They cut east and south when then leave Fitchburg, with no particular destination in mind. Sam buys local papers and Googles the sort of things that give them leads – various combinations of words like "mysterious" and "baffles" and "unknown" and "disappearance" and "attack" and "no leads." Dean hits the bars and pool halls, which is as close to earning an honest income as he gets. And in the morning they check out of the motel and keep driving, sometimes very early and sometimes quite late, depending on what kind of trouble Dean found for himself the night before.
The fourth morning is a late one (as the night's trouble had been a redheaded waitress named Carly, not a pissed off hustled pool player nursing a vengeance and a hangover). It's also the morning Sam thinks he's found something.
"String of mysterious disappearances near Manassas, Virginia," he says, reading from the paper he picked up when he got coffee and what passes for breakfast from the convenience store across the street. "Six victims, all last seen at a mall. Nothing on the security footage of the parking lot – they all just walked to their cars and drove off. Cars found later, abandoned. Police are baffled and have no leads."
"A mall? A haunted mall?" Dean says.
Sam shrugs. "Maybe. Or an invisible killer of some kind. Phantom abductor. Shapeshifter. Human who's good at staying off the security cameras. Don't know, Dean."
"A mall?" Dean says again, clearly having latched onto the most salient point. "You sure you're not just looking for a chance to hit the Gap?"
Sam doesn't dignify that with a response. "It's about forty miles, if you want to check it out."
Dean drains what's left in his coffee cup. "Guess we might as well."
It's one of those glossy, sprawling malls that have never exactly been a part of either of their lives, and despite the string of disappearances, traffic doesn't seem to have fallen off. Dean parks the Impala amid a sea of import cars and SUVs and looks like he'd really rather be off digging up corpses. "A mall. Well, this should be interesting."
Fifteen minutes later, Dean has charmed his way into the mall security office. The guard on duty is Janine, who has elaborate braids and very white teeth and a figure that the ill-fitting polyester navy blue uniform can't manage to make look bad. Sam doesn't get the impression that Dean is finding flirting with her to be all that much of a hardship. She's more than happy to copy security footage for Dean – well, for Agent Tyler. Sam turns so that she won't see him roll his eyes and studies the six "Missing" flyers on the office bulletin board.
If there's a pattern here, he can't see it. The first victim had been 17-year old Tabitha Loman, a white high school student who worked in the food court. That had been three months ago. Then 18-year old Luke D'Agostino, also white and classmate of Tabitha's. That looked like a pattern, but that was as far as it went – after that, different races, different ages, classes, backgrounds, genders. A 32-year old African American housewife named Ruth-Ann Mayes. A 44-year old Hispanic lawyer named Edgar Diaz. The 29-year old, unemployed Vincent Oldfield. And, most recently, 20-year old Georgetown student Marla Chu.
There is, in Sam's experience, a pattern to victims. There's always something they all have in common, something that matters to the killer. Which means these six people should have something in common, something that goes beyond the sorts of facts you list on a missing poster. And he's going to have to figure out what. "Hey, um, can we get copies of these?" he asks Janine, once Dean has the security footage safely tucked away.
Janine looks like she's much rather go on chatting with Dean, but she gives Sam a rather fixed smile. "Sure thing." The smile is quickly replaced with a frown, as she turns to get the posters. "They were right here," she says, indicating a spot on the desk behind the counter. "I swear, lately it's been like . . ."
"Like what?" Dean asks.
"Stuff missing. Stuff moved around. Stuff breaking. It's like the place is haunted."
"No camera flare," Dean says, several hours later, in room 214 of the King's Arms Motel. (They've run a bit far with the royalty thing – the chair he's sitting in is shaped like a throne and damned uncomfortable.) "Not on any of them. Going in or coming out. So probably not a shapeshifter."
"Hmmmmm," says Sam, distracted and noncommittal. He's got the six missing flyers spread out on one of the beds; the security guard had ultimately found them in the outgoing mail bin.
