Cue the pulse to begin.
He's just as beautiful as I remember, his body taut and firm in all the places that matter, soft and yielding in the others. He moves underneath me, reaching, yearning, the pair of us climbing together towards that moment of ecstasy when the skies open and you can see, just for a moment, the face of God.
He spills himself all over my hands, his pulse hot and wet and slick, the air filling with the tang of salt and iron.
"Was it good for you, too?" I murmur into his ear. He doesn't answer, of course. Overwhelmed, overcome; I'm the one who brought him to that, the culmination of everything he's ever felt, or will ever feel again. I did that. Me.
I dress him after we've bathed, buttoning his shirt for him, cuffs and collar.
And when I leave him in the Toolshed parking lot, sweet skin so pale against the black tarmac, red blood a vivid stain against them both, my fairy-tale lover (Sleeping Beauty and Snow White in one) - I fold his hands for him, to hide his shame.
It's the least I can do.
Hatred is active, and envy passive dislike; there is but one step from envy to hate.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
November 12th, 2007, 9 am
"Have you seen the new guy in polygraph?" FBI technical analyst Penelope Garcia flashed a wide and sunny grin at her co-worker as they entered the bullpen at the BAU. Special Agent Emily Prentiss, as slim and brunette as Garcia was extravagantly blonde, her charcoal pantsuit a visual foil for Garcia's purple dress, shook her head and dropped down into her desk chair.
"Super cute. Tall, dark, bit of a baby face, awesome glasses." Garcia described, leaning on Prentiss' desk. Derek Morgan, who fit that description reasonably well himself but for the lack of glasses, looked up from his computer and flashed the women a bemused look.
"Careful," Prentiss warned, with a smile of her own. "You're going to make Morgan jealous."
"Jealous of who?" He leaned back in his chair and crossed one foot over onto the opposite knee as he reclined.
"The new guy in polygraph," Prentiss supplied the answer.
"New hottie on deck," Garcia elaborated. "But don't you worry, muffin," she directed that at Morgan, with a wink. "No one will ever come between you and me."
"Millard? He's gay," came the voice from the fourth desk in the quad. Three heads turned in unison as though choreographed to stare at Doctor Spencer Reid, sitting cross-legged in his chair, his desk buried under about half a dozen open file folders. He'd been head-down and scribbling when the women entered, not joining the conversation until he delivered his succinct summation.
"How do you know?" Morgan asked the question on all of their lips, raising a dark eyebrow at the spindly, floppy-haired agent at the next desk.
Reid looked around at his teammates, oblivious to their surprise. "I saw his partner dropping him off at work Tuesday morning. Blond, short hair, business suit, beard."
"Could be a friend," Prentiss suggested, cocking her head.
"Or a carpool," Garcia added, poking her pen, decorated with a purple feather, in Reid's general direction as emphasis.
"You french-kiss your carpool driver?" Reid asked, not quite as oblivious to their reactions as his original expression would have had them believe.
"OK, that's a point." Garcia sighed.
"Why are all the cute ones gay? Or married?" Prentiss complained incautiously, only half-joking.
Morgan gave her an offended look, as did Reid. "Hey!"
Prentiss laughed, holding up her hands in surrender. "Sorry. Gay, married, or immediate co-workers, and therefore off-limits to all but the most platonic forms of abject adoration."
"You're forgiven," Morgan accepted the correction magnanimously. He waggled his own pen at her in admonition. "This time."
The door opened and a trio of agents entered the bullpen, two dark-haired men trailed – but not by much – by a slim blonde woman. Hotchner, the younger of the two men, clean-shaven, his dark suit sitting neatly on his shoulders, gestured for the rest of the team to join him before trotting quickly up the stairs to the conference room. Rossi and JJ followed, the older man's vaguely scruffy appearance a dark contrast to JJ's fresh, polished fairness.
Prentiss tracked them with her eyes and rose from her chair, the two men at the desks following suit. "Here we go."
Five of the six field agents of the BAU were seated around the table in short order, the only sounds the momentary scrapes and shuffle of paper as they opened the files set before them. JJ stayed standing, and slid a photograph into place on the bulletin board that faced the round table. The colours were the first thing that jumped out at Morgan when he studied the image; the young man – close-cropped dark hair; snug jeans, faded; white button-down shirt over a clinging wifebeater; the red stain that flooded up across the bottom of the shirt, stark in its brutality. His hands had been carefully folded over his crotch, one cupping the other, as though protecting himself. Or covering something.
"Alexander Easley," JJ began, nodding at the photograph. Another picture joined the first, another good-looking young guy. In his mid-twenties, Morgan estimated, just from the look, also dressed casually, this time in a clinging silk shirt and jeans with artfully-placed tears and fade marks. Expensive shoes. Same pose. Same blood. "And Anthony Penn," JJ continued, once she'd secured the picture in its place. "Penn was the first victim, killed September twenty first. His body was found in the parking lot of Pistols, a local bar. Pittsburgh PD assumed it was a crime of passion, until Easley's body showed up two days ago, in another parking lot in the same area."
"Another club?" Prentiss frowned at the images, already running through potential connections in her mind.
"Another club in the same neighbourhood," JJ confirmed. "The Toolshed, a few blocks away. Both are on Liberty Avenue, which is the center of Pittsburgh's gay village. Both men were drugged, death was by exsanguination-" she gave the men in the room a vaguely apologetic look and a small grimace of distaste, "following castration."
Morgan couldn't help the wince. He felt a little better at the visceral reaction when he noticed both Reid and Rossi crossing their legs; he couldn't see Hotch from there, but he wouldn't have been surprised if his boss had done the same. Prentiss was laughing at him with her eyes, though, and he gave a half-hearted shrug.
"Any sexual assault?" Hotch moved on, ever-efficient, flipping the pages of the file to get to the ME reports.
"Uncertain," JJ picked up the answer with a shake of her head. "The ME noted that both men had engaged in anal sex shortly before death, but there was no evidence of assault. No defensive wounds, nothing to suggest that it was anything short of consensual. But that all depends, of course, on when the sedative got into their systems – before, or after."
"Presence of lubricant and absence of damage suggests that pain wasn't the point, here;" Rossi interjected, turning a paper clip over in his fingers as he thought aloud. "No DNA left behind, so the attacker used a condom or a substitute-"
"Suggesting impotence, maybe, sexual frustration?" Reid leaned forward in his chair, tipping the back legs up and balancing against the edge of the table. "The specific mutilation, the way the bodies have been cleaned, redressed, the unnatural pose – the killer wanted them to be found, and he cared about them. This was something intensely personal for him."
"An ex-lover?" Prentiss suggested, glancing at JJ for confirmation. "Do we know if the victims were gay?"
"Penn was on the volunteer board of the local Gay and Lesbian Center, so it's safe to say that he likely was; Easley is unknown. His last known address was an apartment in the gay village, though, so it's entirely possible." JJ shrugged, unable to give them any more than that. "Given the ritualistic nature of the way the bodies were posed, and now that this isn't just a one-off, the local PD have asked us to weigh in."
"Do we –" Prentiss hesitated for a moment before asking, then pressed on. "Do we know what happened to the victims' genitals?"
"No sign of them at the scene," JJ replied, shaking her head. "Maybe he's disposing of them somewhere else?"
Rossi frowned, his expression dark. "Or keeping them as trophies."
Hotch nodded, taciturn as always, keeping any further thoughts to himself for the moment. "Wheels up in half an hour."
