Disclaimer: Criminal Minds is the property of creator, Jeff Davis, production companies, Touchstone Television, Paramount Network Television, and the Mark Gordon Company. No infringement is intended. No profit will be made.
Author's Note: Sometimes, stories appear in my brain, like a volunteer tree growing in a garden. I'm really not sure what wind blew the seed in, only that it took root, and started growing. Criminal Mindsis a favorite TV series of mine, especially because of the characterizations and character interactions. The members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit are the quintessential good guys. They endure day-to-day confrontations with the most harrowing of human evils. They manage, even when facing horrific crimes, to remain sensitive and empathic not only with victims and their families but with the killers as well.
In the real world, members of the BAU are cycled out to other units on a regular basis, and no agent is kept on a particular case for more than six months. This is to avoid the inevitable burn out of dealing the soul-crushing details of murder, rape, and destruction and also to prevent the agents from becoming obsessed with a particular perpetrator. In the fictional world, these strictures would prevent the development of an effective ensemble cast. It's also interesting - at least to me - to note that while experts believe there are 30-50 serial killers active, if the real BAU could find and stop serial killers as quickly as they do on the tv show - 20 episodes a season, 7 seasons in, adjusting for spree killers, non-serial killer kidnappings, and escaped IRA terrorists - there would be only the smallest handful of serial killers left. The BAU, fictionally, might actually put itself out of work. Now, wouldn't that be a story?
Chapter One: Rescue Me
There was a very dim light, like a nightlight or one of Jack's toys, and Haley was whispering to him.
"Aaron, wake up, please God, wake up. He'll kill me."
He flinched, trying to force himself up, awake or otherwise, to protect her. But something didn't match. His muscles, especially his chest muscles, lanced with pain as soon as he moved. It was a special kind of pain he remembered from training and at least one incident in the field. He'd been tased. Haley. He grunted, trying to move, and felt someone holding his left wrist, rubbing the inside of it gently. There was a cold, wet cloth on his forehead. The voice changed. It wasn't Haley anymore.
"Agent Hotchner? Wake up. Please wake up. It's safe, but you've got to wake up. I don't know when he'll be back. Wake up, Agent Hotchner."
Her voice was soft and low and strangely gritty, like she was getting over a cold or had a two pack a day habit. He recognized her accent as Californian. Whoever she was, she wasn't Haley. Haley was dead.
It stank like a long uncleaned urinal.
He managed to put his right hand to his brow and massage the bridge of his nose. As soon as he moved, she – whoever she was – fell silent and still.
"What's that smell?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Uh-ammonium sodium h-hydrogen phosphate," she answered, stumbling over the words. "From urine. I make it a little at a time, in case he decided not to turn on the lights again. But but it's almost three hours until they normally come on, and you're here. I thought the risk was worth it."
She was past nervous almost to terrified, but keeping herself together through sheer determination. Good. He got his eyes open and his elbow underneath him so he could prop himself up. The washcloth fell off.
The light was a jar with an inch or two of glow-in-the-dark sludge. That's where the smell came from. The woman crouched beside him on the balls of her feet, ready leap back or to the side, vibrating with tension and fear. He glanced around, but his eyes hadn't adjusted well enough to pierce the utter darkness. He had an impression of a small space, like a tiny efficiency apartment. The floor was plywood, but smooth, almost polished. He looked up at the woman beside him, and for a moment, he thought it was a trick of the light, but she turned her face a little, and it remained.
Her face was scarred – knife scars, if he guessed correctly – as if someone had drawn lines from the middle of her face to the outer edge. From the outer corners of her eyes, from her cheeks, the corners of her mouth, her chin, and three separate scars on her forehead. She'd been deliberately mutilated. It didn't fit the profile of the their unsub.
She was watching him, hardly blinking.
"Can you tell me where we are?" he asked, getting to his feet.
She released his wrist the instant he moved his arm.
"I don't . . . really know," she admitted, keeping her voice to a bare whisper. "It's where . . . where I've been for a long time, but there aren't any windows, no clocks, no calendars. It's safe from the elements. So far. And . . . you can hear him coming before he turns on the lights."
"Before who turns on the lights?"
"Him. I just call him Pygmalion," she said, rubbing her left arm with her right hand. She was missing the last finger on that hand. "Seemed silly to keep thinking of him as 'that guy'. He comes and turns on the lights when it's time for day. I think. I don't have any way of knowing if he's really using a twenty-four hour cycle. But, if it's night, he doesn't watch or listen. At least, I don't think so. Except . . ."
"Except," he repeated, urging her to speak more.
"You're here," she answered. "That's never happened before. He's never put another person in here, and he dropped you in through the hatch. He didn't leave sleeping pills for me and then bring you in the other way."
Now that sounded like their unsub.
"What's your name?" he asked. She obviously knew his. She must have looked at his badge.
She flinched and caught herself. This time, her voice was so low, he had to listen as hard as he could and read her lips.
"A-amanda. Amanda Mason."
Hotchner didn't have Reid's eidetic memory, but he recognized it as one of the possible victims of the current unsub.
"You disappeared from Long Beach more than two years ago," he said.
"Did this man, Pygmalion, did he kidnap you?"
She shook her head emphatically, then ran her hands through her hair and tucked it behind her ears. Her left hand was missing the last finger as well, and her earlobes had been cut off. This wasn't just mutilation. Someone had tortured her.
"The first man. He . . . uh . . . did things," she said, glancing up at him. From her expression, she knew he'd noticed the scars. "I don't know why, but I think he gave me to Pygmalion. He killed the others. I saw them."
"I understand," Hotchner answered. There had been a question as to how far their unsub was willing to go to secure victims. The profile showed an extremely cautious, narcissistic, obsessive compulsive man in his early forties to mid fifties. It was one thing to kidnap a woman – or a man or a child, as their case included – on one's own, taking all the risk. It was another to acquire them from a different source. The question was, were they partners?
"He . . . he took care of me," Amanda said, not meeting his eyes. "I remember a bed and monitors and IVs, and I thought I was in a hospital until . . ."
Hotchner waited while she fought for the breath to speak. If she had been here more than two years, and there'd never been another person, except for Pygmalion, who sounded and profiled as extremely remote, she would almost certain have agoraphobia and demophobia. It was incredible she was doing so well.
"There weren't any doors," she finally said, her voice almost squeaking with effort. "There's the hatch in the ceiling, but there's no other way out. Except, he has another way in."
"Amanda," he said her name firmly, and her eyes snapped up at him. She stopped shaking. How long had it been since she'd heard her own name?
"Right now, my team is looking for me," he told her. "I will tell you this: with or without their help, I am going to get you out of here."
She covered her mouth with both hands and nodded, as if terrified to make noise. He took out his cell phone and checked it. There was no reception at all. Not surprising.
"I think this is a shipping container," Amanda said. "All metal. Nothing gets through. But it doesn't get hot or cold either."
It was quite cold in there, actually, though not as cold as outside. When she put her hands down, he noticed the collar around her neck – just tight enough to meet the skin all the way around. He looked her over. She wore a t-shirt and knit pants, she was thin as a rail, but also had some muscle mass to her. She was barefoot – and missing the last toe on each foot – but on each ankle was another tight fitting band, the same as the collar. He glanced up at her face.
"Negative reinforcement," she told him. "Every morning, there are instructions. If I carry them out properly, I get food, sometimes a book or a movie. If I don't do them properly or refuse to, he shocks me."
Yes, that fit the profile of their unsub to a T. He would make sure the man spent the rest of his life in solitary confinement.
"He's panicked, Amanda. I came here to interview him regarding several disappearances," he said, keeping his tone certain and confident. "He probably tased me when I was following him to his office. I wasn't out long enough for him to take me far. We're on his property right now. My team knows where I was headed, and they will come and find me. By the time they arrive, we should either be out of here or have found a way to signal them."
"If he doesn't kill us," she whispered.
He studied the hatch above them.
"We haven't recovered any remains," he answered, sounding a little speculative now. "His property is large enough to hide them, though. His profile doesn't point to active killing or even genuine interaction with his victims. Most likely, he would close off the container and let his victim suffocate or starve."
"For the love of God, Montresor," she whispered to herself.
Agent Hotchner glanced at her, the shadow of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Even he recognized the quote, and Reid would have informed the entire team that it was from Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," when Montresor had bricked the hapless Fortunato up in a niche in the basement.
"Tell me about the ways in," he said.
She nodded, taking a deep breath.
"The hatch isn't the only way in," she told him. "There's no way he could have fit the treadmill or the hospital bed that used to be here through the hatch."
"He didn't put those in before you were here?" he asked. "Maybe before he sealed the room?"
She shook my head. "When I was first here, I was on a hospital bed while I recovered. I was restrained, but I wasn't really up to moving around anyways. He would give me a shot, and I'd fall asleep, and when I woke up, there'd be something new or something missing. Like the treadmill. And he . . . he comes and goes too quietly to be climbing in and out of the hatch."
"That's good," he said, nodding encouragingly.
He held the jar up, but the light was starting to fade.
"Try swirling it around," she suggested. "It needs contact with oxygen to glow."
He followed her instructions, and the light brightened.
"How did you say you made this?"
"I . . . uh . . . I boiled down my urine and then distilled it. It was the only thing I could figure out. Most of the time, I'm fine in the dark, but I knew sooner or later, I'd need light."
"That takes a lot of time."
She shrugged. "One thing I've got."
"What did you use for a heat source?"
She hesitated, glancing up at him and then away, and then licked her lips.
"It could help me figure out how to get us out of here," he said.
"MREs," she answered, whispering. "Sometimes, he's gone for days, so he leaves me a few. They have a chemical heating element, just add water. They get really hot, too."
"Do you have any left?"
She swallowed. "Three."
He nodded, thinking.
"I've been over the walls again and again," she told him. "At least twice each night, after the lights are turned off. Either he doesn't watch or he's okay with it."
"What have you found?"
"The cabinets," and she pointed over at them, "have a false back. It allows him to put things in or take them out. But the doors are metal and locked. From tapping on them, I think they're pretty thick."
"The shelves," she said, pointing to them. "That's where I get to keep the stuff he gives me. Books, movies, things like that."
Even in the low, greenish light, he could see her face flush hotly, and she wouldn't meet his eyes. No doubt she was embarrassed that she had cooperated with the unsub.
"Amanda." Agent Hotchner leaned in only by an inch or two, careful to keep at least a foot between them. "You have survived in here for two years. I think you may be his first victim. What you've managed is remarkable."
She hugged herself. "Is it . . ." Then she paused. "I don't know if I can leave. I don't . . . the whole world out there. I don't think I can . . ."
"It will be all right," he assured her. "Once we get you out of here, you'll be hospitalized, and then we will do everything we can to get you re-integrated into society. Now, tell me about the shelves."
"There's a gap between the back of the shelves and the next section of wall," she explained. "It's not much, but when I've listened, I thought I could hear things – movement, television, that sort of thing. Once the room was set up this way and I could get around better, I noticed that the shelves were screwed down. They hadn't been before."
"Let's look at that," he said.
While she held the jar, Agent Hotchner examined the shelves. They were made of pine – sanded, stained, and sealed. He removed the items and tugged at the shelves, gauging their strength.
"I can kick these down," he said, "but that's going to cause a lot of noise. If Parkson is anywhere around, it'll get his attention."
"Hang on," she said, and handed him the jar.
She went over to a mattress laid on the bare floor in the corner of the tiny room and put her hand down between the wall and the mattress, then reached in somewhere and after a moment of groping, pulled out a small, metal object.
It was a washer. It had been filed, probably by being rubbed against the floor or something metal over hundreds of hours, until one side was shaped like the end of a screwdriver.
"I've only gotten to try it a couple of times," she told him, "but I think it'll work. It won't stand up to much torque though, the metal's too thin."
