"Your unsub has a rap sheet a mile long, Sugar," she said to Morgan over the phone. "I wouldn't expect him to go down without a fight."
"Thanks, Baby Girl. I'll let Hotch see this information you sent over."
She broke the connection with him and turned back to her work for the BAU team currently out on the field. After digging around for a few hours, she finally got somewhere and called the team leader to report her findings. As she was hanging up the phone, one of her monitors began to blink a message at her. Quickly, she clicked on the box and it brought up one of the forums she had been keeping tabs on, per Director Strauss' orders.
She scanned the most recent posts, and very soon realized why her computer had reacted. The people in the thread were discussing a transaction of some sort, and from what she could make out, what code words she remembered from trawling the boards, it was most likely a biological agent. Before her eyes, she saw the deal be finalized, and she frantically began to trace the seller, hoping beyond hope she could get his actual address. While she did that, she printed out the entire thread to have a hard copy, knowing it could disappear at any moment.
Shaking slightly, she tried to calm her nerves. Despite working on this for months, she'd never caught a break like this. Normally, these guys were too cautious to be so open about what they were doing. This little slip up could save so many lives in the long run, and she knew she had to do her very best, most careful work. There was no way she was letting this slimy bastard slip back through the cracks.
Finally, her back-hacking got her somewhere, and she had a name and address for the seller. The buyer, though, was another story. Despite her best efforts to trace him, all she got was a wall of nothing. Frustrated, she tried another way to get at him, only to come up with the same results. After two fruitless hours, she switched to looking at just what they were exchanging.
As she found what she was looking for, the blood drained from her face. Apparently, the code word for ricin had changed in the week since she'd checked on the activity of the board, and that was what they had agreed to sell to this unknown buyer. Frantically, she gathered up all the information she had gathered on what was going to happen in a few days and left her office. She got in the elevator and rode up to the floor Strauss' office was on, and when it stopped, she was the first one out, pushing past the others in the car.
She raced down the hall, only to see the light in Strauss' office snap off, and Penelope knocked as hard as she could, a quick staccato beat, hoping she would be answered. To her relief, the lights came back on and then the door opened abruptly.
"Can I help you, Ms. Garcia?" Director Strauss asked frostily, looking her up and down.
Ignoring the tone of voice, Penelope pushed her way inside, almost slamming the door shut behind her. Taking a deep breath, she brushed her hair back and turned to look at her superior. "We have a major problem here, Ma'am. Remember a few months back when you asked me to keep tabs on that web forum you thought might be trading in bio-warfare weapons?" Strauss nodded tightly. "Well, I got a hit tonight."
"Oh, my god. Do you have any clue on what is going to happen?" she asked, a note of terror creeping into her voice.
"Only slightly. Do you want to start with the slightly bad news or the really bad news?" she asked, subconsciously trying to add a bit of levity to a grave situation.
"The really bad news."
"The unsub negotiated a sale of ricin, and I have no idea who he is or where he lives."
"And the slightly bad news?"
"Though I don't know when the exchange is going to happen, or where, I do know who the seller is. He's a PhD candidate at MIT. He's working on biological agents at the moment, already has a position with the CIA once he completes his doctoral work. There's nothing in his background that would indicate the need for him to deal with terrorists."
Director Strauss' face was stark white when Penelope finished speaking. Slowly, she indicated for Penelope to sit, and she did, still hanging on to the files she had collected. Strauss took a seat across from her, staring into her eyes. "Did you find anything on this man that would indicate that he's violent?"
"No, though everything points to him being a loner. He's made no social networking connections that I can find, even under another name. And there's nothing to indicate he's on to us being on to him. I'm almost certain that if you were to take him into custody, he'd give up our unsub. Who knows what else he's planning."
Strauss finally took the files from Penelope. "You've done good work here, Ms. Garcia. Pray to God we catch them in time."
"I already have been, Ma'am." She got up and left the room, concern furrowing her brow. Like a wraith, she made her way back to her office to pick up her coat and purse, then she made her way out to Esther. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said as she ran into someone, not really looking where she was going.
"Garcia, is everything all right?"
She looked up into the concerned face of her boss, and without warning began to cry. He put an arm around her shoulder, and she leaned into the embrace, burying her face in his shoulder. "I thought, I thought you were still in the field, Sir."
"Jack got sick and I had to come home early. I was just stopping by to get some paperwork. Now, what is going on with you?"