November 12th, 2007, noon
The November day was as grey and dreary in Pittsburgh as it had been in Virginia, and Prentiss tied the belt of her coat a little more snugly around her waist in a half-hearted attempt to keep out the chill. Yellow tape fluttered in the wind at the entrance to the club's parking lot, the nondescript building looking vastly different in the daytime than she assumed it would look at night. The street beyond was bustling with activity and life, though the noise seemed to fade away in the isolation of the little enclave formed by the walls of the buildings surrounding the lot.
The detective in charge of the case – he'd introduced himself as Carl Horvath – was a heavier-set man approaching retirement age, his grey hair thinning. His anger and passion were still evident in his voice, though; he wasn't a burn-out case. He'd been walking the BAU agents through the most recent crime scene for the last ten minutes, and he scrubbed a meaty hand across the back of his neck as he wound down.
"We've had murders before – an area like this, you're gonna get the occasional hustler with a bad trick, sometimes rednecks come down here to try and pick fights, gay-bashings- but I gotta say, Agent Hotchner, this is a new one on me."
"We've seen a few, unfortunately," Hotch replied, his gaze skimming the ground as though he might find something that the locals had missed during their examination of the scene. Prentiss joined them, nodding at Horvath as she did so. "The unsub has a personal connection to these victims – that will make him easier to find, once we find the link."
Horvath nodded, shoved his hands into the pockets of his well-worn brown trench coat as though he could find the answers he needed at the bottom of the bagged-out openings. "We're gonna catch this guy, right? My girl's son runs a shop on Liberty. She's been going batshit over this thing. I have no idea what to say to calm her down, not after this." The look in his eyes suggested that his 'girl' wasn't the only one who was concerned, but if it gave him an easier way to express his feelings, Prentiss wasn't going to argue with that.
"We'll get him," she assured the detective with a smile that she hoped looked confident. Reid looked up from where he was crouched perusing the dump site, and scrubbed his hands on his pants as he stood. His gun bumped against his leg awkwardly, and she smiled as he joined them.
"No blood stains at all on the ground, this is a secondary site?" Reid asked Horvath, distracting the detective from the previous conversation.
"No blood on the ground at either scene," Horvath confirmed, "and not enough blood for- " he squirmed with real discomfort. "You know what this sicko did to these guys, right?" He shook his head, frowning in disgust. "Not enough blood on the bodies to account for - that. He killed them somewhere else and brought them downtown to dump 'em."
"He'd need a car, or a van-"
"It's been dry for a week here; no mud, no tire tracks to speak of."
"What about surveillance tapes? Are there any cameras on the parking lot?"
"There's a camera, but it's a dummy. Owner said it hasn't been working for months."
"Damn. Prentiss, call Garcia. See if there are any street cameras that might have picked up a vehicle coming into the lot after last call. And see if she's managed to find anything else on the victims."
November 12th, 2007, 1:30 pm
"Penn's partner confirmed that he used to hang out at a private club called Babylon; Easley's roommate mentioned that he did as well. And a bar – Woody's." Morgan stabbed his chopsticks into the mostly-empty cardboard bucket, fishing for a cashew. "That looks like our only obvious link so far."
"Them and every other man in the neighbourhood, according to these membership records for Babylon," Reid flipped a page in the binder that one of the uniforms had passed him, and shook his head. "They lived in the same neighbourhood; any one of the locations on the street could have been the place where they met the unsub."
"That time of night?" Prentiss set her takeout cup down. "That's not when you're at the library. And both guys were dressed for clubbing. My guess is he's finding his victims at the bars." Her eyes lit up and she grinned. "Hey Reid," she called out, mischief glinting in her eyes. "Looks like you and Morgan are going to have to go dancing. I don't think JJ and I would be able to blend into the crowd too well."
She only had a moment to enjoy Reid's look of horror before Morgan's phone rang. He glanced at the number and answered it, still chuckling softly. "Hey there, baby girl. You're on speaker." He held the phone out a little so that the others could hear Garcia's report as well.
"Hold on to that delicious butt of yours, hot chocolate, have I got news for you." The technical analyst's voice sounded out, the tinny sound added by the phone line not disguising the harried and excited tone of her voice.
"Lay it on me, gorgeous," Morgan replied, raising an eyebrow and trading his lunch for a pen.
"No luck on the street cameras, I'm sorry to say. But do not panic! I do not call empty-handed. I played a hunch and expanded the search parameters on the victims – see if this particular MO had shown up anywhere before."
"And you got a hit?" Prentiss looked up with pleased surprise, and gestured for Hotch to join them as he and Rossi turned the corner into the section of the station that had been given over to them.
"More than that, my darlings, I found three. Three more murders that fit the pattern, all within the past five months, all in the same general area. They didn't come up originally because they're in different states and we were focused on Pennsylvania. First one was Maxwell Dunn, July 20th, in Columbus Ohio. Then our man Penn, in Pittsburgh. Then we have Pancho Mansfield – fabulous name, gotta be a story behind that one – in New York City on October 19th, Jason Pitt in Richmond, Virginia on November 2nd. I'm e-mailing the new case files to Hotch as we speak."
The sound of typing came over the line, and Reid was already moving, pulling open a map and muttering under his breath as he began to trace out the locations and dates. "Columbus to Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh to NYC, NYC to Richmond-"
"Why would he go all that distance and then come back to Pittsburgh?" JJ frowned, leaning over Reid's shoulder to watch him plot. "Seems like a strange circuit."
"A trucker, maybe? A travelling salesman? Someone with a route that brings him back around to a central depot every few months?" Rossi asked the room, not expecting an answer.
"Are there any common factors with these guys?" Morgan asked into the phone, as Hotch moved across to the laptop to pull up his email and print the files.
"Other than the fact that they're all drop-dead gorgeous?" Garcia's voice replied. Prentiss could hear the grin in it, one that had faded again just as quickly when the analyst continued. "They're all around the same age – mid twenties to early thirties. Most Caucasian, Mansfield is mixed Caucasian and Hispanic. Employment-wise, they were all over the place. Anthony Penn owned a bookstore. Jason Pitt was a lobbyist, but Mansfield worked in a call center. Max Dunn was a carpenter. Alex Easley, the latest victim, was a travel agent."
"Mix of white and blue collar, race might still be a connection-" Rossi mused aloud.
"How about sexuality, Garcia?" Prentiss asked, exchanging glances with JJ on the other side of the desk. "That seemed to be a factor with the local two."
"Not sure," came the apologetic reply. "Jason Pitt is listed as being involved in some charity events for the gay community in Pittsburgh. And since neither of the others were in registered domestic partnerships, there's no way of knowing if the other two had partners. Not from their files, anyway.
"What I DO know, and here's where it gets interesting-" Garcia continued, as files opened on Hotch's laptop and images of the men under discussion began to appear on the screen, "is that all of the victims lived in Pittsburgh between 2004 and 2005. Dunn still lives – lived, I should say – in Pittsburgh; he was up visiting relatives in Ohio when he was killed. Mansfield was doing a work-study program in Pittsburgh in 2005, and Pitt lived just around the corner from Liberty Avenue from 2004 until last year, when he moved to Virginia."
Rossi furrowed his brow. "So it is Pittsburgh that's the connection. What happened in 2005? And what was the trigger that started the unsub killing now?"
"And if Dunn lived in Pittsburgh, why go out to Ohio to kill him?" Morgan interjected, leaning back in his chair with the phone still held up. "Why not wait for him to come back to home turf?"
"Because it's not the place that's important," Reid resurfaced and joined the conversation, stabbing at the paper in front of him with his pen. "It's the dates. Look at this. We already know that the kills are personal – and the dates are in sequence. July 20th." He jotted the date down again. "Two months later, September 21st. One month later, October 19th. Two weeks later, November 2nd. One week later, November 9th."