"From what the security guard said, are you thinkin' maybe vengeful spirit?"
"Hmmmmm," says Sam, again.
"Or I guess it could be a cursed object. Something some store got in a few months ago. Hope not, though, 'cause in a mall that big, that sucker'd be a bitch to find."
Dean glares. "Or maybe," he says, getting up, "maybe it's one of those mutant kangaroos from outer space."
Sam looks up, eyes narrowed. "I was listening, Dean. I'm just . . ." Sam looks back at the posters. "Something's off here."
Dean comes over to look at the six victims. "This Tabitha girl was first?" Sam nods. "So either she was the first victim . . ."
". . .or she's the spirit."
Dean picks up the flyer showing the sixth victim. "Man, this Marla chick was hot."
Sam gives him a look. "That's sick."
Dean sets the flyer down. "What? I'm not saying she—"
"Just stop there," Sam says. "Please."
Dean grins. His brother is so predictable, it's almost too easy. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not fun. "So, I guess we need to learn more about Tabitha, then, huh?"
"Yeah, guess so."
* * *
Interviews with Tabitha's parents and a few friends paint the picture pretty quickly – of a bright, slightly socially awkward girl who desperately wanted to be popular. But there's not much to go on till they go back to the mall (over Dean's grumblings) and catch up with her manager, Elisa Clark. "Tabitha talked a lot, whenever things got quiet, and sometimes when they were busy, too," says Elisa. She's not much older than Sam is, younger than Dean, he'd guess, and Sam gets the feeling that she's one of those people who sees and hears things more than she talks about them. "That day, she came back from her break really excited," Elisa says. "Said something wonderful had happened and she'd tell us all the details tomorrow."
"And she didn't say what?" Sam asks.
"No, but for her to be that excited. I kind of think it had to be about Luke, you know?"
Dean looks up, focus sharpened. "Luke D'Agistino? The second victim?"
"Yeah," says Elisa. "She talks about him all the time. Has a terrible crush on him. Total waste of time, you know? I've seen him around here, and guys like that don't go out with girls like Tabitha."
"Guys like what?" Sam asks.
"You know. Luke is popular, good-looking, and that boy knows it, too. When I was in high school, guys like that didn't give girls like Tabitha the time of day, unless they wanted something, and I haven't seen anything since high school that makes me think that changes. Anyway, I tried to warn her, but she wouldn't listen."
She's still using the present tense, Sam notices, when she talks about Tabitha and Luke. He wonders if she really is that optimistic, or if she just thinks she's supposed to sound that optimistic.
"Warn her about what?" Dean asks.
"The rumor was . . . I can't believe I'm repeating the gossip from the high school kids I work with to cops . . . but the rumor was that the football team had a 'biggest loser' party."
Sam and Dean stare at her. "Like . . . the television show?"
"More like they were all supposed to bring a loser for a date."
"And you think Luke asked her to that," Dean said.
"From what little I've seen of him? I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. When she didn't show up the next day, I figured she was just embarrassed. And then maybe that she was so mortified she ran away from home – I like the kid, but she's something of a drama queen. But then Luke disappeared, too. And all those other people. Something's . . . well, it's bigger than a high school party, right?"
Sam looks at Dean, and there's an almost imperceptible nod from his brother. "Well, thank you, Elisa. You've been a lot of help."
Elisa smiles faintly. "Look," she says, as they start to leave. "Luke is a jerk, and Tabitha lives in her own little dream world half the time, but they're not bad people. Just . . . you know, find out what happened to them."
"We will," Sam says.
"Well, Luke sounds like a dick," Dean says, as they head back through the mall parking lot.
"Think we better look into this party thing?"
Dean flips through the file Sam has assembled on the victims. "Let's start with his girlfriend."