"I may have stopped a terrorist. But I'm not sure if I got the information to Strauss in time. What if, what if a lot of people die because I wasn't fast enough, good enough?" She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She pulled away from him to look up into his face. "Does it always feel like this when you do something good?"
"When we don't know what the outcome is, it can. Are you going to be all right?"
She sighed. "I think so. Thanks, Hotch." She smiled a little at him, and he squeezed her shoulder gently.
"Try to get some sleep. I know it won't be the easiest, but you do good work, so be confident that you were able to get there in time. We have, I have faith in you."
Her smile brightened a little, and she walked to her car in a slightly better mood. That had faded somewhat by the time she got to her apartment. There was no one there to pick her spirits up, not since Kevin had taken that job overseas months ago. This time, when he'd wanted to go, she knew she couldn't hold him here. It was really better this way, she hadn't liked not being available to her teams at all times, and he had never understood that.
After a quick shower, she crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling. Though she was exhausted, her mind refused to shut down, to give in to sleep. Finally, around one in the morning – after a glass of warm milk followed by a shot of peppermint schnapps – she went to sleep. But when her alarm woke her up the next morning, she felt like she'd hardly slept at all.
Pulling out the first thing she touched in her closet, she put it on. As she zipped the purple linen sheath dress, she stepped into a matching pair of purple pumps. Standing in front of her mirror, she twisted her hair up into a bun and pushed in a large purple flower comb to hold it. She frosted her eyes, then put on dark red lipstick. Satisfied with how she looked, she went out in the kitchen and grabbed a muffin from the tray and went outside. Getting in Esther, she drove to work on autopilot, still not completely awake.
She grabbed a cup of tea before heading up to her office. As she walked into her office, she saw that Hotch was in there already, looking at her main computer monitor. "Can I help you, Hotch?"
He turned to look at her, and she saw that he looked as tired as she felt. "Strauss wants us in her office. Bring your laptop," he said, somewhat shortly.
She went over to her desk and unlocked her middle drawer. Opening it, she pulled out her laptop and cradled it to her chest. "Lead the way, Sir."
Together, they walked over to the elevator and rode up in silence. As the doors opened, he placed a hand on the small of her back, guiding her to the office. He knocked sharply on the door, and Strauss opened it moments later. "Come in. What took you so long?" she asked as they took a seat in front of her desk.
"I didn't know I was wanted, Ma'am," Penelope replied, looking perplexedly at her.
"You never called her, Erin. She has no idea what's going on," Aaron said steadily.
"Our SWAT people moved in late last night and brought Benjamin Otto here into our protective custody. Agent Hotchner is going to interrogate him, and I want you to observe, taking notes on what he says, especially when he mentions who his buyer is. We need to find out who this person is and when the exchange is going to happen."
"And the ricin?" she hesitantly asked.
"All is safe and accounted for. You did good work last night, Ms. Garcia. Keep it up today," Strauss replied, the tiniest hint of a smile on her lips. "Now, head down to the interrogation room, you two, we need to move quickly on this."
They nodded, and got up from their seats. Out in the hallway, Hotch once more placed a hand on her back guiding her towards the stairwell. "We'll take the stairs this time. It'll be faster than waiting for the elevator," he said.
"All right," she replied, following his lead. Quickly, they went down the stairs, moving as quickly as they could. Once they were at the level they needed, Aaron opened the door, letting her enter first. There were two agents standing guard in front of a room at the end of the hall. They walked down the corridor and Aaron stopped in front of the first of two rooms.
"You'll be observing from here. Standard one way mirror to look in on us, but he won't know who is listening in. I'll be with this Otto character, trying to get the information we need from him. Don't worry about some of the tactics I use. You know who I am." She nodded and he opened the door for her.
She went in and set up her laptop, connecting to the Wi-Fi. She watched as Aaron entered the room, a frown on his face. "We know you weren't working alone. Who supplied you with the ricin?"
"I stole it. It was easy to do; I had my advisor's trust. Look, I'm not in too much trouble, am I? I-I can't afford to lose my scholarship."
"Your scholarship is the last thing you should be worrying about, Benjamin. You're looking at twenty five years to life here. You were aiding a domestic act of terrorism, for God's sake, and you want to continue schooling?"
"I had to do it! My family lost everything when my father –" He broke off his sentence, tears flowing down his face.
"When your father what? What could have happened that would make you chose to do something so heinously stupid?"