"It's a countdown," Prentiss breathed out, grabbing for the datebook on the corner of her borrowed desk. "So if there are more kills to come-"
"The next one will be tomorrow night." Hotch replied. "We need to get the profile ready, now."
"I'll talk to Horvath," Rossi stood, his jaw set. "Get as many uniforms out on the streets as possible for the next two days. Maybe we can catch this guy in the act."
November 12th, 2007, 11:30 pm
The strobe lights should hurt my eyes, by all rights. They're too bright, too fast, too sharp, like little blades of fire sparking in the brain.
The flashing and flickering of the lights, the lasers picked out by the artificial smoke, the refractions of fire off the glitter that falls in waves from traps in the ceiling – all of it has been carefully constructed to create a new world for us. The dance floor is space out of space, time out of time, the pulsing of the bass and the drums becoming the rhythm of bodies, of sweat, of sex and blood.
I move through the crowd like a shark, that scent thick in my nose, hot in my mouth. Wet bodies move aside for me without conscious awareness, reacting on base instinct. Hands reach for me, to draw me into the crush, and normally I would follow without a second thought. Lose myself and find myself a hundred times over in the heatslickyesnowmore of it all.
But tonight I have something else I need to do.
He eludes me, my lover, and the insistent pressure builds with the thump of the beat and the flashing of the lights, a burn and a hunger that demands attention. I'll not have him tonight, no, but tomorrow – I can't take the chance that he won't be with me tomorrow.
I lost him before. I won't let it happen again.
November 13th, 2007. 8:30 am:
The precinct was bustling, the uniforms and detectives gathering for the briefing. Morgan cut through the crowd, two take-away trays filled with paper cups in his hands. "Coffee, ladies-" he handed one of the trays to JJ, keeping the other for himself.
"You're my new favourite person," JJ smiled her thanks, reaching for one of the cups and flipping the pop top back with a flourish. "We're about ready to go here. Hotch and Rossi are in with Horvath."
"I thought I was your favourite person?" Reid put on an offended look and managed to keep his face deadpan.
"Here we go-" Prentiss nodded toward the door, and the men who were coming in. "We're up."
"We're looking for a white male, somewhere between thirty and forty," Hotch began from his position at the front of the room. He surveyed the faces in front of him with a critical eye. The rooms were slightly different every time, the racial, sex and age mix always a little varied, but the essentials were always the same. The sensation rested somewhere between familiar and déjà vu. "He'll be gay or bisexual. He's arrogant, a narcissist. He has a job that gives him a feeling of power – surgeon, CEO, politics. He craves control over other people."
Rossi picked up where Hotch left off, at the team leader's careful nod. "He's frustrated – something has happened in his life recently that's made him feel like he's lost that control. He may have recently become impotent, been fired, or left by a partner. He feels the need to lash out and regain that feeling of power that he craves. He cares about his victims, even as he's emasculating them. They appear to have had consensual sex with him prior to the murders, so they may know him, and he's likely charismatic and attractive."
Prentiss took the rest of it, moving forward to address the assembled officers. "He's materially wealthy, and has access to isolated property where he can commit torture and murder without being overheard. The body dumps are obvious, so he feels untouchable. Something about him makes him feel like he's immune from prosecution. All the victims had elevated blood alcohol levels on the nights they died, consistent with having a couple of drinks. He's picking them up in social settings. Liberty Avenue appears to be his hunting ground."
Hotch took his chance to scan the group again while Prentiss was speaking, and his eyes narrowed a little when the rested on Horvath. The detective was staring at Prentiss with a look of – was that recognition? His lips were pressed tightly together as though in dismay. Hotch frowned, then leaned in to murmur quietly to Rossi while Prentiss wrapped things up with the group. "Look at Horvath."
"He knows something."
"I'll speak to him after this."
The group dispersed, a handful of questions answered, and Hotch waited until the room had mostly cleared out before moving again. Horvath lingered in the doorway, as though wrestling with some internal demon, and he didn't look at all relieved when Rossi beckoned him over.
Hotch remained standing, his arms folded. "When we gave the profile," he opened, searching the older man's face for an answer. "Something struck you. Do you know the unsub?"
"It's probably nothing," the detective hedged, not meeting Hotch's eye. Hotch had the feeling that Horvath would be scuffing his toe in the dirt, if he were a kid; something was eating at him, and badly.
"Whatever it is, even small details can be helpful," he encouraged.
Horvath sighed deeply, and gave Hotch a hangdog look. "I know someone who fits that profile. There's just no way he did it. He's a son of a bitch, but he's no killer."
The fact that he'd even brought it up, Rossi mused, meant that there was some room for doubt, even though Horvath was professing otherwise. "Give us what you've got. Let us be the judge of that."
Horvath nodded, flipped over the file in his hands without really looking at it. "Brian Kinney," he gave up the name. "Runs Kinnetik, one of the big ad agencies in town. He's everything you just described. Arrogant as hell. Loner type; has friends, but doesn't let 'em in much. He owns that club where the victims had memberships – Babylon; he bought it about three years ago."
Horvath nodded, reluctantly. "He has a place out in West Virginia. Big house, stables, the whole bit."
Rossi gave him a quizzical look. "Why would an urban ad guy buy country property?"
"It was supposed to be a gift for his fiancé, an artist; name of Justin Taylor. But they called off the wedding. Taylor moved to New York to go paint, Kinney stayed here and kept the house."
"When was the breakup?" Rossi leaned forward, hot on the scent. It couldn't possibly be this easy.
Horvath shook his head. "Two years ago, not long after he bought the place. I have no idea what happened; neither of them would talk about to anyone, only that 'it was the right thing to do.' Debbie was fit to be tied."
"My girl," Horvath clarified, looking even more uncomfortable than before, if that were even possible. "Debbie Novotny. Her son Michael is Kinney's best friend. They grew up together – Brian practically lived at Deb's place when the boys were teenagers." He relaxed a little now that they were off the subject of Kinney's possible involvement in a serial murder. "Deb's got a heart bigger than her mouth which, if you know Deb, is saying something. She works down at the Liberty Diner, thinks she's mom to all of the boys down there. She's always taking in strays. Taylor lived with her for a while as well, about six years back, after his folks kicked him out," he added as an addendum.
"Mrs. Novotny would know quite a bit about the community, maybe about our victims as well?" Hotch asked, an eyebrow raised. "Who their friends were, if they had a partner in common?"
"Sure," Horvath waffled for a moment, then agreed. "After two years, I don't know how much she'd remember, but it's worth a shot."
"Where would we find this Kinney guy?" Rossi interjected, taking notes while the information was all still fresh in his mind.
"I can take you to his office," Horvath suggested. "It's not that far from here."
November 13th, 2007, 10:00 am:
"This looks like the place," Prentiss stopped on the sidewalk at the corner and looked up at the round red, white and blue sign that read 'Liberty Diner.' Rainbow flags and posters for community events – many of them involving half or almost entirely-naked men – plastered the bottom half of the plate glass window across the diner's front, and the decor inside matched. Posters vied with paintings for space on the slightly dingy walls, the formica countertop more scratches than pattern. It was too late for the breakfast rush and too early for lunch, only a handful of patrons scattered across the dark green booths and tables inside. A middle-aged woman in a rainbow vest covered in pins and buttons was leaning on the counter and making notes in a lined notebook, her short, curly red hair a colour never found in nature. She looked up at the jingle from the door as the agents entered, gave them a broad smile, and snapped her gum. Her white t-shirt read 'Fuck Yoga.'
