“Grace, we have GOT to go! We’re all ready running late!”
“Just give me another ten minutes,” Grace replied distractedly, not looking up from the mummified body lying on her autopsy table. “I’m almost done here.”
“You were ‘almost done here’ two hours ago,” George reminded her. Even without looking up, she could hear the smirk in his voice.
“This time I really mean it.” She leaned her elbow on the table for leverage and began to extract a tissue sample from the intercostal space between the victim’s 6th and 7th ribs. “I just want to get this last bit of trace…” She trailed off as she extracted the tissue and placed it on a slide.
“Grace, this banquet is really important to John. This guy has been in a metal box in the ground for nearly a decade. I think he’ll survive until tomorrow.”
Grace looked up, startled. “What time is it?”
“The banquet doesn’t start until seven, you nut.”
“And if I don’t get you out of here to get home, showered, changed, and the boys settled in, we’ll never make it on time. Everyone else left half an hour ago.”
Grace finally looked up from the body. “I’ll get done quicker if you finish inputting his data into NCIC. I want to cross reference this with all known interment cases, see if this guy is the first victim of this type.” She handed him the digital mic she had been using to dictate her findings. “I’ll get him in storage and wash up.”
“Make it snappy,” George replied, sitting down at her computer to input the data. “I don’t want to miss the open bar.”
Grace rolled her eyes and grinned as she rolled the gurney back into the refrigerator.
“Bones, you might want to take a look at this.”
Agent Seeley Booth entered Temperance Brennan’s office at his usual fast clip. He spun her laptop around to face him, pulled up the web browser, and began entering a web page.
“Excuse me! I was trying to work. I have an article due to the National Journal of Anthropology on the Latin-American subculture–”
“Fascinating, Bones. Regale me later. Look what came up on NCIC.” He spun the lap top around to face her again and watched as she read.
“An interred body found outside of Atlanta, remote location, body buried inside an unidentified metal container, remains mummified.” Temperance looked up at Booth with a vaguely confused expression. “I don’t see why this is relevant.”
“Okay, well, see if this rings a bell. You and Hodgins were locked in your car under a strip mine, left for dead. You decided to blow the car up, you operated on Hodgins without anesthetic … are you seeing the relevance now?”
He could tell from her face that she was seeing it and was suddenly sorry he hadn’t taken a more sensitive tack– she was obviously trying not to re-live those hellish 12 hours. Brennan hadn’t made more than a cursory mention of these events in the last two years. Although it would have seemed to most people that she was just being typically introverted Brennan, he could tell from long experience that she had been more affected by it than she cared to admit.
“Yes, the Gravedigger. It’s all coming back to me now,” she replied in her mildly sarcastic way. “And you think this case in Atlanta might be the Gravedigger.”
“He hasn’t struck around here in the past few years. Maybe he’s moving South. Or maybe he started in the South. His first victim was never found. Maybe this is it.”
“Tracking the migrations of serial killers is your job, Booth, not mine.”
“But examining the body to see if it really is a Gravedigger victim is yours, Bones.” He perched on the edge of her desk and gave her a winning smile. “Come on, you can’t tell me you don’t want to go down to Atlanta. Mint juleps, magnolia blossoms, Southern belles, plantations–“
“The 12th highest crime rate in the country, humidity, smog–“
“Oh, please. You live in the city with the seventh highest crime rate in the country. Bones, look, if you don’t want to wrangle with the Gravedigger, fine. Leave the wrangling to me. That’s why I carry a gun. But at least help me out by taking a look and seeing whether this guy is a genuine Gravedigger victim or just a copy-cat. Either way, it’ll get you out of the city for a few days.”
Brennan finally nodded. “All right. Which agency put it in to NCIC?”
“One I’ve been dying to meet for years now,” Booth grinned. “The VCTF.”
The banquet ended at eleven. After several hours of dining and dancing (and far too much partaking of the open bar) Grace was riding high on the warm glow that stopped just short of actual drunkenness. George drove her home and then stopped in for an impromptu night cap. Grace paid the babysitter and checked on her boys, then came back downstairs to find George shaking martinis.
“It’s a good thing I don’t do this very often,” Grace laughed, sinking down onto the sofa and kicking off her heels. “I can’t remember the last time I had this much to drink.”
“Tell me about it.” George loosened his tie. “Although I disagree with you--we really need to do this more often. We spend too much time up to our eyeballs in blood, death, dismemberment, and unsubs … we need an evening of wining, dining, and dancing at least once a quarter.”
Grace took the martini he handed her and sipped contentedly. “Did you see the way Rachel and John were staring at each other?”
“I haven’t seen him smile like that since Kate died.” George grinned. “And speaking of smiling– Bailey looked like the cat that ate the canary when you snuggled up to him during that Sinatra song.”
“I didn’t snuggle!” Grace protested half-heartedly.
“You most certainly did.”
“I was letting him lead!”
“You were plastered against him.”
“I was not– Oh, fine.” Grace threw up her hands. “I was snuggled up to Bailey. Happy? It was–he just felt so nice!”
“I’ll bet.” George raised his eyebrows in a way that made her blush.
“Look, the fact that we’re both apparently fantasizing about the same man is a little weird to me.”
“Ah ha!” George set his drink on the side table and pointed at her. “You admitted it! You said it! You’ve been fantasizing about Bailey!”
“What, and you haven’t?” Grace shot back.
“That, my dear, is entirely beside the point,” George grinned. “Ask him out.”
“What? No! Jesus, George, he’s my boss, my divorce was just finalized, I have two kids– I’m in no shape to have a relationship right now, mentally or physically.”
“Gracie, don’t give up on it before it’s even happened.”
“It’s not going to happen, George. Not for me. I’m not Karen Archer. I’m not his type and never will be.” She sipped her drink, leaned her head back, and shut her eyes.
“Hey.” She felt the sofa give as he sat down next to her and the coolness of his hand on the side of her face, his thumb stroking up and down her cheekbone. “You’re amazing and any man would be lucky to have you. You’re the only one who can’t see that.”
Grace opened her eyes and smiled at her best friend. “You’re so sweet to me.”
“You stuck by me through all of this crap over the last year and a half. I should be treating you like a princess.”
Grace leaned forward just enough to meet his lips in a gentle, easy kiss, no pressure or promises. George returned the kiss then pulled her against him to rest her head on his chest. They lay still, sharing the rhythm of each other’s heartbeat, until both fell asleep.
Grace woke to a splitting headache. The room reeled as she sat up and tried to take stock of the situation. The back of her neck felt like it was on fire and she clamped her hand there, hissing when her skin seared as if she had a bad sunburn.
“What the hell–“
Why was she lying on her couch in a black dress?
Why was her neck burning and her head spinning?
And why was George slumped over the arm of the sofa next to her?
“George--” She took his shoulder and shook him hard. “George, wake up.”
He groaned softly and blinked. “What the hell– oh, my neck.”
“I know, mine hurts, too.”
“Grace?” He looked around, blinking slowly. “How– why am I here?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“You don’t remember?”
“Last thing I remember we were working on the mummified man from the vault container.” She pressed her fingers to her forehead, fighting nausea. “Didn’t we– we had John’s banquet to go to.”
George looked them both over. “Based on our clothes, I’d say we went.” His eyes lit on the martini glasses sitting on the table by the sofa. “And came back here for a drink.”
“This is more than a hangover.” Grace checked the clock on the mantle, saw that it was 4:42 am. “Oh, lord. The baby should have woken me up for his feeding. I slept right through it.” She rose unsteadily and headed for the stairs. “Let me check on the boys, then see if we can piece together what’s happening.”
George sat on the sofa, cradling his head in his hands, wondering what the hell had happened between 4:30pm and 4:42am to make him lose twelve hours worth of memories. It must have something to do with the pain in the back of his neck.
He was just mulling that over when Grace’s scream erupted from upstairs.
The phone barely registered through Bailey Malone’s haze of dreams. It wasn’t until the fifth ring that he finally reached over to grab the receiver and bring it groggily to his ear.
“Bailey, they’re gone!”
Grace, her voice ragged, frantic. Bailey jerked upright in bed, fully awake.
“Grace? Wait, wait, Grace, slow down, who’s gone?”
“My boys! Someone broke into my house and took my boys!”
He was out of bed and pulling on pants, yanking his gun out of the gun safe and his badge from his dresser drawer.
“When did this happen?”
“I– I don’t– Georgie wasn’t up for his normal feeding, he wasn’t crying, I went to see and– the window– the alarm--”
“Where are you, Gracie? Is there anyone else in the house?”
“George is. We woke up and-- we can’t remember, I mean--” She choked. “I don’t know what happened, neither of us do, we can’t–“
“Did you call the police?”
“I hit the panic button on the alarm but nothing’s happening!”
“I’ll call it in myself. Stay put. I’m on my way to you now.” He hung up the phone and continued dressing.
As he was pulling on his shoes there was a soft knock on his bedroom door. His nineteen-year-old daughter, Frances, was silhouetted in the doorway, blinking sleep from her eyes.
“Daddy, is everything okay? I heard the phone ring.”
Bailey smiled at his daughter as he quickly tucked in a shirt and secured his badge to his belt. Just a year ago she wouldn’t have been at all concerned with late night phone calls ... hell, a year ago she wouldn’t have been home to hear them. College had certainly done her a world of good, he reflected. It was just too bad a call like this would interrupt their time together.
“There’s an emergency at Grace’s, Frannie. I have to go.”
Frances frowned. She’d met the men and women her father worked with at social gatherings and her occasional foray into his office. She wasn’t particularly close to any of them but she knew them all by name and reputation. She’d never spent any amount of time with Grace but she did feel indebted to the woman who had helped her father convalesce after she’d accidentally shot him two years ago.
“Can I, you know, do anything? Do you need someone to drive you over so you can take notes or whatever?”
Bailey hugged his daughter around the shoulders. “You go on back to bed, sweetheart. If I need anything, I’ll call. I promise. Thanks for asking.”
“Yeah, no problem.” Frances ran a hand through her hair. “Tell Grace I hope everything’s okay.”
“Will do.” He grabbed his car keys from the dresser and swept past Frances into the hallway. “I’ll call you later, sweetie. Get some more sleep.”
“Be careful, Daddy.”
And then he was out the door. Frances heard the roar of his Expedition starting in the garage and felt the slight vibration of the garage door going up and then back down. She bit her lip, frowned, yawned, and went back to bed.
Grace’s two-story Victorian was dark when Bailey pulled up. He hurried up the front steps and into the house, drawing his gun and flashlight as he did so, noting that the front door was unlocked and the alarm pad dead on the wall.
“Grace?” he called, swinging the light from corner to corner. “George? Answer me!”
“Bailey, up here.” George’s voice came from the upstairs hallway. He sounded clear-headed enough, a fact that went a long way in reassuring Bailey.
“Stay put, let me clear the downstairs.” He checked each room, each closet, noting anything obviously out of place. Alarm pads were dark and night lights failed to glow.
“Bailey?” George called down. “Everything okay?”
“It’s clear.” He holstered his gun and took the stairs two at a time.
He found George sitting next to Grace in the upstairs hallway. She was slumped on the floor, her head bent low over her knees. George held a washcloth against the back of her neck.
“Grace?” Bailey exchanged glances with the younger man when she didn’t respond. He reached to touch her shoulder. “Should I call an ambulance?”
“Might not be a bad idea,” George replied.
“I’m okay,” Grace murmured, waving off the suggestion. “I’m just dizzy. Just need to breathe.”
Bailey checked her pulse quickly, reassured when it was strong and steady. “Stay with her, George. I’m going to have a look in Jayson’s room.”
Bailey pushed open the door to four-year-old Jayson’s room with a gloved hand and looked around, repeating his own mental notes out loud, as was his habit. “At first glance, there’s no sign of forced entry. The windows are locked, the blinds are undisturbed. The blankets on the bed are disarrayed but there’s no visible physical evidence to indicate a struggle or use of force. The night-light in the corner is out, as is the alarm clock and the smoke detector. Power must have been shut off at the breaker box.” He prowled around the room, eyes scanning, then opened the adjoining door to baby George’s nursery.
It offered a different picture from Jayson’s room. The window here was open and the curtains were blowing in the breeze. The alarm panel, smoke detector, and carbon monoxide detector were all dead. Bailey crossed to the window and looked down. A tall metal utility ladder was braced against the outside wall, bringing to mind thoughts of the Lindbergh baby, details that were too similar to be coincidental. Copy-cattery.
Bailey walked back out to the hallway. Grace was sitting up now, looking woozy. When she tried to stand, Bailey caught her arm and lowered her back to the floor.
“Easy. Stay here till you’re steadier.”
“My boys. Did you find anything?”
“The window to Georgie’s room is open. Do you keep it unlocked?”
“Of course not!”
“Do you have an extra key for the front or back doors hidden someplace that a neighbor or friend knew about? Or do you have someone who comes inside during the day to clean?”
“No, I--” She looked from Bailey to George and back again, as if perhaps they had answers. “Oh my god, how did this happen?”
Bailey shook his head. “We can only speculate about the point of entry, at least until we know more but ...” He trailed off as he realized that that wasn’t what she meant.
Grace raised a trembling hand to her mouth, looking sick. “I mean, how did this happen to me?
John and Rachel were barely sober. John’s banquet had been the catalyst that turned their flirtatious relationship into something much more serious. They’d barely made it back to John’s apartment before they were on each other, tossing clothes aside, kissing hungrily. Lovemaking, napping, and more lovemaking had left them both warm and drowsy, wanting only their beds and each other. A late night case was the last thing either of them had in mind.
“What’s going on?” John wondered, yawning as he shifted his Porsche down Peachtree Street. “What’s the big emergency?”
“Mmm, don’t know.” Rachel was sipping on an enormous cup of coffee and trying to keep her eyes open. “Bailey’s text just said get to the office.”
“Better be good,” John mumbled. “He took me away from some of the best sex I’ve had in a while.” He leaned over at a red light to nip at Rachel’s neck. “How about you?”
“It’s the only sex I’ve had in a while.” She slid her hand to his thigh and rubbed lightly. “But it was good.” Rachel’s phone rang. She pulled it out of her purse and nudged it open, all business. “Rachel Burke ... Hey, Bailey.”
John glanced over in alarm when her voice rose an octave. “WHAT? ... Is she all right? ... No, I– Oh, Jesus--Are you with her? ... No, we’re on our way right now ... We’re just coming off Peachtree and headed for the 15 ... I’ll call Georgia State Police right now, have them send out an Amber Alert ... I’ll do that as soon as we get to the office ... Right ...Bye.”
“What is it?”
“Grace’s sons were taken from her home sometime in the last 12 hours. Bailey wants an Amber Alert out now.”
John slammed on the accelerator and flipped the switch to turn on his siren. “Is she okay?”
“She was tasered. So was George. I guess he stopped at her house for a night-cap after the banquet. Either way, neither of them can remember anything. As soon as we hit the Command Center, we need to start compiling offender lists-- known pedophiles and convicted kidnappers, anyone recently paroled with a history of violence toward children. We need to cross-check addresses of known offenders with Grace’s neighborhood, the neighborhoods surrounding Jayson’s school and George’s day-care, and any place Grace and the kids frequent. Maybe someone’s had an eye on them for awhile.” She started dialing in the number for the Georgia State Police. “Let me get this alert taken care of.”