"He killed himself! He's rotting in Hell because of whore of a mistress drained all out bank accounts, leaving my mother with a mortgage, and car payments, and student loans to deal with. So what if a few people died? They're sinners anyway; it's the best justice they deserve!" Suddenly, Benjamin was very angry, the veins in his forehead bulging.
Penelope made a note in the file about his sudden mention of religion. She was startled by Aaron slamming his hands open face on the table. Benjamin jumped as well, giving Aaron a fearful look. "You will be going to Federal prison for a very long time! Do not go down alone! Who made that purchase?" he said loudly, getting right in the young man's face. She was amazed to see all the anger drain from his body, to see his shoulders slump in defeat.
"His name is Doyle Reinhart," he whispered, staring at the table.
"And where were you going to make the exchange?"
"At the Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury Indiana. I was supposed to meet him there next Tuesday, at noon. It's market day, then, and a lot of people will be there. He said no one would notice anything out of the ordinary. Obviously, someone did notice something, though, since I'm sitting here." He looked up at Hotch. "What am I going to do now?" he asked forlornly.
"You are going to conduct the exchange, like everything was all right. You'll be carrying something other than ricin, of course, but we need you to make contact with this Reinhart."
"And if I don't want to?"
"Then any clemency I might have wanted to extend to you would be revoked."
Penelope saw a tiny glimmer of hope light Otto's eyes. "I'll do anything, just don't tell my mother about this. On top of everything else, this would kill her."
"I'll see what I can do." Aaron left the room, and a few moments later reappeared on her side of the mirror. "Did you get any hits on this Doyle Reinhart?"
"Nothing really. There are a few scattered throughout the country, with about a dozen in the states surrounding Indiana. With nothing more to go on, our unsub could be anything from a pharmacist to a plumber. I'm running further checks to see if any of these twelve have any suspicious activities lately, but I doubt it." She looked at his hands, tight fists clenched at his side, and knew he was still keyed up, frustrated with their lack of something to go on, some way to get one step ahead of the unsub.
"Well, let's take what we know to Strauss. She's the one in charge of this operation after all." He led her from the room, and they waited for the elevator in silence.
A girl could really get used to this quiet confidence, she thought as she stood next to him in the small space. The doors opened, and he led her back to the Director's office. This time, he didn't bother knocking to gain admittance.
"What did you find out?" she anxiously asked, looking back and forth between the two of them. "Tell me some good news."
"We'll be rendezvousing with the unsub Tuesday in Indiana. We need to assemble a team to take Otto with us. And you were right, this does have a religious component."
"A jihad?" she asked.
"No. Otto said that he and the unsub would not look out of place at the rendezvous point."
"Yeah, it's run by some Amish or Mennonite people. Not exactly a place that screams Arab-American tourist trap," Penelope broke in. Aaron gave her a look. "What? It's not. My parents dragged me there one year – best food I'd had in a long time, but really kitschy, and that's something coming from me."
"You've been there before?" Strauss asked, fixing her with a piercing look.
"Like twenty years ago. I'm sure it's changed since then. And before you ask, no, I'm not going. As I said, it was a long time ago. What if I fu-mess something up? No, I don't want that kind of responsibility on my shoulders," she stammered out, looking desperately at Hotch.
"Wait outside, Ms. Garcia," Strauss frostily said, and Penelope quickly left the room, her face burning in embarrassment. Through the closed door, she could hear muffled voices, raised in anger, and she stared at the floor, trying not to cry.
The door opened suddenly, and Aaron stalked out, taking her arm firmly and guiding her to the elevator. "We're going to lunch."
"It's only 11:30," she protested as they got in the elevator.
"We don't have a choice in the matter," he said, refusing to look at her.
Hurt, she drew away from his side, hunching her shoulders a little. They stopped by her office and she grabbed her purse from her office. On her way back out, she bumped into Morgan, and he stopped her. "Are you okay, Baby Girl?"
She pulled away from his light touch. "I'm fine, but I have to go. I'll talk to you later." She went and stood next to Aaron, who as just finishing speaking with JJ. "I'm ready to go, Sir," she said, not looking at either of them.
"We'll be back in a few hours," he told JJ, then took Penelope's arm, pulling her alongside him at a fast clip. He kept the pace up until he reached his car. Opening her door first, he waited for her to get in before he got in himself. The drive to the restaurant was silent, neither wanting to break in and speak.
Finally, he pulled into the parking lot of a somewhat busy restaurant. He moved to take her arm again, but she pulled away from him and he settled for placing his hand on the small of her back. At his request, the hostess sat them in a secluded corner of the eatery. After they'd ordered, he looked at her, taking her hand in his.