"Morning, darlins," Debbie straightened up and headed back around the counter as Rossi and Prentiss approached. She whipped out her order pad with another flash of a broad smile. "What'll it be?" Debbie Novotny was like a rainbow-striped version of Garcia, aged about thirty years. She had the same attitude, the same big mouth; she was missing the glasses, but they bought their fuzzy pens at the same office supply store.
"That's the name, don't wear it out." Deb cracked her gum to punctuate the end of the joke, but her eyes narrowed a little and lost some of the cheer that she'd greeted them with a moment ago. "I don't think I've seen you two in here before. I'm going to take a wild guess and say you're not just here for waffles."
Rossi noted bags under her eyes, her furrowed brow; something had been worrying the woman lately. The violence in her neighbourhood in general, or some more personal connection? He flashed briefly on what Horvath had said about this Kinney guy being one of Mrs. Novotny's 'Lost Boys' and kept that in mind when he replied. "What makes you say that?" he tried for charming, ended up closer to 'prickly' despite himself.
"No offence, but you're not the demographic I usually see in the diner," Deb nodded to the few customers in there, almost universally young men. "And anyone who lives around here knows I'm 'Debbie.' 'Mrs. Novotny,' especially when you don't introduce yourselves, means someone's in trouble. I haven't had to be called in to the principal's office in almost twenty years, so I think you better get on with it." And she waved her fluffy red pen in Rossi's general direction.
There was something familiar about Mrs. Novotny's attitude, and Rossi cocked his head a little as he considered it. Prentiss jumped in to try and rescue the situation, looking from one to the other as she did so. "I'm Agent Emily Prentiss, this is SSA David Rossi. We're with the FBI, looking into the recent murders in the area-"
"Rossi, hunh? A good Italian boy like you - your mama should have taught you better manners than that."
He raised an eyebrow, the pieces falling into place. "Novotny's not an Italian name."
"Maiden name's Grassi." Challenge accepted.
"So we understand each other," Rossi grinned, gestured back and forth between the three of them. "You be straight with us, we'll be straight with you."
"Honey, the three of us are just about the only people in here who can say that," Debbie grinned and snapped her gum, the tension dissipating, for the moment. A different sort rose once she'd refocused, looking at the manila envelope tucked under Prentiss' arm. "Murders? You must be working with Carl."
"Detective Horvath?" Prentiss asked, nodding in confirmation even as she said it. She sat down on a stool and set the envelope on the countertop for the moment. "He's the one who suggested we come talk to you," she tried a little easy flattery. "He mentioned that you know just about everyone who comes through here, and we were wondering if you could help us answer a few questions. We could really use your help." She opened her eyes a little wide, counting on the older woman's maternal instincts, along with her apparent need to feel important, to kick in.
"Sure, of course, anything to help out," Debbie nodded in agreement. "It's a damn shame, those two boys; I have to say, I'm glad someone's taking this seriously! We've had too many cases around here that just get ignored. It's like the cops don't care about this neighbourhood, just because of who lives here. Except Carl," she reconsidered, with an affectionate smile. "He knows better now."
Lord help Horvath at the beginning when he didn't, Rossi mused internally, careful not to let any of his amusement show on his face. The woman was a steamroller.
"So what can I do?" she asked, leaning her elbows on the counter.
"Well," Prentiss began, glancing at Rossi before she opened the envelope and slid out the photos inside. "We're looking for information on these men. We need to know what the connection was between them. Did they date anyone in common, did they have the same friends, or go to the same bars-?"
Debbie reached out and spread the five pictures out on the countertop in front of her, dawning comprehension turning to a look of horror. "Five?" she squeaked, breathless. "There are FIVE? The papers said two! Christ! FIVE?"
"Mrs. Novotny, please-" Rossi put out a hand to try and get the woman to calm down, aware that her moment of panic was drawing concerned looks from the handful of patrons in the diner. "We need you to be calm." He had a flash of genius. "They need you to stay calm. Now whatever you can tell us, will help us to stop their killer from doing it again."
"Right," Debbie nodded, and flapped her hand in the general direction of her broad chest as she tried to get her panic under control. "Right. JESUS."
"Take your time, Mrs. Novotny," Prentiss encouraged, taking a moment to lay the pictures out in a row. "Whenever you're ready. What can you tell us about these men?"
Deb stared at the images, then nodded and began poking at the pictures as she described the men in them. "Two eggs, over easy, sausage, whole wheat toast," Debbie indicated the photo of Alex Easley. "Pink plate special, no peanut oil," was directed at the picture of Mansfield. "I only ever knew them by their orders, but they used to come here every weekend before going out dancing."
"Together?" Rossi asked, raising an eyebrow.
"No – different crowds. Well, as different as you can get in a community this small, you know? By the time they're in their thirties every one of these boys has fucked someone who's fucked someone who's fucked their ex – it's about three degrees of separation around here, if not closer." Somehow the profanity managed to sound like normal conversation, coming from Deb, rather than rude.
"That's Tony Penn; he owned Venus Envy, a bookstore around the corner. Sweet guy. He helped organize a bunch of events to benefit the Gay and Lesbian Center, as well as the hospice. Max was only here about a year; he won the Absolute Abs contest at Babylon, and the wet t-shirt contest, and he was Pistols' hunk-of-the-month once – maybe September?" She sniffled and blew her nose in a napkin she dragged from the dispenser on the counter.
"Nice looking boy," she offered up, "but then they all are. Were." She resorted the photos, stared at them again with a wistful, compassionate look. When Debbie spoke again, her voice was sad rather than panicked. "These boys were some of the hottest tickets in town just two years ago. Dancing, partying, fucking – everybody wanted to get on the ride. And now you're telling me they're gone? Life's too short, Agents. Too fucking short."
"Amen," Rossi replied, keeping his own voice low in a gesture of respect. So the five victims were popular, if not part of a 'popular crowd' –was the unsub picking off what he perceived as the competition? But why wait until some of them had moved away? Surely if this was some kind of envy issue, the unsub would have killed them while they were local and a direct threat-
"Mrs. Novotny," Prentiss was bringing the conversation back around again, after a moment. "Do you know a man named Brian Kinney?"
"Brian!" Debbie's reaction was visceral and immediate, her expression cycling through shock, fear, and finally deep concern. "Why? Is he in danger? What's he done now?"
Gauging her reaction had been more the point of the question; they already knew the basics of the relationship from Detective Horvath. Prentiss kept the line of questions going while Rossi watched, this time. "You know him well," she prompted, leaning forward to close the distance between them a little more.
"Sure I know him. Brian practically grew up at my place; he and my son Michael have been best friends since high school." She hesitated, only for a moment, then- "Still are," she finished firmly. "Why are you asking about Brian?"
"He may fit a profile of someone we're looking for in connection with the murders," Prentiss temporized. "He lived with you at some point?"
"Not officially," Debbie shook her head. "One summer in college, but that's about it. His parents weren't what you'd call... ideal. Oh, Joan tried, but she and Brian never did see eye to eye."
"And his father?" Rossi couldn't help asking, recognizing the waitress' avoidance for what it was.
"Jack Kinney had a big mouth, big fists, and a big temper. When things got rough at home, Brian would come and stay with us for a while, until his father simmered down."
"You didn't call social services?"
"Are you fucking nuts?" Debbie rounded back on Prentiss as though the agent had suggested she'd hit Brian herself. "Do you have any idea what the foster system would have done to a skinny, mouthy little kid like that? And a gay one, to boot? I couldn't qualify to be a foster parent, with only me at home, but as long as he was in and out of my place with Michael I could keep an eye on him. I don't know how the fuck they do things where you're from, but here, we look after our own."
