A mixture of chatter and typing filled the Behavioural Analysis Unit in Quantico as case file upon case file was being filled and sorted. Phone conversations were proving that there was never a chance of rest for any section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the corner desk closest to the back wall of offices sat Spencer Reid, his elbow on his desk as he studied the chessboard, contemplating the next move to play against himself. As he picked up the black rook, a hand on his shoulder caused him to jump and turn around.
The friendly eyes of Jennifer Jareau – or “JJ” as she was best known as – gazed down at him. Without having to verbalize it, she smiled, patted him on the shoulder and headed towards the briefing room. With one last glance down to his game, he moved the rook to take the place of the white bishop before getting up from his chair to follow after her.
Derek Morgan and Aaron Hotchner were already in the room, their attentions drawn as the two other profilers entered. Reid found his seat next to Morgan, who knocked his arm into his chest, receiving a classic half smile from the youngest member of the BAU. David Rossi came in with Penelope Garcia right on his heels, her steps fast as her royal blue heels clicked on the floor, her arm cradling a stack of folders, all with identical information to be passed out to each profiler.
“Good morning, my lovelies – or at least it would be, but we’re here and I know that’s not really a good thing,” Garcia went on in her fast-paced voice that she always held whenever her adrenaline kicked in over a violent case, as she passed out the folders to each member, sans Hotch, who already held a manila folder in his hands.
“So what’ve we got, mama?” Morgan asked as he flipped the folder open, the others following suit.
Paperclipped to the top was an image of a young, brown-haired male, eyes bruised, face swollen and bloody with ligature marks around his neck. The evidence sheet it was clipped to went over more details, including name, age and location they were found.
“Nothing good, I’m afraid,” she said as she grabbed the remote for the projector and turned it on, showing the image of the man blown up on the white screen. “Police in Beckley, West Virginia found the body of twenty-nine-year-old Joshua Reigns in the woods this morning – fourth victim in a year.”
JJ knitted her eyebrows together as she read over the case file, flipping through the files of the other victims that were ordered underneath the first. “Fourth? Why are we just hearing of it?”
“Well, you see—”
“Local police ruled the first killing as a drug deal gone bad. Heroin and methamphetamines are high among the locals, so related deaths don’t appear to be uncommon,” Hotch interjected, to which Garcia nodded, seeming relieved she did not have to be the one to explain.
As the team went through the pages, it was confirmed when the first three victims all had traces of heroin in their systems. What threw off the methodology, and was most likely the reason the local department asked for their help, was the fourth victim had no traces of drugs in his system, but was the same cause of death: strangulation. As they continued to read the reports, Garcia continued:
“The M.E found evidence of sexual abuse on our victim here, which had the investigation team wanting to re-examine the prior victims.”
Morgan looked up at her after following through with the other papers. “They all had the same internal markings?” Another nod of confirmation from their technical analyst. Each victim had burn marks in their anal cavity, which scorched all the way up to the lower intestine. “So we’re dealing with a sexual sadist.” Garcia inhaled deeply, before releasing it in another nod of the head. “Well, he clearly seems to have a type,” he commented, scanning through the photos of each victim, all which were Caucasian, male, slim build and with dark hair.
Though he missed it, everyone on the team had their eyes darting to the boy genius. While they were sure Reid picked up on the similarities, it was apparent he chose to ignore the heavy resemblance.
“Do they have any leads?” Reid asked, flipping through the images of the burn marks around the victim’s buttocks and inner thighs.
Garcia shook her head, despite Reid not glancing up. “It doesn’t look like.”
“Hence why they called us in,” Hotch interrupted. “I want everyone to go over the case file before we land. These small towns don’t usually like calling us in, so expect some hostility. Let’s try to keep it on track, all right?” The group nodded. “Get what you need. Wheels up in forty,” he said as he pushed his chair back and stood up with the file in his hand.
Morgan approached Reid, who was peering over the edge of a cliff, which was only a few hundred feet from the end of the small airport’s runway. Without being prompted, Reid came out with, “You know, statistically, the highest chance of something going wrong when flying are take-off and landing?” When he sensed Morgan giving him an off look, he turned to meet his gaze. “It’s when the most stress is put on the aircraft.”
Morgan’s eyebrows lifted as his mouth crooked. “Thanks for not telling me that until after we got off.”
The younger man gave him a confused look as Morgan shook his head and put his arm around his shoulders, leading the two of them towards the rest of the team, who were already headed into the airport.
Inside, the group was greeted by two of the local police officers, who were in the midst of talking to each other before the presence of the Federal Bureau became apparent. While one turned to the group, his demeanour welcoming, the other refused to look in their general direction. The officer, who appeared to be in his late thirties, held out his hand, shaking Hotch’s extended palm.
“You must be Agent Hotchner,” he said, to which Hotch nodded affirmatively. “I’m Sergeant Houser and this is my partner, PFC. Rhodes.” His partner finally turned to acknowledge them, though he did not offer the same sentiment.
“I wish we were meeting under better circumstances,” Hotch spoke as he took his hand back. “Sergeant Houser, these are Agents Jennifer Jareau, David Rossi, Derek Morgan and Doctor Spencer Reid,” he motioned to each one of them.
The sergeant shook each of their hands, while his partner offered no more than a nod. “We’re to take y’all to the precinct. We don’t have a spare cruiser right now, so I hope y’all don’t mind splitting into two cars.”
With no objections, the group followed the two officers to the parking lot.