"Before you say anything, hear me out, Penelope. I have no choice in this, and neither do you. Once you told Strauss you were familiar with our meeting place, you were doomed to go there. I know it's changed since then, and so does she, but you've been there nonetheless. We're going to Indiana."
Her head shot up and she looked at him intently. "We, Sir?"
He nodded. "I told Strauss I wasn't going to make you go alone. Our team will be heading up the extraction. When we get back to the office, we're going to brief the team on what's going to happen on Tuesday, then we're heading out there with a small SWAT squad. Strauss feels that the fewer people we send in, the better. But she does want us to get a feel for the layout of this place, not to enter blind. What makes this even more delicate is that Otto is going with us."
"Thank you, Hotch." She smiled at him and squeezed his hand. "I suppose I reacted badly, didn't I?"
"Perhaps just a little," he replied. They ate quickly and got back to the office, both in a much better mood than when they had left. As they walked into the bullpen, he said loudly, "My team, to the round room, please."
He and Penelope took seats towards the far end of the table, waiting for the rest of the team to join them. JJ was the last one in, and she shut the door behind her before taking a seat. Hotch looked around the room at them, taking in their looks that ranged from quizzical to slightly angered. He cleared his throat and began to speak. "Late last night we apprehended someone trying to sell ricin into the general public. Through interrogation, it was revealed where the sale was going to take place. Director Strauss has asked us to go and capture this person and bring them back here. What I am about to say does not leave this room. Once we have the unsub in custody, JJ is to release a statement saying he died in a tragic car accident, and we are looking to notify the next of kin. Those orders come from Director Strauss herself, so who knows what is going to happen next. I'll be heading this mission up, and as soon as the SWAT have our seller ready, we head out."
"Where are we heading to?" Reid asked.
"Middlebury, Indiana. Das Dutchman Essenhaus, to be specific," he responded. "Once we get there, Garcia will help us get acquainted with the lay of the land. Strauss wants us to know as much about this place before the deal is supposed to go down. This is our opportunity to take down a major home-grown terrorist cell."
"Do we know if this has a religious component?" Emily asked.
"Yes. Otto, the supplier, is a devout, right-wing conservative Christian. Think along the lines of Fred Phelps, not Joel Osteen. At this point, our best guess is that the unsub has the same beliefs as Otto, though we won't know for certain until we get the unsub into custody."
A knock came on the door before it opened. "Agent Hotchner, my team is ready and assembled on the tarmac with our package. Whenever you and your team are ready, we can head out."
Aaron looked around at his team. "You heard the man. Wheels up in thirty. We have four days to make certain this goes perfectly." He stood and the rest of the team followed suit, exiting the room. They went their separate ways, and Penelope followed Aaron to his office.
"Just one quick question before I get ready. Who's taking care of Jack while we're gone?"
He sighed and looked down at his son's picture on his desk. "Thank you for asking. I would have forgotten to call Jessica to tell her about what's going on these next few days. Everything's just happened so quickly. See you in a few."
She left the office and went to her own. She added her laptop to her go bag, along with a few other things she thought she might need, and then went out into the bullpen. Morgan was there, waiting for the others, and she went up to him. "Sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to be so short with you."
"No problem. So, you get to come with us? Fun stuff."
"Not really. I feel like Strauss is expecting a lot out of me, since I was the one to catch this before it went down. What if I screw up again, Derek?"
"You won't screw up, Baby Girl, I promise. We'll be by your side the entire time. Let's go get on the plane before all the good seats are taken," he said with a smile she couldn't help returning, and she linked her arm through hi, walking outside.
The plane trip to Indiana was short, and once they were back on the ground, they split up into separate vehicles. Penelope ended up in the passenger seat of the car Aaron chose, with Morgan and Reid in the back seat.
"What, no black SUVs available in Indiana?" Morgan asked.
"Strauss wants us to be as inconspicuous as possible. From what I gather, we're supposed to get rooms as close as we can to the restaurant."
"That would be the Inn right on property," Garcia said, looking out of the window at the fields as they went by. "Hopefully we can get rooms this time of year."
"If we have to bunk together, we will," Hotch replied, never taking his eyes off the road. They soon lapsed into silence, and the monotony of the landscape lulled Penelope to sleep in short order. She was startled awake by a gentle shaking of her shoulder. "Penelope, we're here." Hotch smiled at her, "We do have to share room. You're with JJ and Prentiss on the second floor. Here's you key."
