient, I don’t even sing in the shower.

Agent Jareau as a dancer was Noah’s guess. “No. I played soccer and softball. Chorus and dance were not my thing at all.”

“No, Agent Jareau is not our hoped for choice. Though I do believe that, given enough time, she could learn the required dances. Our suggestion would be to get people into positions that remain behind the scenes, having agents in front of the cameras could tip our hand to the Unsub. We would like to concentrate our agents in and around KAMA’s dressing room and catering while allowing Rangeman’s guards to continue to focus on overall safety and not letting the Unsub know that security has been ramped up at all.”

The three of us looked at each other and then we looked at Haja and Brantley. They looked as uncertain as we felt “So, how would that be managed?” I finally asked.

“We have several options available to us.” Agent Hotchner said calmly. “There are agents who specialize in going undercover. We could utilize two of them. They’d be placed as one of those ubiquitous job titles that no one knows what they actually do so they would have freedom to come and go as necessary.”

Ranger and Ms. Plum exchanged a long look. “Given what we know of Richardson’s bribery and corruption of LEOs…we wouldn’t be comfortable with having two miscellaneous people that close to Mercedes, Sam and Puck.” Ms. Plum said thoughtfully.

Agent Rossi smirked at her. “To be honest, we actually had a similar thought as well. But we wanted to present all possible options.”

“So, what option is your ideal?” Haja asked pointedly.

Morgan spoke up. “It would be two of our team, preferably myself and Garcia…I’d act as your personal trainer while Baby Girl would step in as Ms. Lewis’s assistant handling on the road social media.”

“But what about your real jobs?” Darcy stepped in.

“There is an agent from the Fugitive Task Force that we’ve asked to step in for Agent Morgan as needed. Unfortunately, Garcia is far less replaceable.” I got the feeling that Agent Hotchner was teasing both of his agents with his statement as much as he was answering Darcy’s question. “Since it would be difficult for the BAU to do our jobs without Garcia and it would be difficult for their covers to be maintained if she and Morgan are not seen as part of your entourage on a fairly regular basis, we would find it very beneficial if you could allow her to utilize some office space to set up her…”

“I’ll need to set up my travel Babies so that I can work remotely without exposing anyone to the horrors that our fellow human beings can create.” Agent Garcia finished for him.

“That shouldn’t be a problem…well, after this week. Mrs. Abrams, their business manager and, Mr. Zizes, their human resources guru will be in town for a couple more days to take some necessary meetings.” Hudson pointed out.

“Can everything be in place by the fourteenth?” Morgan asked thoughtfully. “We could start in Puerto Rico and then Garcia can set up her space on Monday when we return.”

It was funny that we all looked at Hudson to answer that. “I can certainly make sure that happens. Are you going to need lodgings?”

“The FBI has several safe houses throughout Manhattan. For this assignment, Morgan and Garcia have been allotted an apartment in Midtown South. I will ensure that they have time before they meet you Friday to move some of their things into the space.” Agent Hotchner answered.

Hudson made a note on her pad. “We fly out of LaGuardia Friday evening at seven. If I can get your emails, preferably not your work ones, I’ll email you the itineraries for the remaining tour stops.”

Garcia nodded. “Thank you. Oh and I guess I should ask, given the fact that Mercedes is already being hailed as a fashionista, do I need to make changes to my usual style?”

We all checked her out. Unlike the other FBI representatives, she wasn’t wearing dark colors. Her outfit looked bright and colorful. It was coordinated and, while not exactly fashion forward, it looked great on her. Mercy gave her a huge smile. “You look great. You are well groomed and well put together. That is all we ask of our staff, team and crew. I’m seriously in love with your shoes. I love fashion…but I am not a traditional fashionista. I don’t try and follow trends. I hope the one setting them.”

“Oh goodie. Because honestly, they still haven’t trickled down the changes you’ve begun with the haute couture set to the more FBI budget friendly stores yet.”

“Trust and believe that we know the truths you speak.” Moms D laughed charmingly. “But at least it seems that things are finally starting to get better on that side of life.”

Stephanie Plum chuckled. “My friend Lula…she gave up. I think she just does whatever she wants when it comes to clothes.”

Ranger shook his head in clear consternation. In fact all of the Rangemen had interesting looks on their faces at the mention of Ms. Plum’s friend. “I would also like to insert Stephanie back in as Ms. Friedman’s assistant. She successfully utilized the role in the past and it would give us another set of eyes that are expected to remain backstage at or near the primaries. Additionally, either Tank, Lester or myself will join you on each of the remaining tour dates.”

There was a bit more discussion, including finding out that after that weekend’s trip, Ranger was going to allow us to utilize the Rangeman company plane which was actually a retrofitted military cargo jet. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III was big enough to carry all of us. It had been upgraded and furnished to transport human beings in relative luxury and still had a cargo hold big enough to haul all our and Rangeman’s gear. Even better for us, it was in no way, shape, form or fashion one of those small private planes that scared the hell out of Mercy. But the absolute best part was that Ranger was so happy about some seriously lucrative contract that he said was a direct result of his company’s association with us, that he was only charging us the cost of the fuel and pilot rather than their usual rate for the use of the plane. The meeting had started at nine in the morning. After it was finally over, Rangeman treated us to a nice lunch of some seriously amazing salads and high quality sandwiches, on what I was almost positive was homemade wheat bread.