JJ, Morgan and Hotch decided to ride with Sergeant Houser, while Rossi and Reid rode with the private first class. The ride leaving the airport was peaceful enough, the road twisting and curving through the mountains with trees on both sides. It was only a few minutes before they reached the edge of town, and while Hotch and the others were given details about the reason they were there by Sgt. Houser, Pfc. Rhodes barely spoke to the agents in his own car, though it was not for lack of trying.
After a few minutes of nothing, Reid had opened his shoulder bag to take out the information relating the case, going over the information they were given before their arrival. Meanwhile, Rossi was attempting to start a conversation with the officer, who seemed adamant about staying quiet.
“How long have you been with your agency?” Rossi asked as he sat in the passenger seat, eyes on Rhodes, who merely shrugged.
“Since mid-March,” was the short response. Less than ten months under his belt, it was understandable for his lack of tact, though his persona still raised a few red flags.
Rossi nodded, gauging the body language of the young officer, which was stiff, his eyes focused on the road as both hands gripped the steering wheel.
“Do you enjoy it?”
The response he garnered was a nonchalant shrug. Rossi glanced to Reid in the back seat, who pursed his lips together.
“When you’ve got everyone breathing down your neck and expecting you to do everything just because you’re new, and condescending you every chance they get, refusing to listen – yeah. I enjoy the hell out of it.” Rhodes’ eyes never left the road as he took a right, leading up a large hill through what appeared to be a neighbourhood.
The agent’s eyebrows furrowed, waiting for the young man to continue, but when he did not, Rossi was going to ask him to elaborate.
Yet, Reid managed to speak up first: “What don’t they want to listen to?”
Rhodes’ eyes darted to the rear-view mirror, watching Reid’s concerned expression before he adverted his eyes back to the road. “Anything when you’re almost half their age.” Again, his eyes glanced in the mirror at Reid, whose expression was oddly sympathetic. “Tell them you’re concerned about someone and they say that “you’re too young to understand.” I guess you’ve had your run-ins like that,” he directed the statement to Reid, who barely nodded his head. He made a sideways glance to Rossi, who was reading into the information, his mind clearly at work. Rhodes inhaled, releasing it in one quick breath. “I told them after they found Gary that something didn’t sit right, asked them to look into it. Houser blew me off, kept going on about Gary being a junky, like he’s some goddamn saint.” At the final comment, Rhodes fell quiet, his knuckles turning white at saying more than he intended.
The folder listed him as the second victim, which was ruled an accidental overdose. In the initial autopsy, there had been no mention of the burn marks or penetration. They had not been added until after the body was exhumed and reinvestigated. The way Rhodes talked about him, he had been an obvious friend or acquaintance. Seeing the young officer’s cheeks grow red only reaffirmed the read.
“Were you close with him?” Rossi asked, which was answered by silence.
The rest of the ride was done in silence, which only lasted a few minutes before they pulled up outside of the police station, which was a small building situated on top of a hill next to a Subway restaurant. The patrol car that Hotch and the others had been riding in was already parked on the side of the road behind another car. As the three exited the vehicle, Rossi headed directly to the building, while Reid took a moment to put the files back into the case around his shoulder.
While he was in the midst of putting the last folder in, Rhodes came up behind him.
“Agent,” he said, drawing Reid’s attention. “Four people who I’ve grown up around are gone. Gary was like my brother – we even graduated Woodrow together. Sure, he’d done some really stupid shit in his life, but he wasn’t a bad person.” Reid nodded, commenting that he knew the victim had been a decent person judging by the profile Garcia had given them on the plane. “Any supervisor ain’t gonna wanna listen to anything from people our age, I can tell you that right now. Even being a Fed, they won’t – I swear it. But please. Find out who took Gary from me.”
Before Reid could respond, the officer walked across the street to enter the precinct.
As he finished latching the satchel, his mind focused on what Rhodes had said; moreover, he was focused on the wording. The way he spoke about the victim, he was curious if the relationship Rhodes had with Gary was more than just friendship.
Entering the precinct’s lobby was like entering a sketchy doctor’s office: people were sitting in chairs that were worn from years of use, while the once-white tile had been stained yellow and black. Even the glass that separated the clerk from the room was smudged with fingerprints and grease. Reid followed Rhodes through a door between the clerk’s station and adjacent wall, where he could see Morgan and JJ in the hall beyond. The people that were in the lobby watched him as he walked through, most of their expressions confused as to why people in suits were heading into the station.
Once in the back, there were very few officers while a few desks held personnel. Hotch and the others were gathered towards the back, where he and the apparent captain were exchanging words. When the three of them approached, the captain’s hostility was difficult to ignore, while Hotch was in the midst of diffusing the situation.
“Sir, I understand that—”
“I don’t give a good goddamn about you or what the sheriff thinks,” the captain spat. “Just because you’re a fed doesn’t mean you can just come in and hijack our investigation with your team’s pseudoscience.”
“People in your town have been killed,” Hotch cut him off. “We’re not here to step over you or your officers, we’re here to help you find the person who’s abducting and killing the people you swore an oath to protect.”
Whatever rebuttal the captain had planned to say caught in his throat and, instead, he crossed his arms, exhaling in frustration. There was a thick air of silence between them before the captain sighed and dropped his arms.
“What information can you give us about the victims?” Hotch asked, following the captain into the back room his apparent office.
The rest of the team exchanged their looks before filing in after them.