Linzi Young is blonde and cheerleadery and as far from Tabitha Loman as it gets. If Sam were being uncharitable, he'd probably say that she seemed to be enjoying the attention of being the girlfriend of a missing person a little too much.
If Dean were being, well, Dean, he'd say that the way Linzi (and seriously, what is up with that spelling?) is batting her eyes at his brother means she's pretty ready to get over Luke.
She's starting to piss him off.
"Okay, Linzi," he says, cutting into Sam's empathetic, feel-your-pain routine. "Let's cut the bullshit. Why don't you tell us what actually happened?"
"What do you mean?" she asks, breathy and wide-eyed, and, yeah, she's definitely pissing him off.
"You know what I mean," Dean says. "And you can go ahead and tell us, or we can do this downtown."
It's one of those hopelessly clichéd TV lines that Dean will never admit he enjoys the hell out of using. It also works really well on people who like to think of their lives as dramas, and Dean has never met a teenaged girl who didn't, at least to some extent.
Linzi pouts. "Nothing was supposed to happen. It's not like it was Luke's fault that Tabitha couldn't take a joke, right? It wasn't like he set out to . . ."
"To what?" Dean asks. "To kill her?"
"Linzi," Sam says, leaning forward a little, slipping into "good cop" mode. They have this rhythm down, and with people like Linzi, it works. "We need you to tell us what happened."
It takes another twenty minutes of back-and-forth, wheedling and brow-beating, cajoling and prodding, but finally they get the story out of her. That Luke had, in fact, invited Tabitha to a loser party, that Tabitha had – predictably and reasonably, Dean thinks – been upset when she found out. But rather than slinking off home in tears, she'd stormed off threatening to call the police, the school, the paper, the coach – anyone and everyone she could think of. Luke went after her to try and stop her.
"That's all," Linzi says. "Just to stop her. Talk her out of it. The guys were drinking and doing . . . nothing real hardcore, but . . . look, our principal is a real jackass about that stuff. They'd have gotten kicked off the team, people would have lost chances at scholarships. He didn't . . . he just shoved her. That's all. And she fell. And she . . . she didn't get back up."
"Just shoved her?" asks Sam.
"That's what he said. I wasn't there, okay? Anyway, whatever, he panicked. I mean, he was afraid he was going to go to prison because some nobody couldn't take a joke."
"Where's the body, Linzi?" Dean says.
"On the battlefield. There's a place, pretty private. We used to go there to . . ."
"Yeah," says Dean. "Sounds real romantic."
Sam sorts through the missing persons flyers as they drive to the Manassas battlefield.
"I totally get why she offed Luke," Dean says. "Sounds like he deserved it, you know, at least under the terms of ghost logic. But why everyone else?"
"Best guess?" Sam says. "They're all good-looking people, and I'd guess they were popular types."
"She's offing hot, popular people? Sounds a little insane, doesn't it?" Dean parks the Impala and starts pulling supplies from the trunk.
Sam shrugs. "Just a guess. It's the only common factor I can see."
"Whatever. Doesn't change what we gotta do."
Assuming Linzi's directions are accurate, this really shouldn't be hard: find the body, a little salt, a dash of accelerant, problem solved.
"Should be just over there," Sam says, eyes on the map, pointing without looking up.
"Over where all those people are, you mean?"
Sam looks up, over at the people. He also takes in vans, crime scene tape, and what seems to be a news crew, and then looks back at the map. "Yeah."
"Great," says Dean. "Ditch the stuff; let's check it out."
There's a flurry of activity – park rangers, FBI agents, a crowd of curious tourists – this last group being kept back by the first two. Sam and Dean drift over to see what's going on.
There's a man in a suit, sipping from a Styrofoam coffee cup, who looks like he might be in charge. He pushes past the agents in their blue FBI jackets. "What have we got, Bones?"
This comment seems to be directed at the woman in a blue jumpsuit, hair pulled back in a ponytail, resting back on her heels, looking at something in the dirt.