John gunned the Porsche up the on-ramp to the interstate and headed for the VCTF’s downtown offices, speedometer pushing 90.
“In most cultures it is common courtesy to call ahead before arriving at someone’s place of business at 6am,” Brennan commented.
“In most cultures sane people wouldn’t be up this early,” Booth shot back, steering the rental car out of the lot at Hartsfield International.
“Actually, the phrase ‘early to bed, early to rise’ is–“
”Bones, that is a thrilling lecture, I’m sure, but I have no clue where I’m going. Maybe you could, I don’t know, turn on the GPS for me.”
Brennan raised her eyebrows and began punching in the address for the VCTF’s downtown office building.
Once they were headed in the right direction, Booth began to map out their plan of attack.
“We’ll hit the VCTF first, see if anyone’s around this early. I’m sure they’ve got some poor squint who lives in the lab or the office. If no one’s there, we can grab a little breakfast, take a walk to Turner Field–“
“What’s Turner Field?”
“Home of the Braves.” Booth couldn’t keep a grin off his face.
“Who are the Braves?”
Booth turned to stare at her incredulously and started to drift into the HOV lane. A sharp word from Brennan had him steering correctly again.
“Geez, Bones, you really do live under a rock, don’t you? The Atlanta Braves. The baseball team. You DO know what baseball is, don’t you?”
“Of course I know what baseball is,” Brennan replied drily. “I just don’t happen to feel any compulsion to follow it.”
“Parker and I do. The Braves are his favorite team. I’m going back to DC with the biggest load of Braves memorabilia known to man.”
“Well, have fun with your baseball. I’ll just stick around the lab . . . Turn right. You’re going to miss it.”
They walked from the underground parking structure to the ground level entrance to the unassuming building that housed the VCTF. Though it was barely 6:30, a guard was posted just inside the glassed front doors. When Booth flashed his badge, he opened the door and allowed Brennan and Booth to enter.
“A little early to be out, Agent--”
“Booth. This is Dr. Brennan. We just came in from DC. We’re looking for Bailey Malone.”
“He and his team came in a few hours ago. Are they expecting you?”
“They aren’t. But we have some information that may relate to a current case.”
The guard got on his radio and called up, then offered them a terse nod. “He’s waiting on you.”
Stepping out of the elevator into the VCTF’s Command Center was like stepping into a different world.
“Whoa,” Booth muttered. “Mission impossible. We don’t have anything like this in DC.”
“Agent Booth?” A tall man with dark hair and a face scarred by years on the job stepped forward. Despite his incongruously casual clothing, he radiated an air of authority. Booth knew without having to be told that this was Bailey Malone.
“Agent Malone, I’m Special Agent Seeley Booth. This is my partner, Dr. Temperance Brennan. We’re sorry to barge in on you this early.”
“It certainly would have been easier to call,” Malone agreed. “I’m afraid we can’t offer you much help with whatever case has brought you here today, Agent Booth, we have an in-house matter that must take precedence over anything else.” He gestured to the Command Center where his team was gathered. Pictures of two young boys were lit on the large screen. “My CME’s children were taken from her house early this morning.”
Brennan’s body went whip tense. “They were kidnapped?”
Malone turned his intense eyes on her. “That’s right.”
“Was there a ransom demand?”
“Any physical evidence at the scene of the abduction?”
“No trace. Is there something you aren’t telling me, Dr. Brennan?”
Brennan was staring at the picture of the boys intently, her eyes feverishly bright. “Agent Malone, could I see the remains your CME posted about on NCIC?”
Malone looked curious. “How is that–“
Booth had finally caught on to Brennan’s line of thought. “Agent Malone, I can explain everything. But I strongly suggest you let Dr. Brennan take a look at those remains. If she finds what I think she’s going to find, we might have some answers for your CME about her children.”
“Bailey?” a voice called from the Command Center. “What’s going on?”
A curvy brunette with dark curls and a worried expression came up the steps to join Malone. She hugged her arms to her chest as if cold. Booth took note of the way Malone’s eyes softened when he looked at her, the way he took a protective step closer to her.
“Grace, this is Agent Booth and Dr. Brennan from DC. They want to see the remains you posted about on NCIC.”
“I realize now is not a good time,” Brennan interjected quickly, “but I think it might help us find your children.”
“Of course. Tell me what you’ve got.” Grace began walking toward the morgue in quick strides. Brennan quickly caught up to her and the two women left Booth and Malone trailing along in their wake.
“What exactly do you think you’ve found, Agent Booth?” Malone asked as they followed the women to the morgue.
Booth met Malone’s eyes and shook his head. “Trouble. Big trouble.”
Booth and Brennan discuss the Gravedigger with the team; Grace has a run-in with her ex-husband.
The Taking, Chapter 2:
“He’s called the Grave Digger,” Brennan said, her voice clipped to business-like efficiency. Booth could tell she was uncommonly nervous, though, based on the way her hands were playing with the strand of ornamental beads she wore around her neck. “He’s a serial kidnapper who’s been working in and around the DC area for the last eight years. Two years ago the remains of two of his victims were uncovered in Rock Creek Park. They had been buried in a beer fermentation tank. Heavy rains and wind washed away enough top soil that the tank became exposed. Hikers called it in to DC PD, thinking they had found a UFO.
“When my team and I began examining the remains of the boys and the tank, evidence began jumping out at us. When it became apparent we had found a Gravedigger victim, we began attempting to uncover his identity. My colleague, Dr. Jack Hodgins and myself were abducted from the parking garage at the Jeffersonian later that day by the Gravedigger and buried in my car under a strip mine in Virginia. Agent Booth and my team found us before our air supply ran out.”
Booth interjected, “She’s being too modest. Their air supply DID run out. She and Hodgins punched into the spare tires for more air before rigging the air bags to explode and crawling through four feet of dirt to the surface.”
Brennan waved away the praise. “The victim currently lying in your morgue shares very specific commonalities with the other Grave Digger victims that we know of. Dr. Alvarez and Agent Fraley were both tasered, which is also part of the Grave Digger’s MO, and Dr. Alvarez’s children are missing. Despite the notable absence of a ransom demand, it’s still only logical to assume that the Grave Digger has Dr. Alvarez’s sons.”
“But until we get the ransom demand what can we do?” Fraley asked. He was sitting next to Alvarez, his hand close to hers on the table, the sort of non-touching that Booth often found himself engaging in with Brennan, the desire to soothe tempered by the volatile emotional state of the woman sitting inches away.
“That’s what I’d like to know. What ARE you doing about this?”
Alvarez whipped around so fast Booth had to fight the impulse to pull his gun. A tall, greying man was standing in the doorway, accompanied by a petite blonde with deep green eyes and a figure that would stop traffic. From the tightening in Alvarez’s jaw, Booth quickly surmised this was her ex-husband and the new girlfriend.
“No way,” Alvarez ground out, fists clenching, pointing at the blonde. “Not her.”
“NOT her. She’s not a part of this.”
“She’s going to be the boys’ stepmother. That makes her a part of this if I say so.” The man took a combative step forward and the blonde rested a hand on his arm.
“Morgan, it’s best if I wait outside–“
”No, Gwen, you’re staying right here. She has to get used to this.”
Alvarez was glaring daggers at her ex-husband. “If you think I’m going to allow her to–“
John Grant took that moment to step forward and interject smoothly, “Actually, Mr. Ballard, I’m afraid Grace does have a point. Miss--” He peered at the blonde, obviously waiting for her to fill in her last name.
“–Hudson. Gwen Hudson.” She extended a hand, which Grant took cordially.
“Miss Hudson doesn’t have the security clearance to be inside the building at this time. Your security clearance still stands, sir, but I’m afraid we don’t have the time or resources to run a background check on your friend.” He flashed a smile at the blonde that managed to be charming, apologetic, and slightly malicious all at once. “I’m sorry, Miss Hudson, but we can’t allow you to stay. There is sensitive material pertaining to open cases on just about every desk in this room and we here at the Bureau just can’t take a risk with unsecured civilians in the building. I’m sure you understand.”
The blonde nodded gracefully, though Booth was sure she knew she’d just been conveniently shunted aside to pacify Alvarez. “Of course.” She turned to her boyfriend. “Morgan, you’ll keep me updated?”
“You know I will.” He reached out to stroke her hair back from her face and gave her a reassuring smile. “Keep your phone on. I’ll send updates every half hour. Take the car ... I’ll call you later.”
She crossed to the elevator and punched the down button, busying herself with her phone to avoid the awkward tension that filled the air. The doors slid open and she disappeared inside. As soon as the doors closed, fury replaced the carefully neutral expression on Ballard’s face.
“You’re an unbelievable bitch, Grace!”
“Jesus Christ, Morgan, how could you bring her here, NOW of all times? My sons are missing–“
”And you come waltzing in here with that tramp you’ve been bopping behind my back for the last year and a half and expect me to treat her like a member of the family?”
Ballard rolled his eyes. “Very mature, Grace. I can’t wait to see how you handle yourself in court.” He walked forward into the Command Center, taking in the files, the phones, and the group of people seated around the table. “So, what exactly are you planning on doing about our sons?”
“Everything that we can.” Alvarez followed her ex as he walked around the Command Center, clenching her hands. It was obvious that having him in the building was rocking her confidence.
“Which is what exactly?”
“Morgan, you have to understand that the person we’re dealing with–“
“Is a kidnapper, right? He wants money, I have money. Get him on the horn, I’ll pay him whatever he wants. I just want my sons back in one piece.” His lips twisted in a bitter scowl. “And when I get them back, I’m arranging for a custody hearing.”
“Your job is a threat to their safety, Grace! They were kidnapped by a psychopath, one that YOU came in contact with in this insanity you call a job. Exactly whose fault do you think this is?”
”–has ruined everything! My life, my sons’ lives--”
“That’s not true."
“You know damn well it is! We wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for your insistence on trying to keep up in a man’s world. For as long as I’ve known you you’ve been nothing but an overgrown tomboy, playing with guns and blood and knives. And now look at you--” He eyed her scornfully. “Forty, divorced, addicted to your job, a mother who can’t even protect her sons.”
Alvarez’s face flamed with color. “Oh, and you’re man of the year? In your mid-50s, dating a woman 20 years younger ... oh, and so cowardly that you walked out on your pregnant wife and refused to see your newborn baby for the first two months of his life. You’ve got it all together!”
Ballard pulled his phone out of his pocket and began to dial. “I’m calling Conrad. This is insanity.”
Quick as a snake, Alvarez slapped the phone out of Ballard’s hand. He whirled on her, eyes flashing, and swung an open palm at her face. Alvarez ducked the blow, grabbed him by the front of his shirt, and shoved him hard against the nearest wall. Booth resisted the impulse to pull his gun, though he noticed his hand wasn’t the only one that went to his belt.
“Don’t you ever threaten me again!” Ballard squirmed and Alvarez leaned in, planting her palms deep into his shoulders. “You do NOT want to start a war with me, Morgan. I am doing everything I can to get my sons back. Unless you can find some way to help, get the hell out of here and let me do my job.”
As quickly as it began, it ended. Alvarez dropped her hands to her sides. Ballard remained backed against the wall, staring with wide eyes.
“I’m--” Alvarez murmured, and then fled up the stairs and down the corridor.
Fraley was up and following her down the hall while everyone else tried to find something to do to avoid having to look at Ballard, who was leaning against the wall, looking shell-shocked.
Malone stepped over to the older man and, placing a hand on his shoulder, leaned in close. Ballard, perhaps thinking he’d found an ally, looked up with an expectant expression.
“You ever raise a hand to her again, I swear to God it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”
The smile slid off of Ballard’s face and he shrugged Malone’s hand off. “She isn’t yours to protect.”
Booth was fairly certain he and Ballard were the only ones to hear the next words from Malone’s mouth-- “Think again.”
George found Grace in the morgue, vomiting into the stainless steel sink. He crossed to the mini-fridge, fished out a bottle of water, and laid the cold bottle against the back of her neck.
“It’s okay,” he soothed, holding her hair back from her face. “You’re okay, baby.”
Grace raised a tear-stained face to look at him. “I can’t believe I did that to him.”
“You had every right. He said some awful things.”
“I’ve never hit anyone before. I’m not--” She shuddered and retched, leaning back over the sink. George held her shoulders as she buried her face in her hands and began to sob in earnest.
“God, George, what the hell is happening to me?”
“Your sons are missing, your ex-husband is out in the Command Center acting like a complete asshole, and your temper snapped. We understand. It’s okay.”
“Oh God, how am I going to get through this?” Grace straightened and leaned against the edge of the sink, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
“By taking it one minute at a time.” George squeezed her shoulders, worked the tense muscles with strong fingers until she started to relax in increments. “You’ll get through this. We’ll get through this. We’re a team and we’re going to see this through to the bitter end, whatever that end may be.”
Grace pressed a balled up fist against her lips. “What if I lose them?” she whispered between her fingers. “Don’t think it. Don’t even consider it. Dr. Brennan and Agent Booth have all ready established some good leads. We’re going to get the boys back. Keep believing that, Grace. Believe we’re going to find them.”
There was a soft knock on the door. Grace looked up to see Morgan hovering in the doorway.
“If this isn’t a good time–“
“No, it’s fine.” George quickly spoke for Grace. “She’s just feeling a little queasy. Grace, there’s some ginger ale in the kitchen. I’ll go get it.” He hurried out the door, leaving Morgan alone with his ex-wife.
“You always did have a nervous stomach.”
Grace laughed weakly. “Not the best trait for a competent medical examiner.”
“It never slowed you down, though. Not even when you were pregnant with Jayson.”
“That was a nightmare. I was sick every morning for the first five months.” Grace took a small sip of water and wiped her eyes. Morgan reached into his pocket and handed her a handkerchief.
“You still went into work every morning, though.” He laughed softly. “Remember the day my car broke down and you had to drive me to work?”
“I had to pull over on the highway ... twice,” Grace said, remembering only too well the morning in question. “I was miserable!”
Morgan leaned against the sink and gave Grace a small half smile. “I remember the day Bailey called me and told me you’d gone into labor at a crime scene. God, I was a wreck. I wanted to start driving to North Carolina but he convinced me to stay put.” He smiled. “I left work early and went home. I paced back and forth in the yard with Foxy, smoking endless cigars. All I could think about was how scared you must have been, how upset you were that I couldn’t be with you, and how upset I was that I couldn’t be there to hold your hand.”
Grace smiled. “John told me later that Bailey was pacing outside, too, smoking cigars, just like you were.”
“He chartered a plane for me,” Morgan said. “Did he ever tell you that?”
“No,” Grace replied, surprised. “He never mentioned it.”
“He chartered a plane, flew me up there, brought me to see you in the hospital. Talked non-stop about what a great woman you were, how much he respected you, how glad he was he got to work with you. I was so envious that he got to see this side of you that I never got to see, this brilliant M.E. who always had the answers. I felt like I was missing part of you.