"I'm sorry," Prentiss lifted her hands for a moment in an attempt to pacify her. "We're just trying to figure out what's going on." She took a breath. "Do you think Brian could hurt someone? If he got angry enough?"
"Emotionally?" Deb gave her a scathing look. "Brian's a fucking maestro. Physically?" She hesitated, as though she'd been struck by a memory, then shook her head. And lied.
November 13th, 2007, 10:00 am:
A few blocks down the street, Cynthia looked up from her paperwork when the door to Kinnetik's office opened and three men entered. One of them she recognized, two she didn't, but it was obvious that none of the three were clients, or prospective clients. Brian Kinney's PA went on full alert.
"Detective Horvath," the thirty-something blonde circled her desk and intercepted the men – #1: big, fit, dark, cute; #2: scrawny, casually dressed, slightly unkempt, watching her the same way Brian eyed up new accounts. Interesting. "How can we help you today?"
Horvath nodded his acknowledgment of her greeting, and kept his reply casual. "Cynthia, good to see you again. Is Mr. Kinney in?"
So it was to be surnames. Oh dear. "He's in a meeting with Mr. Schmidt right now, I can see if he's free later?" And maybe by then she'd have figured out what the Pittsburgh PD and – who? Another cop and a grad student? – wanted with her boss. And whether she needed to get him out of the country or not.
"These two are FBI agents; they need to speak with Mr. Kinney now."
Cynthia's face looked like it wanted to fall, if it hadn't been so well-trained not to. With a carefully-studied neutral expression that was completely at odds with the look of alarm that appeared in her eyes for a second (seasoned with a flash of 'Oh God, what has he done NOW?'), she nodded and gestured down the hall. "In that case, gentlemen, come this way."
The layout of the Kinnetik offices was odd. Reid kept trying to predict the pattern of the doors and hallways, but it wasn't your standard office building, on the outside or the inside, and he couldn't quite figure it out. The woman Horvath had addressed as Cynthia led them into a central area and turned into a large office with a clear glass door, the overall look elegant and clean. The furniture that was in the sparse office was angular, most of it looked hard, and extremely expensive. The palette of browns, creams and blacks stood out against the stone, grey and olive walls. A wide bank of windows let light into the room, the small panes of glass in the windows reflected in a bank of glass squares that made up a small wall on the opposing side.
A desk was set back against the windows, more sweeping angular lines, as was the man in the chair behind the desk. He would be tall when he stood, Reid noted, the cost of the perfectly tailored suit he was wearing exactly in keeping with his environment. The haircut was expensive but longer than he'd expected, more of a statement than the slicked-back Wall Street hairdo that he'd half-anticipated. Iconoclast. Trendsetter. Self-superior.
Why did Kinney's office have a drain in the floor?
The man standing to Kinney's right and half a step behind was almost, but not entirely, his opposite. His suit was nice but not high-end, his hair was dark but conservatively cut, and the slightly hangdog look he bore gave him the impression of being a little older than he probably was. The two of them had been going over some kind of document on the computer, Schmidt reaching forward to point out something on the screen and Kinney batting his hand away.
"I can read, Theodore-"
Kinney broke off whatever he had been about to say next when he registered the arrival of the others in the room. He regarded them for a moment, Schmidt stepping back a half-pace as though distancing himself from his boss.
"Detective Horvath," excruciatingly formal, Brian leaned back in his chair, not bothering to get up. His eyes raked over Morgan, ignoring Reid who stood to his left. The ad-man's eyes lingered on Morgan's crotch for a minute too long, as though tracing out the FBI agent's more intimate contours in his mind's eye, and he lodged his tongue in his cheek. Hello, sweetheart. A flicker of raised eyebrows and a cock of his head invited them further into the room, the king permitting his peasantry an audience. That he was dressed in Armani rather than red velvet robes and his throne was on casters made absolutely no difference to the atmosphere in the room. Cynthia threw Ted a look that clearly meant 'find me later and explain to me how fucked we are,' and exited the room.
Cocky son of a bitch, Morgan came close to muttering under his breath, and instead simply exchanged a glance with Reid before the pair of them followed behind Horvath. The detective knew the guy - that had been the arrangement. Let him take the lead.
"Brian," Horvath began again, in obvious discomfort. Ted stepped back again, leaning against the wall and eyeing the pair of agents with obvious suspicion - the looks alternating with equally suspicious ones at Kinney. It was obvious, to Reid at least, that those who knew Brian were also aware that he was capable of not only something that could bring the FBI down on his head, but many potential things. They weren't trying to figure out what he might have done, but which one of the many possibilities it had been.
"You know I've been looking into the Liberty Avenue murders; these men - Agent Morgan, Doctor Reid - are from the FBI. They're here to help out with the case."
Brian frowned, a crease appearing between his brows that he would have hated to see had there been a mirror nearby. "I read the papers. What's that got to do with me?" He tossed that comment off casually, only then deigning to notice Reid.
"I hate to do this," Horvath spread his meaty hands, looked vaguely apologetic. It wasn't that he liked Brian, particularly, but he didn't dislike him either. It was getting harder to keep that neutrality up, mind you, as Debbie's muttering about 'that selfish prick,' escalated with every week that passed that Brian skipped Sunday dinners, or didn't ask for news about Justin.
'How could he just forget about Sunshine like that?' Deb's voice rang in Carl's mind. 'Five fucking years they were together, and he just goes on with his life like Justin never existed. I'm telling you, I don't know whether to kick Brian's ass, or... or... No. I just want to kick his ass, that selfish son of a bitch.'
And given the way Brian was eying the more muscular of the two FBI agents, Debbie might have been right. Some people never did grow up. But murder? Not just murder, but torture and murder? No. No matter what kind of asshole Kinney was to the men who loved him, Carl couldn't find it in him to believe Brian capable of that.
"But you're going to anyway," Brian prompted, breaking Horvath out of his moment of introspection.
"Yeah. It's just procedure," Carl explained himself, again, then flipped open his notebook to check the dates jotted down inside. He knew them off by heart now, but the notes helped him to focus on something besides the way Kinney was cruising Agent Morgan. At least from the sour look on Morgan's face, Horvath grinned internally, Kinney had finally found someone who wasn't playing. "Where were you last Friday night?"
Ted smirked and rolled his eyes, as though he knew what the answer was going to be. The next words out of Brian's mouth surprised both the men who knew him, obvious in the matched set of double-takes. "At home. Working." And he stuck his tongue in his cheek again, as though waiting for them to challenge his assertion.
"Alone?" One of the first things Morgan had said since coming into the room, preferring to watch the dynamic play out between Horvath and the two other men. He folded his arms where he stood, meeting Brian's intense hazel gaze with a staredown of his own.
"It happens sometimes," Brian offered up, a gleam in his eyes as he met the challenge. "Not often, of course, and always by choice." He smirked, taking the chance to get back on top of the conversation. "The Pfizer account," he offered to Ted, as though it were a sacrifice to explain himself even that much. "Subpoena my computer logs if you like," that one was directed at the FBI agents. "I took a couple of breaks here and there." Without leaving the chair, of course. Let the FBI enjoy the videos from as much as he had.
"We will if we have to," Carl interjected, trying to take Kinney's focus off of whatever the hell kind of face he was making at Morgan and back to the subject at hand. "How about October 19th?"
Brian pondered that for a moment, then clicked into something on his computer to check a note in his calendar. He relaxed visibly, and flashed a disarming grin. "Sorry, Horvath; I'm not your guy." As if there had ever been any doubt. "I was in New York, nowhere near the Pitts." His relief - not that he'd admit it to anyone - that he had a provable alibi made him incautious about what else he was revealing, catching himself only moments after he'd said it aloud.