"Female," the woman says. "Approximately 16 to 24. But there are at least five sets of remains here, Booth."
"Six," calls a young man in a similar jumpsuit. "There's another one over here."
Dean nudges Sam, nods at the man. "And I thought your hair was a floppy mess, Sammy."
Sam doesn't answer. The woman – whose name surely can't really be "Bones" – kneels next to young man. "Male," she says. "Probably in his 40's or 50's."
"How long have they been here?"
"Hodgins can narrow it down, but I'd say a few weeks to a few months. I wouldn't say they all died at the same time. Zach, collect soil samples from around the bodies."
"Yes, Dr. Brennan."
The man in the suit pulls Bones/Dr. Brennan aside. Sam and Dean, without discussing it, move to follow them, and keep them in earshot. If there's any kind of important information getting spilled here, it's going to come from those two.
"So what do you think?" the man asks. "Six bodies? Think we found the victims of the Manassas Mall Marauder?"
comfortable jumping to that kind of conclusion," she says. "Which
you know by now. And 'marauder' implies one who raids or pillages
for material gain. It's hardly applicable."
"But it's memorable, Bones."
"I do not understand the media's name to assign sensational and 'memorable' nicknames to criminals. Especially as it both increases their importance and glamorizes them for committing acts that we don't, as a society, intend to glamorize."
"All right, fine. Back to the point, Bones. Odd are good that these are his victims, right?"
"We'll know more when we get everything back to the Jeffersonian," she says, and turns back to bodies.
"Let's go," Dean says. "Time for Plan B."
"Do we have a plan B?"
"We do now."
If he were asked to submit a representative picture of the way he and Dean worked, Sam thinks it would be fair to submit a shot of this moment. They're sitting on opposite sides of a wobbly motel room table, Sam searching the Internet, Dean sharpening knives, the remnants of a fast food dinner in the free spaces. (Well, to be fair, the remnants are all on Sam's side of the table; Dean's approach to food doesn't leave remnants, and he's already Tim Duncaned the wrappers into the trashcan across the room.)
"Okay," says Sam. "The woman in the field was Dr. Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian Institution's Medico Legal lab. According to her bio, she routinely works with the FBI to identify murder victims."
"So chances are this bone lady took Tabitha's remains back to her museum?"
"That'd be my guess, yeah."
"No problem, then," says Dean. "We break in, burn the bones, swing by to see Dorothy's shoes on the way out. Easy."
"Breaking into a lab in the Jeffersonian? Federal building? On the national mall?"
"It's a museum, dude," Dean says. "Not the freaking White House." He helps himself to the rest of Sam's fries.
Sam sighs, closes the laptop, and wonders if there's any point in trying to explain.
Six unknown bodies – possibly tied to a serial killer case – mean there's pressure to get this under control fast, and the lab is almost audibly humming with activity. And tempers seem to be shorter than usual.
"Zach? Did you move this skull?" Brennan demands.
"No, Dr. Brennan. I left it exactly where—"
"Then how did it get over here?"
"I don't know."
"Be more careful."
"Where the hell are my slides?" Hodgins bellows.
"Right by your elbow," Zach says, pointing.
"They are not . . . oh. Never mind."
Angela is up in the lounge, slightly removed from the madness on the lab platform. They won't need her till the records of the mall victims arrive. Ages and genders are a match, so they'll start with dental records and past injuries and try to establish identity that way, since really, the odds are good that's who they found.
In the meantime, though, Angela is finishing up her part of the paperwork on what she thinks of as "the pirate case."
"Blunt force trauma to the cranium here." Brennan is bent over a set of remains. "Signs of defensive wounds. Hodgins, you should take scrapings from under her nails."
"I'm not seeing any signs of a struggle on the others," Zach says.
Brennan moves from body to body. "No obvious cause of death, either. Zach, have a tox screen run wherever there's enough tissue left."