Morgan stepped closer and reached out hesitantly to touch Grace’s hand. “When I got to the hospital he brought me to your room. You were sleeping so soundly. But when I leaned over to kiss you, you woke up, and you smiled at me, and you said my name like it was the only thing in the universe that mattered to you. I took you down the hall to the nursery and we looked through the glass at Jayson, so tiny, so sweet, and I never wanted anything more in the world than the three of us together.”
Grace’s lips were trembling as she tried to hold back tears. “Wewere good for awhile. I couldn’t understand what happened.”
“I’m not sure I do,” Morgan confessed. “I didn’t–“ He blew out a long breath. “I didn’t do right by you, Grace. I admit that. I should never have let things go so far with Gwen.” He bit his lip and looked at her. “I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes. And I shouldn’t have said what I did out there.”
Grace looked away, searching for words. Finally she said, “I was so mad at you. I still am mad at you. Not just for the affair ... for the way you treated me when you found out I was pregnant again.”
Morgan hung his head. “I know. I’m sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry I am–“
“I don’t want you to apologize,” Grace cut him off. “I just want you to know how hard it was for me, knowing that you wouldn’t stand by me when I needed you. You left me when I needed you most. You wouldn’t answer the phone when I called to tell you that we were having a baby boy. And when I went into premature labor right here in my office, it was George who called the ambulance, who rode with me to the hospital, who held my hand. When he called you to tell you what was happening you never picked up the phone.
“And then here you come, almost a year later, blaming me for my sons being kidnapped, telling me yet again that I’m not good enough, that I’d let you down, and that’s why you’d given up on me ... on us.”
“Grace, I–I wish I could tell you I felt differently. I wish I could make myself feel something less hateful and hard. But–“
“But that’s just the way you are. And this is just the way I am. We’re never going to change, Morgan.”
“So where does that leave us?” he asked.
They broke off the conversation when Grace’s inter-office line rang.
“We’ve got a ransom demand on line 1,” John reported.
Grace slammed down the phone and bolted from the morgue, Morgan hot on her heels. She burst into the Command Center at such a hard run that she turned her ankle on the stairs.
“George, put it on the speaker!”
A voice that sounded as though it had been distorted through a media player cut through the speakers.
“Grace and Morgan Ballard, your sons have been buried alive. Transmit two million dollars to the following account in Bahrain. When the wire transfer has been made, we will call with coordinates for their retrieval. This will be my last communication. You have ten hours.”
The team from the Jeffersonian is brought in to assist the VCTF; a rescue plan is in the works.
Seeley Booth was the first to speak, never mind that this wasn’t his office, his Command Center, or his team.
“Let’s get a countdown started.”
George set an on-line digital timer for ten hours and placed it in the uppermost corner of the view screen. The numbers began ticking away.
“Where are we going to get the money?” Morgan asked. His face looked grey. “I can’t liquidate that quickly and even if I did, it wouldn’t be nearly enough.” He looked at his ex-wife. “The FBI, Grace, can they approve a ransom?”
“The Bureau’s policy is strictly one of non-negotiation and non-payment,” Bailey responded. “There’s no way they’ll front the money.”
“Even if paying is the only way to keep my boys alive?”
“Okay, so we track him down. Can’t you guys do that?”
“You were tracing the call, George. Can you get his location?” Grace asked, an edge of barely controlled panic in her voice.
“He’s got a scrambler. I got it to within ten miles of the cell tower.”
“What happens now?” Rachel looked over at Booth and Brennan. “After the ransom demand. Does he call again?”
“He never calls a second time,” Booth said. “He makes the demand once and expects the terms to be met. If we make the ransom, he calls back with coordinates for the location where he’s buried his hostages.”
“Does he--” John was searching for words that didn’t seem to want to come. “Is it always ... you know ... in time? To find them?”
“Yes. The only time the hostages have died is when the ransom wasn’t met.”
“Hodgins!” Brennan shot to her feet. Everyone in the room turned to stare at her.
“What about him?” Booth asked.
“Hodgins can front us the money. If we get the money to the Digger, we have a better chance of sustained contact with him and a better chance to track and catch him.”
“Yeah, but isn’t giving in to this guy basically giving him permission to do it again?” John responded. “I mean, I’m not advocating that we don’t pay, I’m just saying, isn’t there some way to, I don’t know, screw around with his account so it looks like we paid when we really didn’t?”
All eyes turned to George, who was all ready nodding. “Yeah, it’s just shifting data. The problem is, if this guy’s as computer savvy as I think he is, he’s going to catch on real quick and then who knows what he might do to the boys.”
“I trust George. I’m willing to take that risk,” Grace announced.
“But I’m not!” Morgan protested. “Any possibility that the boys will be harmed–“
”–Is better than the certainty of your son’s deaths,” Brennan interrupted.
“Okay, hold it!” Booth announced. “Let’s see if Hodgins is willing to front the money first before arguing the ethics of it.” He looked over at George. “You got Skype?”
“Is the Pope Catholic?”
“Let me get Hodgins on the phone.” Booth dialed a number but turned his back on the group as he spoke.
Tense silence fell over the group as they waited for Booth to transfer the call to the large video screen. Morgan and Grace were both pacing, though neither seemed to realize they were pacing in step with one another. Rachel had her laptop open and was scanning web pages and search engines for sites dedicated to the Grave Digger. John leaned over her shoulder, reading and occasionally commenting in a low whisper.
“Okay, they’re ready at the Jeffersonian.” Booth handed the cell phone to George. “Go ahead and do your techno-geek thing.”
George laughed and took the phone. Within moments, he had Skype running and a window open showing the lab at the Jeffersonian. A man in his late-twenties with wild curly hair and startling blue eyes appeared on the screen. Under the lab coat, he was wearing a neatly pressed polo shirt and khakis.
“This is Dr. Jack Hodgins. Who am I speaking with?”
“Dr. Grace Alvarez. I’m familiar with your work, Dr. Hodgins. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.”
Hodgins’ face lit in a smile. “I’m also familiar with your work, Dr. Alvarez. I’m just sorry we’re not meeting under better circumstances. I understand your sons were taken by the Grave Digger this morning.”
“That’s right.” Grace’s voice shook. “He’s asking for two million dollars for my boys. I’m afraid that’s money that neither my husband nor I have available to us.”
“Fortunately that is money I have available to me, and I’m happy to help you out, no strings attached.”
Grace took a shuddering breath and pressed a hand to her mouth. “I don’t– I can’t thank you enough.”
“Yes, you can. Do everything you can to catch him. Doing as he asks will give you the opportunity to interact with him before he disappears underground again. I’ve heard about the VCTF, I know what your solve rate is. Find this bastard. Bring him to his knees. That’s thanks enough for me.”
Bailey stepped up behind Grace. “Dr. Hodgins, I’m Bailey Malone, head of the VCTF. We’d like to take every possible step to insure that your two million dollars is returned to you in full by the time this is all over.”
Hodgins laughed a little and shook his head. “Agent Malone, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but two million dollars is like a twenty dollar bill to me. I’m not particularly going to miss it.”
“All the same, we’re going to try to track the money and will even try doing a certain amount of data shifting to simulate moving the money from one bank account to another.”
Hodgins shook his head firmly. “Don’t do anything that might jeopardize those boys on my account. My accountant is all ready moving the money as we speak– all of the relevant information if being sent to you via highly encrypted email. Trace the money but don’t worry if you lose it. I just want you to catch the Grave Digger and get back Dr. Alvarez’s sons.”
Brennan spoke up from her place at the table. “Hodgins, I need you to find all of the relevant data and files from our Grave Digger case. Forward them to Agent Fraley immediately. There was some data in one of those files that was leading us close to his identity. You were working on it when we were abducted, remember? You came to tell me you had a lead when the Digger ran you down. I know it’s fallen by the wayside in the last year or two, but--”
“One problem,” Hodgins replied grimly. “The stun gun wiped my memory. If we were close to an answer, I can’t remember it for anything.”
“All the same, have Cam forward us the files from the previous Digger cases. On this end, Agent Fraley’s working on tracing the Digger’s cell and his bank accounts in the Middle East; Agent Burke and I are starting a working profile–“
”–And I’m going to attempt to trace the stun gun he uses based on the burn marks he left on Dr. Alvarez and Agent Fraley,” Brennan interjected. “If he’s using a specialty stun gun, it can be traced back to a manufacturer.”
“I’ll call in if I remember anything,” Hodgins said. “In the mean time, the money should be ready within the hour.” He looked around at the Atlanta group. “Good luck.”
As soon as the screen went blank, Brennan was on her feet. “Agent Fraley, Dr. Alvarez, I’ll need to photograph and X-ray the stun gun burns on your necks.”
“I’ll go first,” Grace volunteered. “George, you’ll keep on the money?”
“Absolutely,” he assured her. “Let me know when you need me, Dr. Brennan.”
John rose and stretched. “As soon as those files get here I’ll start tracking down some of the people who did pay the ransom. Maybe they can give us some clues about how to handle the boys’ retrieval.”
“There’s a K& R guy who works on all of the Digger cases, Thomas Vega. I don’t like him or trust him, but he’s someone you might want to talk to,” Booth said to John. “If you decide to talk to him, let me know.”
Morgan spoke up from his place in a corner. “What about me? Is there anything– I mean, I know I’m not FBI but surely there’s something I can do to help.”
Grace gave her ex-husband a sympathetic look and shook her head. “Try to get some rest. It’s all a waiting game now.” She rose. “Dr. Brennan, I’m ready whenever you are.”
The two women left the room and the others began their tasks, leaving Morgan sitting in his chair in the corner, hands in his lap, helpless.
Despite the fact that she had been using it her entire career, the X-ray camera made Grace nervous. It wasn’t often that she found herself under it instead of working the controls. She lay on her stomach on the same table where she X-rayed bodies, the infrequently used lead bib pressing heavily on her back, trying not to think of the mummified body that had lain there just the day before, an early victim of the man who had stolen her sons. Though the table was washed down as many as four times a day with a bleach solution, Grace still imagined she could smell the moldering dust from the mummy’s dessicated skin. It was hard not to gag.
Brennan was an efficient worker who had little to offer in the way of small talk. Aside from offering Grace a hair tie so that she could pull her hair off of her neck, she had said little as she focused and re-focused the X-ray camera on the back of Grace’s neck for a series of photographs, both with the X-ray and with a digital camera.
Grace heard footsteps enter the room as the machine clicked for the final time.
“That should do it,” Brennan remarked. “Your light box is–“
“Down the hall, third door on your left,” Grace replied, turning over and sitting up to ease the bib off of her. She watched Brennan step around Bailey, who was waiting in the doorway, and head down the hall at a fast clip.
“She brings new meaning to the phrase ‘lost in her work,’” Bailey remarked.
“She’s an amazing researcher. Most people as good as she is are off-beat in one way or another.”
“I’m not as good as she is,” Grace replied. She pointed toward the counter. “Can you reach into the second drawer and find a tube labeled Lidacaine?”
Bailey passed over the tube and took a good look at the burn on the back of her neck.
“Nasty burn,” he commented. “Commercial stun guns don’t usually leave marks like that.”
“Brennan thinks he’s using a modified taser, something he rigged up to incapacitate for long periods of time. A normal taser shot is designed to incapacitate for 30 seconds to a minute, just long enough for an officer to cuff a suspect. Whatever the Grave Digger is using put George and I out for a much longer period of time– though we don’t know how long since it also caused short-term memory disruption, something normal tasers don’t do either, by the way.” She moved her hair away from her neck and began dabbing on the cream.
“Let me.” Bailey took the analgesic from her and began smoothing it on the back of her neck. “If he’s using a taser he developed himself, you can bet it won’t have AFID tags. It’ll be harder to trace.”
“I’m sure he developed it himself. There are no taser models on the market that can carry a charge as heavy as the one that knocked us out or can fire two bursts within a short period of time. He’d have to have tased George and I at the same time or within seconds of each other. He’s using a bastardized model for sure.”
Bailey was still applying the Lidacaine, taking his time, and Grace was ashamed to realize that she was enjoying the warm strength of his hands. God, what kind of a person was she, taking time to lament her lack of personal life when she should be focusing on her boys?
Displaying his uncanny ability to almost predict her thoughts, Bailey commented, “You can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of yourself, Grace. It’s a bad burn and it needs to be treated.”
“Taking up telepathy?”
“Good at reading body language.” When she shot him a questioning look, he explained, “You went tense on me.” He ran a thumb lightly down the back of her neck. “Stop beating yourself up, Grace. You’re your own worst critic.”
“Don’t you think I have the right to be? My boys are missing because of me.”
“You heard Morgan. If it wasn’t for me trying to–” She lowered her voice in an imitation of Morgan, “– keep up in a man’s world, my boys would be safe at home with two parents who love them, not jammed in a container with ten hours of air.” She pulled away from Bailey and began pacing the X-ray room, all nervous energy and contained motion.
“Gracie, I heard a man who’s frustrated, angry, and terrified that he’s going to lose his sons lashing out at his ex-wife. There’s no basis in fact for anything he had to say.”
“They went missing on my watch, not his.”
“Even if they’d gone missing when they were with him you’d still be beating yourself up because you don’t think you deserve those boys.” Bailey’s comment stopped her cold. “Those pregnancies were a miracle. You feel those boys are a gift and you’re beating yourself up because you didn’t take better care of them by keeping them under lock and key.” Bailey met her eyes. “Grace, you’ve seen Frances. Look at what happens when you hold a kid too close because you’re afraid of what the world might do to them. You push them further away and you both end up miserable.” He took Grace by the shoulders. “This is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done that could have kept this from happening. If you keep second-guessing you’re going to make yourself crazy. You have to let go of that impulse.”
He gazed at her until she had to look away, her eyes brimming.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, noticing the tears. “Don’t hold back on my account.”
“If I start crying I’m not going to be able to stop,” she choked, caught in that awful, awkward space between sobs and gasps.
“Good thing we can both swim,” he replied, and the little half-laugh, half-sob that escaped from Grace was all it took for the dam to break. She leaned against his chest, tears soaking into his shirt. He held her until the sobs abated, stroking her hair with an easy tenderness that was a surprise to both of them.
“Feel better?” he asked when she sighed shakily and leaned back to wipe her eyes.
“Yes. Thank you, Bailey.”
He found himself skimming her cheek with his fingers. “Any time. Always.”
There was a dangerously charged moment when neither of them was entirely certain what to do, broken only when Brennan walked back into the room and announced, “This isn’t the same stun gun he used last time. He’s changed his M.O.”
Thomas Vega joins the Gravedigger discussion; the ransom is paid ... but will the Gravedigger keep his word?
The Taking, Chapter 4
“Look, Dr. Brennan, I don’t know what to tell you. The Grave Digger has never changed his M.O., not in six kidnappings.” Thomas Vega, the former FBI kidnapping and ransom specialist, spoke very firmly. “The evidence must be wrong.”
Brennan looked extraordinarily exasperated. “Evidence doesn’t lie, Mr. Vega. It’s neat and logical. Humans lie. They change. They’re messy and illogical. If anything is wrong here, it’s your assumption that the Grave Digger, a human being, would not or could not change his M.O.”
