A/N Yeah, I know, no "Watchers" last week due to Holiday Challenge stuff, and probably not this week because this plot weasel seized me by the throat. Soon, though. I promise. And as always, these toons are not mine, and it's a pity because they would have a rockin' good time if they were ...
Showdown at Sunsplash Estates
Looking for Trouble
"So what are you gonna see the FBI about tomorrow?" Larrimore slurred.
Dugan leaned his elbows on the table. "You heard about that guy who's killing all the girls, the guy they call the Cheerleader Killer?"
Larrimore tried to light a cigarette and failed. Morgan eased the butane lighter out of the man's fingers and lit it for him. "Look at this," Larrimore groused. "All these people are into freedom–" He bellowed the word. "–and nobody fucking smokes any more. They're all too scared to get busted by the politically correct police." He glared at each of the guests in turn. "Doesn't anybody here smoke?"
"I do," Spencer Reid said, and Morgan's head about spun off his neck. "Only at home, though. I don't like to go around smelling like tobacco." He smiled faintly. "Although I guess nothing's going to stick to my clothes tonight, is it?" He stretched out slender fingers toward Stafford's pack of Benson and Hedges. "I hope that was an invitation?"
Stafford exhaled twin flumes from his nostrils. "Help yourself, kid."
As Morgan watched in stunned silence, Reid extracted a cigarette, lit it, and took a deep drag. No choking. No coughing. As though he had been doing it for years. He smiled at Larrimore Stafford when he pushed the ashtray to a position midway between the two men, but didn't look at anyone else.
"What were you saying about the Cheerleader Killer?" Emily prompted. She sounded merely curious.
"There's no damn Cheerleader Killer," Stafford snarled. "People get killed is all. Especially girls who hang out with the wrong crowd. This whole 'serial killer' thing is a bunch of goddamn woo-woo the FBI fucking made up to punch up their budget and get people good and scared. You notice they always kill them, right? These guys who are supposed to kill all those people, they're never alive for their day in court. So the law figures, well, we got this dead guy here, we'll just write off all those people who died, say Sammy Serial Killer did 'em all. Big win all the way around."
Literally hundreds of cases leaped to Morgan's mind, cases that flat-out contradicted every single thing Stafford said except for the three words, people get killed. It took a little self-control to keep his features smooth and his expression one of polite interest. For all kinds of reasons, including some legal considerations, the agents had to hold their tongues. He didn't dare look at the others. He knew they were struggling as hard as he was.
Having the clothes off helped, though. Difficult to feel official with your junk hanging out over the edge of the picnic bench.
Ha, it would serve Hotch right if he was perfectly miserable now. That'd teach him to keep his clothes on ...
"Well, Miriam Twitchell – remember Miriam, she made those mocha cupcakes for coffee hour every month? – Miriam called me last week, pretty sure she knew who the Cheerleader Killer was," Freddy Dugan replied in even tones. "She was scared, she said she was afraid that she would be killed next."
"Yeah, sure," Stafford said. "She's quite a little cheerleader, isn't she?"
Freddy rested his chin on his clasped hands. "Sounds like you don't know that she got killed on Tuesday night," he observed.
"What the fuck?" Stafford snorted. "No way. I wouldn't have missed hearing about that."
"Way," Freddy said, his voice still gentle. "She remarried a few years ago. Did you know that? Her husband was Burt Russell – you know, the family that got slaughtered the other night."
Something undefinable shone on Stafford's face. "No," he whispered. "Miriam Twitchell was in that – that massacre?" Then he shook his head vigorously. "But she wasn't killed by that so-called Cheerleader Killer, right?"
"Well, that's what the FBI wants to talk to me about. They're looking at the idea that the same person – or people – who are killing young girls are also slaughtering whole families. Did you know that six families were all wiped out in the same way? And three of them had family members who attended Living Waters with you and me and Miriam – and Everett and Marcie and their kids."
Morgan recognized "Everett and Marcie" from Freddy's earlier conversation as Brian Stafford's parents.
"But not all six, right?" Larrimore Stafford seemed desperate for something to hang his denial on.
"No, not all six. But one of the first – one of the three who weren't from Living Waters – was Scotty Benjamin's great-aunt in Texas."
There was a long, painful silence, then Stafford's eyes narrowed. "Nettie, I want you to go get your pants on and go home. Take the truck. I'll get home anyhow."
"Goddammit, now, Lynnette. Listen to me when I'm talkin' to you!"
"Larry!" It came out in three distinct syllables: Lay-uh-ree!
Morgan climbed free of the picnic table. "I'll walk you to the door," he said.
Storm clouds appeared on Larry's face. "You keep your fucking hands off my–"
"Jesus, man, chill," Morgan snarled. "She's not my type, honey."
"Are you insulting my wife?"