"New York?" Ted interjected, looking a bit confused.
"New York," Brian replied, rolling his eyes at Ted. "It's a city, Theodore," he explained slowly, as though to a small child. "Short plane flight, tall buildings, lots of fuckable guys?" Maybe sarcasm would derail the interrogation that he suspected was about to follow, and not from the FBI agents in the room.
"Was the trip for a client? You didn't expense any plane tickets in October-"
"I don't expense everything, you know." Especially when he wanted to keep a certain gossipy queen of a CFO out of his personal business.
A grin spread across Ted's face, not to be deterred by what was, after all, just Brian being Brian. Or, to be more accurate, being Brian-fucking-Kinney. "Lots of guys, or just one guy in particular?" Realization made him smug, and Brian itched to smack that grin off of Theodore's face. "You did it," Ted crowed, the heavy presence of law enforcement in the room all but forgotten for the moment. "You went to see Justin. I knew it!"
"Not now, Theodore," Brian gave him the exasperated stink-eye to end all stink-eyes, turning so that Ted could do his ridiculous happy-dance to the back of Brian's head.
Morgan watched the back and forth with a jaded eye, only reacting when the name 'Justin' came up for the second time in as many days. That was the name Horvath had given them earlier. Justin Taylor. Kinney and Taylor had been together in New York City the day that Mansfield had been killed, also in New York City. But Kinney didn't seem to know that, or he wouldn't have relaxed when he gave them his supposed alibi. He was either innocent or he was a hell of a convincing actor.
Morgan was still inclined to believe the latter. It wasn't that Kinney was gay that was the problem; that was entirely a non-issue. Rather, it was the way Brian looked at him, like he was visualizing about a hundred different ways to eat Derek alive, that was giving him the creeps. He recognized that look, or at least a variation of it. It bespoke a desperate need for power, for dominance. It was a big old alpha-male nonverbal challenge to anyone stepping foot on his territory. I'll not only devour you, I'll make you beg for it first. And you'll enjoy every moment. Morgan had the deeply disturbing notion that, if he even remotely bent that way, he'd have found it very difficult not to throw himself at Kinney's feet and prove him right.
"What time was your flight?" Reid jumped in, somehow seeming to pick up on Morgan's temporarily unsettled state.
"Six thirty," Brian dropped his gaze away from Muscles, however reluctantly, to reply to Skinny, and something inside him seemed to turn over as the sarcastic glee dimmed from his eyes. Were the feds actually taking this absurdity seriously? He had the sudden feeling that he was in more trouble than he had realized.
Brian tapped at his keyboard for a moment, bringing up the email confirmation of his itinerary - thank goodness for Cynthia's anal retentive filing systems and unlimited mail archive sizes. "The plane landed at JFK at eight." And by nine, he'd been balls-deep inside his favourite tourist attraction. New York, New York. He printed the itinerary, slid the paper out of the printer and shook it in Horvath's general direction. "Stayed at the Plaza. I'm sure they'll be happy to verify my check-in time."
Something had shifted in Kinney's tone; he was all business now, and had momentarily dropped the side of snide with which he'd been answering their previous questions. Morgan frowned, but rolled with it. For now.
"Do you recognize any of these men?" Morgan took over, approaching the desk with the pictures in his hand, holding them out for Kinney to take.
Brian flipped through them, taking a couple of seconds longer on one or two than the others. "Sure. I know them. I've fucked all of them." The challenge was back in his eyes, but he was on the defensive this time.
"How long ago were your relationships with each of them?"
Brian laughed at that, a short, sharp sound, and shook his head. "I said that I fucked them, not that I dated them. I'm not a goddamn lesbian. And I don't do repeats."
"Except for Justin Taylor."
Theodore was so very fired, once this interview was over.
"Except for Justin." Brian conceded reluctantly. "Who, you'll notice, isn't in any of the photos." He couldn't fire Ted, he realized with an inward sigh. Ted knew too much. And Cynthia would murder him in his sleep.
"So you don't think it's strange that five men you've slept with have been murdered in the last six months? That's one hell of a coincidence, Mr. Kinney," Morgan couldn't help the anger leeching into his voice as he asked the question. Kinney was way too smug about something; thinks himself untouchable. That's what they'd put in the profile, and that was what he was seeing in front of him now.
"Five?" Brian looked up at Horvath, and then the agents, with an air of real confusion. "I thought there were two. That's what was on the news – two murders."
"Five," Carl confirmed, shaking his head. "Come on, Brian. If you know anything-"
"Look," Brian swallowed, handed back the photos and tried to keep his outward cool. "Pull together any group of gay men from this shitty little town, and I guarantee I've fucked at least half of them. The hot half," he added, just to be sure they were clear. There was something he was forgetting, something that was nagging at him beyond his memory of that one's ass, this one's mouth- he dismissed it in favour of dealing with what was right in front of him, right now.
"I'm not your guy. You can get my travel records for whatever other dates you have in that little book from Cynthia, if that'll help. She'll give you whatever you need."
Morgan's frown deepened a little, the crease in his brow matching the one in Kinney's as they stared each other down again. Finally, the agent broke the look and tapped the photos on the desk again, straightening out the pile. "We'll do that."
"Look, Carl, do me a favour?" Brian asked, oddly enough, instead of demanding. A series of indefinable emotions darted across his features before he shut down again. "Don't mention that-" he gestured to the itinerary in Horvath's hand before continuing, "to Deb, alright? Or Mother Taylor. I don't need the fucking Inquisition to come down on my head along with all of this bullshit." And that was directed at Skinny and Muscles, with a crook of his head.
"I can't promise anything," Carl shook his head, briefly amused. Mind you, if he were Brian, and Deb was about to find out that he'd been lying to her (even if just by omission) for more than two years? He'd be worried too. "Don't leave town," he advised sagely, with a little more force behind it than was probably actually necessary.
November 13th, 2007, 1 pm:
"He did it. I don't care what the travel records say – everything points back to Brian Kinney. We need to search his place in West Virginia; that's where we'll find the kill room and his trophies, I guarantee it." Morgan was pacing back and forth across the corner of the precinct, the air around him practically vibrating with the tension he was emitting.
"Mansfield was abducted while Kinney was on an airplane, Derek," JJ soothed, trying to be the voice of reason. "There's no way he could physically be in two places at once. We can't get a warrant for his house, given that. We have to start looking somewhere else."
"What about this Taylor guy?" Morgan pointed out, turning on his heel and rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. "He's based in NYC. He knows his boyfriend's coming into town, he picks him up a little present, they finish him off together. Nothing about this case suggests that it has to be a solo unsub, and Kinney's the sort of sociopath who could pick up a junior partner easily."
Reid frowned in thought from where he was perched in a swivel chair. "Except for the mutilations; this isn't a thrill-kill scenario here. The unsub has some kind of personal history with the victims. The method, the weapon, everything about the cases is exactly the same. It doesn't suggest two separate killers."
"So they have a plan beforehand – Kinney has a list of men he wants to kill. He's smart. He takes a flight that will give him an alibi for at least one of the murders, and Taylor picks up the slack. Hell, maybe they have a shared history with the victims."
JJ shook her head. "It feels like a reach. Derek, I know you got a bad feeling from Kinney, but I just don't think he's our guy."
Prentiss tapped her pen on her notepad, thinking over the meeting at the diner. "Mrs. Novotny was hiding something this morning; maybe there's more to it. What do we know about Taylor?"
Morgan flipped open his phone and dialled Garcia's direct line.
"According to Horvath," Hotch mused aloud, watching Morgan's pacing with quiet eyes, "Taylor and Kinney were together, on and off, for approximately five years. There's a twelve year age difference – Taylor was seventeen when Kinney picked him up."