“Look, Vega, all we’re saying is that this is starting to look different from the other Digger abductions,” Booth broke in. “Yes, it looks the same on the surface– missing kids, ransom demand, GPS coordinates, the works. But it’s different underneath. The stun gun is different. The ransom demand came two hours after the abduction and the amount that was asked for was more than either Dr. Alvarez or Mr. Ballard could raise within the time limit. Even the victims are different– he’s never taken children so young before and never so boldly– right out of their own home! If this is really the Digger, then he’s changed his M.O. If it’s not the Digger, then someone is doing a damn good imitation.”
Vega shrugged. “What do you want from me, Agent Booth? If you’re so convinced this isn’t the Grave Digger, why call in the reigning expert on him?”
“Precisely for that reason,” Booth replied. “You’re the expert. You can give us the certainty that we’re looking for, one way or the other. I’ve already told you what I think of your relationship with the Grave Digger--”
“And I already told you that I have no relationship with the Grave Digger!” Vega exclaimed, voice rising. “I don’t aid and abet, Agent Booth. I’m a federal agent!”
“Former federal agent,” Brennan corrected, “one who’s made plenty of money off of the Grave Digger.”
“I won’t have my integrity questioned!” Vega stormed. “You want my help, fine. I’ll look at your evidence– just send it over. But I’m telling you that the Digger doesn’t change. Not even when he abducted you, Dr. Brennan. It was letter perfect, all the way across the board. I will stake my considerable reputation on that.”
“Mr. Vega,” Grace spoke up from her place at the table. “If we pay the ransom will he let my boys go?”
“He’s true to his word, Dr. Alvarez. If you pay, he’ll let them go. But he’ll do it on his clock, not yours. Once you pay, he’ll send you the GPS coordinates for their location, though he typically waits until the victims have an hour of air left. You’ll be on a time table from the moment you get those coordinates. If you can’t get your boys in an hour, they’ll die.”
“We’ve got a retrieval team ready,” Bailey said. “And we’re ready to send the money. Is there any chance of tracing his location through his bank accounts?”
“None. He’s a skilled hacker.”
“He’s not as skilled as George, I’ll bet,” John spoke up. “We’re going to try a trace.”
“It’s been done before,” Vega warned. “He doesn’t respond well. You try to trace him and he learns about it, he’ll go underground and you’ll never get those boys back.”
Morgan looked up from his Blackberry, where he’d been messaging Gwen and exchanged a stricken look with his ex-wife.
“Grace, no. Don’t risk it.”
Grace was already shaking her head. “Please don’t. I can’t lose my boys. I know catching him is important but–“
“I won’t, Grace,” George promised. “Not unless you tell me to.” He looked around at the assembled group. “It’s Grace’s call, guys. She’s running the show.”
There were nods from the group, though Brennan’s lips had thinned and she was drumming her fingers on the table. George turned to Vega’s image on the video screen. “No trace. I’m good but I’m not going to put my godsons in jeopardy either.”
“A wise choice. Send me what you have on the Digger– I’ll look it over. If you’re going to send the money, do it now, but be ready with your retrieval team. They have to be quick and they have to be good. He won’t give you much time.”
Brennan rose abruptly and left the room. Vega watched her go, then addressed the VCTF group. “She knows what I mean– every second counts. I saw what the Digger did to her and Dr. Hodgins. Be on your A-game, Agent Malone. Good luck to you.”
As soon as the screen went black, Booth spat, “God, I can’t stand that guy!”
“You really think he’s in league with the Grave Digger?” John asked.
“I think Vega’s a parasite who wouldn’t have anything left if the Digger stopped now. But that’s just my opinion.”
“He really did a number on Brennan, huh?” John fidgeted with his coffee cup. “Maybe you’d better tell us exactly what happened.”
Booth went through the story, relating the team’s efforts to rescue Brennan and Hodgins after paying the ransom fell through. He found himself remembering the harrowing minutes standing at the edge of the slag heap at the Virginia strip-mine, surveying acres of dusty ground that held no clue where his partner was buried.
A plume of dust curled up from below, followed by the sound of loose rock shifting. That was all it took for Booth. He was down the side of the slag heap and running full tilt, eyes on the dust plume. There! Loose rock. He plunged his hands in, began digging desperately.
His fingers brushed Brennan’s and he latched on to her wrist. Using all of his strength, he began to pull, hauling himself backward, digging his heels in.
Her wrist appeared, her arm, her head. The loose rock was pulling at her legs, trying to suck her back down. Booth got a grip on her waist and pulled with everything in him, then staggered backward and sank down onto the loose shale, Brennan in his arms.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” he whispered, not sure if she heard the words. He smoothed her hair back from her forehead, so relieved to see her face that he could barely contain the urge to pull her to him and hug her hard. “You’re okay, Tempe.”
She was struggling to breathe but she managed to gasp out, “Get Hodgins!”
He left her lying there and dug for Hodgins, noting that Angela, Cam, and Zack had joined him. Hodgins’ face appeared, dusty, white with pain. Angela and Zack hauled him up out of the hole, held him hard, laughing and crying all at once. Angela pressed her lips to his and, even disoriented, he managed to pull her down to him, kissing her back hungrily.
He moved back to Brennan’s side, flopped down next to her, tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t sound trite or cliched. He finally had to settle for a grin in her direction and a brush of his hands over hers.
“I’d say if anyone’s got a reason to be scared of the Digger, it’s Brennan,” John mused.
“You don’t know her well enough yet to know that she’d kick your ass ten ways to Sunday for saying that,” Booth responded. “Look, bottom line– we found her and Hodgins, we’ll find the boys, with or without Vega’s help.”
“The difference here is that two fully grown, incredibly intelligent adults were actively working to get themselves out of that situation,” Morgan interjected. “My boys are three and nine months. They have no idea what’s going on. What are you going to do if we can’t get to them fast enough?”
“Don’t think about that,” Grace said.
”Don’t think about it! They’re going to be fine.” She rose. “Transfer the money, George. No trace. No hacking. Just send it and hope he sends the coordinates before the boys run out of air. I’m going downstairs to the range.”
Rachel turned startled eyes on the M.E. “Grace, do you want me to–“
”I want to be alone right now, Rach. Thanks anyway.” She walked out of the command center and headed for the elevator that would take her to the lower level and the firing range, her hand already at her waist where, Rachel noticed, she had holstered her pistol.
George was working his usual magic at the keyboard and abruptly announced, “Okay, the money’s away. Everyone keep an eye on that phone. If he’s good as his word, he’ll send the coordinates.”
Is it REALLY the Gravedigger who kidnapped the boys? The team wonders when they examine the kidnapping and realize things just aren't adding up!
The Taking, Chapter 5:
“I’m sure everything will work out for the best, sweetheart,” Gwen soothed into the phone. “I know ... I know, I miss them, too ... Okay ... Let me know as soon as you hear anything, baby ... You, too ... Bye now.”
She hung up the phone and glanced at the woman sitting next to her. “They sent the money. He said they’re expecting a call with the coordinates within the next few hours. Is that right?”
“Exactly right,” the woman–Janine–said, brushing her long hair away from her face. “According to the Digger’s M.O, he waits until the victims have about an hour of air left, then he sends the coordinates. That way the FBI always has to move quickly to get to the victims before they suffocate. He likes watching them scramble to keep up. He gets off on the power of it.”
“Morgan’s ex has her team on it but there are two agents from D.C. helping out, too.” Gwen fidgeted with a pillow. “They called Thomas,” she finally said.
“Thomas won’t be of any help to them,” Janine spat. “He’s weak. Inflexible. I guarantee he’s whimpering that the Gravedigger would never change his MO, even with all the evidence shouting loud and clear that he has. He’s pathetically predictable.”
“Morgan didn’t seem terribly thrilled with him. Then again, Morgan is never terribly thrilled unless he’s running the show.”
“Which he most definitely is not.” Janine reached for her water bottle and took a sip. “Four hours. I’ll make the call with the coordinates in four hours. That’s how long the Digger would give them to cool their heels. We’ll see how they like waiting.”
BANG! Grace fired again and relished the kick the gun gave in her hands. Her love for her .357 SIG was something she didn’t reveal to many people– after all, shooting was one of the tomboyish habits that had driven Morgan into Gwen’s arms– but she did try to indulge it at every available opportunity. Though she didn’t relish the idea of using the gun on a human being in the line of duty, there was nothing she liked better than to come down to the range after-hours and blow off steam by severely mutilating paper body targets.
BANG! She adjusted her stance to take the recoil, pulled the trigger. She wasn’t aiming for anything in particular, just picking off round after round to release the anger roiling in the pit of her stomach. When she calmed down enough to focus, she’d work on her aim.
BANG! Damn the Bureau and its idiotic non-negotiation and non-payment policies!
BANG! Damn the suits who made the rules with no regard for circumstance!
She had been furious when she heard Booth and Bailey’s nearly robotic answers to the question of ransom– the FBI cannot and will not negotiate for hostages– but she had kept her anger in check. After all, non-payment wasn’t their policy– it was Bureau policy and Bailey Malone and Seeley Booth had about as much control over that as they did over the tidal cycles of the Atlantic basin.
Under ordinary circumstances, Grace could understand the Bureau’s position. Hell, she could even empathize with it– to give in to one ransom demand from a terrorist or kidnapper was to place the Bureau at the mercy of anyone with a handgun and a desire for cold, hard cash. Of course there could be no payment. The trained FBI agent in her understood that.
But the human being in her, the mother in her, railed against a policy that seemed cold and completely inhumane. How could the Bureau condone non-payment of a ransom when the lives of children hung in the balance?
Helpless fury, grief, and fear had propelled her to the range to vent her anger on body targets rather than abusing Bailey, Rachel, or Booth. Yelling at her friends would do no good– as far as the Bureau went, their hands were tied, and not a one of them was a millionaire like Jack Hodgins. The only thing that mollified Grace even the tiniest bit were the looks that had crossed her friend’s faces when they heard the ransom demand-- she knew any of them would have tried to pay it on their own in an instant.
BANG! She snapped off another round and activated the control that brought the paper target zooming in to be swapped out for another. Affixing a fresh target and sending it back to the cubicle in front of her, Grace cocked the gun, took a deep breath, focused, and fired at the body target.
BANG– head shot.
BANG– head shot again.
BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG– four body shots, scattered all over the torso.
“If you hurt my boys, this is what I’ll do to you,” Grace spat, aiming at the imaginary Grave Digger standing in front of the target.
She cocked the gun and slammed another eight shots at the target.
“You hurt my boys, I’ll bury you.”
Quadruple shots to the head. Eight to the body. A spray of bullets across the target’s face until the paper was hanging in shreds
She had fifteen rounds left until she had to reload and she planned on using all of them. She switched out paper targets and began a rapid series of shots that left her palms stinging from the recoil. Cartridge casings flew as she riddled the target with bullets, stopping only when the gun clicked on an empty magazine.
Grace stopped then and took a good look around her. Cartridge casings gleamed dully in the florescent lights. She’d gone through three magazines. Her shoulders were singing, her lower back was stiff and sore, but the physical pain was a welcome distraction. She would take physical pain over emotional any day.
“Grace?” Morgan’s hesitant voice came from down the hallway. “Are you down here?”
“Yeah.” She leaned out and gave him a wave. “Down at the end.”
Morgan walked up, holding two cardboard cups of coffee. High test. George must have sent someone out for Starbucks.
“It’s got an espresso shot in it.”
“Thanks.” Grace took the cup and sipped. “You holding up?”
“Not really.” He peered at the gun in her hand. “You?”
“Did that help?”
“A little.” Grace glanced ruefully at the cartridge casings on the floor. “Maybe went overboard just a bit.”
Morgan’s brow furrowed as he looked at the casings, the body targets. Finally he said, “Would you teach me?”
“To shoot?” Grace’s eyebrows shot up. “You, Mr. Stuffed Shirt Accountant? You want to learn how to shoot? Right now?”
“If this happens again,” Morgan said, “I want to be able to defend the boys.”
Grace shook her head. “I’m sorry, are you recalling the part of this morning’s conversation in which you accused me of not being able to protect my boys? I’m FBI trained, Morgan, and I was no match for a stun-gun to the base of my skull. Knowing how to shoot isn’t going to save them.”
“It might make me feel better,” he said hopefully, and Grace knew in that moment that he didn’t really want to learn to shoot for self-defense, but merely for the distraction. The hours awaiting the call from the Grave Digger were wearing them both down– of course he’d want something to take his mind off of it.
“Sure, I’ll teach you how.” She crossed to the pegboard on the back wall that held safety glasses and hearing protection and passed both items to her ex-husband. Then she picked up her pistol and began pointing out the features to him.
“This is a typical service pistol for military and police officers. It’s a Smith and Wessom .357 SIG. It holds 15 rounds of ammo ...”
“I haven’t heard from Morgan.” Gwen paced the perimeter of the room. “Do you think everything’s going the way it should? What if they’ve figured out that this isn’t a real Gravedigger kidnapping?”
“They wouldn’t have,” Janine replied, flipping through a magazine. “I told you, Thomas is so set in his ways he’d never even stop to consider a copy-cat.”
“What about Grace’s team? What if they’ve realized it’s a copy-cat?”
“They couldn’t. They’re too emotionally involved to think clearly.”
“But what if—“
Janine shut the magazine with a snap. “Gwen, have a little faith, okay! We’ve been planning this for ages. It’s not going to fall apart. Another hour and you’ll make the call with the coordinates. Then everything will kick into high gear.”
“What could Morgan be doing?” Gwen fretted. “Why isn’t he picking up his phone? I’m getting worried.”
“About what?” Janine turned amused eyes on her friend. “That he’s reconciling with his ex-wife? Please. Look, don’t worry about keeping Morgan close every second. He needs YOU, remember? Let him realize that. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?
“Thomas Vega on line one, Agent Booth,” George said.
“Put it on speaker.” Booth raised his voice. “Vega, can you hear me?”
“Clear as vodka. I’ve been going over your case findings. What you said when we talked earlier is absolutely correct–this has all the hallmarks of a Grave Digger abduction, but the little details that make the signature so uniquely the Grave Digger’s are not there.”
“Like a knock-off purse that looks like the real thing but doesn’t have the signature zipper or the hidden pocket,” John put in.
“Exactly like that. Someone is imitating the Grave Digger, and the real Digger is not going to be happy when he finds out someone has stolen his M.O.”
“Copy-cat or not, Jayson and Georgie are still missing,” Rachel said. “So we still play the game the same way. We give him the money and work on the expectation that we’ll get the boys back.”
“I agree with your logic except for one thing,” Vega said. “We know the Grave Digger always plays by the same set of rules. As long as you play by his rules, he’s perfectly happy and his behavior follows the same predictable pattern. There’s no way of knowing whether the copycat has that same sense of fair play. We have no idea whether he’ll follow the rules or not, and I don’t think it’s safe to assume that he will.”
“So you’re saying we might not get the boys back alive?” George asked the question they were all wrestling with.
“Your retrieval team had better be good. Someone else is playing the Grave Digger’s game now and all the rules have changed.”
Brennan and Grace have a discussion about faith.