"Yes, Dr. Brennan." He hesitates. "Dr. Brennan, did you by any chance borrow my tweezers?"
"Why would I do that?"
"I don't know. They're just . . . gone."
"Well, you must have misplaced them. Angela?" Brennan calls up to the lounge.
"Are the files here yet?"
"No, Bren, not yet."
"What's taking so long?" Brennan demands.
"Bureaucracy at its finest," Hodgins supplies.
Someone in the lounge clears his throat. Angela looks up to see two tall men in suits, and silently agrees with Hodgins. Bureaucracy at its finest, indeed. "Can I help you?" she asks.
"I sure hope so," says the shorter of the two (or at least, the less tall – neither is exactly short). "I'm Agent Hill, this is Agent Beard, we're here to see Dr. Temperance Brennan about the bodies from the battlefield."
Angela snorts. "Hill and Beard?"
"Can I see some ID?" she asks.
"We did go through that with security, ma'am."
"ID, please," she repeats.
With synchronized shrugs, the two agents pull out and flip open FBI badges. Angela reads them. "Joe and Frank?" she asks, incredulously.
"Let me guess," she says to Agent Hill. "Your friends call you 'Dusty'? Is this Booth's idea of a joke?"
It has occasionally occurred to Sam that his brother's tendency to take aliases from classic rock icons is going to get them into trouble. Rock icons are iconic because people have heard of them. And this woman clearly knows who Frank Beard and Joe "Dusty" Hill are.
(Sam is wrong, at least in this case. Angela is distracted enough by the fact that these two agents have the same names as her father's band mates that she fails to notice that they also have IDs made at a Kinko's – and she usually would.)
Dean ratchets the charming smile up to 11. "Actually, my friends call me 'Joe.' But it's a hell of a coincidence, isn't it? That Booth, what a kidder."
"He sent you? About the case?"
"Yeah, you know. Get the update, see what you found out?"
"And . . . where is he?"
"Paperwork," Sam offers. This seems a safe explanation to give about the location of a government employee.
"Did you bring the files on the missing persons?"
"They're still getting them together," Sam says. "I'm sure they'll be here soon."
From the look on the woman's face, Sam has the feeling they're dancing on very thin ice. "So Booth is too busy to come himself, but he sent you two over to get an update, even though there can't be anything to update you on, because you haven't brought the information we needed?"
Dean gives her a what-can-you-do shrug and smile. "That about covers it, yeah."
The woman stands up without smiling back. "Brennan is going to eat you two for breakfast," she warns, and starts down the stairs.
Temperance Brennan is annoyed. The files have not arrived from the FBI, the server has crashed twice this morning for no reason that can be explained remotely to her satisfaction, and "Zach, I've already told you to stop moving the bones."
"But I didn't," he says. "I've been looking for my tweezers."
Brennan looks around the platform. "They're at your work station. I can see them from here."
Zach goes back to his station, picks up the tweezers, and frowns at them. "These were not here."
"Well, they obviously were. They certainly didn't move by themselves," says Brennan. "Angela," she yells again, up to the lounge.
"Right here, sweetie," Angela says from the bottom of the steps. "Bren, take a deep breath, okay?"
Brennan ignores this request. "Are those files here yet?"
"No, but Booth has apparently send the Hardy Boys for an update on the case."
Brennan looks at the two new arrivals. "But not the files?"
One of them gives her what he no doubt thinks is a reassuring smile. "They'll be here as soon as possible, Dr. Brennan," he says, and starts up the stairs.
Alarms go off – the loud, attention-getting, interloper-on-the-platform alarms. The agent freezes.
"Ange, please," says Brennan, and Angela swipes the card that stops the alarms, waving off the security guards.
"Sorry about that," the agent says.
"Who are you?" Brennan demands. "Where's Booth?"
The shorter of the men smiles. "I'm Agent Hill, this is Agent Beard, Booth is a little buried in paperwork. He sent us for an update."