He took it and gave it a quick inspection. Then he looked at her hand.
Very gently, he caught her right hand in his left, holding it with his thumb across her palm.
"The first man did this?" he asked.
She nodded. She held up her left hand so he could see it was the same on both.
"He, uh . . . Pygmalion," she said, "there were stubs left, but they were infected. I think he removed the last bit of bone, trimmed everything and sewed the skin together properly. He did the same on my feet and ears."
She pulled my hair back and turned my head, showing him her scarred ear and lack of earlobe.
"I have . . . a lot of scars," she said. "I'm still alive, though. And, Pygmalion . . . he did take care of me."
"You are still alive," Agent Hotchner confirmed, "and what you have done is remarkable."
A muscle in his cheek twitched just slightly, but his gaze was level and assured.
"We should get started," he said, letting go of her hand.
She nodded. "The surface of the wall is metal too," she told him. "But, I don't think it's very thick. When I tapped it, it sounded much more hollow. And it's the right dimensions for a door."
"No handle on this side," the agent remarked. "Unless he's got some serious hardware on the other side – which I doubt – I should be able to kick it in."
She held the jar up for light as he unscrewed the shelves as quickly as he could. He started with the middle shelf, knowing they could duck, and he could stomp the lower ones into splinters if necessary. Through the floor, he felt the vibration of a door opening followed by footsteps.
"He's back," Amanda whispered.
"Stay calm," Hotchner answered, his expression not changing a whit.
"It usually takes him a few minutes to turn on the lights, but-"
"Stay calm," he repeated.
Amanda shook with terror, and she looked back and forth.
"He turns on the computers first, then the lights, then the monitors, so he can see what's going on," she managed, talking as fast as she could. "He's not going to like what he sees."
The lights came on.
She put the jar down on the floor and backed up all the way to the mattress.
"I'll get us out of here," Hotchner repeated.
"I know," she panted, sitting down abruptly, "but he's going to shock me, and it's best if I'm si-"
She went into a full body spasm, arching and falling over. She'd been right to sit on the mattress. The voltage must have been turned to the maximum, and much as it horrified him, he turned immediately back to the shelves, and with a hard, splintering kick took out the bottom three. She thrashed, gagged, and choked, and it was clear the unsub intended to kill her or use the threat of killing her to subdue him. Hotchner kicked the back panel as hard as he could, knocking it in. It was just a cheap door.
His eyes hadn't adjusted to the bright lights Pygmalion had turned on, but the room the door led into was much dimmer.
"FBI! Put it down and back away from the computer!" Hotchner yelled.
The unsub grabbed at a gun, Hotchner's own service weapon, and Hotchner knocked it away, grabbed the man by his shirt, hauled him away from the desk, and slammed him to the ground. The man was flabby and had no upper body strength. His handcuffs were on the computer desk, just where his gun had been. He grabbed them, put a knee in the unsub's back, took one wrist and brought it down.
"Silas Parkson, you are under arrest for battery of a Federal agent, kidnapping, assault and battery, and attempted murder."
"NO!" the man screamed. "You can't!"
He pulled the other arm down and snapped it into the cuffs, then, keeping his knee in Parkson's back, grabbed a phone cable and yanked it free, and hogtied Parkson's ankles to the handcuffs. It didn't stop the man from squirming until he was sweaty and red in the face.
Hotchner glanced, found his gun, checked it, and holstered it. He looked at the computer system, spotted the shock trigger and made sure it was open. It felt like he'd moved at light speed, but he knew all too well how long it could take to bring a suspect down and secure them. In one of the monitors, Amanda lay, unmoving, on the mattress.
He ducked back through the door, grabbing his badge from the floor, and stepping over to Amanda. He noticed the overly smooth texture of the plywood floor again. In the time she'd been held captive, she must have walked the floor smooth.
He grabbed her by the shoulders, turned her over, and checked for breathing. No breath sounds, but he could find a heartbeat, fast and irregular. That long of a shock might have caused her diaphragm to spasm hard enough to stop breathing. He put one hand on her forehead, feeling the scars under his hand, pinched her nose shut, and opened her mouth with the other hand. Then he took a deep breath, sealed his mouth against hers, and exhaled strongly. Her chest rose.
"Come on, Amanda," he told her. "You need to breathe."
He gave her another breath.
If she didn't respond, he'd have to get her out of the container to the outside where he could call for help. One last rescue breath, and just as he started exhaling, she flopped, pushed him away with an arm, and turned over, coughing desperately. She shook with violence as she coughed, full throated and all the way to the bottom of her lungs. Then she gasped long and loud, went limp, and started breathing on her own.
He rolled her back, slipped one arm under her legs, got his cell phone out and put that arm under her shoulders, then picked her up, holding her close against his shoulder so he could get his phone to his ear. He scrolled through the numbers until it sat on Garcia's, climbed through the broken doorway and stood for a moment in the unsub's tiny headquarters.
"NO!" the man screamed again. "You can't take it. I MADE IT! You can't have it! That's stealing!"
"Shut up," Hotchner snapped.
This room was also a shipping container, but it still had the original, outward swinging doors, and one of them was left ajar. He put his back to it, shoved it open, and dialed Garcia without even checking for reception.
Chapter Two: The Cavalry Arrives
"Font of all knowledge, umbilicus of the world, Delphi ain't got nothin' on me," Garcia answered the call, "what prophesies may I lay on you today, Bossman?"
"Garcia, pinpoint my location by cell phone," Hotchner answered, and at the tone of his voice, she snapped upright, and her fingers flashed over the keyboard. "Get the team out here. I need crime scene and an ambulance as well."
"Boss, what happened?" Garcia gasped, glancing between windows on her screen, bringing up the map of cell phone towers in central California and punching in Hotch's cell phone number, then the override code. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Tell Rossi to call in a Search and Rescue team as well, with dogs. Get that ambulance out here, first priority."
"You're hurt?" Garcia asked. "How bad is it?"
"I'm fine," Hotch answered, and he did sound fine, if a little out of breath and seriously pissed off. "I've got one of the victims, and she needs immediate medical attention. The unsub is secured. This place is nothing but rows of shipping containers, and I think there may be other victims hidden in them. Can you task an infrared satellite to survey the property?"
"I'll get right on it," she answered, flicking through notifications.
"Agent Hotchner?" Garcia heard the voice over Hotchner's phone. It was a woman's, soft with weakness and near delirium.
"It's all right, Amanda." Garcia overheard Hotch tell her. "You're safe."
"Is that the sky?" the woman asked, her voice breaking.
Garcia caught her breath at the emotion in the woman's voice. Was that the sky? What was going on?
"Yes," Hotch answer simply. "It's the sky, Amanda. Garcia, call me with updates."
He ended the call.
"One of these days," she muttered to herself. One of these days, she would get used to the bizarre non-sequiturs and frantic pace after hours of wait-and-see. Probably wouldn't be today, though.
She notified San Mateo's emergency center of the need for police and ambulance at Hotchner's location, giving them both GPS coordinates as well as street address with best directions from the satellite photo of the grounds layout. There were acres, though. It looked like Hotch was on the back row, though, which was something of a break. Then she forwarded the alert to the closest field office.
She hit the speed dial for Morgan and was immediately rewarded.
"What's the word, baby girl?" he asked.
"I'm looking for something in the range of 'buckle your seatbelts, folks, it's going to be a bumpy ride,'" she replied. "I just heard from Hotch. He says he's got the unsub secured, that he's in the middle of a bunch of shipping containers, and he has one of the victims, and she needs immediate medical attention. I've got police and ambulance on the way, but Derek . . ."
In the background was a screech of tires and brakes, Emily gasping 'a little warning!', and the sirens starting.
"Whoever she is," Garcia said, putting clues together, "she hasn't seen the sky in a long time, and Hotch was . . . uh . . . he was really pissed. Like, get there quick to make sure he doesn't kill the unsub pissed."
"On my way, baby girl."
Derek hung up, and Garcia dialed Rossi while logging into the DoD's mainframe and clicking through screen after screen to get to satellite tasking.
Morgan was not a proponent of defensive driving. His approach was more offensive driving than anything else, and heaven help the inanimate object that got in his way.
"There!" Emily said, pointing.
Behind them, an ambulance turned in a follow-the-leader tear down the packed dirt aisles.
Hotch stood a few yards away from an open shipping container, holding a limp woman with long ash blonde hair in his arms.
Morgan slammed the SUV to halt, threw it in park, and was out the door in half a second with Emily right behind him.
"Are you all right?" Prentiss asked, gun and flashlight in hand.
"I'm fine," Hotch said curtly. "Unsub is Silas Parkson. He's in there, cuffed and bound. Secure him in the vehicle, and then start opening up containers."
The ambulance skirted the SUV and pulled up with a crunch of gravel. It shut its siren off but kept the lights going. The woman in Hotch's arms began to struggle.
"Amanda," Hotch said, holding her closer. "I need you to hold still. You may be badly hurt, and I don't want you to strain your heart."
She stopped struggling and went limp again, turning her face towards his shoulder.
Emily and Derek shared a glance of 'what the hell?', and pulled the container's doors wide open. Inside was a pigsty of computer and video equipment, print outs, drawings, journals, and a fat man thrashing on his belly, trying to get some leverage to turn over.
"Don't even think about it," Derek snapped.
"He took my work!" the man yelled. "You have to stop him!"
Both of them holstered their weapons. Derek pulled out a knife and cut off the cable Hotch had hobbled Parkson with.
"On your feet," he ordered Parkson.
He and Emily each took an arm and dragged him from the container. As soon as they were outside and Parkson could see Hotchner laying the victim on an ambulance gurney, he started screaming again – a mix of incoherent rage and claims of ownership.
"Shut him up!" Hotchner barked.
The victim grabbed at Hotchner's hand and held tight.
"Don't let him, don't let him-"
"You're safe," Hotchner insisted. "He's in custody. He can't hurt you again."
Emily opened the door to the SUV, and Morgan crammed their now known subject into the middle seat, grabbed the restraints, and chained Parkson's waist, feet, and wrists into place. Parkson jerked, pulling at the bonds, and Morgan smacked him with an open hand on the back of the head.
"Do that again, and I'll collar and chain you so you can't move an inch," Morgan said.
Several police cars began pulling in and parking, officers climbing out. Rossi's SUV pulled in behind them.
"Make sure there's room for the ambulance to get out," Emily yelled, and one of the officers climbed back in his vehicle to move it.
"Hotch," Morgan called, running after his boss, who was bent over the victim, talking to her. "What the hell happened? Where's Reid?"
"Reid's with Rossi. They were checking a more promising lead," Hotchner said without looking up.
One of the EMTs stepped in, put a hand on the woman's forearm and pushed a needle into the crook of her arm to start an IV. The victim screamed and tried to fight the EMT off. When the other EMT tried to put an oxygen mask on her, she only fought harder.
"STOP." Hotchner commanded, and everyone in a twenty foot radius froze, even the victim.
Morgan saw her expression first, wide eyed with terror, pale and sweaty, and then he saw the scars. He had enough self-control not to react.
"Amanda, you are safe. These people are here to help you. We're going to take you to a hospital."
Her eyes were so wide, Morgan could see white all around the irises. Her pupils were almost pinpoint in size, even though the day was not particularly bright. Her skin was pale enough, he could see the veins underneath. She held perfectly still, muscles rigid, hand gripping Hotch's with white knuckles.
"Try to relax, Amanda," Hotchner said, his voice soft and level. "You're safe. No one's going to hurt you. I won't let them."
Her eyes started darting, flicking from side to side, taking in the whole scene, including Morgan, standing frozen, waiting for Hotchner to give him permission to approach, Emily directing the local police in search procedures, milling police officers, and Rossi and Reid striding towards them. She shook all over.
"Your team?" she managed to ask.
"This is my team," Hotchner confirmed.