"How long have I been asleep?"
"A few hours. I thought you should get some rest, you looked really tired when you came in this morning. Morgan brought your bag up already, and we're planning to head out to supper in a few minutes."
She sat up and stretched, then got out of the car, taking the key from his outstretched hand. "Room 215, meet us down in the lobby in seven minutes." She nodded and went inside, climbing the stairs and finding her room. She slid the key card through the reader and opened the door.
"So, are we getting a cot or sharing one of the beds?" she asked after surveying the room.
"Sharing. The cot was another thirty dollars, and it's not like we're the shyest of people. So, Pen, do you wanna bunk with me or JJ?"
"Which one of you is the soundest sleeper? I tend to move around a bit when I sleep."
JJ raised her hand. "Looks like you're with me this time, Garcia. The bed closest to the window."
Penelope smiled and ran her fingers through her hair. "Ready to go to supper, girls?"
They nodded and made their way back down to the lobby. The rest of the team was already there, and they walked together over to the restaurant. After a short wait, they were seated, and their orders taken.
"So, tomorrow morning, Garcia's going to show us around the grounds here. Once we have a feel of the land, we'll plot out who goes where, including young Mr. Otto," Hotch said lowly, letting the din of the room swallow up his words. One by one they nodded in agreement. "Once everything's in place, we do a dry run through – first during the day, then at night. We have no idea who might be watching and we don't want to attract attention."
They settled into more mundane conversations, and Penelope turned to Hotch. "So, who are you bunking with?"
"Morgan. We drew straws, and ended up paired that way. Listen, when this goes down Tuesday, I don't want you anywhere else but in your room. If something goes wrong, I just, I don't want you getting hurt again."
"But if I could help, I want to be there. I'm a big girl, Hotch, I can take care of myself."
He took her hand in his. "Penelope, I understand that, but if anything should happen to me, you're Jack's legal guardian."
She looked up at him in surprise. "And when were you planning on telling me this?"
"Soon, I suppose. There's just something about this case that makes me uneasy. No matter what happens Tuesday, it won't be the end."
Penelope sighed. "All right, Hotch, I'll stay back. Just don't use that as an excuse to take unnecessary risks," she replied.
The rest of the meal flew by, and they made their way back to the Inn. "See you in the morning, ladies," Morgan said as he and Hotch turned in to their room. Reid and Rossi had chosen to stay in the lobby in front of the fire discussing the religious aspects of the case. JJ opened their room, and they all entered together.
"I call dibs on the bathroom first!" Prentiss called out, grabbing some pajamas from her bag.
Penelope shrugged and grabbed her pajamas out of her bag. "Promise not to peek if I change right here? I usually shower in the morning."
"I won't if you won't peek at me."
"Deal." She quickly changed and then put her clothes in her bag. "So, are you a left hand or right hand side of the bed person?"
"Usually the right, but I can sleep wherever. Do you, are you going to be all right with this case?" JJ asked as she crawled into bed.
Penelope took a seat on the bed, wrapping her arms around her knees. "It's weird being the one to find a case, Jayje. And Strauss expects nothing less than perfection. I've been lucky so far, but what happens when that luck runs out? I don't want any of you to get hurt because I made a mistake."
"Pen, you're the Oracle of All Knowing. If this is what your intel said, I'm ready to run with it," Emily said as she emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her hair.
"Thanks, Em. If you two don't mind, I'm going to turn in now. I didn't get much sleep last night, and the nap in the car wasn't exactly restful." She stretched out under the covers and turned on her side, setting her glasses on the bedside table. Her eyes fluttered for a moment, then closed, letting sleep take her.
She woke up early the next morning and quietly got out of bed. She pulled out the most sensible outfit she had packed and went into the bathroom. After a quick shower, she got dressed and went downstairs. She took a chair in front of the large picture window and watched the sun come up over the horizon.
"You're up early. Want to go on a morning run with me?" Morgan asked as he came up beside her.
"In this outfit? Not on your life, Sugar. Have a nice time." She settled further back in the chair, watching as Morgan ran past the window.
"Thanks, Rossi," she said, taking the mug from his extended hand. "It shouldn't be too busy today. It's Saturday, but the flea market isn't open, which is a large tourist draw. Did anyone get from Otto where the handoff is going to be?"
"The willow tree by the pond out front. Odd that he would choose such an open spot for something like this."