The Taking, Chapter 6:
High powered flashlights shot intense beams of light into the woods, sending shadows scurrying. The entire VCTF team, clad in flak jackets lined with Kevlar, pistols drawn, hurried through the wooded park, following George’s hand-held GPS system.
“Here!” George yelled, closing in on an old lightning struck tree. “They’re under here! The ground’s been disturbed.”
The retrieval team moved in with shovels and picks and began digging quickly and efficiently.
“Hurry!” Grace urged, her voice tense. “Please hurry. They’re almost out of air.”
Morgan pressed close to her, held on to her arm with white-knuckled hands. She covered his hand with hers, held on, arguments and old wounds fallen to the wayside.
“Got it!– Raise it!– Get in there!–Break it open, now!”
The bodies inside were tiny and cold and too still. A scream bottled in Grace’s throat then erupted with piercing clarity as Morgan buried his face in his hands, and the whole team began, as one, to gather up the tiny bodies of Grace’s boys ...
Grace jerked out of the nightmare with a sharp cry and sat fully upright on the couch in her office, heart sprinting its way through her chest. Instinct sent her to her desk drawer, where she rummaged until she found a small drawstring bag made of swatches of purple, orange, and red silk. Inside was a string of polished wooden rosary beads, a gift from Bailey from a trip to South America. It had been an odd gift to give, she had thought at the time, considering that they were both lapsed Catholics. Odder still that her gift had been so highly personal– Rachel’s brightly glazed pottery, John’s cigars, and George’s carved wooden chess set had been neither wrapped, nor presented with such eagerness. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts she’d ever received and one of the most useful-- despite the fact that the religious significance had little impact on her, she still found herself winding the beads through her fingers whenever she was worried.
She was doing just that and staring at the blank wall when footsteps stopped just outside her door. Brennan’s voice sounded in the room.
“Does it work?”
“Does what work?” Grace spun her chair to face Brennan.
“The beads. That.” Brennan nodded her head in the direction of Grace’s hands.
“It depends on what you want it to do, I suppose.”
“I guess I mean prayer in general. The majority of the religious world says it works.”
“For them maybe it does. Saying the rosary just calms me down.” She studied Brennan as the younger woman paced, examining reference materials and the photos on the walls. “You don’t believe?”
Brennan shook her head. “I believe in things I can see, measure, count, handle, quantify. You can’t do that with God.”
Grace gave the woman a small half-smile. “You’re right. Maybe that’s what makes faith such a powerful thing when you do have it– it exists even without evidence to back it up. And it’s hard to break– almost impossible. Some people spend their whole lives searching for faith, or reaffirming it once they’ve found it. Some people don’t find it at all.”
“When the Grave Digger had me, I knew Booth would find me. That’s what Booth does. Somehow, no matter where I am, he finds me. I told Hodgins that, told him Booth would find us because he always has in the past. The evidence proves it. But Hodgins didn’t say that was a proven fact– he said that was faith.”
“Did you ever stop to think that maybe it’s both? The laws of relativity are fact. They’ve been proven. But we have faith that they won’t reverse themselves and turn our world upside down. Why can’t it be both one thing AND the other?”
Brennan nodded slowly. “I can see that.” She studied Grace’s face carefully. “Do you have faith? That your boys will be okay?”
Grace wound the beads through her fingers again. “I have to. If I don’t have that, I have nothing left.”
Gwen snapped the phone shut and hurried down the hall to the living room. Janine was watching TV, nonchalantly flipping through channels.
“I made the call.”
Janine nodded without looking at her. “Good.”
“Now what’s going to happen?”
“They’ll send the retrieval team out to the GPS coordinates and dig the boys up.”
Gwen planted herself in front of the television, forcing Janine to look at her. “And what’s going to happen when they don’t find the boys? When they dig into that hole and find two skeletons?”
Janine studied her friend, a smile quirking the corners of her mouth. “Simple. You’ll wait for Morgan to call you with the news that the boys are still missing. You’ll volunteer to help with a search of the park. You’ll find the boys in the abandoned pumping station. You’ll reunite them with Daddy Dearest, who will be so overcome with joy that he won’t let the boys out of his sight. He’ll smother the boys with love and affection and I practically guarantee that six weeks from now he’ll be begging you to move way with them to some place safer. In the mean time, a new Grave Digger case will arouse the public’s interest and I’ll be right on the cusp of it, ready to publish a book with my new suppositions about his changed MO and profile—and thanks to you, I’ll have the ultimate insider’s story from the woman who heroically rescued the boys.”
Gwen bit her lip. “How are you going to get them to the pumping station?”
“I’ll take the back entrance to the park. No one’s going to remark on a young mother taking her kids for a run in a double stroller. Then I’ll leave them in the station exactly where I showed you. I’ll ditch the stroller, change clothes at the airport, and be on a flight out by the time you’ve reunited the boys with their parents. I’ll call you from my hotel, we’ll split the money, and wait for the publicity to start up.”
Gwen glanced over at the couch where Jayson and Georgie were sleeping peacefully under the effects of several large doses of Benadryl. Jayson was still in his Sponge Bob pajamas, Georgie in his onesie with the yellow ducks.
“You’re not going to hurt them, are you?”
Janine laughed and winked. “Are you kidding? I love kids.”
The Gravedigger sends the coordinates ... on to rescue the boys!
The Taking, Chapter 7
Running footsteps alerted Grace and Brennan to Booth’s presence long before he burst through the door.
“We got the coordinates. Let’s go!”
The entire team had been sitting in the Command Center for hours, suited up and ready to go. Within five minutes of the call, they were out the door and into the caravan of Explorers, all of them following the directions of George’s GPS.
It took them 30 minutes to arrive at the location where the Gravedigger had hidden the boys– a national park on the outskirts of Atlanta, deep and forested, an ideal location for concealment. Grace and Morgan were the first out of the cars and took off at a run as soon as they had a location. George sprinted after them, holding the GPS.
Despite the flashlights, the woods were velvet dark. Judging from the series of curses behind her, they were all stumbling over tree roots and branches, but Grace didn’t slow her pace, just kept running, following the directions George was calling to her.
“Here! Right here!” George yelled, stopping beneath an enormous, misshapen tree. “Let’s get shovels!”
Neither Grace nor Morgan waited. They began digging frantically with their hands, not stopping even when John and Rachel moved in beside them. Finally Bailey gently tugged Grace to her feet so that the team could dig more effectively and handed her a pick axe.
Dirt flew. The only sound was the loosening and breaking of the hard packed earth under metal spades and the whump of dirt as it landed into an increasingly large pile. Minutes passed with no sign of the container that held the boys. Grace’s heart was pounding furiously, her arms shaking as she dug.
Five minutes of digging. Five minutes and no sign. Grace slammed the pick into the dirt again, scraped with the flat end of the blade, tossed the dirt out of the hole, repeated. Morgan tapped her shoulder and, in unspoken agreement, she passed the tool to him and bent forward, elbows resting on her knees, arms shaking from the effort of digging.
“He usually leaves them less than five feet below the surface,” Brennan remarked to Bailey. “Something is wrong here.”
“We did everything he asked. Everything, down to the letter.”
“But we’re looking at a copycat now, remember, and he might not play by the same rules as the Gravedigger.” Brennan shook her head. “I don’t do psychology but there’s something off about this. Something isn’t right.”
The sound of metal on metal rang like a gunshot through the clearing. Heads jerked up and shovels flew with renewed vigor.
“Container! Metal container!”
“Let’s get it up, come on!”
“I’m seeing an opening– a door! Got a door!”
“Get it open, hurry!”
Grace pressed forward against the crowd of agents around the hole. Morgan latched onto her arm and she pushed forward to the lip of the hole, waiting to be handed her boys.
There was a peculiar pop, the sound of a vacuum seal being broken. A waft of foul air coursed through the clearing, a smell familiar to Grace, but so unwelcome when associated with her boys that she had to clap a hand over her mouth to fight the gag reflex. All around the hole, agents without scene hardened stomachs were gagging or covering their mouths and noses with handkerchiefs.
“What is it? Grace, what’s happening?” Morgan gripped her arm hard.
“That’s decomp,” she breathed. “Madre de Dios, that’s a decomposing body.”
“No. No, the boys haven’t been gone that long–“
”It isn’t the boys. Not in that container. It couldn’t be. It’s been less than 24 hours. Nothing could advance decomp that far, not in that time, not–“ She was retreating to the clinical because she would go insane otherwise. “Oh God, I’m going to be sick.”
Morgan steered her off the path and held her hair back as she retched, though she hadn’t eaten in so many hours that there was nothing in her stomach to bring up. Dry heaving almost made her feel worse.
“Here.” Agent Booth moved over to them with a bottle of water. “Bones is looking at the bodies right now. We’ll know something any minute.”
“Were they– are they–“ Morgan couldn’t seem to get the words out. “Is there any way that those bodies are the boys?”
“Couldn’t be.” Grace pushed a hand through her hair. Sweat was beading on her forehead and she was still feeling ill. “The time-line doesn’t fit.”
“It’s not the boys,” Brennan announced, walking over to the small group. “The bodies in that container are in advanced stages of decomposition, physically impossible to induce, especially in the time the boys have been missing. At first glance, the victims are larger than the boys, too, older, but still children, maybe six to eight years old.”
Bailey crossed to them, looking pale. Rachel, John, and George followed.
“We need a new plan. Let’s get those bodies back to the lab for Dr. Brennan. The rest of you, search the park. The boys could still be here. I’m calling in every favor I’m owed to get manpower in here.”
“I’ll call my team in from the Jeffersonian,” Brennan volunteered, pulling out her cell.
“And mine from the DC field office,” Booth added.
“I’ll get APD in,” John said. He patted Grace awkwardly on the back before walking off to bark orders into his phone.
“I can get a K-9 unit in from Quantico,” Rachel put in. “They’re the best at picking up cold trails.”
“Do it,” Bailey replied. He, too, stood and walked off to make phone calls, but only after squeezing the back of Grace’s neck.
“Grace, I–look, I know this is only going to make things worse but Gwen really wants to help. Is it okay if–?” Morgan trailed off, flinched a little, totally unsure of her response.
“It’s fine,” Grace answered through numb lips. “One more set of eyes, right?”
Morgan jumped up and pulled out his Blackberry to make the call, leaving Grace and George on the side of the trail.
“I don’t have any contacts, Gracie,” George said softly. “I’m sorry I can’t call in the cavalry.”
“You are the cavalry,” she replied. “It’s okay.” She took a shuddering breath, tried to regroup. “Stick with me when we look. Please. I need you on my side.”
“You’ve got it.” George extended a hand and helped her to her feet. “I’m always on your side.”
They began to walk back toward the parking lot and the phalanx of Explorers as more red and blue lights began to flood the forest.
Method ... and motive. Janine tells her story.
The Taking, Chapter 8:
Janine jogged slowly through the forest at the Chattahoochee River National Park, pushing the double stroller with both sleeping children. She had dressed the boys in play clothes and had located small hats and sunglasses for both of them. They dozed away in the stroller, two handsome children under the care of a mother diligent about keeping her kids out of the sun.
Anyone who passed by would think nothing of a mother jogging with two boys, but she’d have to hurry to plant the boys in the pumping station while the team was still trying to locate the container. Once word got out that the boys weren’t in the metal beer vat, a real search would start and she’d be vulnerable.
But from Gwen’s frequent text updates from Morgan, she was fairly sure she had half an hour, maybe more, till federal agents descended on the park and began a search of every nook and cranny.
The thought fleetingly crossed her mind that the Gravedigger would not be pleased by the copy-cattery employed in his name. There was a serious possibility that his retribution, should she be caught, would leave her gasping for air in a hole in the ground. And the new book, once published, would set her up to be in constant danger from the Digger, assuming, as Vega always has, that he followed his publicity.
Thomas Vega. Her partner in glory and fame for the five years that they worked on the Gravedigger case, wrote their first book, did the tour and talk-show circuit; the man who had been her ticket to money, fame, and critical acclaim. The man who was too spineless to continue down the path they had started paving when they began researching the Digger’s crimes, who wouldn’t admit that his MO had changed, that his crimes had evolved. The man who couldn’t see that there was more money to be made off the Digger.
They had started out as a great team. She was organized where he was scattered, he was creative when she found herself in a rut. She was ambitious and fast on her feet, always ready to make the necessary calls and ask the necessary questions, even when it was neither convenient nor polite for the victim’s families. She learned the ways and means of an FBI agent, especially one working in K&R and made herself indispensable to Thomas during negotiations. By the end of their second year together, they’d written their book on the Gravedigger and were considered the experts on the serial killer’s reign of terror. Suddenly Janine and Thomas were all over the talk show circuit, all over the news, highly in demand for kidnap cases. In working with Thomas Vega, Janine had stumbled on a life for herself.
That cozy life had ended a year and half ago when she and Thomas had come to an impasse. After the Gravedigger’s attack on Temperance Brennan and Jack Hodgins, Janine advocated re-writing the profile on the Digger. Thomas wouldn’t hear of it. The Digger’s patterns remained consistent, he said, even when it was obvious to Janine that there were vast differences in his MO between his last kidnapping and the abduction of Drs. Brennan and Hodgins. They had argued– Thomas saying that Janine was too eager to get back into the limelight, that re-writing the profile would only stir the Gravedigger up again and cause unnecessary panic and paranoia, Janine saying that Thomas was spineless, that he didn’t have the moral fortitude to do what was right. The argument has escalated until Thomas fired her and nothing she could say or do could get him to take her back.
She’d moved out of DC and down to Atlanta, taking a job at Belle Fleur, a magazine dedicated to overly-nostalgic, overly-poetical writing about the South. It wasn’t a job that challenged her the way being Thomas’s assistant had, but it was a job and that was what mattered, at least until she could figure out a way to convince Thomas she was right.
The brainstorm had come to her six months ago when she met Gwen at a staff Christmas party. The entire magazine staff was enthusiastically celebrating yet another Southern Christmas with egg nog, ham biscuits, jello salad, and molasses cookies while Janine stood by the window, staring out at the rain, wishing she were back in D.C.
“Looks like I’m not the only one wishing she wasn’t here.”
Janine turned at the sound of the voice to see a petite blonde woman, very pretty, with jade green eyes and a flawless smile.
“I don’t do parties very often or very well.”
“Me either. Want a cigarette? It’s the only way to get out of a party decently anymore.”
Janine followed the woman outside where they huddled under an awning, sucking in smoke.
“I, um, I’m afraid I don’t remember your name,” Janine admitted. “What do you do at the magazine?”
“Oh, I’m not with the magazine. I’m an accountant. I do the books for you guys. I’m from Ballard-Torme. We’re a firm downtown. My boyfriend’s one of the owners– he wanted me to go out and schmooze.”
“So which one is he–Ballard or Torme?”
“Ballard. Morgan Ballard. Great guy. A little geeky but that’s okay. Two kids, but that’s okay, too. They’re sweet.”
“You’re braver than I’d be, going into a relationship with someone with two kids. You’ve probably got to deal with the ex, too, huh?”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Christ, that woman is unreal. She’s a damn FBI agent, works insane hours, never has time for the kids. If I could manage it, I’d move Morgan and the kids out of the city, start a new life, and leave her behind.”