She shivered. "There are others," she said, pulling at his hands. "He thinks he's a scientist, so I couldn't be his only experiment. You have to find them. You have to!"
"We're searching now, Amanda. Please, lie back down and let these people help you."
As Morgan watched, he could almost count each individual muscle the victim forced to relax as she lay back again, but she wouldn't let go of Hotchner's hand.
"Don't leave me!" she gasped, suddenly realizing what being taken to a hospital would entail.
"I'm staying with you," Hotchner assured her.
She managed to lie down all the way, and with a nod from Hotchner, the EMTs moved in.
"Morgan," Hotchner said, finally looking up. "Keep me posted by phone. Let me know immediately if you find any other survivors. I want Parkson in interrogation, ready and waiting. He can sit all day if necessary."
"You got it," Morgan answered.
When he returned to the others, Emily looked up at him, stopped what she was doing, and said, "what?"
His jaw tightened. "We've got two unsubs."
"What makes you say that?" Rossi asked, looking up.
"The victim, Amanda – it's got to be Amanda Mason – was tortured."
"Parkson's capable of torture," Reid said, frowning.
"Not like this," Morgan answered. "He's a push button guy. I bet you anything he's got some sort of remote device rigged up in there for his kicks."
"What did you see on Amanda?" Emily asked.
"Extensive facial scarring," he answered. "Ritualistic, patterned. The hand I saw, her left hand, was missing the pinky. Her feet were bare, and neither of them had the smallest toes."
The mood of the group shifted.
"How old were the injuries?" Rossi asked.
"Old. They looked completely healed."
Reid stared off, calculating and sorting ideas in his head.
"It could be a partner," he said, "but I doubt it. Parkson's far too control oriented to let another person interact like that with his victims. But he might have found someone to supply him with victims, and that person might be the type to torture up close and personal."
"Believe me, it had to have been as up close as possible," Derek answered.
"Powerful method for creating Stockholm Syndrome in his victims," Rossi noted. "Get someone who's been tortured, probably raped, maybe even near death, nurse them back to health, and then start your experiments on them. It would engender a level of trust and goodwill almost impossible to get any other way."
"Let's get this yard searched and update Hotch," Emily said. "I doubt he'll leave the victim's side until he's got as much information out of her as possible, and she's under guard at the hospital."
Chapter Three: Triage
Hotchner watched as Amanda drifted in and out of consciousness, weakly rolling her head and trying to keep an eye on everything. Her grip on his hand was painfully tight, but he didn't try to adjust it.
"Call ahead to the hospital," he told the EMT in a quiet tone of voice. "Tell them we need a minimum of personnel treating her and security alerted. She's going to be experiencing extreme, acute anxiety. They'll need to run a tox screen on her immediately, and there's a good chance her scar tissue may interfere with diagnostics."
The EMT, who had looked semi-freaked when she saw Amanda's scars and amputations, nodded and relayed the information to the driver, who radioed it in.
Amanda roused and reached for her face.
"That's an oxygen mask," Hotchner told her. "You need to keep it on."
Even half-conscious, she looked remarkably irritated, but put her hand down.
Then they were in the ambulance bay, and he and the female EMT started offloading Amanda's gurney, while she looked up and around, distressed by the new movement.
"Leave your arm alone, Amanda," Hotchner told her, as she tried to reach for the IV.
"He puts me out that way," she mumbled, trying to get her fingers under the clear plastic covering the IV site.
He took that hand with his other and held it.
"You're safe, Amanda," he repeated. "We're at a hospital. He cannot get to you."
"Hospital . . ." she repeated, blurry.
"He shocked you. Do you remember?" Hotchner asked.
"You hit him?" she asked.
"I subdued him and restrained him," he told her.
"Hope it hurt," she slurred
There was a trauma bay open and waiting for them, and the male EMT reeled off statistics to the attending physician, an Asian woman with a serene expression that didn't alter as she looked over Amanda. She glanced at Agent Hotchner.
"What can you tell me?"
"Amanda Mason, age 41. To my knowledge, she's been held against her will in a confined space for over two years. Prior to that, she was tortured extensively. Rape was also likely," Hotchner answered. "No idea of prior medical history. Shortly before calling for rescue services, she received an extended, high voltage shock from the collar and ankle bracelets. She stopped breathing. I was able to restart her respirations with rescue breathing."
While Hotchner spoke, the EMTs and the doctor got her moved over to the trauma bed, and the EMTs evaporated. Only one nurse worked with the doctor. Apparently, the radio directives had been taken seriously.
"Still tachycardic," the doctor noted, "blood pressure's low. Start a blood draw for tox, blood, chem seven, and cardiac markers. Amanda? Amanda, do you know where you are?"
"Hospital?" Amanda answered, her eyelids fluttering.
"Do you know what day it is?"
She managed to shake her head.
"That's to be expected," Hotchner said, finally taking a moment to ease the fingers in her grip. For all that she was only semi-conscious, she could have crushed aluminum cans.
"Where are you from, Amanda?" the doctor asked.
"That's great. Amanda, we need to cut this collar and the things on your ankles off. It'll only take a minute."
"Do you have-" Hotchner started, but the nurse had already held up an evidence bag.
The trauma scissors the doctor wielded made fast work of the shock collars. Underneath, there were several scars and a fresh set of burn marks where the contacts had touched her skin.
"Full depth," the doctor noted. "We need to cut her clothes off so we can get the EKG hooked up."
Amanda was awake enough to hear that and started fighting, pushing away at the doctor and the nurse, pulling on Hotchner's arm for leverage, and pushing herself up on the trauma bed until he had to step behind her and keep her from falling off the head of the mattress.
"Amanda, easy," he said, using his most reassuring tone. "Easy, it's all right. Doctor, this needs to be done in some way that keeps her from feeling vulnerable."
The doctor nodded, did a quick visual check of the bay.
"Okay, drape her," the doctor ordered. "And get a heated blanket. Amanda, we're going to cover you up, okay?"
Together, the doctor and Hotchner coaxed her back into lying down. The doctor glanced up at the monitor and pressed her lips together grimly.
"We need to get her pulse down."
"Can't you give her something?" Hotchner asked.
"Not until the tox screen is back," the doctor answered, "and I really don't want to try a cardioversion if she's had an electric shock. Amanda, I need to turn your head."
Aaron held Amanda's left hand in both of his while the doctor gently turned her head towards him. There were tears in her eyes.
"It's all right, Amanda," he told her, squatting a little to get in her line of sight. "You're safe. We're taking care of you."
"I know," Amanda gulped. "I just keep looking for the grizzly bear."
"That's the anxiety," he said. "I will let you know if one shows up, though."
As he'd hoped, her lips quirked in a smile that lasted half a second before it disappeared.
The doctor pressed two fingers just below the corner of Amanda's jaw and, keeping an eye on the monitor, began a gentle, circular motion. After a moment, she pressed more firmly. The heart rate on the monitor began to slow.
"Okay, other side, Amanda," the doctor said, and this time, Amanda was able to turn her head with only a little help.
As her pulse slowed and blood pressure stabilized, the nurse returned with an armload of sheets. Working together, the nurse and doctor spread the sheets over Amanda until she was covered from neck down. Then, the nurse added a blanket radiating warmth. Hotchner watched as Amanda took a long, deep breath, exhaled, took another breath, and then relaxed her death grip on his hand.
"That feels really nice," she whispered. "I can't remember the last time I felt so warm."
So she had been cold in that container. At a guess, Hotchner thought it was kept in the low to mid 60s, and she had no spare fat to insulate or burn for heat.
Slowly, carefully, working in painstaking steps, the doctor and nurse were able to remove her clothes from beneath the sheets, leaving her covered and safe. When the nurse began applying electrodes, she had to bare one small patch of skin at a time, to find places to attach the electrodes where the scars would interfere. It wasn't easy. Most of her skin was criss-crossed in regular patterns of scars. If it had been an ink drawing or a wall paper pattern, it would have been attractive, even restful, but he recognized that each scar had been created by someone patiently cutting through the skin and no deeper. She would have bled a lot. There was no evidence of suturing.
The doctor glanced up at him, and he gave her a brief nod.
"Add ortho, cardiology, psych, gyn, and plastic to the consult list," the doctor murmured. "As soon as we have her stable, I want an MRI and a full CAT."
The nurse noted it on her tablet.
"She's going to need a private room," Hotchner said, "with constant monitoring, and I need to be able to station a guard outside her door."
"Is she in immediate danger?" the doctor asked.
"I don't believe so," Hotchner answered, "but the arrest I made and her discovery will be all over the news. The original kidnapper is undoubtedly still at large. He's the one responsible for the amputations and scarring."
"I'm right here, you know," Amanda whispered, sleepily. "Just give me a gun. I'll shoot the bastard."
"I'm afraid that's against Homeland Security guidelines," Hotch told her and was rewarded with another smile.
"And hospital rules, too," the doctor said.
"Fucking rules," Amanda growled.
"Just heard from Hotch," Rossi said, snapping his phone shut.
"How is she?" JJ asked.
"Stable. There was some cardiac damage from the shocks, probably cumulative," Rossi repeated. "They're running a lot of tests on her. Looks like Parkson was keeping her pretty doped up as well. Her tox screen came back positive for opiates and benzodiazepines, and from the time he's had her, she's probably built up a whopping tolerance."
"That's going to be hell detoxing," Prentiss noted.
"She managed to manufacture a dependable chemical light source while under the influence of both narcotics and anti-anxiolytics," Reid remarked. "She was to point out a viable escape route and did so, even knowing Parkson would punish her. Even though Parkson swept the container thoroughly before putting her in there, she was able to secrete a screw, a washer, a five inch length of wire, and she was stripping the conveyor belt on the treadmill for more. She hid enough food to last a week. If she'd had any certainty of a time frame long enough to dismantle the room without being shocked, she would have escaped on her own. She's one of the most resilient victim we've ever come across."
"Is that why Parkson kept her so long?" Prentiss asked.
"I think only he knows," Rossi replied. "But we'll be sure to get it out of him. What's our count so far?"
JJ braced herself. "They've found the remains of a fifth victim, a child, probably a boy. It looks like the container was sealed airtight."
"So he suffocated instead of starved or died of thirst," Rossi said, grim. "Maybe he was really lucky, and Parkson made him take an overdose of something."
Two rows over, the shouting started, including someone screaming for a medic.
"Another survivor?" Reid asked.
The team broke into a run.
Chapter Four: Eval
It was a rare, quiet moment between tests while Agent Hotchner sat alone with Amanda Mason. There were several more bags hung on her IV pole – one of them bright yellow, another much smaller one labeled 'valcyclovir', and a locked box of patient-controlled analgesic – a mix of morphine and xanax – with a push button on the bed next to her hand. She was awake and aware, if not completely alert. There had been an MRI and a full CAT scan with contrast. There was talk of an esophageal echocardiogram, but apparently it could wait, since she'd responded so well to beta blockers. There was a list of further exams and tests. Hotchner had taken a moment to look over the results of the CAT scan. There was evidence of broken ribs, broken scapula, broken clavicle, broken tibia, both sets of radii and ulna broken, fractures of her cheekbones, her nose, and her jaw, broken ankle, and it had all taken place a little over two years ago, from the remodeling on the x-rays.
The orthopedist said she would need several operations to fix poorly aligned fractures and restore full mobility to her left arm and right foot. The plastic surgeon was figuring out ways restore her septum's original shape, perhaps transplant some fatty tissue and soft skin to recreate her earlobes, prostheses for the amputated fingers and toes, surgery to reduce the facial scarring, and perhaps some laser work to fade the scars over the rest of her body. The psychiatrist and gynecologist were arguing over how to handle the necessary pelvic exam when the blood tests showed she was positive for chlamydia, herpes, and HPV, the MRI showed a likely severe case of pelvic inflammatory disease, and there was a very good chance that the exam would become a pelvic surgery if any cancer was found.