I took Dad’s words to heart and spent the luncheon speaking with Agent Morgan, bringing him up to speed on Noah, my, and to a lesser extent, Mercy’s workout regimens. He said that he would help augment them on the road with self-defense exercises, but otherwise he thought our group workouts were being done in a very smart way. I tried to pay attention to the conversation going on between Ms. Garcia, Hector and Darcy, but it was both in a different language and above my head. Hector only spoke Spanish and Garcia didn’t speak it at all despite her name, so Darcy was translating for him. But all three of them spoke technology in a way that I just couldn’t follow.

Puck and Hudson had made their way over to where Ranger, Agents Hotchner and Rossi, Uncle Ethan and The Parents were talking. He told us later that the discussion was mainly centered around the parents desire to understand why the son of a bitch had become so obsessed with Mercedes. Ultimately, it seemed to come down to the fact that Richardson was a crazy bastard who was not used to encountering any woman that he felt immediately drawn to and yet who he was sure that he had less than no chance with. The fact that the beautiful and gorgeous and sexy woman that was Mercedes Jones didn’t cater to him or even care who he was had launched an infatuation that had melded with a major case of rich male entitlement, an already dangerous psyche and grown into something much darker. Mercedes had anticipated the directions of Noah and my separate conversations and avoided them by speaking with the remaining FBI agents, Lester, Tank, Haja, Brantley and Daniel about the logistics of including the three additional people and how to make their made up jobs look realistic.

Things were wrapping up and I was itching to talk to Dr. Re- Spencer…I just couldn’t make myself call family by their formal name and title. He was in a conversation with Agents Jareau, Hotchner and Dr. Lewis as the rest of us gathered our things. I saw the look my father was giving me and knew better than to approach the tall, lanky blond, So, I almost sighed in relief when he came over to me as everyone was heading out. “Umm, I…I’ve never had much family. It’s been just me and my mom since I was ten.”

“What happened to your dad?”

“He, uh, left us when I was ten. He couldn’t take it…there was some drama. I was too smart and Mom’s mental illness worsened…he left.” Spencer said quietly.

“So wait, he left a ten year old kid alone with a paranoid schizophrenic who was in crisis?” I heard my dad ask over my shoulder. “I don’t suppose that you happen to know where he is now?” Yeah, nonchalance was not something my dad could pull off any better than I could. Stevie was much better at it than either of us.

Morgan smirked, as he joined us, slapping Spencer on the shoulder with clear brotherly affection. “William Reid actually lives on Knoll Avenue in Las Vegas. About fifteen minutes from where Spencer grew up. He’s lived there for most of the years since he walked Spencer and Ms. Diana.” I was texting Cousin Johnny, who was driving the KAMA trucks back as we were in the meeting to see if he could swing through Vegas and let Mr. William Reid know that what had done was so fucking unacceptable, it needed a new fucking word.

“Morgan.” Spencer chided. “Do you know what you’ve done?”

The smile on the Black man’s face was positively evil. “You wouldn’t let Baby Girl give him credit problems. You wouldn’t let me, Prentiss or JJ educate him on being a real man. You wouldn’t let Rossi and his connections educate him on being a real father. So, now he’s going to get educated by the people who would have seen to his education a long time ago if things had been different.”

Spencer shook his head. Something told me that he knew very well that his team hated his father and that they had been looking for a way to get retribution for the way he’s abdicated his responsibilities to his young son. Instead of refighting a battle that was now, well and truly, out of his hands, he turned back to me and handed me his card. “Umm, I…if you want to talk. I’m not ready to go full Puckett.”

“Actually, you can’t go full Puckett…you’re in law enforcement.” I joked. “Don’t feel bad, I haven’t gone ‘full Puckett’ either.”

“Yes, well…I just. You can call. I don’t particularly care much for checking emails. I put my mailing address on there. I can do real letters. I like to read.” Spencer said offering me an olive branch.

“Okay, but I’ve gotta warn you. I’m not from the genius branch of the family tree. I have dyslexia and really crappy handwriting.” I said with a self-deprecating smile.

Spencer shrugged. “It can’t be worse than Morgan’s or some of our unsubs.” He assured me. “I, uh, I’m sorry. I guess that I never thought about what it must be like for Mom’s family. I only found out a little over a year ago. She has early onset Alzheimer’s and wanted me to know in case she forgot. Her mother, the woman who raised her, told her on her death bed, but made her swear that she wouldn’t go looking for her birth family…said they were bad people.”

“Only some of them. A lot of Pucketts have an interesting relationship with the law. They’ll keep the big ones that make sense to them like they wouldn’t commit murder without a really good reason…but the stupid ones or the ones that keep them from doing something they really, really want to do…those they ignore at will.” Dad explained easily. “But the flip side of that is that they love better than any other family I’ve ever seen. They may fight amongst themselves. They are as competitive as any human beings you’ve ever seen…but if you are theirs then they will tear down the world to keep you safe.”

He looked at his team and, in that moment, I knew that he could understand that. I was pretty sure that he was about to say something to that point. But his brother from another mother spoke up instead. “You can never have too may ride or die people in your corner.”

“Well, you don’t get too much more ride or die than us Pucketts. If it weren’t for a cousin in LA, who knows how long it would have taken to get the Macardo info.” I muttered the last sentence. I certainly didn’t want to get Gino in any trouble with the Feds. Rangeman knew, but they agreed that Gino had totally done the right thing.

Spencer gave me a grin that I was pretty sure didn’t see the light of day near as often as it should. Granted, I was also pretty sure that his smile showed up more often than his boss’. The Feds were ushered out and we had a bathroom break before we joined our Rangeman team in a smaller, more intimate conference room. It wasn’t even two in the afternoon and the day already felt as if it should be time for bed. But there were miles to go before we slept.