The plan began forming in Janine’s mind almost as soon as Gwen had said it, but it took another six weeks of lunches, dinners, and a few girl’s nights before she dared bring it up. By then Gwen was eager to come on board, ready to start the new life she kept speaking of to Janine. She sympathized with Janine over the break-up of her partnership with Thomas and even asked if there was anything she could do to help. That was the magic phrase– Janine outlined the plan and soon she and Gwen had the perfect plot– how to get Gwen and Morgan out of the city and how to get revenge on Thomas.
Which is how she ended up in the woods of a national park with a stroller containing two kidnapped children doped on Benadryl. Getting back at Thomas. Getting the boys away from Grace. Re-inventing the Grave Digger.
Janine kept jogging until she’d reached the pumping station, an old building on the edge of the river. Checking to make sure there was no one else around, she entered the pumping station with her own handy set of lock-picking tools. Inside, she looked around for a suitable place for the boys and quickly located a control booth full of switches, too high for Jayson to reach should he wake up and not so loud that the machinery would frighten them. They’d sleep safely under the medication until Gwen found them and returned them to their parents, groggy but safe.
She ditched the stroller by dumping it into the river. There were better ways of getting rid of evidence but this was the fastest and the best way to rid the stroller of DNA, fingerprints, and fibers. She began jogging back up the path, trying to look as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She was a few hundred yards away from her car when an FBI agent in black yelled after her, “Excuse me, ma’am!” and Janine’s heart sank in her chest.
The team zeroes in on a suspect.
The Taking, Chapter 9:
The brunette jogging by the river caught John’s eye. She had a body like mortal sin and he had a weakness for that sort of thing. He followed her with his binoculars, pleased when she turned to come up the path near the parking area where he and the team from APD were stationed.
“Excuse me, ma’am!” he called, striding toward her, glad for an excuse to chat her up. “Agent John Grant, FBI. Would you mind answering a few questions for me, please?”
“I’m actually running rather late,” the brunette replied, jogging in place. “I’ve taken longer than I planned on my run.”
Her gaze was darting all over the place, John noticed. And despite the fact that she had been jogging, she hadn’t broken a sweat. Warning bells began going off in John’s head.
“This won’t take long,” he responded, all courtesy and charm.
“All right,” she said, equally as charmingly, “though I can’t possibly see how I can help the FBI.”
“We’re conducting an investigation into some missing kids and we have reason to believe they’re some place in this park. Did you happen to notice anything suspicious during your run? Loose soil, disturbed brush, anything to indicate recent digging or movement?”
“No, I didn’t, I’m very sorry.”
“Did you happen to hear anything? Crying, screaming? The kids are young. If they’re panicking they’re probably yelling for help.”
“I jog with these on,” she said, indicating a pair of ear buds around her neck. I wouldn’t have noticed any noise other than my music.”
John nodded slowly. “Did you run into anyone else on the trail? Anyone suspicious or acting strangely?”
“No one but you just now.” She said it lightly but with a tight edge in her voice. She wanted away from him. That was enough to raise John’s red flag. He decided to see what happened if he made her cool her heels a few minutes more. He put his hand to his belt, pretending he’d just felt his phone vibrate and gave her a polite smile. “Excuse me one second.”
He faked a conversation, pacing away from her and watching surreptitiously as she shifted her weight from foot to foot, clearly irritated. He made his way over to Trent, one of his buddies from his APD days and leaned in. “She’s giving off a weird vibe. Put a tail on her. She may not have anything to do with the kidnapping but I think she knows something.”
“You sure you’re not jumping the gun?”
“Look at her. Keep talking to me and look over my shoulder at her.”
Trent finally nodded. “We’re on it. You taking it back to Malone?”
“Only suspicious person we’ve tracked so far. You’re damn right I’m taking it to Malone.”
“You sure those kids are here?” Trent asked doubtfully. “What if we’re looking in the wrong place?”
“They’re here. There’s something weird going on with this Grave Digger character, but I’m betting he’s got those boys somewhere in these woods. Make sure your team’s checking every clearing, every shelter, every picnic area, every fire pit.”
“Got it covered, John. Better cut her loose. I’ll run her plates, put a tail on her.”
John crossed the parking lot to the brunette, all easy charm. “Sorry about that. You’re free to leave, Miss–“
“Monroe. Janine Monroe.” She said it with a grimace, he noted, as if she were ashamed of her name, or hadn’t meant to give a real one.
“Thank you, Miss Monroe. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
She hurried off toward her car, a RAV-4, and backed out of the lot. John watched her go and then hit the touch-to-talk function on his cell. “Bailey, you copy?”
“I’m here, John.”
“Got a tail on a person of interest. Jogger. Acting kind of funny.”
“Where’d he come from? We’ll search in that direction.”
“She came from down by the river, northwest of your location near the parking lot. I’ll meet you down there.”
John headed down the path, deep in thought. Aside from the flashes of APD and FBI agents in blue jump suits and the occasional dog handler, the woods were quiet and still.
The river trail was just right for jogging, firm packed clay and soil. There were footprints from joggers all over the trail– no help there– as well as tire tread from bikes, but there were also wheel impressions in the clay that were too narrow to be a bike. Frowning, John followed the impressions up the path, away from his rendez-vous point with the team.
The tracks lead down to the side of the river. Moving slowly, so as not to miss any potential evidence, John made his way onto the rocks near the rushing water. He knelt there for several minutes, staring at the water, lost in thought.
“John!” Grace’s voice rang out clear, even over the tumult of the water. “Find something?”
“I don’t know.” He jumped from rock to rock and climbed the embankment back to the path. Bailey, Grace, Morgan, and Brennan were waiting there, looking expectant. “I’m not sure, but I’m thinking these are stroller tracks.”
They all went to their knees as one, bending to see the impressions that John pointed out.
“Look at the depth,” Brennan commented. “Very shallow. There was nothing in that stroller. The weight of a child would have pushed the wheels deeper into the clay.”
“Who wheels an empty stroller around?” Morgan asked.
“Someone who transported two children in a stroller all ready and wants to get rid of the evidence,” Grace answered hotly.
“That’s conjecture,” Brennan cautioned. “We don’t have facts to support that supposition.”
“So we’ll look for more stroller tracks,” Bailey replied, trying to stave off an argument. Judging by Grace’s stormy expression, she was getting sick and tired of waiting for facts. He laid a hand on her wrist and squeezed.
Suddenly Morgan was on his feet and heading down the embankment, jumping from rock to rock and heading for the edge of the river. Grace took off after him.
“Morgan, be careful! If there’s tracks you could be destroying–“
Her voice cut off so abruptly that John briefly entertained the notion that she’d fallen into the water. He followed them down the bank and came to an abrupt halt on one of the large, flat rocks sticking out of the water where he found himself staring at the same thing they were both gawking at– an empty stroller, caught in the swirling water, battering itself against the rocks.
“Get me gloves!” Grace snapped. John handed her a pair and she quickly pulled them on, wading into water up to her knees to free the stroller from its place in the current. Brennan, her own gloves on, came wading in after her to help pull the evidence to shore. Bailey was on the phone, ordering a set of flat plastic sheets to be brought to the river bank.
Grace, still holding on to the stroller so as not to let evidence become contaminated, looked up and down the river. “The Gravedigger wouldn’t use this, would he?”
“Too cumbersome,” Brennan murmured. “There’s no way– We may as well stop calling him the Gravedigger. There’s no way this is his work. It’s someone skilled who knows the Digger’s MO.”
“A copy cat,” Morgan replied. “You thought that.”
“Or a partner,” Bailey said thoughtfully.
“Either way,” John put in, “we’re looking for someone familiar with law enforcement. They wouldn’t have been able to evade this long if they didn’t have some idea what our procedures are for evidence collection and K & R.”
The sheets arrived with one of Brennan’s team members then, allowing Grace and Brennan to finally set down the stroller. The women began combing it for evidence but, predictably, and as the perpetrator had no doubt anticipated, found nothing.
“What have you got?” called a voice from the trail.
Thomas Vega moved down the bank toward them, careful where he stepped. The former FBI agent nodded greetings to all of them. “A stroller? Used to transport the boys?”
“Maybe,” Brennan replied. “No trace, though.”
“And no suspects?”
“None,” Morgan replied glumly.
“Correction,” John said. “One. Jogger. Acting suspicious. Nervous, kind of twitchy. I put a tail on her. Her name was– Janine. Janine Monroe.”
“What?” Vega stared at John incredulously. “What? Say that name again.”
“No way. There’s got to be a mistake. Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” John replied, slightly offended at being second-guessed. “Why?”
“Janine Monroe,” Brennan announced, “was Thomas’s assistant.”
The boys are rescued ... and the manhunt begins.
The Taking, Chapter 10:
“Why would your assistant kidnap my sons?” Grace asked, stroller forgotten as she stared at Vega.
“She wouldn’t. It’s not– She lives in D.C, same place I do.” He shook his head, perplexed. “There has to be some mistake. Same name, maybe. It’s no Jane Smith but Janine Monroe can’t be an uncommon name.” He turned to John. “What did she look like?”
“Slender but curvy. Long brown hair with streaks of red. Maybe 5 foot 7. Pretty.”
“Sounds like Janine,” Vega said bleakly.
Brennan was shaking her head. “That could fit any of a thousand people living in the Atlanta area. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
“I don’t think moving on a suspect is jumping to conclusions,” Morgan put in. “If she was your assistant she’d know about the Gravedigger, wouldn’t she?”
“Janine helped me write the book on the Gravedigger. Literally. She knows more about him than anyone else aside from me.”
“But I don’t know her. I’ve never met her in my life,” Grace said, stating the obvious. “90% of abductions are committed by family or friends of the victim. There’s no one the boys or I interact with on a daily basis other than Morgan, you guys, and my sitter, Ruth, who was screened by the FBI before I hired her.”
“I’m telling you, this has to be a mistake,” Vega insisted. “Janine still lives in DC. It’s been a few months since I talked to her but–“ He shook his head. “No, it’s just not possible.”
“We can verify her identity easily enough,” John said. “We’ve got a tail on her now. If you come with me, Mr. Vega, we can verify whether this person is or is not your assistant.”
Vega, looking dazed, nodded. “Okay. Yeah. Let’s go. But I’m telling you, it’s insane. Janine wouldn’t– she just wouldn’t.”
“That’s what Ted Bundy’s family said,” John replied and headed off up the trail, Vega in tow.
Bailey’s phone beeped and Rachel’s voice came through the speaker. “Bailey, its Rachel. I think we’ve got the boys.”
Grace and Morgan sprinted up the trail and toward the pumping station looming ahead. A group of agents was outside. Rachel’s distinctive red shirt stood out among the sea of navy blue flak jackets as she waved them over.
“We’re trying to take the door down.”
It was a metal monstrosity, heavy and old with rusted hinges. The agents trying to work the lock free were having no luck, and the door was made in such a way that it was impossible to take off the handle. One of the agents backed off and spoke to another, who nodded and headed for the car, the words “battering ram” audible to the others in the group.
“What’s taking so long?” Grace’s voice was shrill. “Get the damn thing down!”
“They’re trying,” Rachel soothed, though her words were lost on Grace who was pacing manically around the outside of the pumping station, looking for any other access point. Morgan stumbled along after her, feeling the walls, hands trembling.
“Are you sure they’re in there?” Bailey asked Rachel. “You’re not going to want to be the one to face Grace if they aren’t.”
“According to the Park Service people, all the doors to these places should be readily accessible to rangers. This one wasn’t. It stands to reason–“
”You didn’t confirm that they’re in there?” Bailey’s voice was low but fierce. “You’re going on ‘it stands to reason’? Dammit, Rachel, if they’re not in there–“ He broke off when he heard Grace’s voice raised above the din.
“Get this fucking door open! My boys are in there!”
“Ma’am, you need to step back so we can–“
”MY SONS ARE IN THERE! Don’t you understand, my boys–“
Morgan made a grab for Grace, tried to hold on to her as she lunged at the door. Bailey hurried over, startled by how hard it was to hold on, especially when she was fighting them tooth and nail. He managed to wrap both arms around her from behind and pin her arms down at her sides.
“Grace, stop. Let them work on it.” He held on to her tightly, whispering the words over and over again into her ear until they finally penetrated. She stopped struggling but remained tense against him, ready to spring forward the moment he let her go. He didn’t let her go, but he did loosen his hold, still murmuring soothing words in her ear.
Morgan was watching them with a strained expression on his face, a look somewhere between impatience and fear. He had obviously never seen his ex-wife act like this.
There was a sudden flurry of activity and the door came off its hinges. Grace broke away from Bailey, pushed her way through the crowd and dashed inside, Morgan following hard on her heels.
“Jayson?” she yelled, stopping to assess the room. “Where are you, honey?”
A flash of yellow caught her eye– Georgie’s onesie–and she saw them, lying on small sleeping bags in the corner of the pumping station.
Shaking, she dashed to her boys. She snatched up Georgie, who was limp as a rag doll, but warm and breathing.
“Oh baby, oh baby, I’m so glad to see you, sweetheart, it’s okay, Mama’s here.”
Morgan was checking on Jayson– she could see him out of the corner of her eye– and Bailey was shouting for an ambulance. She was aware of the rest of the team moving inside, forming a protective ring around Grace and Morgan.
“Grace?” Morgan sounded deeply frightened. “He won’t wake up.”
“I--” Grace tried to calm down, to think, to assess clinically, but these were her boys, her sweet babies. She shook her head, tears flooding her eyes with a suddenness that was overwhelming.
Brennan knelt beside Grace and Georgie, moving in gently to peer under the baby’s eyelids and feel his pulse. “Probably a drug of some kind. We won’t know till the hospital runs toxicology.”
“Where’s that ambulance?” Morgan demanded. “What’s taking so long?”
“They’re on the way now,” Bailey replied, snapping his phone shut and moving in closer to Grace.
Grace clutched at Georgie, rocking him, saw Morgan in her peripheral vision doing the same to Jayson as if rocking could undo the last 48 hours and the damage it had wrought.
Georgie took a little hitching breath in her arms, then another. The breaths quickly became gasps that began to come quicker, more fitfully. Grace’s heart constricted sharply in her chest as she lifted Georgie to her shoulder and patted his back. The gasps continued, giving way to the tell-tale whistling of a closing airway.
“No, don’t do this to me,” Grace murmured, setting Georgie back down on the sleeping bag where he’d been nestled before. “Don’t do this.”
“Grace–“ Morgan asked, clutching at Jayson.
“He can’t breathe.” She tilted Georgie’s head back and checked his airway. “Oh, Jesus, Jesus, somebody get the paramedics!”
In the hospital with the boys, tempers flare between Grace and Morgan.
The Taking, Chapter 11:
Grace was really too tired to pace but she was doing so anyway, heels clicking across the floor. Morgan watched her with tired eyes as he hit the redial on his Blackberry for the dozenth time. Gwen wasn’t picking up.
George walked in with cups of coffee. “Any word?”
“Not yet.” Grace palmed a curl back from her forehead. “They sent me out here to wait.”
“What do they think it might be?”
“His lung development isn’t on par for his age. It happens with preemies. That’s why we’ve had to be so careful about keeping him from getting sick. Whatever he was doped with is affecting his lungs.”