There was also the dental work to consider, since her kidnapper had pulled several of her teeth, and malnutrition and lack of sunlight had damaged the remaining ones. Yet, everything that needed to be done involved the kind of invasive touching and loss of personal boundaries that left their surviving victim a shivering wreck between doses of tranquilizers.
"What happens next?" she asked, in a state of sedation that made it possible for her converse without being much concerned about the content.
"One of my team members is working on finding your closest relative," he told her. "The hospital social worker is pushing through paperwork to have you put on Medicaid and Social Security Disability. There will be a lot more testing, and then they'll start putting right what they can."
"I meant, in the case," she corrected him. "Shouldn't you be getting back to your team?"
"I will," he agreed. "When you're settled in."
"I want to help," she said, looking at him steadily.
"When you're ready, we will debrief you. Any information you can give us will be invaluable in finding the man who hurt you as well as putting Parkson behind bars for the rest of his life."
"The other survivor?"
Hotchner exhaled, but didn't look away. "He died shortly after arrival. He was comatose, emaciated. It looks like Parkson stopped feeding him, probably weeks ago. He just . . . didn't have anything left."
He kept a handle on his anger. Even if he'd instituted searches the moment he'd stepped onto the property, there would have been no way to save that man. Or the child. Or the four other victims they'd so far discovered. Which brought him back again to why had Parkson dropped him into the only container with a conscious, capable victim. He could have been locked in an empty container, and while his team would have found him, eventually, he might very well have run out of oxygen or died of dehydration.
Amanda studied his face.
"You're . . . you're a very dangerous man, aren't you, Agent Hotchner?"
He looked up, concealing how startled he was. "Why do you say that?"
"Well, I was going to say that you're a very gentle man," she added, "and that's true. You helped me feel safe, even though I haven't seen another human being in over two years, or held a conversation. You know, he would shock me if I talked out loud or sang? But you weren't gentle because you're always gentle with everyone. You were gentle because that's what I needed. You looked at me, you looked at where I was, and you did exactly what I needed so I could help."
"That's part of profiling," he answered. "Part of what I do."
"It's what you do," she said, then yawned. "It's who you are. You look at people, you see who they are, what they need, and you give them that. Parkson needs to be put away for the rest of his life, so he doesn't hurt anybody else, and you're going to do whatever it takes. What he did to you doesn't matter at all, except that bad guys don't get to mess with Federal agents. You don't -" she yawned again, "you don't fill in things with your imagination or your ego. You see what is, and you do what's necessary. That's what makes you a very dangerous man."
He considered it. "There are probably some people who would agree with you."
"I sure as hell wouldn't want to be on the other side," she said.
Her eyes closed for a long moment, and her breathing slowed. Then she opened her eyes again.
"I want to help."
"You will," he assured her.
"Tomorrow," she said. "You're not going to get who the first man is out of Parkson. He won't give him up. But I can get it. And I can tell you if he's lying or not."
"We'll see," he answered. "I doubt your doctors will allow you to leave."
She laughed, silently, bitterly, her shoulders shaking. "You think after all this, I'll let a doctor keep me from leaving a little room when I want to go outside? Take a good look, agent, and tell me what you see."
He studied her for a moment. "I think I see a conversation with your lead physician in the future."
A movement at the doorway caught his attention. The agent sent from the local office had arrived – a curly haired Latina, who looked ready to break suspects into kindling.
"Your guard is here," he told Amanda.
"Go back to your team," she said.
"I'm going to send one of them to stay with you," he told her. "They'll take turns."
"I sure wouldn't mind some books to read," she said. "Or some National Geographics. And a sketchbook."
"I'll see you get them."
"And thank you."
She closed her eyes, squeezed his hand one more time, and let go.
"How is she?" Rossi asked, as Hotchner dropped his briefcase and jacket on the chair at the conference table they'd adopted.
He'd had to dig into his go bag for a fresh shirt. The stains made a good excuse, but he hadn't wanted anyone to see the holes in the fabric from the Taser or the two burns the prongs had made. It would go in his final report, and if he had any luck, he'd keep the rest of the team focused on the subject now in custody and the new unsub they needed to track.
He opened his briefcase and pulled out the notes he'd taken during his hours at the hospital.
"I'd like to hear victimology first," he replied, "before I give my impression."
That raised some eyebrows, but nothing too serious.
"Amanda Mason," JJ read off the compiled file, "born in San Diego, moved to Long Beach when she was eight. One sister, now deceased. More on that in a moment. Mason holds a Baccalaureate in Performing Arts with a focus on the backstage areas. Her job history is spotty with a lot of work in LA, a lot of moving between production companies, and a small amount of freelancing. Four years ago, she stopped working and moved back in with her parents. Her father was suffering from end stage lung cancer, and her mother from early Alzheimer's."
Around the table, members of the team hissed in sympathy or shook their heads.
"Her sister, Joan, sent money every month but visited only once or twice a year. She lived in DC and worked as a CPA," JJ continued. "Six months after her father died, her mother passed away of a stroke. The estate was settled, the house sold, the proceeds split, with no apparent animosity between the sisters. Amanda appeared to have been working on some solo projects – painting, voice work, and writing – when she disappeared. She was last seen at a public park, where her bicycle was found. Neighbors reported she kept to herself. Friends hadn't heard from her in months or years. Former employers described her as very friendly, hard working, but flaky – called out sick a lot, though not for spurious reasons. No known romantic relationship, current employment, or other issues."
"Police must have thought she'd just dropped off the grid," Morgan remarked.
JJ grimaced and nodded. "Her sister was the one who pushed Long Beach police to consider it a missing person's case. She posted a reward, tried to drum up media interest, but apparently she had something of an abrasive personality. A year ago, she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Six months ago, she died. Her will set up a trust fund for Amanda, if she was ever found."
"Any indications that the first unsub targeted her or that she was opportunistic grab?" Hotchner asked.
"Impossible to say at this point," Reid answered. "Public park in the middle of a work day – it's risky, but not unthinkable for a spur-of-the-moment grab, and it does match some of the other abductions we've got. Garcia is going through the parameters again and extending the geographical profile. Any indication from Ms. Mason if she knew the first unsub?"
Hotch shook his head. "She's under so much medication, it was a fifty-fifty chance whether I got a completely lucid and detailed answer or several a cappella verses of 'It's Not Easy Being Green.' She did say she could identify him given the chance and that she wants the chance to help the investigation. She wants to confront Parkson."
That led to a shift of discomfort among the team, none of them wanting to ask the obvious question that a witness or victim injecting themselves into the investigation brought up.
"Is it possible her captivity was voluntary or she's got some other emotional link to Parkson?" Morgan finally spoke.
Reid spoke up before Hotchner could. "Extremely unlikely. In his journals, Parkson describes 'acquiring his specimen' and the steps he took to rehabilitate 'it'. There's a very clear attempt in his use of language to dehumanize his victim"
"She called him Pygmalion," Aaron told them. "She said she got tired of thinking of him as 'that guy'."
"Pygmalion was originally a Greek myth – a sculptor who carved a statue of a woman so beautiful he fell in love with it. Aphrodite responded to his prayers by turning the statue into a living woman," Reid explained, unnecessarily for most of them.
"Looking at his so-called logs," JJ said, "you could argue that's exactly what he was trying to do. He had a specific exercise regiment she was to follow, he controlled her food, he required her to brush and floss, take supplements . . ."
"And he doped her with opiates and Valium so she wouldn't argue," Rossi finished for her. "There are a lot of misogynists out there who would consider that a perfectly valid way to create a woman."
"Here's her DMV photo from about a year before her abduction," JJ said, putting it out in the middle of the desk.
The picture showed a plump woman who had aged well so far, knew how to wear unobtrusive make-up, kept her hair styled simply, and her jewelry a little on the eclectic side. She wore a slight smile, but she looked tired, like she needed a break. Aaron put out one of the pictures taken of her at the hospital. She had lost a minimum of fifty pounds. All the padding was gone, and she was now gaunt. The smile was gone. The hair was much longer but thinner. Her eyes were sunken with deep circles, and there were lines of tension at her mouth, between her brows, and below her eyes. All that, though, was beneath the scarring on her face.
"What's your take on her, Hotch?" Rossi asked.
Hotchner studied the photographs for a moment. "She stayed calm while under extreme duress. She's extremely intelligent. She was able to communicate the most necessary information for getting out of the container and what the unsub's likely behavior would be. She's suffering from acute anxiety, but she managed to show humor in some of the circumstances. She is extremely determined. I think if Parkson hadn't been drugging her the whole time, she would have escaped as soon as she'd healed enough to move under her own power."
He outlined the medical information the doctors had granted him, including the psychiatrist's initial assessment.
"There were reflective surfaces in that container," Morgan said, chewing on the inside of his lip. "She has to know what those scars look like, what the first unsub did to her face."
Hotchner nodded. "And the rest of her. The lead physician said his best guess, if she was cooperative and not too emotionally compromised, was a physical recovery period of six months to a year. The psychiatrist wouldn't even make a guess."
"And she wants to help?" Prentiss asked, raising her eyebrows.
"She made it clear she would leave the hospital AMA in order to come down here and face Parkson. She thinks she can get the first unsub's name out of him."
"Well, we spent six hours working him and got nothing but lectures about Freudian psychology and the legalities of ownership rights," Morgan said. "He hasn't lawyered up, but you can bet the second he does, we lose any leverage we might have over him."
"You think she can handle it?" Rossi asked.
Hotchner nodded slowly. "I have the impression that she had a lot of time to think in there, sedated or not. Even if she isn't able to get that out of Parkson, it may prove helpful for her own psychological recovery as well as stabilize her for debriefing on the first unsub."
"That is a lot to ask of a victim," Emily said, "especially one in the hospital with a year of rehabilitation and detox in front of her."
Hotchner looked up at her.
"That's why I want you and JJ to stay with her from here on out," he told her. "Coordinate with Garcia, the doctors, and the social workers so everything's covered. You'll need to tell her about her sister at some point. I've got a list of some things she requested. I'll work on Parkson some more. The rest of you, keep tearing those containers apart. I want this case air tight."
Chapter Four: Prepping for the Role
Amanda was awake when JJ and Emily got to her room. They showed their IDs to the guard on the door, who nodded in recognition. The room was dark, except for the bathroom light. The television was off. All the blinds and curtains were pulled aside so the view of the parking lot and surrounding industrial parks and neighborhoods could be seen. Amanda was sitting up, pillows piled behind her, wrapped in several blankets. She stared out the window without any expression on her face.
"Amanda?" JJ asked. "I'm SSA Jennifer Jareau. Everyone calls me JJ. This is SSA Emily Prentiss. We're here to stay with you for a while."
Amanda gave a brief, flickering smile, gone almost as quickly as it arrived.
"You know," she said softly, "if you look at it abstractly, it's really pretty."
"What is, Amanda?" Emily asked, taking a seat on one side of her bed.
"The traffic," Amanda answered.
For a long moment, she didn't say anything else, but then something occurred to her.
"I mean, cars, global warming, fossil fuels, people dying in accidents, all that. Overall, cars were not one of our best ideas," she said, "but I could watch them the whole rest of the night."
"We brought you the things you asked Agent Hotchner for," JJ said, holding a bag out for her.
That got her to look away from the window and give them a good look for the first time. She took the bag and opened it.
"Doctor Reid, he's one of our agents, suggested some other magazine titles," JJ explained, "since only the current issue of National Geographic is out right now."
She flipped through the titles. "He's got good taste."
Instead of taking out any of the magazines, though, she pulled out the sketchbook and the mechanical pencil. Flipping the cover open, she caressed the paper, and a new, different smile flickered around her mouth.
"He never asked what I wanted," she said. "Just leave a book or a movie for me to watch. Mostly it was garbage, but I was so bored."