"Not really. Willow trees are great concealers – the branches falling to the ground and all," she replied. "Do you want to go look at the spot with me? I kind of want to reacquaint myself with the layout before I have everyone following my lead."
Rossi nodded, and held out his hand, helping her to stand. Together, they strolled out onto the property. There were a few people out and about, and they nodded to those they passed. Once over the covered bridge, Penelope stopped and gazed at the pond, focusing in on the willow.
"There's really not much cover here, which is probably why our unsub chose this place. Nowhere to hide a sting operation. Unless…"
"We 'borrow' one of the buggies. There are regular trips along this path, if I remember correctly. So, if we have one going by at noon, it wouldn't look out of the ordinary. Most likely we could get four people plus the driver in one. So, if we got you, Morgan, Prentiss, and Hotch to be the passengers, Reid could be the driver. We should get him in touch with the stables to work on how to drive a pair. Does this make any sense?"
Rossi nodded. "It's a great plan, Kitten. You've taken the weaknesses of the spot and turned it into strength." He patted her back gently, then slipped his arm through hers. "Let's go get the others and work through this idea of yours."
They went back to the Inn, going to the lobby again. One by one, the rest of the team joined them. Morgan was last, and he took a seat next to Penelope on the couch. Rossi nodded encouragingly at her, and she cleared her throat. "So, Rossi and I went to check out where the exchange is going to happen. Great for the unsub, horrible for us. All open space, nowhere to hide and watch, really. However, there is one very big plus for us, and that's the buggy path. The last time I was here, those ran every forty-five minutes. So, I thought we could stick Morgan, Hotch, Prentiss, and Rossi in the buggy and have Reid drive the team. When the time comes for the exchange, you all can ride by in the buggy and take the unsub down."
"Uh, Garcia, there's only one small problem with your plan. I know absolutely nothing about how to drive a buggy," Reid said.
"Already thought of that. I'm certain the people in the stable would be more than willing to teach you, since it's for a good cause." She smiled sweetly at him, shrugging her shoulders a bit.
Hotch placed a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up at him. "Let's go check this place out now. While it sounds good, we'll need to see about the ease of execution."
"Can we do that after breakfast?" Morgan asked, and Reid nodded in agreement.
Hotch sighed. "Fine. By the pond in ninety minutes."
Penelope watched the others move off towards the conference room where the continental breakfast had been laid out. "Not going to breakfast, Sir?" she asked quietly.
"No, I'm not really hungry," he said as he took a seat next to her. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that our unsub chose the most inconvenient place for us to do a sting operation on. It seems like he's much more intelligent than Otto."
"For sure, Boss Man. Do you really think my idea is a good one? I know it's a little unorthodox, but…"
"You're not exactly the most orthodox person there is, Penelope. It sounds plausible, we'd just have to execute it to see if it will run as well as you make it sound."
Penelope stood up. "I'm going back outside," she said, rubbing her arms lightly.
"What's wrong?" he asked, standing as well.
"I don't know. Now I'm starting to get the heebie-jeebies, Hotch. Thanks a lot."
"You came up with a plan and made it real for you. Now your brain is thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong. Eventually, you'll come to the worst case scenario, forgetting that the real package is safe under lock and key at Quantico."
"Okay, you need to get out of my brain, Boss Man," she said with a nervous laugh, trying to look anywhere but at him. As she brushed past him, he reached out and took ahold of her arm. She looked up at him, unable to hide her look of fear.
"Everything will go perfectly. We're trained for situations like this," he said as he calmly looked at her. She nodded and pulled away from him, but he didn't let her go. "While we're alone, I have one more thing to talk to you about. Let's walk." Putting her arm through his, he led her outside. "So, what do you know about deep cover?"
"Only that you have to cut yourself off from everything and everyone until your assignment is finished. And that it's very dangerous, since one small slip can get you and possibly others killed, and you lose the chance you had to catch the real target."
"That sums it up quite succinctly. Do you think you could handle an assignment like that?"
"I'll never have to worry about that, now will I? But if it were absolutely necessary, I could. I've learned that much about myself." She stopped and leaned back against a tree. "Why do you ask?"
"Just something Strauss wanted to know. I'm about as in the dark as you are in regards to why she wanted me to ask you that."
They continued on in silence until they reached the pond. Penelope took a seat beneath the willow, leaning back against the trunk. Closing her eyes, she let her head fall back against it, smiling to herself as she felt him take a seat next to her. "It's so peaceful here, isn't it?" she asked without opening her eyes.