Brennan frowns. "Why didn't he just call?"
"Don't know, ma'am. Just following orders, you know."
"It's illogical to follow nonsensical orders, Agent Hill. Booth knows I'll contact him as soon as there's information and he knows I work with him, not with just any agent who walks in. Why are you here? Who is your supervisor?" Brennan demands, pulling out her cell phone.
Maybe Sammy was right about this museum thing. Because right now, this is looking seriously not good. If this ice queen actually calls this Booth person, it may be beyond even Dean's ability to explain away.
"Look, Dr. Brennan," says Sam, breaking out the puppy dog eyes. "We're new. We've only been out of Quantico for a little while, and I'm sorry if we've gotten wires crossed or things aren't being done the way you're used to, but please, cut us a little slack? We're just trying to do our job, we will get out of here as quickly as we can, but anything you can tell us would be really helpful."
It appears that even ice queens aren't immune to Sammy's puppy face, because she at least puts the phone down.
And while Sam is dealing with her, Dean can get a quick look around the platform. The corpses, uselessly, are still labeled only with numbers. Dean reaches for one of the labels.
"Don't touch the tables," someone says, and it's spooky, because he's looking into some sort of microscope thing with his back to Dean. Judging by the hair, though, this is the guy from the field yesterday.
"Sorry, Dr. . . ."
"Mister Addy," the man supplies, still without turning around. "I have not yet finished either of my doctorates."
"Right. So, ah, what are you working on there?"
He turns, finally. "Without knowing who you are or what your security clearance is, I'm not supposed to answer questions like that." And then he goes back to his microscope.
"Ooooooookay," says Dean. He looks around again – without touching anything. There's a definite chill in the air. Of course, could be they keep it that way because, well, dead bodies. Or it could be that Tabitha is already getting settled into her new playground. "Hey, is it always this cold in here?"
Mister Addy looks up again, frowning slightly. "No. I would say that the ambient temperature is approximately seven degrees Fahrenheit lower than usual."
"Oooooookay," says Dean, again. He glances over to see that Sam is still talking to the ice queen and the chick from upstairs. Since that looks slightly more profitable than getting anything out of Mister Addy, he starts to head over, and gets stopped.
"I know who you are," says the man, short and bearded.
"You do?" Dean asks, instantly wary.
"I do," says the man, nodding.
"And who are we?" Dean asks, casual and nonchalant. Because, really, he can't actually know, can he?
"Two suddenly appearing 'FBI agents' in non-descript black suits?" he says, breaking out the air quotes. "I'm on to you, man."
"Ooooooooooooooookay," says Dean. These people are freaks. He jerks a nod to Sam to say, Let's get out of here.
Judging by the look on Sam's face, he's just as relieved as Dean is to go.
"I apologize again, Dr. Brennan," he's saying, as Dean makes his way over, and Dean wonders if he's done anything but apologize this whole time. "I'm sure it won't happen again."
Dr. Brennan shakes her head and turns her attention back to whatever's on her screen.
"You'll have to excuse Brennan," the other woman – Angela, maybe? – says. "She tends to get pretty focused when she's working on a case."
"Don't we all?" Dean says.
Probably-named-Angela walks with them down the steps and pauses at the bottom.
"Thanks for your help, Ms. . ."
"Montenegro. Angela Montenegro."
Dean reaches out to shake her hand, but before he can say anything, chaos breaks out on the platform above them again. "Did someone change these labels?" Dr. Brennan demands. "This is clearly not a male."
There are quick denials from the men on the platform.
"Angela?" Dr. Brennan asks.
"Why would I do that, sweetie?" Angela looks up, and doesn't notice when Dean takes something out of the pocket of her lab coat.
The ice queen shakes her head. "I could be at Stanford, you know. This sort of thing would never happen at Stanford."
Sam looks a little like he's being strangled and it is so time to get out of here.