She began sketching a large oval. "I never could find anything to make a mark with in that damn place."
JJ brought another chair in and took a seat beside Emily.
"Amanda, we've been looking for your closest relative, to notify them that we found you."
"My sister, Joan," Amanda said, not looking up from the page. She divided the oval into quarters. "She lives in DC. She might even come out here, depending on her schedule. We aren't really close, but she shows up when she's needed."
"Amanda," JJ said, as gently as she could. "There's some bad news about your sister."
"Dammit," Amanda swore, handing the pencil from one hand to the other and trying to stretch out her dominant hand. "It's going to take me years to learn a new pencil grip. Fucking bastard's little games. Cut my damn feet off, but at least let me hold a pencil."
She didn't seem aware either that JJ or she had spoken out loud.
"Amanda," Emily said. She reached out and touched the woman's arm with her fingertips.
The effect was instantaneous. Amanda dropped both the sketchbook and the pencil, inhaled through her nose, and held up both her hands in defensive positions. Eyes wide and motionless, she stared at Emily. Her hands trembled in tiny vibrations, but otherwise, she didn't move at all.
"Amanda, it's all right," Emily said. "You're safe. No one here is going to hurt you. You're safe."
The monitor beside them showed a rapid increase in heart rate. Amanda broke out into a cold sweat.
Emily kept repeating the words softly and evenly, but didn't make the mistake of touching her again. In less than a minute, a nurse strode in.
"Back up," she ordered. "What happened?"
"I was trying to get her attention," Emily said, "and I touched her arm. I'm sorry. I should have known better."
The nurse reached around and took the IV tube in her hand and pulled a capped syringe out of her pocket. Amanda's eyes darted, and her heart rate skyrocketed.
She reached for the nurse's hands, but the nurse caught her.
"It's okay, baby," the nurse said – no, she sang it, in a fairly off key version of 'Rock-a-Bye, Baby'. "Everything's fine. All the scary stuff's going away."
The nurse managed to give the injection one handed while holding onto Amanda's fingers with her other hand.
"Count with me, Amanda," the nurse said in a sing-song voice. "One . . ."
"One hippopotamus," Amanda whispered. "Two hippopotamus. Three . . ."
The drugs hit, and Amanda slumped back against the pillows, Emily and the nurse supporting her.
"It never hurts to check at the desk," the nurse told her. "I could have told you that her startle reflex is off the charts, especially to touch. She calms down faster when you modulate your voice to singing. While she's down, you can touch her arms and back – slow, gentle, repetitive strokes."
"How long will she be out?"
"Five minutes, tops," the nurse said, a sad, sardonic quirk at her mouth. "She's got pretty high tolerance to nearly the full range of sedatives. That was a short dose mixed with a beta blocker, to bring her pulse rate down."
After the nurse left them, JJ and Emily took either side of the bed, held her hands, and rubbed her shoulders and arms. JJ picked up the sketchbook and pencil.
"She's drawing a face," she said, putting it back on Amanda's lap.
"The first man," Amanda whispered, just barely above the threshold of hearing. "You need to know what he looks like."
"It can wait," Emily said. "We don't want to stress you."
Amanda shook her head, infinitesimally. "No, it can't wait. Bastard cut my fingers off. I can't . . . hold my pencil right."
They waited a long five minutes while Amanda laid back, looking past Emily to the floor. Tears slid down her face.
"You know," Amanda finally said, in an almost conversational tone, "I tried reciting lines or singing to myself when I started getting bored. When I could stay awake more than a few minutes. He'd give me a shock when I did. Started at just a fraction of a second. Last time I tried to sing, he shocked me for five seconds."
"He's in custody," Emily assured her. "He can't hurt you."
"I like the nurse," Amanda said, blinking tears from her eyes. "She sings. She's terrible, but she sings, and it's okay if I do too. Is Agent Hotchner all right?"
"He's fine," JJ answered. "He's working on the case."
"What happened to Joan?"
JJ and Emily exchanged looks, torn between delivering necessary news and causing any more pain or upset.
"Amanda," JJ started, "Joan was diagnosed with cancer. Her prognosis was not good."
"She killed herself," Amanda stated.
JJ stopped and checked with Emily. She hadn't said it during the meeting.
"She watched what Dad went through, with the chemo and radiation," Amanda said, her voice fading again. "She told me if she ever got cancer, she would kill herself."
"I'm so sorry, Amanda."
Amanda turned her head to look at JJ.
"Does the FBI have discretionary funds?" she asked. "Like if you have to run out and buy everybody cowboy hats or something during an investigation?"
"Yes," JJ said, puzzled.
"In the morning," Amanda said, "I need to get my hair cut and dyed, my nails done, and I need a completely new outfit, business smart, heels. Then, I'll sit down in front of Parkson, and I will get the name from him. Can you help me with that, JJ?"
JJ blinked a couple of times.
"Yes," Emily said firmly. "We can, and we will."
"Of course," JJ echoed, nodding her head.
"I'll pay you back," Amanda said. "Once I get everything straightened out."
"That's fine," JJ said.
"Can I have my pencil back?"
Wordlessly, JJ gave her the pencil, and half-slumped in the bed, Amanda continued sketching out a human face, cursing her grip or the pencil or the first unsub. After about twenty minutes, she nodded off, and the pencil slipped out of her grip. Emily took it and set it on the bedside table. Then she picked up the sketchbook.
The drawing was of a man, a face that must have been in Amanda's nightmares for the past two years. It was stylized, but the features were distinct enough to compare to a photograph. He had his own facial scars and a tattoo on his neck.
"I'm going to get this to Garcia," Emily said. "I'll be right back."
As Garcia was three hours ahead and had access to every bit of data ever entered into any computer anywhere, once she had the details of Amanda Mason's situation, character, and requests, she set into motion a chain of events designed to get Amanda Mason exactly what she wanted with the least amount of stress as possible.
First, after reviewing everything she could find of Amanda's work as well as pictures of her and her previous life – home, interior, clothes, decorating, shoes, jewelry, everything – she determined what sort of fashion would most appeal to their recovering victim within the parameters of her request. Then, she began to pull lists of boutique stores, what they carried, who they bought from, who their owners and managers were, and most importantly, what their phone numbers were.
"No, this is not a joke," Garcia repeated for the third time. "You're on iPhone 4S, you can Google my number while we talk. You'll see that I am calling you from the FBI headquarters in Quantico."
She waited through a short silence and then a few moments of babbling.
"Rest assured, Mr. Salieri, we are not interested in that at all. What I am looking for is someone who is willing to assist a victim during an ongoing investigation into multiple homicides."
She listened to the next round of babbling.
"Sir, the most dangerous thing I'm going to ask you to do is get a little more caffeine into your system this morning and break out some of your plainer pumps. Nothing more than a two inch heel. Okay?"
It took another few minutes to set up, but she forwarded the details to JJ's phone. Then, it was on to hair stylists, and to her surprise, she recognized one and immediately contacted her.
"No, DeeDee, seriously. I need you to take extra special care of this one. She's going to need FX makeup skills. You'll understand when you see the pic I'm sending you. Yeah. Yeah. I know. No, the general public is not allowed to apply blowtorches to the kind of people who do this thing. Yes, I completely agree. Just, put together something for her, okay? You're a godsend."
Done, she forwarded that information to JJ, then updated the rest of the team and reviewed the reports each of the members had filed, in order to stay up to date with their needs. Ninety seconds later, she was on the phone to Hotchner.
SSA Hotchner would have held the phone away from his ear, but that might have allowed Rossi and Reid to overhear Garcia's bellicose reprimand.
"YOU WERE TASERED, BOSS?"
"I told you, I'm fine. There's nothing to worry about."
"No!" And he could just see her, stabbing at her monitor with a highly decorated and unlikely pen. "That is not acceptable! You were tazed hard enough to be knocked out, which means there might be cardiac damage. How is it you could be so concerned about the vic, and couldn't even be bothered to get a quick EKG while you were there?"
"There were other priorities at the time," he answered, not shifting the tone of his voice.
Both Rossi and Reid glanced up, mildly curious, and then returned to their paperwork. If anything, they probably thought he was talking to the section chief.
"It takes like ten minutes!" Garcia protested. "And it's your HEART!"
"Noo-OH," she interrupted him. "Uh-uh, boss. Cardiac damage is sneaky, and it is mean, and it can kill you when you sneeze. You don't get this looked at, and I'll . . . I'll . . ." she paused, groping for something to threaten him with. "I will remind the entire team that they need to read every agent's report thoroughly on a daily basis, and you know I never do that, which means, they'll know something's up. Which means, they'll read it, and then they'll be all over your stuff, which you hate. So . . . you better do what I said. Sir."
Hotchner pressed a thumb against the bridge of his nose, wondering how it was that while he could manage a team of geniuses, alpha males, kick-ass females, and former secret agents, one particular woman with no combat or tactical training at all could put him in such a corner.
"All right," he said. "I'm supposed to be at the hospital to pick up Amanda, Ms. Mason, once she's ready to meet Parkson. I'll be there twenty minutes early to deal with the matter. Is that satisfactory?"
There was a long pause.
"Make it thirty minutes, sir," Garcia answered. "And understand, there will be an orderly with a picture of you and instructions to drag you by your ear to cardiology if you do not cooperate fully and immediately."
He clicked off, and the other two men looked up again.
"Sounds like you got told off," Rossi noted.
"I do feel a little singed," Hotchner admitted.
"What would the section chief be so steamed about anyway?" Reid asked.
"Something about my unorthodox approach to dealing with pending issues," he replied.
Rossi raised an eyebrow at him, but Reid took him at face value.
Once Hotchner left the room to speak to a deputy about bringing Parkson back from the county jail, Rossi considered the conversation thoughtfully.
"Interesting," he said.
"What's that?" Reid asked, distracted by the files he was trying to sort.
"Hotch referred to our victim as Amanda before correcting himself," Rossi noted. "And he not only didn't give JJ and Emily static about their request to take the vic out, he actually contacted the doctor to push for it."
"Using her first name allowed him to build a rapport with her while he was getting her out of the container, especially after she was shocked," Reid answered. "That can go both ways. It's unusual for Hotch, but not impossible. Knowing Hotch, he also noticed it, and it won't happen again. Besides, considering how difficult Parkson is proving to crack, he's probably glad to have another approach."
"Probably," Rossi agreed. If Reid had looked up at that moment, he would have seen a much more speculative look on the agent's face.
"Well," the same ER doctor said, lifting a page on the chart, "we did have to adapt a little, to avoid the scar tissue on your chest, but even within those parameters, your EKG appears normal. The burns from the Taser should heal within a week. Would you like a prescription for a burn cream or topical analgesic?"
"No, thank you, doctor," Hotchner replied, holding his shirt and tie in his left hand.
They stood in one of the trauma bays in the ER department. Garcia had been true to her word, and as Doctor Huang had already met him and knew what he looked like, Garcia had shanghaied her into handling the EKG.
"Those scars," the doctor noted, "are deep and at least two years old, from the quality of the skin. That's how you knew we would need to make the same adjustments on Ms. Mason's EKG, isn't it?"
He nodded and began pulling his shirt on. The doctor left, opening the curtain far enough to walk through.
"- said he'd meet us down here," Emily said, "after he talked to Dr. Huang."
She must have seen the doctor leave and assumed, justifiably, that the curtain had simply been pulled for the conversation's privacy. So, she pulled it the rest of the way back, and Hotchner found himself face to face with three ladies, his shirt only partway on and completely unbuttoned.
"Uh," Emily managed.
"Hotch," JJ gasped. "Are those burn marks?"
The third woman – and it took him a split second to recognize Amanda Mason – went wide eyed and then looked away. Her makeup had been very well applied, and the only place he could see her blush was behind her ears.