"Yes, it is." They lapsed into silence once more, not wanting to lose this moment of quiet before having to put the plan into action.
The next few days passed in a whirlwind of activity. Reid quickly picked up how to drive a pair, and had even made some extra money in tips from the guests who were none the wiser as to who he was. The SWAT group had marked out their places for when the exchange would occur, and both run-throughs had gone perfectly.
Finally, it was Tuesday morning, and they all got ready for what the day would bring. The team all ate breakfast together, going over last minute details. JJ was working on her press release for later in the day. The local police had agreed to help them stage a car accident to cover up their extraction of a suspected terrorist. Everything was on schedule; all they had to do was wait, which by that time was the hardest thing to do.
At eleven, Hotch, Prentiss, Morgan, Rossi, and Reid all went to get ready for their role. Otto was in place inside the restaurant, waiting for his cue from Hotch as to when he was supposed to go to the meeting place.
Penelope had gone back up to the room, not wanting to be anywhere near a window that overlooked the willow. She settled on the bed and pulled out her laptop, connecting to the Inn's Wi-Fi, and immersed herself in her RPG. A few hours later, JJ burst into the room, Prentiss right behind her.
"Pack up, we're heading home. Reinhart is already talking and we need to make this all official," Prentiss said as she started stuffing her things in her bag.
"This is why some of us don't strew our things around the room," JJ said as she picked up her bag after zipping it closed.
Penelope powered down her laptop and stuck it back in her bag. "So, everything went okay?"
"Okay? Pen, your plan worked perfectly! Reinhart never suspected a thing; you should have seen his eyes when Reid pulled out his gun. He broke down and started confessing to him, like he was the Amish equivalent of a priest."
Penelope smiled in relief, a weight lifted off her shoulders. She picked up her bag and followed the other two out of the room. Once in the lobby, Morgan took their bags and loaded them in the trunks of their cars. She got back in the car she'd arrived in, taking her place in the passenger seat. As soon as they were underway, Hotch began to speak.
"Since Reinhart seems so eager to talk, we'll begin the interrogation once we arrive back at Quantico. Garcia, you'll be behind the glass once more, looking up everything he tells us of importance. Oh, and Strauss is extremely impressed with your plan. If you're not careful, you'll be dragged out of that tech cave of yours more often."
"It was just putting together the pieces we had into a working plan, Sir. I'm sure any of you could have come up with the same thing," she stammered, blushing slightly.
"Nah, Baby Girl, he's right. It was a great plan. Take your well-deserved props," Morgan said, patting her on the shoulder.
They had a good tail wind and were back in Quantico in no time at all. While everyone else went back the bullpen, Penelope followed Hotch down to the interrogation room, clutching her laptop to her chest.
While she got everything set up, Hotch entered the room where Reinhart sat, looking at the desk. "So, Mr. Reinhart, you have quite a story to tell us, I gather."
"Well, since I'm now, for all intents and purposes, dead, I have nothing to lose. This was a test of loyalty for me. Cox wanted to make certain The Divine Covenant was my top priority. See, I'd been questioning some of his decisions lately, including the decision to store and use biological weapons. We don't have an expert in those in our cell. Who knows what could have happened had the ricin fallen into his hands."
"And where are you located, Mr. Reinhart?"
"Rockford, Michigan. We have a church located on 500 acres of property, mostly wooded. A great place to hide things, especially weapons. We've been stockpiling for years."
"And there are other cells?"
"Scattered around the country, though only Cox know for certain where the closest ones to us are. He said it would be safer for us that way." He looked up at Hotch. "Can I at least ask you send me to a prison far away from Michigan?"
"Actually, you're being placed in protective custody until we need you to testify against this Cox. What else can you tell us about him?"
"Richard Cox, Dick to his friends. Firm believer in family values, made a failed run for governor a few years ago. Founded this branch of The Divine Covenant in the 60s, and began buying up the land around the church shortly after." He took a sip of water. "The church has been in the area since the late 1800s. It's just a front now for the true believers of the Covenant way. The entire deacon board is made up of Cox's inner coterie. All white, married men of course, with children."
"And how would one go about getting into this inner circle?"
"Espouse beliefs that are in line with Cox's. Pro family, anti-union, homophobic, racist. The more conservative, the better." Reinhart chuckled a little. "Why, are you planning on infiltrating him?"
"As a matter of fact, we are."
"Good luck, you'll need it."