"We'll see you around," Dean says, and they start for the door. At the entrance to the lab, they pass a man they both recognize from the battlefield the day before, a half dozen manila folders in his hand.
"Booth," Sam mouths, and without further discussion, they both speed up to as fast as it's safe to go without attracting attention.
The squints seem to be in some sort of squabbly uproar when Booth reaches the platform. Booth climbs the steps and waits for someone to notice he's arrived.
And waits. And waits.
And then he clears his throat. And still nothing. Zach and Hodgins are fighting over who's responsible for something not being where it's supposed to, and Angela seems to be looking for something, too, checking her pockets and frowning. And Brennan is apparently tuning all this out, bent over her work.
"Hey, Bones," Booth says. "I got those files you –"
"It's about time," she says, holding a hand out. "Zach, see if you can match the injuries to those on the victims' femur and tibia. Angela—"
"Dentals. Yeah, sweetie, I'm on it." She takes the files, hands two of them to Zach, and goes to work.
Booth follows Brennan across the platform, almost trips on—well, he's not sure what. There doesn't seem to be anything there to have tripped on.
"You know," Brennan continues, and Booth has the feeling he's in trouble, though he cannot imagine for what. "I really don't appreciate you sending a couple of over-eager novices with no sense of procedure to check up on me. You'll know when I know anything, and we're processing the evidence as fast as we can without compromising it."
Booth frowns. "What are you talking about, Bones? I didn't send anyone over here."
"Well, somebody from the FBI did," Brennan counters, bending over her work again. "Agents . . ." she trails off. Bones is really not good at remembering the names of people she meets while they can still breathe.
"Hill and Beard," Angela supplies.
Booth raises an eyebrow. He know three Agent Hills – one in Kalamazoo – and one named Beard, and he didn't send any of them over to the Jeffersonian this morning. And then it dawns on him. "Wait, aren't those the names of—?"
"Yeah. They clearly said that you'd sent them. That it was your idea of a joke. Hill and Beard."
Booth takes a step closer to Angela and looms at her slightly. "And you believed that I sent total strangers, knowing it would piss off Bones, in the middle of a serial murder investigation, as a joke?"
Angela starts to answer, then stops. "Well, when you put it like that . . . no, that really doesn't make any sense at all, does it?"
"No," says Booth, not backing down just yet. "No, it really doesn't."
"I knew it!" Hodgins breaks in. "I knew who they were the moment they showed up!"
Booth is fairly certain the answer is not exactly going to provide any usable information, but despite that he asks, "And who is that?"
"Men in black, dude. Something's going on here, something they don't want us to know about." He gestures a bit wildly.
"Okay," Booth says. "Let's get back to the realm of non-fiction. Start at the beginning," he tells Angela, "and tell me everything. And get security up here. I think we're going to need them."
"Well, that went well," Dean says, dryly. He drops onto the bench next to Sam, handing him one of the sausage dogs he's just purchased from a street vendor.
Sam decides against saying I told you so. He also decides against eating a sausage dog from a street vendor, though Dean is attacking his with gusto.
"I think we're gonna have to talk to the chick," Dean says, with his mouth full.
"Which one?" Sam asks.
"The hot one, not the crazy one."
Sam gives his brother a look. "Which one?" he asks again. Because he'd put both of them solidly in both categories.
Dean's grin probably means he would, too. "The first one. Angela. She's a crazy I know how to handle."
"Yeah? And how exactly are you planning to talk to her? That was close, Dean, and it's not like we can go strolling back in there."
Dean pulls an envelope from his pocket and hands it to Sam. "Don't worry, Sammy. I've got a plan. You gonna eat that?" he asks, and takes the sausage dog back without waiting for Sam's reply.
It's been a weird ass day from start to finish, and Jack Hodgins says that as someone who categorizes what most people would call "weird ass" as "Tuesday." (Like searching for clues in bear shit, or putting a frozen pig through a wood chipper.) All on top of the general heightened pressure and stress of having a half dozen bodies in the lab, now positively identified as the six people missing from the Manassas mall.