"Would you excuse me for a moment?" he asked, pulling the curtain back, refusing to be rattled.
"We'll just . . . wait outside," Emily called.
By the nurse's station, Emily and JJ shared a series of significant glances and facial expressions.
"Those were burns," JJ insisted.
"I believe you," Emily said. "I was just completely distracted by . . ."
"How hot he is?" one of the nurses asked, as she walked past. "That boy is edible."
"I wasn't going to put it that way," Emily answered, "but yeah. The man doesn't flaunt it like Derek does, but he puts some serious time in at the gym."
"Emily, those were Taser burns," JJ said.
"Of course they were," Emily answered. "Didn't you read his report? He buried it as best he could, but section chief's still going to chew his ass out. Parkson got the drop on him, Tasered him, and then put him in with-"
And she froze, realizing they were discussing this in front of Amanda Mason, a victim, and however sympathetic she was, an outsider who had no business hearing them discuss details of the case. But Amanda wasn't listening in. She was staring at the curtain, her breathing a little unsteady, her eyes wide.
Garcia's contacts had done an incredible job, especially the stylist. Amanda's hair was now cut to a manageable shoulder length and dyed a warm blond. It was pulled back and pinned invisibly into a french roll. The makeup left no sign at all of her facial scars, and the stylist was even able to use silicone putty to create viable earlobes, and they were strong enough to support pearl stud earrings.
"Those scars . . ." Amanda whispered. "There were so many of them. What happened?"
The curtain was pulled away, and Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner rejoined them. He gave both Agents Jareau and Prentiss a quelling look. His expression softened when he turned to Amanda.
"Several years ago," he said, "I was ambushed by a serial killer we were investigating. He stabbed me multiple times in a manner that did not put my life in jeopardy. He was later killed by an agent after murdering the agent's wife."
He didn't lie. Hotchner made it clear that no agent on his team would ever lie to a victim or a victim's family member. However, he'd certainly worded it to prevent their current victim with identifying him as the one who'd lost his wife – ex-wife, actually – and had subsequently beaten the killer to death with his bare hands.
Amanda put her hand up to her mouth. She wore a pair of leather gloves that matched her coat, giving her the illusion of all five fingers.
"Oh, that poor man," she whispered. "And you. I'm . . . I'm so sorry, Agent Hotchner, that you had to go through that."
"It's all right, Ms. Mason," he told her. "I do appreciate your sympathy."
For all that his intonation was as formal as ever, there was something, some change in inflection or the rhythm of his speech that had Emily and JJ looking at each other again.
"We should be on our way," Hotchner said.
Chapter Six: Method Acting
Parkson waited inside the exam room, scowling to himself, as the team introduced itself to Amanda. To a casual observer, she appeared to be nothing more than well-groomed corporate nobility – a lawyer, a corporate officer, or a policy maker. She held herself upright, kept her hands close to her body, and didn't gesture at all. Her expression was reserved neutrality. To the members of the BAU, a minute or two of observation gave a great deal more information.
She hadn't worn high heels in a long time. They threw her posture off. She kept her hands still because she didn't know what to do with them, and her expression broke in the tiniest brief flashes before she brought her emotions back under control. A smile for each introduction, a tightening of the lips when Parkson was pointed out to her, and a pinch of concentration when Rossi explained how things would work.
"Ms. Mason," Reid began, "can you tell us a little bit about what you want to accomplish by speaking to Mr. Parkson?"
Another infinitesimal expression, of carefully weighed words.
"He knew the man who kidnapped me and . . . hurt me so badly. For two years after that, he was in control of everything about me – everything except what I could hide from him in my head. It was obvious, to me, that he wanted to train or . . . or design or build or, I don't know, grow his idea of a woman – the way an artist would create a bonsai tree or a topiary hedge. I think maybe that he ordered me up, the way you would stationary or a pizza. I think he told the first man -" and here she glanced at Agent Hotchner for confirmation, "the unsub? He told the unsub to break me, so I'd be easier to work with."
A wave of bitterness passed over her face and was quickly controlled.
"But I don't think he realizes just how badly the unsub hurt me. It wasn't just the broken bones or the cuts or the burns. That man raped me, several times a day. I saw the other women he tortured, and what he did to them was . . ."
"You don't have to talk about it," Morgan assured her.
She shook her head. "No, not now, but you'll need that information, won't you?"
"Perhaps," Hotchner told her. "If we can locate him by name, where he held and tortured his victims, where he buried the remains, the forensic evidence will tell us what he did without requiring you to go back through it. If we need more information than what Parkson can give us, we'll ask you to tell us about that part."
She thought about it for several long moments, not meeting anyone's eyes. Finally, she nodded.
"Anyways," she continued, her voice soft, "I thought I could make him so angry with his supplier, that he would give you the name."
"That could very well work," Rossi said.
She looked up now, meeting their gazes.
"I chose these clothes and this appearance for a reason," she told them. "I needed a role to play. I'm not a very good actor – certainly not good enough to get work – but I can manage for a little bit. I thought about it, and the women Hitchcock cast for his movies – the icy blondes – I can do that, and I can get him to respond to me that way. I think."
Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak. She had certainly matched the look and was spot on with her presence. She looked through the window at Parkson, who sat, slumped and angry.
"He's such a little man," she said, softly. "I wouldn't leave a goldfish in his care, let alone a human being. No wonder he thought he had to have absolute control."
A calmness settled over her, one of detachment and objectivity. There was a task to be done.
"Agent Hotchner, Agent Morgan," she addressed them, as they were the ones going into the interview room with her, "I will do everything you've said. I was wondering though, could you project a . . . a deference to me, like I'm a lady and you're my bodyguards? I think that would help."
Morgan nodded, a slight smile playing at his lips. He glanced at Hotchner, who gave a quick nod of agreement.
"Yeah, Ms. Mason. I think that would help just fine."
When they entered, Hotchner held the door for her. Morgan took her coat, folded it, and placed it on the back of the chair before pulling it out and holding it for her. Hotchner took a stance on the other side of the table, just inside Parkson's field of vision. He crossed his arms and kept his stance wide, as if expecting – hoping for – trouble. Both men glared at Parkson.
Parkson, however, couldn't take his eyes off Mason. He looked her over, back and forth, up and down, but never met her eyes. After sitting and smoothing her skirt, she carefully took off her gloves and set them aside. While the amputations were still evident, they were less noticeable now that her nails had been manicured. She folded her hands over on the table.
"Mr. Silas Parkson," she said, in a very business-like way, as if they were meeting to negotiate a contract. "I didn't know your name until Supervisory Special Agent Hotchner told me. Do you know my name?"
Parkson didn't answer but looked away. She smiled very politely at him.
"Of course you don't. That was part of the arrangement, wasn't it? Mr. Parkson, my name is Amanda Mason, and I asked these agents to let me speak to you, because I want to thank you for all you've done for me."
Parkson's eyes flashed towards her, met hers for a moment, and then broke off. He shifted in his chair.
"You put in an amazing amount of time, effort, and skill into shaping me, making me a better person. I'm fully aware of that. You took care of me when I was damaged. You healed me. Then, you helped me grow into something stronger and more . . . beautiful."
For a moment, it seemed she might choke on the word, but Parkson didn't catch that, only the pause. He looked back at her.
"I wanted to thank you," Amanda repeated. "And to apologize to you for all the times I . . . didn't appreciate your efforts. I didn't understand at the time. Now I have the opportunity to really see my progress. The doctors tell me that I'm at a healthy weight and I'm quite physically fit. I never could have accomplished that on my own."
"You tell them that," Parkson finally said, pointing at Hotchner and glaring at Morgan. "You tell them that what I did wasn't wrong. It wasn't illegal. Michelangelo saw the sculpture inside the stone. When you arrived, I saw what you were inside, and I set it free."
Parkson didn't catch the flare of her nostrils or narrowing of her eyes in the split second before she caught herself. Instead, she looked down for a moment, and when she looked back up, she wore an expression of regret and embarrassment.
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Parkson," she said, "but the agents have made it clear that what I tell them doesn't matter. They will be pressing charges against you regardless of what I say. In fact, when I told them I had no plans of testifying, Agent Hotchner said he could hold me on a material witness warrant. They don't understand. They saw the others, and they assumed you killed them out of hand, but I know that isn't true, is it?"
"Those people," Parkson said, leaning forward, righteous in his anger, "were flawed. They didn't respond the way they were supposed to. You supply a stimulus, and the subject has a response. Theirs weren't correct. I went as far as I could with them. I tried so hard. Tell them to read my notes! I kept meticulous records of each experiment. You were the only successful one."
She managed a frown, very carefully constructed of concern, embarrassment, and worry.
"What?" Parkson added.
"I just . . ." and here she shrugged the tiniest bit. "I can't help but feel that you could have made more of me in the time available, if he hadn't been so careless in his treatment of me before delivering me."
Parkson leaned forward and reached for Amanda's hands. Morgan very nearly intercepted him, but Amanda gave one shake of her head. She held herself very, very still as Parkson touched her fingers.
"You have to understand," he told her, "that the preparation was necessary. My procedures wouldn't have worked without it. You had to be broken down so that I could build you up again. All the old flaws, ground away; the serial numbers of this anonymous society filed off."
Her cheeks drawn and her skin gone pale, even under the makeup. She rallied gamely.
"It just seems . . . I don't know, Mr. Parkson. You were always a gentleman, as well as a scientist and an artist," she told him. "I understand that there were certain steps necessary, but some of what he did . . . I think he may have overstepped his bounds."
"What do you mean?" Parkson asked.
"Did you tell him to r-" She caught herself. "Did you tell him to have sex with me?"
"What?" Parkson gasped.
"I'm afraid he did," she confirmed. "He behaved as though that were part of his job. He did so multiple times. More than . . . more than ten."
Revolted, Parkson pulled his hands away from her and sat back as far as he could.
Amanda looked up at him, willed herself to meet his eyes, and clenched her jaw for a moment.
"I was afraid of that, Mr. Parkson," she said. "I'm afraid he cheated you. I've suspected it for a long time."
Furious, Parkson pressed his lips together. "I told him . . ." He shook his finger in anger. "I told him exactly what I wanted done. He offered to find the material I needed, but it had to meet specific requirements. I paid him – up front and at a premium! He had plenty of others to . . . to foul and dirty. He told me all about those. I said I needed a clean one, and he promised me that! He cheated me!"
Several beads of sweat had started to run down her neck and the sides of her face. Morgan exchanged a glance with Hotchner, who indicated with a tilt of his head to give her just a moment longer.
"He did," she repeated, agreeing with him. "And he deserves to go to prison for fraud at the very least. But, Mr. Parkson, I don't know who he was. Otherwise, I would have told the agents myself."
Furious, Parkson looked away and set his jaw. "I don't know his name either. We met through an online community and saw each other in person only twice – once when I paid in advance, and once when I received the materials."
"If you'll just give these agents the information about that," she told him, "I'm sure they'll be able to find him and bring him to justice."
Parkson looked up at Morgan, suspicious. "You'd do that?"
"Absolutely," Morgan told him. "We'll put our tech – the best in the business – on tracking him down."
"You can also pursue the matter in civil court," Hotchner added. "Once we've uncovered his identity.
Parkson thought about it for a few moments and then nodded.
"All right. I want that bastard brought in and arrested for what he did. Nobody should be able to cheat another person like that!"
"You're quite right." Amanda's voice was steady and even, but she'd gone ashen.
"Miss Mason?" Hotchner asked.
She closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes, she was trembling.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Parkson," she said. "I don't do as well outside the environment you created for me. I'm afraid I'm going to need to go back to the hospital for a while. Not that their care is as good as yours."
"Sure, of course," he answered, dismissing her. "Go."
Morgan pulled out the chair as she stood, shaking. She gathered her gloves and coat, met Hotchner at the door, and went through while he held it. Morgan stayed behind. Hotchner closed the door after Amanda and he were out of the room.