"That's a formative age," Reid suggested, glancing back at Morgan as he spoke quietly into the phone behind him. "Seventeen is still a child in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to brain development, judgement and higher emotional functions. Cognitive control over high-risk behaviors is still maturing during adolescence, as is the prefrontal cortex. The ventral striatum is more active as well..." he trailed off at a signal from Prentiss, and summarized. "He'd have been incredibly impressionable."
"I'm putting you on speaker, momma," Morgan raised his voice a little to call attention to his conversation. A moment later, Garcia's voice came through the phone.
"OK, chickies. I have pulled everything I can find on Justin Taylor. 24 years old, born in Pittsburgh to Craig and Jennifer Taylor. Has a younger sister Molly, parents divorced in 2000. He graduated from St. James Academy - a very prestigious local private school, by the way - also in 2000, then did a few semesters at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts before dropping out. His tuition at PIFA was paid for, intriguingly enough, by – drum roll please - Mr. Brian Kinney.
"Taylor's a rising star in the New York art world, according to some columns that I've found, has had a couple of shows in some middling-but-still-somewhat-impressive galleries in the last two years, and the critics all seem to think he's adorable. Which he kind of is. But! All is not sunshine and roses for our young painting prodigy. Taylor's got a police record, dating back to 2004."
"What for?" Prentiss asked, cocking an eyebrow at Hotch.
"Criminal trespass," Garcia replied. "On Taylor Electronics, a local business owned by his very own father."
"Dad had his own kid arrested?" Rossi whistled. "That's cold."
"Looks like it was connected to a political protest of some kind," Garcia reported. "Dad was the one who pressed charges, but it looks like Taylor didn't end up serving any time. Mom bailed him out. Taylor also shows up in court records as the victim in an assault case, again from 2000. Busy year for him. A classmate- oh God."
"What is it, Garcia?" Morgan asked, concern in his eyes.
"A classmate took a baseball bat to his head at the prom. Press around the case says it was a gay-bashing. Taylor was in a coma for two weeks, and the perp... he pled out to simple assault and got 500 hours of community service."
"Holy shit," Prentiss breathed out. "Talk about your inadequate sentencing."
"There's press coverage of the whole thing – I've pulled the articles, I'm emailing everything to Hotch now. Some of the clippings suggest that Taylor ended up with brain damage and loss of mobility thanks to the injury; I can try and get into his medical records, if you want-"
"That'll be enough for now, Garcia," Hotch shook his head. "This might be what we need." He bent over the desk to call up his email and view the files that were coming through. "We have to rethink this profile."
JJ was already moving some documents around on the board as Hotch began printing the new ones, generating a better visual timeline. "In 1999, Justin Taylor meets Brian Kinney. Then there's the bashing, the coma, the arrest- " she tacked up a few more items, then continued. "In 2005, Kinney buys a large property in West Virginia. Kinney and Taylor plan a commitment ceremony, but Taylor moves to New York instead, supposedly ending the relationship."
"Except that we know they didn't, since Kinney's been travelling to New York to see him, maintaining the partnership at some expense." Reid added.
"So Taylor loses his father at a vital and formative age, around the same time as he suffers a major physical trauma." Hotch strode towards the board, and tacked up a few of the media clippings about the assault.
"And finds another one in Kinney," Rossi added, nodding slowly. "Kinney takes him in, acts as a protector and a caregiver, maintains him financially. Kinney's a survivor, coming from an abusive background. He latches on to Taylor as a source of emotional validation and narcissistic supply. Even once Taylor leaves, Kinney still can't let him go."
Morgan laid his phone back on his desk, Garcia still connected and listening, the sporadic sounds of typing audible in the background. He weighed in, frowning. "Kinney's a classic dominant partner here – he's smart, charming, privileged, physically capable. Taylor's the submissive: uprooted, physically damaged, lost, and quick to latch on to a father figure. He was just a kid; there's no telling what kind of manipulation Kinney used in order to keep him around." His expression was hooded and thoughtful, anger simmering below the surface. "We need to bring them both in for questioning."
"And ask what?" Rossi argued, shaking his head. "We don't know enough to ask the right questions. Kinney's got an alibi."
"We're spinning our wheels here," Hotch declaimed, with an air of finality. "Garcia?"
"Yes, boss?" her reply was immediate, albeit tinny.
"Find out everything you can about Taylor's whereabouts on the nights of each of the murders. If one of us has to go out to New York to bring him in, we will. Coordinate with the NYPD and see what they've got."
"You got it, sir."
"In the meantime," Hotch bit back the urge to sigh or rub his eyes. "We're going to go back over the evidence. We've missed something somewhere, and we need to figure out what."
November 13th, 2007, 1 pm:
"FBI? Holy shit, Ted," Michael was saying as Debbie headed over to her son's table at the diner to take the lunch orders. Michael's dark head was bent in to listen to the conversation ricocheting rapidly between the other three men at the table, his husband's muscled arm draped along the back of the booth behind him.
"This sounds serious," Ben replied, shaking his head and glancing at Michael beside him. "Murders, federal agents – I hope Brian's got a good alibi, or he's going to find himself in real trouble."
"Who else had the FBI?" Debbie's voice rose over the exchange, looking from one man to another. Emmett was perched next to Ted, across from the Novotny-Bruckners, the jaunty orange scarf tossed around his neck a flamboyant counterpoint to his bright blue shirt. He shook his head at the question in her eyes and cocked his thumb at Ted.
"Who else?" Michael furrowed his brow at his mother, looking up at her from where he was sitting. "What do you mean?"
"A pair of agents came by here this morning," Debbie explained, looking a little rattled. "Something about Brian fitting a profile. They're looking for the Liberty Avenue Killer, and they said –" she leaned in, as though about to say something in confidence, but the volume of her voice didn't concur. "They said there were five victims, not two. Christ! Five! You boys be careful," she shook her pen at Ted firmly and he held up his hands in surrender. "No tricks, don't stay out late, wear clean underwear at all times-"
"Ma!" Michael objected, grabbing for her hand. "We're careful. We're fine."
"Besides, Emmett's the only one of us tricking at all these days," Ted poked his friend in the ribs, "And we all know Brian doesn't do repeats." He snickered at the outraged look he received from multiple quarters. Joking helped to beat back the sudden rush of fear and adrenaline at the news of three more deaths than they'd realized.
"It's not Brian," Michael insisted, closing the menu he hadn't needed to read in decades.
"It could be. Maybe losing Justin sent him over the edge." Emmett's voice rose, and he gestured in the air to make his point. "He's been vanishing some weekends, no-one sees him or hears from him, he could be out there... killing. We could be next!" He flattened his hands on the table, leaning forward in emphatic point.
"He's not killing people, Em," Ted rolled his eyes with the air of the long-suffering. "Come on. It's Brian. He can be... overbearing, certainly-"
"Asshole, you mean," Michael added, with a wrinkle of his lip. Debbie reached out and delivered a swat to the back side of his head. "Ma!"
"Intense?" Ben corrected, torn between his feelings about Brian-fucking-Kinney and mitigating the ridiculous hysterics that Emmett seemed intent on descending into. "That hardly makes him a murderer."
"Exactly," Ted concurred, stabbing a finger at Ben.
Debbie shoved her order pad back in her apron pocket and glowered at the group of men. "I can't believe you; how can you even imagine Brian would do something like this? He may not be what you want him to be, but he's got a big heart under all those spikes. And he's been your friend for years!"