He lost count of things that had gone missing and then somehow wound up in the wrong place. The lab's been so cold he actually watched one of Angela's rings fly off her finger while she was talking to the one of the guys from the FBI. One of the guys from the real FBI, not the tall guys who only claimed to be from the FBI and who Hodgins is sure are from some other Agency, even if Booth has been shooting that theory down all day with increasingly terse denials. And fake FBI agents is a whole new level of weird ass.
The FBI and Jeffersonian security have been crawling all over the lab, interrupting everything with questions. The computers have gone down six or seven times, and Zach's web browser kept winding up on Justin Timberlake's Official Website, and as much as Hodgins would like to tease Zach about that, he's pretty sure the kid has no idea who Justin Timberlake is.
This last, though . . . Hodgins has no idea how it happened. What should have been a routine and completely benign chemical experiment had gone off with a bang. Quite literally. And there's no way he or Zach was that careless with chemicals, there's no reason for Brennan or Booth or Angela to be using them, there wasn't anyone else in the room when it happened. He's pretty sure he was lucky not to lose his hands in that explosion. The whole lab still smells scotched, and his throat still feels like he took sandpaper to it. He's willing to bet he hasn't yet gotten all the bits of glass out of his hair.
"Hey," Angela says, dropping her bag on the coffee table and sitting in the chair next to the couch he's taken over up in the lounge. "You okay?"
"Yeah," he says, "yeah. Fine."
She gives him what he's come to think of her you can cut the crap now look.
"All right," he concedes, "I'm annoyed."
"Well, you were almost blown up."
"And for no rational reason," Hodgins says. "I've been over it, Angela, and there's no way that happened."
Angela reaches forward and pulls a piece of glass out of his hair, hands it to him. "Pretty sure it did, though, Jack."
"Right." He drops the glass on the table and scrubs his hands over his face. "Shouldn't have, couldn't have, and did. It's a quandary." He doesn't like quandaries.
"Well, it is time and past time to go home," Angela says. "We'll figure it out in the morning."
"Yeah," Hodgins says. Home, where nothing explodes and he can control the thermostat. Home sounds pretty good right now. "Hey, did you ever find your phone bill?"
Angela shakes her head. "No big deal, though. I probably left it on my kitchen counter. It's another thing for tomorrow."
"You want a lift? Zach is staying late to figure something out."
"I don't want you to have to—" she starts, and Hodgins cuts her off.
"Come on, you're not really out of my way, and you should not have to wait for the metro tonight."
Besides, he's not quite ready to be alone.
Angela smiles. "Sure."
Sam stops dead in his tracks and stares at his brother. "This is your plan? You wanna break into this woman's apartment?"
"Yeah." Dean continues down the street. "It should be around here somewhere." He turns back. "You coming or what, dude?"
Of those two options, Sam thinks or what is sounding pretty good. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Since when are you bothered by a little breaking and entering, Sammy?"
"Um, since you added the part where we wait for the owner to get home and try to talk to her."
"Technically, I think she'd be the tenant."
"Not really the point, Dean. Look, she'll know we aren't FBI agents by now. She will probably call the police. Even if we don't get arrested, we'll never get her to cooperate."
Dean pats Sam on the shoulder. "Yeah, well, I'm counting on you to be persuasive."
Sam shrugs his brother's hand off his shoulder. "Dean, there is no way this is going to work."
"I'm not seeing a lot of options here, Sam. We need to talk to someone who has access to that building. She's the best choice. We know of two places she'll be – that museum and this apartment. What do you wanna do? Try to stalk her around DC? Pick a Starbucks and hope she eventually wanders in for coffee? Now let's go, Sammy."
Sam bites back his sigh and follows Dean. There's no way this ends well.