"I need a trash can," she whispered, her mouth and throat working.
Reid was the first one to realize exactly what she meant, and dove for the nearest metal wastebasket, then held it out for her. As soon as she could bend over it, she did and vomited into the can. She heaved several times, unaware that JJ had taken her shoulders, Rossi had stepped out to fetch a cup of water and several paper towels, and that while Prentiss watched Parkson through the window, Hotchner kept his eyes on Amanda.
As soon as it passed, Hotchner offered Amanda his arm, which she took, digging her fingers in for balance, and guided her into a chair. She collapsed into it. Rossi dipped the paper towels in the water and handed them to JJ, who pressed one to the woman's forehead and the other to the back of her neck.
Hotchner took the cup and offered it to her.
"Just sip," he advised her.
After several careful, slow swallows of water, her shaking eased.
"Did it work?" she asked, looking up at them.
"Kiddo," Rossi said, smiling, "I don't know where you got the idea that you can't find work as an actress. That was an Oscar worthy performance in there."
She managed a shaky smile in return. "I always wanted a Tony, myself."
"You should head back to the hospital," Rossi told her. "Rest. The doctors are going to have our collective asses if we don't give you back in the same or better condition we checked you out in."
Her smile this time was less shaky.
"Is it okay if I stay just a little while?" she asked. "I'd like to see if Py- if Parkson gives up any information."
Rossi glanced up at Hotchner, who gave an incremental nod.
"Okay," Rossi agreed, "but let's cap it at twenty minutes, okay? Your internist looked pretty scary."
JJ and Prentiss moved her to the break room and sat with her. At one point, Dr. Reid stopped by and asked a question about Shakespearean theater, and the minimalist set design for a production of MacBeth he'd seen the previous year. For a moment, Amanda looked at him as if he were speaking another language, and then the set of her shoulders changed – abruptly relaxed – and she began chatting with Reid about the history of theater-in-the-round, commedia del arte, and translating Shakespeare to different time periods.
"I worked on one production," she said, getting into a story telling rhythm, "where Romeo and Juliet was set in the distant future. The Capulets were one species descended from humans and the Montagues another. Several of the minor characters – the nurse, the priest, the apothecary – were a completely different species, and the director had us create these huge shaggy puppets which had to be worked by two or three people. It was strange but . . . it worked."
Reid started to ask a question when Hotchner rejoined them.
"We've got him," Hotchner said without a preamble. "Parkson gave us enough detail for Garcia to track him down. Unsub's name is Patrick Dyer. He's gone an extensive criminal record, lives in Santa Ana. Local PD have him under observation. JJ, I want you to return Ms. Mason to the hospital, then join us at the site. Garcia will send you the address."
Everyone was up, packing things, pulling on jackets, and getting things together.
"Agent Hotchner?" Amanda asked quietly.
"Yes," he answered instantly.
"What's happening with Mr. Parkson?"
"He's currently writing out what he believes is a formal complaint against Dyer's business practices. It'll be used against him in his criminal case. The US Federal attorney for central California has already obtained an indictment. He'll be transferred to custody, given counsel, and a date will be set for his trial. I doubt it'll get that far. He'll most likely plead out. Considering the five deaths, evidence of torture, history of kidnapping, even with a deal, he'll be facing life imprisonment."
She nodded slowly.
"And this Dyer?"
"We'll do our best to take him in to custody," Hotchner replied. "Again, if there's enough evidence, which I suspect there will be, if he lives long enough to be arrested-"
"If he lives long enough?" she interrupted him.
"Most unsubs of his type, when caught, provoke law enforcement into killing them. We try to avoid it, but not at the danger of our own or others' lives. If we can catch him off guard, we have a good chance of bringing him in alive."
She nodded again.
"If he's arrested," Hotchner continued, "and if he decides against a plea – which is likely, as he'll also be facing state charges, which would carry the death penalty – there will be a trial, and you will be asked to testify."
She thought about it for a moment. "I'd . . . rather he were brought in alive. Even if I have to testify. There were so many others – bodies, trophies . . . There must be so many families who have no idea what became of their daughters and wives."
"I'll update you as soon as I can," he promised her.
The others began leaving for the parking lot. JJ stood at her elbow, ready to escort her back to the hospital.
"Agent Hotchner?" Amanda asked.
"Yes." He gave no sign of being rushed or wanting to finish quickly.
"You and the others," she paused and swallowed, "you're not going to disappear, are you? I mean, I understand others will take over after you've done your job, but . . ."
"Even after a suspect is apprehended," he told her, "the BAU still has a role in assisting local law enforcement with gathering and interpreting evidence, interviewing the suspect, any victims, or witnesses, and following through with prosecution. Our technical analyst, Penelope Garcia, works as a support group counselor for survivors and families of victims of violent crimes."
She took a deep breath.
"Many of us maintain contact with those we've helped," he assured her.
She glanced at JJ, who nodded. "You should see our Christmas card lists," she said, half-smiling.
"Thank you, Agent Hotchner."
"You're welcome," he answered. "Now, if you'll excuse me."
The drive back to the hospital was quiet, both women lost in thought. Whatever Amanda Mason thought, she kept to herself. JJ, for her part, wondered. Hotch had spoken the truth when he'd said that many of them stayed in contact with former victims and family. Gideon had kept pictures of those he'd saved on a bookshelf in his office. Rossi had a list of people he called regularly, including the two daughters and one son who'd survived their parents' violent murders. Morgan kept tabs on the daughter of a Los Angeles police officer who'd been killed in front of him. Prentiss had fewer ties, mostly because her history with the CIA made conscious of the price those ties carried. Reid probably had the fewest in number. Except for Hotch. JJ didn't know of a single victim, survivor, or family member Hotch kept in contact. Which was not to say he didn't. Hotch was notoriously private. It was just that usually, it showed up in reviews of cases or discussions during work.
And it wasn't as though he'd promised Amanda Mason the kind of continued support he'd spoken of, but . . .
JJ shook her head. Clearly, something about their surviving vic, Amanda Mason, had gotten under Hotch's skin. JJ knew, respected, and might even say she loved Hotch – the way a little sister loved a protective, anal-retentive, overly analytical, cold-blooded older brother. There had been little enough joy in his life. If bringing the man who'd harmed Amanda Mason to justice filled some need in his psyche beyond what a member of the BAU usually experienced, so much the better.
At the hospital, the staff took Amanda back into hand, clucking over the shoes, complimenting her hair, nails, and clothes, and considering the expert makeup application which hid her facial scars so very well. There were several bags of other clothes to hand off, as both JJ and Emily had decided the poor woman couldn't be left with one very nice suit and a rack of hospital gowns with their notorious collection of drafts.
"JJ?" Amanda asked, as orderlies and nurses worked to get her hooked back up.
"Yes," JJ answered, the need to get back into the field where her teammates waited almost overwhelming.
"Please, be careful," Amanda said. "And tell the others. I can't thank you enough for what you've done, but for the love of God, don't get hurt or killed on my behalf."
JJ smiled at her. "Try not to worry, Amanda. We take good care of each other."
Chapter Seven: Justice
The take down was not a success. Patrick Dyer, a paranoid, psychotic, sexual sadist, had multiple booby traps set up on his property. A Santa Ana police officer was injured when he stepped on a trigger. The only reason he wasn't dead was because Reid spotted the trigger half a second before hand, grabbed the officer by the shoulders, and bodily threw him as far out of range as possible while yelling "TAKE COVER!" as loud as he could. Reid took two small shrapnel fragments in the back of his right arm and shoulder, the officer had over twenty in his legs. The yell, unfortunately, alerted Dyer, who began shooting his remaining captives.
Both SWAT and the BAU stormed in as fast as they could, but not before three more women were dead. Prentiss killed Dyer with an expert double-tap to the head as he dragged the next woman out of a cage. Before EMTs and fire fighters could enter, the Los Angeles bomb squad had to cordon off areas and clear paths of IEDs and other traps.
Knowing it would be on the news in a matter of minutes, JJ called the hospital and keyed in the sequence for Amanda Mason's room.
"I know," Amanda said after JJ gave her a brief explanation. "Agent Hotchner already called. Is Doctor Reid all right? And the police officer?"
"Doctor Reid was treated by EMTs at the scene. Officer Reyes has been taken to the hospital for surgery to remove all the shrapnel, but it looks good."
"The surviving women?" Amanda asked.
"We have three, all of them on their way to area hospitals under heavy guard. Amanda," and here JJ turned away from the news crews already setting up cameras and testing angles, lighting, and depth of field, "aside from you and maybe some women who were given to other unsubs like Parkson, it appears that Dyer preyed on low-risk victims. The women we've talked to and identified are all drug addicts, prostitutes, runaways, and mentally ill. From what we've found on his property, he's been at this for at least five years."
There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
"Do you think Parkson might have had . . . what, friends? Competitors? Fellow enthusiasts? Do you think he was the only one Dyer . . . filled an order for? Or could there be others?"
From the quality of her voice, Mason sounded as if she were close to breaking down. It would probably be only another minute before a nurse came to check on her and give her a sedative.
"Amanda, we don't know," JJ told her in all honesty. "If he did, there will probably be some record of it – souvenirs, emails, something. And we'll find it. If not us, Garcia. She's tearing Parkson's hard drive and Internet history for the last five years apart. If anyone can find something, it'll be her."
There was another long silence, and when Amanda spoke again, there was a harsh catch in her voice.
"Agent Jareau, thank you." She was crying. That much was easy to tell over the phone. "You and every member of your team. If it weren't for you . . . I don't know what my life is going to be like, but I know it'll be better than being trapped in that little room for year after year until he got tired of me and let me starve to death. Thank you for finding the man who started this. Thank you for stopping him. Thank you for saving those other women. Thank you for not giving up."
"Amanda," JJ paused, groping for words. "It's what we do. It's who we are."
"And I can't tell you how grateful I am for that," she replied.
Epilogue (Loose Ends)
Six months later . . .
Garcia found them in the bullpen, on a rare day when there were no pressing cases but only the opportunity to dig through pet theories and research strange coincidences and hunches that usually led to a wild goose chase but sometimes put a killer behind bars.
"There you all are!" she announced, smiling widely. "You are not going to believe what I have for you!"
"We usually don't," Hotchner answered.
Garcia stuck her tongue out at him.
"What've you got, baby girl?" Morgan asked. "You already sent me this week's LOLcats and Youtube picks."
"Ha! So much better," she bragged. "Do you remember Amanda Mason?"
Everyone did, instantly. They had each received an individual, hand written thank you note on paper Garcia said was handmade. Mason had moved to the DC area after her initial surgeries and medical treatments were finished, to settle her sister's estate and find a new start somewhere as far away from California as possible.
"She's a member of one of my groups," Garcia told them, "but you know that. Anyways, she took up knitting as part of her occupational therapy – for her hands, to learn how to grip things properly all over again. And she made something for each one of you!"
There were eyebrows raised all the way around.
"This," and here, Garcia gestured in a sweep down her torso, "is mine!"
She wore a short pink angora sweater trimmed in pink ostrick feathers along the edge of its stand up collar and close wrist length cuffs. The hem of the sweater cut around her figure like a bolo jacket, showing off the pink and black striped blouse beneath. It was, without a doubt, well within the parameters of Garcia's tastes.
As the rest of the team clapped politely and Morgan gave her a subdued wolf whistle, Garcia began handing out wrapped packages.
"Don't worry," Garcia assured them. "They've all been through security. Amanda knows all the expectations and didn't want to cause any problems with her gifts."
Garcia appeared to have won the contest with the amount of yarn and effort, as everyone else got a set of mittens and a scarf. Prentiss' was a rich crimson red, the scarf a fine gauge garter stitch. She tried on a mitten of the same color and texture, and showed the others that the top half, covering the fingers, could be pulled off, folded back, and buttoned to the back of the hand, leaving the fingers free for fine detail work. Everyone else's mittens were the same.