Hotch got up and let in another agent. "This is Agent DeBlaay, she'll be your point of contact in Alaska. We'll get in touch when we need you. Until then, enjoy the wilderness." He nodded at the agent, who escorted Reinhart out.
He then joined Penelope in the other room. "Did his story check out?"
"All of it. From the surface, you would have no idea this guy is anything other than a model citizen. But some of his activities do go to the extreme. But there's nothing to link him with the level of terrorism he was about to unleash according to Reinhart. We're going to have to go check him out, aren't we?"
"Looks like that will be the case. I'll go take this information to Strauss; you go back up to your office. I'm sure the other teams are waiting for your expertise."
"Thanks, Hotch." She got up and quickly made her way upstairs. The rest of her day was a blur as she struggled to catch up on the backlog of information she needed to send out to the teams still on the field. As soon as she felt reasonably caught up, she turned the lights off and made her way home.
The moment she stepped into the bullpen the next morning, she knew something was up by the way Reid looked at her, then at Hotch's office. Looking up, she saw Strauss and him in there, talking animatedly about something. "What's up?" she quietly asked as she sat on the corner of his desk.
"No one knows. They've been in there for half an hour now."
"I think it has something to do with the Cox case," Prentiss said as she handed Reid a mug of coffee. "Why else would they be in there for so long?"
Suddenly, the door opened and Strauss appeared in the doorway. "Ms. Garcia, would you join us up here, please?"
Penelope nodded and went up the stairs, crossing into the office and shutting the door behind her. Hotch indicated she should sit and she instinctively chose the chair closest to the door. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, far from it. I was very impressed with your work in Indiana, and hope that it continues this way in the near future. As you know, Cox has nothing to tie him to an act of terrorism of the magnitude that was indicated by the amount of ricin ordered. So, we need to go undercover and infiltrate his group."
"And how does that apply to me, Ma'am?" she interrupted, looking at Strauss in confusion.
"We need the best computer technician out there, gathering information on this group, trying to determine where the other cells are. And that would be you."
"But I'm not married, I don't have any kids, and when I checked this morning, I was still a girl."
"I know that, Ms. Garcia. You won't be going into this alone; you'll have a partner, a family, of sorts."
Penelope looked at Hotch in shock. "You, Sir?" He nodded, and she took a deep breath before looking back at Strauss. I suppose this is non-negotiable. What do you need me to do before we head out onto the field?"
Strauss looked surprised to hear her capitulate so easily, and stammered a bit as she began to speak once more. "Well, um, you'll need to make a marriage license for the two of you, dated twelve years ago. After that, you'll need to make a birth certificate for Jack, showing you as his biological mother. You'll need documentation showing you as Penelope Hotchner. These need to be as air-tight as you can make them – there's no room for error here." She fixed her steely gaze on Aaron. "Agent Hotchner, I believe you have some things to prepare. Ms. Garcia and I need to speak privately for a few minutes." He nodded and left the room, shutting the door rather forcefully.
"I assume this is the part where I'm going to hear you say one of two things. Either 'just kidding' or 'you just passed that test with flying colors' right?" she asked fearfully.
"No, this is very much real."
"I was afraid of that."
"But, I do need to lay down some guidelines. This is already a delicate situation, but the added dynamics of a marriage, however false it may be, complicate things further. Above all else, do not let your emotions get the better of you. I know you're an emotional person, Ms. Garcia, and this will be hard for you to do. Agent Hotchner is not your real husband, though all documents will indicate such. Jack will not be your real child. Take the utmost care in being professional behind closed doors. I have faith that the two of you can bring this man and his cell to justice."
"How long will we be undercover?"
"At least nine months to a year, maybe longer depending on how things go."
Penelope looked down at her clasped hands. "Will I be able to keep in contact with everyone back here?"
"No, I'm afraid not. That could damage the investigation."
"Not even Morgan?" she cried out in anguish, seeing herself cut off from everything familiar for a very long time.
Strauss reached out and touched her lightly on the shoulder, causing her to look up at her. "Disposable trac phones, once a week, one hour, Agent Morgan alone. That's the most leeway I can allow you."
"May I at least tell them what's going on?" she asked as she tried to get control of her emotions.
"Of course. Now, we have to move quickly on this. I expect to be moving the three of you out to Michigan in three weeks' time."
Penelope blanched a bit and nodded. She stood up and went to the door, trying to plaster a happy smile on her face, even as she knew her life was about to change forever.