“How are they treating him?”
“A nebulizer. Breathing treatments.” Grace bit her lip hard, trying to hold in tears. “Where’s Bailey?” she fretted. “He said he’d be here.”
“He’s briefing John and the others then he’ll be here. He promised.”
The elevator door opened and Bailey exited, speaking into a Blackberry. He hung up and came across the room to embrace Grace.
“How is he, Gracie?”
“They’re not sure yet.”
“They’re trying to flush the drugs out of his system.” She blew out a slow, shaking breath. “What’s happening? Where are the others?”
“Booth, John, and Vega are tracking down Janine Monroe. We need to have a few words with her. Brennan and Rachel are going over the case files the Jeffersonian sent to see who else might have been peripherally involved in the case. We’re trying to make connections to anyone here who might have a grudge against you or your husband.”
Grace turned to look at her ex-husband, having almost forgotten he was there. “Do you think this could be about Morgan?”
“It could be. He’s with one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the city. They handle a lot of accounts for a lot of major city agencies. Maybe someone was trying to milk Morgan for the money.”
“Why the deception then? Why stage a Gravedigger crime just to get to Morgan? There’s something we’re missing, some connection. I just can’t see what.”
“You’re looking too closely.”
“Or maybe not closely enough,” she said, lips thinning. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair.
“Any forensics from the pumping station?”
“Some fibers, but nothing so out of the ordinary you couldn’t find them in the back of any car. A few hairs. CSI is processing those now. We should get DNA on them soon.” Bailey laid a hand on her arm. “Grace, it’s just a waiting game.”
“I hate it!” She paced across the floor with violent energy, everything in her practically crackling with fury. “I’m so sick of waiting and waiting!”
“Come on, let’s step outside, get some air.” Bailey gently steered her toward the stairwell.
Outside the sky was a furious roil of clouds. Thunder boomed in the distance.
“Let’s hope CSI finished on the trail or we’ll never get shoe prints,” Grace muttered, resuming her pacing. Bailey watched her with an inscrutable expression on his face.
“Grace,” he finally said. “I hesitate to bring this up but–“
“What is it?”
“We need to start looking again at friends and family. We’ve ascertained this is not the Gravedigger’s work, at least not the kidnapping of your sons. Those bodies we found in the storage container inside the park are very likely Gravedigger victims and they’ll come later. But right now we have to look again at who might have wanted to do this to you, the boys, or Morgan.” He placed a hand on her arm to stop her pacing. “Let’s go down the list one by one. Anyone who has contact with you, Morgan, or the boys. Can you do that for me?”
“Okay.” Grace took a deep breath, willing herself to focus. “Okay, where do we start?”
“Anyone who has contact with the boys on a regular basis.”
“Morgan. Ruth, our sitter. George. Both teachers at Jayson’s pre-school.” She rolled her eyes. “Gwen.”
“Okay, three unknown entities right there. Jayson’s teachers–“
“They were FBI screened,” Grace reminded him. “So was Ruth.”
“How about Gwen?”
“Gwen is Morgan’s affair– no pun intended. I wanted a background check on her but he threatened me with a lawsuit for invasion of privacy if he found out I’d done it. Should have had George check her out but there was so much going on with the divorce I let it fall by the wayside.”
“What do you know about Gwen?”
“She works for Morgan’s firm. Goes out and does the books for companies all over Atlanta. Not hurting for money, apparently. Prep school graduate, you know the type.”
“How does she feel about the boys?”
“Morgan and I don’t discuss her. Morgan and I don’t discuss anything at all, actually.”
“Let me get George started on a background check for Gwen. You deserve to know who your kids are spending time with after all.”
“Morgan won’t like it.”
“Morgan can go straight to hell,” Bailey replied shortly.
Grace had to fight back a grin. “On that we can both agree.” She sank down on a concrete bench and rested her head in her hands. “I have the world’s worst headache.”
“It hasn’t been the easiest day,” Bailey replied wryly. He sat down at her side and began to rub her temples with strong, sure fingers. “Anyone else we need to look at? No, don’t get up. You can think and let me do this.”
“We keep the boys so sheltered, I can’t think of anyone else. It’s just Morgan’s people who need to be checked– the sitter he uses, his housekeeper. Everyone I use for help from the cleaning service down to the kid who mows my lawn has been swept for security.” She sighed miserably. “All that and I can’t keep my sons safe.”
“If you’re going to start with the self-recrimination I’m going to leave you alone out here,” Bailey threatened. “Stop second-guessing, Grace. It’s not you that made this happen.”
Grace made herself bite down on the comment she was dying to make. Instead she replied, “The psychopathology of a subject who abducts infants is radically different from one who abducts older children or adults. Infant abductors are overwhelmingly female. Maybe we should be looking at one of our housekeepers. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that before now.”
“We were on the trail of the Gravedigger. We didn’t have time to pursue other avenues. But you’re right, now is the time to start chasing down those other possibilities.” He blew out a breath, thinking aloud. “I’ll get George to start on those background checks of Morgan’s people. That should help fill in some of the gaps. I’ll get Brennan and one of your assistant ME’s on the evidence from the pumping station. Any suggestions?”
“Dr. Jenner. And anyone from Brennan’s team she finds necessary. She’s the expert here– I want Brian and the others to follow her lead.”
“John, Vega, and Booth will continue with the Monroe lead. I want Rachel to go back over your house and see what she can get from the initial crime scene.”
“If it’s someone close to Morgan or I, they’re going to be pretty damn savvy, Bail. The bastardized stun gun, the faux Gravedigger call, the coordinates to the old Gravedigger victims– this isn’t some run of the mill kidnapper.”
“That’s why I want to continue seriously looking at Janine Monroe. She’s got the Gravedigger expertise to pull this off. What her connection is to you and Morgan, though, is still a mystery. I’ll have George cross-reference all known places of employment for Monroe with Morgan’s, see if they crossed paths at some point.”
Thunder cracked overhead and rain started to fall. Bailey and Grace moved back inside the shelter of the hospital corridor. Grace turned to study the rain making patterns on the quickly dampening paving stones, knowing she should go back upstairs to the children’s ward but not wanting to face it yet. Bailey stood next to her, so close they were almost touching, and gazed silently out the window, too. They were interrupted by running footsteps– George.
Grace spun on the spot, fear clawing at her throat.
“George, what is it? Are the boys–“
”No, no. They’re fine,” he assured her quickly. “No change. But I was doing some background checks on Janine Monroe and I found something you may want to see.”
“Leave now? Are you out of your mind?”
“I wouldn’t unless they absolutely needed me. And they do.”
“No, Grace, the boys absolutely need you. You shouldn’t even be considering leaving this hospital!”
Grace blew out a long, slow breath. “If you want me to find out who did this to the boys, I have to go look at this evidence.”
“You can’t bring it here? You can’t use a webcam or a teleconference to look at your damn evidence? Just when we’ve got the boys back you’re moving away from them again!”
Grace flinched, but held her ground. “They need me, Morgan.”
“The boys need their mother! Hell, as much as I hate to admit it, Grace, I need you! I don’t do this every day, you know. I don’t know how the hell to handle kidnappers and ransoms and hospital visits. I’m an accountant, Grace, not an FBI criminalist.”
“I know that. Believe me, I know. But this cannot wait. You have my cell, my pager, and my office number. I’ll be two hours tops.”
“You see this?” Morgan demanded. “This is why I wanted to move the kids out of town with Gwen. You’re so far inside some scumbag’s brain pan that you can’t even focus on your own family for two seconds!”
“We really do need her in the office, Mr. Ballard,” Bailey put in, walking up behind Grace.
“Oh, I have no doubt you need her, Malone,” Morgan scowled. “But she has a responsibility to her family that cannot be ignored.”
“And she’s not ignoring it. But this is evidence that will help us find your son’s kidnappers and it has to be processed immediately before we can move on it.”
“Don’t leave,” Morgan spat. “I’m warning you. Or I’ll get a court order to have the boys remanded into my custody so fast that your head will spin.”
“I thought we all ready went over what happens when you threaten me,” Grace warned, stepping closer to her ex-husband. “Don’t you dare try to take those boys from me. You’ll regret it.”
Justice is served!
The Taking: Chapter 12
Janine Monroe was one cool customer. Booth had always regarded her as such– when they’d been working on retrieving Hodgins and Brennan she’d shown a remarkable lack of emotion. What she had shown was a ravenous interest in the case, a hunger to catalogue, to stalk, to capture the Gravedigger. Had that hunger turned inward and twisted her mind? Why stage a Gravedigger kidnapping? To draw him out? Or to insure her own continued prosperity as one of the foremost Gravedigger experts in the country?
He voiced these thoughts to John, who nodded thoughtfully. “Wouldn’t be the first person to let the desire for fame go to her head.”
Vega joined them by the one-way glass window where they were staring in at Janine, still dressed in jogging clothes and sneakers. “Janine isn’t like that.”
“Yeah? So then what is she like?” Booth asked. “As far as I remember, she’s a lot like you. Whether you admit it or not, you and the Gravedigger have some kind of relationship– he’s as fascinated with you as you are with him. And her–“ He jerked his thumb at Janine, “– she’s been fascinated with him, maybe even more so than you are, ever since we met you.”
When Vega started to scoff, Booth shook his head. “You think I can’t read people? I’m telling you, she’s in deeper than you can even know. She’s invested in the Gravedigger somehow and when you play hardball with someone like that, you’re bound to get in a whole lot of trouble.” He headed for the door. “It’s time to find out what she knows.”
Janine was starting to metaphorically sweat.
Booth had suspected both her and Thomas of fishy dealings with the Gravedigger from the very start– when they’d uncovered the bodies of the Kemp twins outside of DC. She’d managed to deflect him then by setting up contacts at all the local news agencies so that broadcasts to the Gravedigger could be sent on Brennan’s and Hodgins’ behalf. That had held him off for awhile. She’d hoped never to cross the wily agent’s path again, though. He could read people too well, would know immediately that what he suspected of Thomas was true of her– she was interested in developing a relationship with the Gravedigger, one that would prove profitable to them both.
Thomas was too straight arrow for that. Though Thomas loved his money and fame, he also held the scruples and ethics of an FBI agent, one who had spent too many years on the job and witnessed too much depravity to be able to condone the actions of a serial kidnapper and killer.
No, Thomas definitely wasn’t the type.
But Janine had no problem admitting that she was. She’d grown up with a ruthless businessman for a father, a man who knew how to broker a cut-throat deal without breaking a sweat. Her mother had been equally as relentless– a first-class TV journalist who was known for hard-hitting questions and deeply personal interviews. Her parents knew the value of a good business relationship and the value of stepping on anyone they could reach to maintain it.
To build a relationship with the Gravedigger somehow, to gain an all-access pass into the mind of a cold-blooded killer– it was a story that would rival Anne Rule and Ted Bundy, Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. It could do nothing but help both their careers– hers and the Gravedigger’s. What would such an openly provocative and notorious kidnapper/killer want but fame and attention for his crimes? And what could she offer but a way for him to build that fame? In turn, she’d build the story every journalist dreamed about, the lifetime exclusive that would put her on the map.
The staged kidnapping would put him back into the media spotlight. But better than that, it would draw him into retaliation. The Gravedigger would never condone copy-cattery. He’d enact his crimes again, just to prove himself. It would start again soon.
She abruptly cut her train of thought to a halt when Agent Booth entered the room.
“Why am I here? Is it some new crime to go jogging?”
“Nice to see you, too, Janine.” Booth leaned on the table beside her. “Moved out of DC, I see?”
“And now it’s a crime to move out of state?”
“Not at all. Just doesn’t seem like your style. You had a pretty good thing going in DC with Vega.” He paused, his chin in his hand. “How is Vega, by the way? Working on another book?”
“I don’t know what Thomas is doing. We don’t see each other anymore.”
“Well, that’s a shame. What happened? Was it business? Personal?”
“How is that any of your concern?”
“It isn’t. Just curious.” Booth circled around the table and studied her. “Well. Want to take a guess as to why you’re here?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
“Your buddy, the Gravedigger, is up to his old tricks. Kidnapped two of my friend’s kids this morning. You know his routine. We need your help following his trail.”
In the opposite room, John stared at Booth through the one-way glass. “What the hell is he doing?”
“Drawing her out,” Vega said softly.
Was she getting away with it? Had they caught on to the old trail and followed it all the way to a dead end?
They had. Booth was mentioning the decomposing bodies in the second beer vat now, the search in the national park for the boys. Any moment now he’d be getting to their happy reunion with their parents.
“But we haven’t recovered the boys yet,” Booth finished. “And as I’m sure you’re aware, time is up. Why would he lead us to a dead end, Janine? Why take us to old victims, not new ones?”
Janine’s heart nearly stopped. They hadn’t found the boys by now?
Where was Gwen? Why hadn’t she done her part?
Of course she couldn’t ask– she was an outsider with no knowledge of Grace and Morgan or their family dynamic. But what the hell had gone so wrong that Gwen hadn’t retrieved the boys as arranged?
“He’s changed his MO, obviously,” Janine said through numb lips. “He, uh, might be gambling for more money.”
“He already asked for more than the family can put together. And as I recall you mentioned that that isn’t usually part of his MO.” Booth pulled out a notebook and began flipping through it. “Here we go. ‘The Gravedigger is very good about knowing how much money can be gathered in the time given. He never asks for more than the family is capable of putting together.’” Booth met her eyes. “That is correct, isn’t it?”
“Generally, yes. But I’m under the impression that the Gravedigger has changed his MO. It’s a theory Thomas and I were discussing at some length after Drs. Brennan and Hodgins were kidnapped. I’ve been advocating altering his profile in light of that kidnapping. Thomas didn’t agree with that assessment. That’s when we agreed to a parting of ways.”
“I see.” Booth made a notation in his book. “Well, this kidnapping in particular would suggest that he’s altered his MO considerably. Would you feel comfortable helping us re-write the profile?”
Janine’s mind was racing. Rewrite the profile? She didn’t have that kind of time! She had to get in contact with Gwen or get to the boys herself before a staged kidnapping turned into negligent manslaughter. Oh, God, she hadn’t set out to do this– not to kill two kids who were, after all, just pawns in her never-ending chess game. She had nothing against the boys or their parents– they just conveniently filled a role!
“Yes,” she said slowly, willing herself calm. “Yes, I’d be willing to do that. I’ll need to return home to get my files.”
“Of course,” Booth replied. “No problem at all. So we can expect to see you back here in, say, half an hour?”
Janine nodded, barely aware of what she was agreeing to. She headed outside to her car, barely noticing the fact that Booth was staring after her, already on his cell phone and giving orders.
Bailey, Grace, and George were listening to the CSI team’s findings from the pumping station where the boys had been found when Bailey’s phone rang. He stepped outside and let the crime scene tech continue giving the pertinent information only to burst back in a moment later and pull his team members out into the hallway.
“John and Booth are tailing our suspect now. We’re meeting up with them, see if we can’t get her right where we want her.”
Once back in the Explorer, Bailey asked George to dial in to Booth’s phone.
“It’s George. Bailey said you needed me.”