Oh, God, please forgive me for this one–
"Hell, no, man. I mean I'm more into, you know, my boy Aaron there!" Not daring to look in Hotchner's direction – hell, in any team member's direction – he inhaled deeply and blurted, "Why the hell you think I don't let anybody else see what I got there? You think he's wearing those panties 'cause, like, red's his color?"
He spun on his heel – a bare heel in grass sure felt different – and stalked toward the kitchen door. "I got your back, Lynnette, honey," he said. "I'll walk you to the door."
As they made their way through the kitchen and out into the living room, Lynnette said, "I shoulda realized a hot-looking guy like you would be – you know, one of them."
"Nah," he said with a chuckle, "I'm just playing with his head. I'm strictly into chicks, honey. And it's gonna take me hours to get Aaron calmed down when this mess is over." He watched her struggle into her too-tight little denim shorts. "How do you think Larry is gonna get back to Sarasota?"
She picked up her husband's jeans off the floor and shook them until his keys fell out to the carpet with a rattle and a thud. "I could give a damn," she said. "Probably gonna call Brian to come get him. They were on the phone half the goddamn day. If he wasn't such a goddamn horndog all the time, I'd guess that he's the one into boys."
The instant Lynnette was out the door, Morgan lunged for his phone and speed-dialed Rossi in Tampa.
"Brian's uncle had a long conversation with Brian today," he reported. "And we have reason to believe that Brian and Scott are headed this way. They may try to get past the guard at the gate by some ruse or other. Did Garcia get you all their vehicle data?"
"We got it," Rossi confirmed, "and we have three – no, four of their seven RVs located and under surveillance. Did Prentiss and Reid show up?"
"Sure did, man. You could have freakin' warned us they were coming–"
"Between us, Derek? Man to man? Nobody was sure that Reid would actually go through with it. Emily kept explaining to him about how he would be able to intellectualize it and after a couple minutes he wouldn't even notice it, but he had his doubts."
"Well, it is a fact that after a couple minutes you really don't notice unless something comes up to make you think of it." He heard an ill-muffled snicker on the other end of the line. "OK, let me rephrase that: '… unless something occurs to make you think of it.' Jesus, Rossi, you have a filthy mind."
That's what my ex-wife used to say. Did Aaron tell you that we have FDLE folks in there on the ground?"
"Well," Rossi said patiently, as to an idiot. "Of course."
"I don't see you out here stripping down, Rossi."
"Yeah, well, I forgot to iron my ass this morning."
Morgan chortled. "Maybe that's Hotch's excuse."
There was a brief pause, then, "Aaron … is still dressed?"
"Well, not the whole suit thing; he's down to running shorts and his tee, but, yeah. And I got to be fair, I know it's the scars, and part of me can't blame him."
"Although I doubt that you've let that stop you from jerking his chain every chance you get."
"Hell no, man – guilty as charged!"
He rang off and started back toward the yard. He met Freddy in the kitchen, pouring water from the refrigerator jug into Aaron's beer bottle.
"Hey," the Reverend Freddy said, "I hope I wasn't too harsh or too easy with Larry out there."
"You did fine, man," Morgan assured him. "Sounded perfectly natural. One thing you can do for me, though, is you can get Larry out of here for a few minutes. We need to have a little conference. No more than ten, fifteen minutes, tops. We have people watching the house, so you won't be at any risk from Larry."
He expected the retired pastor to express surprise that Larrimore Stafford might be a threat, but Dugan merely nodded. "It's that family loyalty," he said. "I think that Larry is probably pretty sure now that the boys are killing the girls, but he can't make the leap to the family killings. But he'll never give them up – he's been cleaning up his kid brother's mistakes and going to bat for Everett's problem kid his whole life. He might tan Brian's hide privately, but he'll never, ever let him get arrested. Not if there's anything he can do to stop it."
"We think Brian and Scotty are on their way here."
Freddy nodded again, neither visibly surprised nor concerned. "I gathered that when he told Nettie he could get a ride home. He knows Rosie and I don't do much highway driving these days. And I was expecting them to start moving this way when I told Larrimore that I was going to the FBI." He popped the caps off two more Rolling Rocks and grasped all three of the bottles between his fingers. "Give me five minutes and I'll take him over to look at the plans for the putting green."
~ o ~
Once Freddy and Larry were safely off, towels on their shoulders and flip-flops on their feet, to look at the resort's development plans and maybe to take a quick dip in the pool, Morgan opened up his computer, connected to the Dugans' Wi-Fi, and the team gathered around.
Penelope Garcia flashed her usual bright smile, her usual cat glasses and hair doodads, her usual costume jewelry.
And also a sensational set of bared boobs.
"Hey," she said, her tone just a little less confident than her smile. "Just my way of showing support for my team." She raised her clenched fist. "You know, like, Solidarność, baby."