"Wow," Emily said, reading over the card, "this is silk, and she dyed it with real cochineal. It sounds impressive. I can only wash it in cold water."
"Cochineal is a red dye obtained from the cochineal beetle," Reid said, happy to explain anything his fellow agents didn't automatically know. "They're native to Mexico and live on nopal cacti. Before Spanish explorers discovered them, it was next to impossible for an average person to afford anything colored with red dye. Cochineal was, at times, worth more than its weight in gold."
"Well, yours is definitely not cochineal," Morgan pointed out to him, "though it looks like she might have had some bugs in her pattern."
He pointed to the odd color arrangement in Reid's scarf of light and dark brown.
"Not at all," Reid replied, running the scarf through his hands. "She did the dark brown stitches in a Fibbonacci sequence. Looks like it runs up to thirty-four before she starts over, and she does five full repetitions, which is why it's so long."
JJ held up a lacy, sky blue scarf. "My grandmother used this pattern. It's called feather and fan."
"It's lovely," Hotchner responded.
"I have to say," Rossi remarked, draping his scarf around his neck, "she has both timing and taste. Plus, this is alpaca. Warmest wool on the market. Perfect for when I go hunting."
"What about you, Hotch?" Morgan asked.
Hotch pulled his scarf out of the box, setting the mittens aside. Like Emily's, the yarn was a fine gauge silk, but this was darker than navy blue with tiny variations in the spin of the yarn and the occasional nub or slub that pointed to a dupioni silk. At first glance, it was simply a very elegant, conservative scarf. Given a longer look, the subtle color and texture variations made it quite striking.
"The weather's cold enough, I can wear this on the way home," Hotchner said.
The agents around him either smiled broadly or looked away and hid their smiles. None of them said a word until Garcia broke the silence.
"And, she's working on another project," she announced. "But, I'm not allowed to tell you what it is."
"Is it her testimony?" Hotchner asked, frowning in new concern.
"Oh!" Garcia startled. "No. Not that. You knew about that?"
"I've been asked to make a statement as well. Have you talked to her about how these Congressional hearings can go?"
"Oh, yes, sir," Garcia said, emphatically. "She's been practicing her statement. It's . . . it's really not easy to listen to, but she told me she wanted all the Congress members to understand what she went through and why the expansion on our software system is so important. There's no way Dyer could have gotten away with killing as long as he did if there'd been any way to compare the marks on the remains like that."
"But this new thing is not that," Rossi said.
"No, completely different," Garcia swore. "And I have no doubt in my mind that you will like it."
"Well, I like this," Emily said, draping the scarf over her shoulders. "Lady's got taste. Keep us posted, okay?"
"You got it."
He waited for her in the hallway outside the hearing chamber. The first floor had several chambers for hearings, and this preliminary look into funding further database and software expansion for multi-level law enforcement efforts was considered important enough to be housed in the Capitol building itself. His FBI badge ensured he earned only the occasional glance from a page or security guard as he waited patiently.
When Amanda Mason emerged, after spending nearly twenty minutes detailing the kidnapping, torture, rape, and further torture she'd endured over two years as well as the missed opportunities by local law enforcement, she was pale but composed. At her side was a very large dog wearing an orange service dog's vest. It looked like it had to have had some Irish wolfhound in it, or Great Dane, or other very large breed, but it wasn't a pure breed. Nor did it look frightening at all. In fact, all it seemed to do was stand or sit beside her, panting happily. Occasionally, it leaned on her.
She took a deep breath, straightened her jacket, and when she looked up, she saw him.
"Agent Hotchner," she greeted him.
There was enough room in the hallway for them to stand and converse without having to step aside.
"It's . . . it's very nice to see you again," she said. Then she looked down at her dog, who groaned in a friendly manner. "This is Heimdall. He's my service dog. Penelope was such an enormous help. Once I found that my agorophobia wasn't going away, she suggested a service animal. Heimdall makes it possible for me to get out and about."
"I'm glad," Aaron said.
He held his hand out for Heimdall to give a brief, whiskery sniff.
"Why . . . are you here?" she finally asked.
"I testified earlier today," he answered, "before you were called. I thought I might wait until you were done and see how you were doing. I know that can't have been easy."
"It wasn't," she replied. "But it was worth it. The survivor who disappeared afterwards, Callie Hunter. Has there been any word of her?"
Aaron shook his head. "I'm afraid not. She has a history of drug use and prostitution. After the trauma she suffered, it would have been all too easy for her to disappear again. We have advisories out, so if she's picked up or arrested, the local police will know to contact us."
"Thank you, Agent Hotchner," she said. "I barely got to know her. I wanted so much to help, and then she was gone."
"I know. It happens. And Ms. Mason?"
"I'd like it if you'd call me Aaron."
The smile that lit her face took even him by surprise. She'd had surgery, yes. She wore makeup to reduce the impact of the scars, yes. Still, it was a joy to see the corners of her eyes crinkle and her mouth lift in a genuine smile, unafraid and unhesitant.
"If you'll call me Amanda," she answered.
"I'd like that even more," he said. "Would you be interested in getting some lunch? My treat, and I know where all the good restaurants are, around here."
She glanced around the hallway. "Can you find one that doesn't have a lot of politicians?"
He offered her his arm, and she took it, leading her service dog with the other hand. The dog looked up at her and then Aaron, then followed as they went out into the late spring weather.
In the year since her rescue, Amanda Mason had reclaimed her body, her freedom, and her life. While she was officially disabled due to the emotional trauma of her experience and some lingering physical issues, she had enough good days to work as an advocate for victims and their families. There had, in that year's time, been several articles written about her and one in-depth interview, where she happily talked about the miraculous work of the BAU and other law enforcement agencies but refused to give salacious details about the rape and torture she'd endured.
Parkson had been sentenced to prison for life, astonished that his civil suit against Dyer's estate had been dismissed less than twenty-four hours after it had been filed. He had been killed by another prisoner during a short lived riot. Prison officials suspected he'd been targeted by other inmates as soon as his identity and crimes were known.
Now, though, she stood before the members of the BAU team which had rescued her, and she was the center of her attention. She wore prostheses for her missing fingers and earlobes – realistic enough not to draw notice, but not so flawless she couldn't point them out if necessary. Plastic surgeons had done a great deal for her, and with the resources of her sister's estate, she'd purchased a very small house with enough room for a garden and paid for a personal trainer to help her rebuild her body in a healthy manner. She'd gained enough weight that she no longer looked fragile. She'd cut her hair a little shorter and dyed it a reddish brown. She'd gone back to wearing eclectic and individualized jewelry and clothes. Heimdall went everywhere with her. Garcia had let slip that she'd applied for and been granted a concealed weapon permit and was training at a local firing range. All of these, Rossi, Reid, and Hotch deemed, were perfectly normal and healthy coping mechanisms for her past injuries.
"I've said before," she began, "how grateful I am and how much I wish I could thank you, and that it never really seems enough."
"Seriously," Morgan started, "it's our j-"
She pointed an index finger and wagged it at him. "My turn, Agent Morgan."
With a chagrined smile, he shrugged and ducked his head.
"After talking to the others in the support group Penelope directed me to and talking to Penelope as well," Amanda continued, "I became aware that I was far from the only people who felt this way. So, with Penelope's help, a great deal of research, some travel, and a lot of technical stuff, this is my thanks to you."
She stepped aside and pressed a button on her remote, which started a video on the oversized monitor behind her. Instantly, an older couple sitting on a tasteful sofa appeared.
"You may not remember us," the man said, "and that's okay. From what Amanda has told us, you deal with as many as five major cases a month. Our daughter, Cassandra, was kidnapped at the mall, and you were the ones who found her. You saved her. If not for you, she'd be dead."
The woman was already in tears. "I can never say 'thank you' enough for giving us back our baby. Cassandra?"
A teenage girl walked in, and her parents made room for her on the couch.
"Hi, everyone. I don't remember anyone's names, but what I do remember is when you found me. I remember how hard it was to breathe and how scared I was, and how I thought I was going to die, and I'd never see my mom or my dad again, and then . . . you were there. There was a lot of yelling, and you took care of me. By the time I knew what was going on, you were gone, but I know that you saved me. Thank you."
The scene changed to a woman in a sherrif's uniform and a man standing beside her.
"We know a little bit of how much each of you has been through," the woman said. "I know I'll always be haunted by what I saw that man do, and I know you see things like that every day of your life. I don't know how you do it, but I am so thankful that you are there and that you do the job you do every day."
"I thought she was dead," the man standing beside her said. He put an arm around her, hugging her, the sudden memory of nearly losing her making him squeeze harder than he meant to. "You found her in time. Thank you. Thank you so much."
The scene changed again, to an older woman, sitting by herself. Her face was lined with grief, but there was calmness in her expression.
"I know that you never had a chance to find my daughter in time to save her, and that you never had a chance to save my husband's life when he saw what those killers did to her," she said. "But you found my baby, and you brought her back to me, so I could bury her, and you found her killers and brought them to justice, and I can never thank you enough for that."
The scene changed again.
Each time, one or more persons – whether their child or sister or husband or friend had been rescued while still alive or only recovered after death – told them how much it meant, how thankful they were, how they wished they could tell each member of the team each and every day of their lives how grateful they were for what the BAU had done.
After ten minutes, Amanda paused the video.
"There's two more hours of this," she told them. "With Penelope's help, I tracked down every survivor, relative, or friend related to cases you've handled that I could. If they were still alive, more than ninety percent of them agreed to film a statement to you. I didn't tell them what to say. I wasn't really surprised when they all said thank you."
JJ, Emily, and Garcia were openly crying. Reid had quietly wiped his eyes. Morgan's eyes were wet, and Rossi blew his nose on a tissue. Only Aaron stood, apparently unmoved.
"What's more," Amanda continued, "is that with Penelope's help, I've set up a website with access given to victims and their families after your help, so that they can leave you messages. After reading just about my case, about Dyer and Parkson, and what you had to deal with, I knew that I couldn't let you go without giving you as much as possible. There's a copy of this on DVD for each of you, and Penelope has backups if you ever need them.
"Now," she said, "I know that you have cases to look at and that you'll need some time to collect yourselves, so I'm going to leave now, but I'll be in touch. Don't doubt it. If any of you ever need anything – a new scarf, pet sitting, dry cleaning picked up, or a champion in the media – all you ever have to do is ask."
Hotchner escorted her out of the office, leaving the others behind.
"How do you think it went?" she asked him, taking his arm as he always offered it.
"I think exactly the same thing that I did when I first laid eyes on you," he told her. He paused and looked down into her eyes. "You are a remarkable woman, and I am very, very lucky to have met you."
"She calls you Penelope?" JJ asked as they hurried to the elevator to catch up with Amanda and extract a promise of lunch or dinner or girls' night out or anything social.
"And she, honey bun, is the only person I have ever granted that right to," Garcia said.
They rounded the corner to the foyer before the elevators, and JJ suddenly caught Garcia by her sweater and hauled her back out of sight. Then she furtively peeked around the corner. After a split second of reconnaissance, JJ turned back around, eyes wide as platters.
"I knew it!" she declared.
"What?" Garcia demanded.
"Look, but make it quick!" JJ instructed.
Garcia peeked around the corner, and when she saw what she saw, she stifled a gasp.
There, waiting for the elevator, while Heimdall sat on his haunches, observing with a very doggie smile, Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner and Amanda Mason stood nearly toe to toe, her hand on his shoulder, his on her waist, and his other hand cupping her cheek as he kissed her.
Garcia whipped back around, hands clapped to her mouth. By then, JJ had broken into a wide smile.
"Oh, this is better than Christmas!" Garcia squeaked.