”Can you cut in on an active call, hear who’s on the other end of the line?”
“If Homeland Security can do it, you bet your ass I can, too,” George replied. “Give me the number.”
Within moments, George had his laptop and Blackberry up and running and the call patched in through the speakers.
“– leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks very much and have a great day.”
“Oh God, where the fuck are you?” Janine’s voice was frantic. “The FBI picked me up on the way to the airport! They want me to help write a new profile on the Gravedigger! And you– you didn’t pick up the boys! Now I’ve got to go in the middle of an FBI dragnet and try to smuggle them out of that park! What the hell happened? Call me! We need to think up a new game plan to get the hell out of this!”
“So there’s definitely an accomplice,” Grace said, lips thinning.
“Did you get that, Booth?” George said.
“Got it loud and clear. It’s enough to hold her. George, can you trace that number she called back to its source?”
“Working ... working ... got it. 555-0547. Listing for--” He shot Grace a look of mingled horror and shock. “Gwen Hudson.”
Gwen was panicking. She’d never planned on getting her hands this dirty, on getting mired so deeply in the middle of Janine’s game. She had gone into their scheme with one agenda—get Morgan and the boys out of the city. She could not have cared less about Janine’s desire for wealth and notoriety or about her obsessive need to flip a middle finger at Thomas Vega. She wanted her fiancé and her soon to be stepsons away from Grace Alvarez and that was all.
The whole plan had gone to hell because she’d lost her nerve. She didn’t have Janine’s backbone. Driving into the middle of an FBI dragnet with a brave and smiling face and managing to heroically rescue the boys was too far beyond the reach of both her courage and her acting capabilities. She should have known that from the beginning. She should have known that she wouldn’t be able to face Morgan because he’d know what she had done the moment he looked at her.
After Janine left to “plant” the boys in the pumping station at the park, she’d jittered around Janine’s living room, twitchy, anxious, trying and failing to pluck up the nerve to hold up her side of the plan.
It was Morgan’s phone call that ruined her—the note of barely controlled grief and hysteria in his voice as he begged her to help him search the woods for the boys had been too much. Grabbing her purse, pocketing her phone, sprinting to the car, speeding off toward the townhome she shared with Morgan-- it was all a blur. She simply obeyed the panicked voice in her head that ordered RUN.
Back at the townhouse, she realized she had no idea what to do. She hadn’t made a contingency plan. There was nowhere for her to run, really, no place to go to and no way out. If she disappeared, Morgan would know she had been involved somehow … and hell, with his hot shot ex-wife on the case, they had probably figured that out by now anyway. If she walked out on Janine, she had no doubt that the real Gravedigger would be after her within a matter of hours. What to do?
She could call the FBI, she realized. Turn herself in. Offer a plea bargain in exchange for telling them Janine’s whereabouts and plans. Of course, it would be utterly humiliating to give herself up to Morgan’s bitch of an ex, but it would save her—hopefully save her—from life in prison or, if the boys weren’t found in time, the death penalty.
Ignoring the frantic beeping of her text messages and the flashing indicator light for voicemails, she took a deep breath and dialed the number for the FBI’s Atlanta office.
When Janine caught sight of two black Explorers following her to the Chattahoochee River National Park, she knew then and there that she was royally fucked.
“Okay,” she murmured aloud. “Okay. Just give it up right away, tell them that you’ll immediately take them to the boys, and then offer to give up Gwen if they’ll make a plea bargain. You can still get out of this.”
She pulled the car into the nearest parking area, which was mercifully deserted because of the weather, parked, and did what FBI agents always asked when they chased down a suspect in a vehicle …stepped out of the car with her hands up.
A whole cadre of blurred shapes came out of the driving rain, guns pointed. She heard Booth’s confident baritone order “Hands behind your head!” and she did what was asked.
“I’ll tell you where the boys are,” she called into the rain. “I can take you to them right now.”
“Oh, really?” Booth responded, pulling his cuffs from his belt. “And where is that?” He jerked his head at the agent nearest him. “You hearing this, John?”
“Every word.” John, the agent who had stopped to question her earlier that day as she jogged by the river, stepped closer. “Those kids belong to a very good friend of mine,” he said conversationally. “And if anything happens to them, your hot aerobicized ass will sit in Leavenworth for the rest of your natural life. So, you get one chance and one only to tell me where they are, and if they aren’t safe and sound when we find them, Agent Booth and I will be making your life VERY uncomfortable from now on.”
Pompous ass. Janine nearly snorted with derision, then thought better of it. “They’re in the pumping station on the north side of the park.”
“Where you put them earlier today,” Booth said. “When my buddy here saw you jogging.”
“And you just, what, decided to leave them there for a bit, go grab a coffee, then come back for them later?” John asked. “Exactly how much of this little kidnapping scheme did you think through if that was your whole plan?”
“I wasn’t supposed to get them,” Janine said through clenched teeth, wanting only to get in the car and out of the rain. “My … friend … was supposed to.”
“Ah, see, here it is,” Booth said. “The friend. And which friend would this be?”
“I’ll tell you her name if you make me a deal.”
John laughed. “She wants a deal, Booth. You hear that?” He moved in closer as Booth snapped the cuffs around her wrists. “You should have thought about that back at the police station … before your friend called us and made a deal to give you up.”
Janine wanted to groan, scream, cry, bang her fists at Gwen’s cowardice, but instead just said, “So you played me, then. You had the boys all ready … you just wanted to see if I’d panic.”
“Actually,” Booth said, grabbing her arm and steering her toward the back of the Explorer, “she panicked before you ever did. She called and gave herself up right as we were tracing your call to her cell phone. It’s hell being a coward.”
“There are a few people back at the station who will be QUITE interested in speaking to you,” John said, belting her in and shutting the door securely. He climbed into the front seat and made a quick call. “Bailey, we’ve got Janine Monroe in custody. We need a team to tow her car. Yeah, we’ll be right in.” He hung up the phone and snapped on his seat belt before turning around to give her a feral grin. “Better catch a nap while you can, sweetheart. You’ve got a long list of charges to answer for.”
It took all of Bailey’s persuasive powers to convince Grace to stay with the boys at the hospital instead of going back to the Command Center to question Janine Monroe and Gwen Hudson.
“Your presence there will only be a detriment,” Bailey patiently explained to an angrily pacing Grace. “Gwen’s all ready said she won’t agree to talk to anyone from this team … she’ll only talk to Booth.”
“We’re giving her a CHOICE? Why the hell does she get the right to choose who she talks to? She’s a goddam felon! She gave up having a right to choose ANYTHING when she stole my sons!” Grace slammed her hand against the plate glass window, leaving a trail of condensation behind.
“We need her to talk. There may be more people in on this … at the very least there’s one other person involved and that’s whoever broke into the house, tasered you and George, and kidnapped the boys. We need to know who that is so they don’t make another run at you out of some misguided sense of loyalty to these women.”
“You can’t get that info from Janine?” Grace snapped.
“We didn’t make the deal with Janine. We made it with Gwen. She talks and the death penalty is off the table. You being there isn’t going to help anything.” He took in her angry face and flashing eyes and said, “I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”
“So why does Morgan get to be there?”
“She’s all ready said that she wants to talk to him. If things stall out with Booth, we want him to be there as a back-up.”
“He doesn’t do this for a living! He doesn’t know how to question a suspect or tell if someone’s lying or …” She pressed a clenched fist against her mouth. “I NEED to be there, Bailey.”
“No, you don’t.” He laid a tentative hand on her shoulder, half expecting her to jerk away from him. “You need to be here with your sons. This is your job, Gracie, first and foremost. You need to be their mother.” When she stiffened at what he belatedly realized was a clearly pedantic tone, he hastily said, “I’m not saying this to patronize. I just want you to really think about your priorities.”
“I don’t need you to remind me of my priorities, Malone! I know goddam good and well what my children need! They need me to fight for them, to keep them safe.”
“You did,” Bailey soothed. “You fought like a tigress for the last 18 hours to bring them home safely. And now they need you to be here. They need you to take them home and tuck them in bed with their blankets and night-lights and be there when they wake up with bad dreams. Your job, right now, is HERE.”
Grace turned to stare at him and he wondered briefly if he had overstepped. But she finally smiled a very thin, wan smile and said, “My god, you’re good.”
“So I hear,” he replied. “I’m a decent profiler, too.”
That surprised a laugh out of Grace. For a few moments she was caught between laughter and tears as the events of the day really sank in. Bailey handed her a handkerchief and turned discreetly away so she could gather herself.
“All right,” she said a few minutes later, taking a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m staying. But I have some conditions.”
Bailey shook his head and grinned. “Name them.”
“I get to see the tapes of all the questioning.”
“George keeps me updated by text or phone call.”
“Morgan gets briefed on proper procedure and asks any questions I want answered.”
“We’ll clear the questions first, but okay.” He made a few quick notes on his phone. “I’ll call John and let him know all of that. Anything else?”
“A personal favor. Just between you and me.”
She reached for his hand and took it almost shyly. “Will you stay here with me, please?”
Bailey raised her hand and lightly brushed his lips over her fingers. “That’s not a favor, sweetheart. That’s a given.” He squeezed her hand, released it, and went to make the calls.
Both teams reflect as the case comes to a close.
The Taking, Chapter 13:
24 hours after Janine Monroe and Gwen Hudson were remanded to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta on charges of kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and battery, and assault with a deadly weapon (among other charges), Seeley Booth, Temperance Brennan, Morgan Ballard, and the exhausted members of the VCTF assembled at Grace’s house for the first decent meal any of them had had in days … and for a round of much needed drinks.
“I gotta say, Bones, it is damn good to finally close a case in which we found the victims alive,” Booth said, taking a sip of his beer. “That doesn’t happen so often for us.”
“I don’t often agree with you but in this case, yes, you’re right. It was very satisfying to see a family reunite.” Brennan watched Grace swing her three-year-old up into her arms to hug him tightly and found herself smiling. Booth elbowed her gently in the ribs.
“I saw that smile. You going soft on me, Tempe?”
“Not at all. Children are fine if you happen to want one. I, however, do not want one.”
“You’ll change your mind.”
“Yeah, I know, I should shut up.” He clapped John Grant on the shoulder as he hurried by. “Grant! How about those Braves?”
Rachel sidled over and handed Brennan another glass of wine. “I get the feeling the two of them are going to find any excuse they can to get involved in each other’s cases from now on.”
“I am glad we got involved in this one,” Brennan admitted.
“Does it bother you that he still hasn’t been caught?” Rachel asked.
“The Gravedigger?” Brennan sipped her wine. “It would be pointless to let it bother me.”
“True. But humor me anyway and give me an answer.”
“Yes, it does bother me. It means my team wasn’t good enough to catch him, which is disconcerting because we are a very good team. I had hoped this really was a Gravedigger case … it would have been satisfying to finally learn who he is.” She quickly added, “I am, of course, very happy that it wasn’t the Gravedigger who took Grace’s sons. I didn’t mean that--”
Rachel gave her a quick smile. “I know what you meant. So, the next time I’m in D.C, can I get a tour of your lab? It sounds like you guys are doing some really great work.”
Brennan found herself actually looking forward to the prospect. “Absolutely. We’d be glad to have you.”
“You’re awfully quiet,” Grace said, sitting down next to her ex-husband. She moved to take a sleeping baby George out of his arms and was surprised when he shook his head. “You want to keep holding him?”
“I don’t mind just sitting here with him like this,” Morgan said in a low voice. “I’m glad to have the chance, quite frankly”
“I haven’t wanted to let him go the last few days either,” Grace admitted. She touched the baby’s socked foot and smiled when he sighed and cuddled further into Morgan’s arms. “I was thinking that I might take some time off with them. A few weeks right now, just until things get back to normal. And maybe summers off … so I have time with them while they’re still little.”
Morgan nodded. “I’m going to start working from home. Casey can handle the firm from downtown. Obviously we’ll need another junior partner with … her … gone…but I want to do the same thing. Spend time with them while they’re young.” He raised an eyebrow in self-deprecation. “And while I’m relatively young …although relative is the operative word there.” He gave Grace a small smile. “Grace, do you think we could … I mean, is there a way …”
“No, Morgan.” Grace shook her head gently but firmly. “There’s no starting over for us. Not now. I’m ready to be friendly if you are … I think I can probably even stand to have dinner with you every once in a while,” she joked. “But I can’t be that intimate with you again. I’m sorry.”
Morgan nodded brusquely. “I figured that was going to be the answer. Couldn’t hurt to ask.” He blinked rapidly and looked away. “Is it Malone?”
“It might be eventually,” she admitted. “But right now, it’s just me. I need to feel good about myself again. I need to feel like I’m worthwhile. I can’t feel that way with you.”
“You must hate me,” Morgan said in a low voice. “I don’t blame you.”
Grace shook her head. “No. I don’t hate you. You’re the boys’ father … because of that there will never be hatred between us.”
“You must really want to say ‘I told you so’ though. After all the anger and accusations about your job putting the boys in danger when all along it was me who put them in harm’s way.”
“I’m a bigger person than that, don’t you think?”
Morgan nodded. “Yes, you are. You always have been.” He finally looked at her head on and said, “I am sorry, Grace.”
“I am, too. And now we’re done apologizing and we’re back on equal footing.” She looked at the baby again. “Are you sure you don’t want me to take him for a while?”
“Nope, I’m fine just like this … as long as you grab me a beer.”
Grace laughed aloud and stood up. “All right. That I can do.”
Brennan and Booth pleaded exhaustion around 7:30 and caught a ride with John and Rachel to the Bureau’s air strip—Bailey had promised the use of the Bureau’s jet to take them back to D.C.
Morgan left after helping Grace put the boys to bed. He’d been cordial to everyone but was obviously deeply shaken by the events of the last few days. He’d be going home to a townhouse filled with his ex-fiancée’s clothing and personal effects, all of which needed boxing up before being sent to her family. Grace didn’t envy him the task.
George helped clean up and quickly inspected all of the locks on the doors and windows and the batteries in the alarm system. Satisfied that she and his godsons were safe, he left her in Bailey’s care—but not before pulling Grace to him and whispering, with a grin, “Make the fantasy a reality.”
Finally it was just Bailey and Grace left in the house with the boys sleeping peacefully upstairs.
“Nightcap?” Grace asked, giving the kitchen counter one last scrub with a Clorox wipe.
“I think I’ve had enough alcohol for one night, thanks, Gracie. As it is I’m going to have to call Frances to come pick me up.”
“Oh, get serious! You’d never hear the end of it!”
“So I should drive home, take out the mailbox, stumble inside, and fall asleep on the couch, allowing my daughter to see me for the drunken lush I am?”
Grace grinned and sank down onto the sofa, pulling him with her. “No. You should stay here all night and do the walk of shame very early tomorrow morning. You might just gain a few cool points.”
Bailey laughed. “And what am I going to do here all night?” He tucked a curl behind her ear. “Any suggestions?”
“One or two.” She leaned forward to meet him and their mouths brushed gently. “You can keep away the boogeyman.”
“That’s why I carry a gun,” Bailey whispered against her lips. “He hasn’t got a chance.”
“Promise?” Grace murmured, winding her arms around his neck.
“I swear it.”