"Baby Girl," Morgan sighed, "you're crazy, you know – and I love you."
"You're amazing, Garcia!" Prentiss exclaimed.
"Yes, I am," Garcia replied. "Now hurry on home, my pretties. The air conditioning is playing hell with my nipples."
Prentiss nudged Morgan gently, surreptitiously.
On the other side of the notebook computer, Aaron Hotchner stood with his head bowed, looking as stricken and lost as Derek had ever seen him.
Hesitating, biting his lip, and finally raising the hem of his sweat-soaked tee.
Morgan longed to reassure him, to tell him that his scars were a badge of honor, not a cause for shame, but he knew that his words would have the opposite effect on the proud and stoic Hotchner, who demanded so much from his team, yet demanded twice that from himself. He would forever look at those wounds and think, how can I be trusted to protect my team when I can't even protect myself?
Finally he nodded, as though to himself, and murmured, "Right. Absolutely. Solidarność, baby." In one rapid, almost angry motion, he ripped off the spotless white tee shirt. The shorts followed an instant later.
Cut. Show-er. Good God, is the whole BAU show-ers? Gotta get Rossi's pants off him ...
And the scars, holy mother of God, the scars. So much longer and thicker and more ragged than Derek had imagined them.
"When we get back to the District," Prentiss breathed in his ear, "we have to go dig up that motherfucker Foyet and kill him again. Once just wasn't enough."
"Yeah," he whispered back.
Connected at last to their brain center, they pooled all the data they had gathered. They conference-called (voice only) with Rossi and the lead FDLE officer on site.
"They're in," Rossi said, suddenly. "The guard at the gate just called. They claimed to be cable company service reps, there to make a repair. He was afraid they would get suspicious, because ordinarily he would stop them if there was no work order on file, and they acted and sounded a little nervous – but FDLE told him to let them through. No weapons visible in the vehicle as it went past. Strong smell of spray paint, sloppy job of camouflaging the van, he says. Robbins, do your people have a visual?"
"Got 'em," the FDLE lead officer said. "Wearing generic tan uniforms, small van with the cable company logo. We have a couple, man and woman, walking a dog up and down Kimball. No conventional weapons, but the dog's a K-9. They've – wait, they confirm the van."
"The registration number on the van is a fake," Garcia reported. "Tags come back to a food services delivery van at FSU. Reported stolen a month ago."
"Driving past the house," Robbins of the FDLE said. "Looking for something, not sure what."
"Larry's truck," Morgan said with confidence. "Give me a sec, I'm going out there to flag them down."
"Morgan?" Hotch said warningly.
"I'm OK," Derek insisted.
Derek jogged around the house – damn, but all that jiggling felt weird! – and looked up and down the street. A few parked cars. An older black woman with iron gray hair and a broad, dimpled butt strolling along in deep conversation with a heavy-set middle-aged white man with a USMC tattoo and a mostly-shepherd dog on a leash. They waved merrily at Derek, just neighbors passing in the evening.
Brown van with the logo of the local cable provider.
Derek stepped out into the road and waved his arms, flagging the vehicle down.
The van slowed to a stop, but the two young men inside stayed inside.
Morgan walked to the driver's side, miming cranking down a window. The driver, easily identifiable as Brian Stafford, lowered his window.
Morgan grinned. "You're Brian, right? Larry and the Reverend Dugan are over at the pool. Larry and Lynnette had one of those, you know, interesting moments, and Lynnette took the truck and split."
Brian Stafford studied him from top to toe with obvious distaste. "Who are you? You a friend of Larry's?"
Derek turned on his sunniest smile, the one Garcia said could charm the birds out of any tree and the pants off of any girl. "What do you think, man?" he said, spreading his arms wide in celebration of his nakedness and his conspicuous body art. "I'm Derek Morgan, man! I'm with the fucking FBI!"
Brian smiled weakly and nodded and drove away.
"Done," Morgan announced when he arrived back in the yard. "They're heading to the pool, where Robbins and his people are set up." He could not keep the smug look off his face. "And I played it by the book, identified myself and everything."
Hotch high-fived him. "Well played, Morgan. Well-played."
~ o ~
Late in the evening, as the sun finally faded away, they gathered at poolside, sitting on their towels around a large white hexagonal table – Freddy and Rose and the four members of the BAU, all wearing flip-flops ("They breed here," Rose had explained, "like wire coat hangers and bunnies and ball point pens. Wherever you look, there will be flip-flops.") and nothing much else, drinking soft drinks from plastic cups.
They happily ceded ninety percent of the credit for the Bubba-1040 bust to the FDLE and the lucky break of finding the Reverend Freddy's connection to Miriam Twitchell Russell.
Strauss wouldn't like it.
But the kind of detailed reports that would come out of a fuller participation by the BAU?
She would have liked that even less.