"So where is he on his missing weekends, hmm?" Emmett glanced up at Debbie, then skewered Ted with a look. "He's not at Woody's, he's not at Babylon, he's not at work, he doesn't answer the phone when anyone calls..." He trailed off, caught by the look in Ted's eye. Ted broke eye contact immediately, looking down and away, anything to hide the guilty expression that had flashed there.
"Teddy?" Emmett was like a hound on the scent, now. He draped an arm around the accountant's shoulders and leaned in. His eyes lit up. "You know something." Statement of truth, not a question. "What is it?"
"I've been sworn to secrecy," Ted mumbled.
"Ted?" Ben raised an eyebrow over the rim of his glasses.
"No!" Ted insisted. "If I say anything, he'll tie my balls in a knot and feed them to me. While they're still attached."
"Ooh, kinky," Emmett laughed, settling his elbow on the table and his head in his hand. He waited.
Debbie folded her arms, and waited.
Michael kicked Ted under the table, impatient.
"If I tell anybody," Ted began carefully. He swallowed against his nerves, looked around at the four sets of eyes staring at him, and his expression settled from 'nervous' into 'resigned.' "About where Brian has been on the weekends, both he and Justin would kill me. Painfully."
The expressions on the faces of his listeners briefly mollified him, for the moment that Ted allowed himself to enjoy being the bearer of news even more sensational than the whole Liberty Avenue Killer business. At least among their inner circle.
"Yes," Ted confirmed, with a nod.
"Wait," Michael shook his head in confusion. "They're still seeing each other? I thought they weren't talking. Brian's never said anything, and I talked to Justin just last week-"
"When I get my hands on them!" Debbie was only lost for words for a brief, shining moment. "Sunshine and Brian are dead men."
November 13th, 2007. 11:30 pm:
That voice; I'd know it anywhere. I looked around and smiled, and that was all the invitation he needed. His hands fell to my hips, guided my movements until we were synchronized, one body in motion.
"I'm going to fuck you," he murmured into my ear. I felt everything come alive at the sound of that promise, the thumpa-thumpa of the music at the club drowned out by the thumpa-thumpa of my own pulse, speeding up.
Everybody was on edge these days; it had been all over the news. 'Don't go anywhere with strangers.' But he was the last person you could consider a stranger, especially in here. That label loses all meaning when someone's already plowed you into the mattress and made you see stars. I really wouldn't mind getting my hands on that again.
I licked my lips; my mouth was dry, thanks to the E and the sweat and the tension. "I thought you didn't do repeats?" I couldn't help the question even as I pressed it into his mouth along with my tongue.
"I make exceptions. In special cases." His hands were everywhere at once, fingertips pressing against the flat of my stomach, tugging my t-shirt from my back pocket where I'd tucked one corner of it before I started to dance. We stumbled out to the back alley - I stumbled, he pulled me - and the cold night air hit me like a slap to the face. His hand was hot in mine, sweat-slick; I could feel the muscles under his skin when I caught up and pressed myself against him; lean, hard, hungry. I felt a sting in my hip - where had that come from?
His car was there, parked along the side of the street. "Sweet ride," I muttered, and he opened the door for me, put his hand on me to guide me into the passenger's seat.
The world spun. I fell into the leather seat; so dizzy. Had the E been bad? I felt like I was going to hurl, throw up the drinks and the drugs all over the interior of his fancy car. Then his hands were on my shoulders again, as he knelt on the curb, and he was smiling that hot, foxy smile of his. I swear, when his lips lifted, I saw fangs. Too many fucking vampire movies with Pete. "Gonna puke," I managed to say. So much for our night.
"Don't you worry about a thing," I heard him croon. There was that smile again, like he was going to eat me alive, and I started to get a little bit afraid, down in the pit of my stomach, in that place I'd never really had reason to listen to before. If I was a caveman, that's where I'd feel it when the sabre-tooth tiger was wiggling his ass to pounce. "I'll take care of you, Simon. We're going to have a good time."
I'd never noticed that his eyes were so blue.
November 14th, 2007, 6 am:
"Nothing!" Morgan exploded, slamming his hand down against the car hood. His palm stung from the impact, which only added to his anger. The early morning air was biting, an hour before sunrise, the sky barely beginning to lighten. The body laid out carefully in the staff parking lot behind Babylon was an obscene blot on the concrete, a potent reminder of their failure. "We had every uniform in the precinct on the streets last night and not one of them saw a damn thing! This asshole is laughing at us."
"Morgan." Hotch only needed to speak the man's name to get his attention, gave a small shake of his head as a reminder and a warning. The police were currently the only others on the scene with the BAU team, but it was only a matter of minutes before the press arrived in force.
Morgan linked his hands behind his head, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, pacing a couple of steps back and forth, to get his flash of temper under control. "Sorry, Hotch," he muttered after a moment. "I'm sick of chasing our tails out here."
"I understand," his boss replied firmly, dark overcoat turning him into a silhouette against the slowly lightning sky. "But we have to stay focused."
Horvath joined them then, his frown seemingly permanently etched into his face. "Sixth victim, still has his wallet, keys, phone – just like all the others. Body's been washed, so we can probably forget about getting any trace off him. From the clothes, I think we can be pretty sure he was out cruising the bars when he was grabbed. His ID says he's Simon Matthews, local kid. I've sent a couple of detectives over to his address. Maybe he's got a roommate or a boyfriend who can tell us who he was with last night."
Hotch nodded, looking back over Horvath's shoulder to watch the medical examiner finish up, Reid hovering over the man's shoulder and generally getting himself underfoot. "First one of these I saw was crude," the ME mentioned back over his shoulder, as he did a cursory check of the bloodied wound. "These last two have been progressively cleaner, more precise."
Reid nodded at that, crouching down to get a better look. "He wasn't sure of himself at first, but he's getting better at it and more confident each time he kills."
"How long has he been here?" Hotch asked, turning back.
"ME estimates he's been dead an hour?" Horvath suggested. "Not much longer than that."
"Hotch," Morgan turned the full force of his will toward the team leader. "Let me go over to Kinney's place. If he's our unsub- he might not expect the body to have been found so quickly. We can't give him time to finish cleaning up." He read the sceptical look on Hotchner's face before the other man could say anything, and Morgan held up his hand. "This is Kinney's club," he gestured to the tall red brick building beside them, the blue lights running down the sides emblazoned with the club's name.
"It could be coincidence," Hotch shook his head, hesitating. Myopic focus on one possibility wasn't useful; it led to missing obvious clues that pointed elsewhere. But for the life of him, right now, he couldn't come up with another option. Nothing had come of any security footage, and trawling the files and re-interviewing family members and friends over the past two days had netted them absolutely nothing. And yet- "Kinney doesn't have a stake in the other two dump sites, and Babylon fits into that original pattern."
"I know he's involved, Hotch; you didn't see the way he was taunting us yesterday. This is a big middle-finger to the entire investigation. He still thinks he's invincible. And the longer we wait, the more time he has to get rid of any evidence."
"Fine. Go." Hotch shook his head. "Take Prentiss and Detective Horvath with you. And Morgan-" A pause. "By the book. I'll have Garcia see what she can find as far as street cameras and toll roads in the area. Whoever was here, we'll find him."
November 14th, 2007, 6:30 am:
The main door to Kinney's building had been propped open, the lock failing to engage thanks to a stone that had been kicked in against the door frame by one tenant or another. The brick structure was unassuming, looking more like a warehouse than any kind of apartment building or condo, and the rickety old industrial elevator inside didn't do anything to disabuse them of that notion. The penthouse was nothing more than a landing and a flight of stairs, a rolling metal door the only option available.
Horvath banged on the door, the thump of his fist reverberating and echoing with a metallic clang. There was silence for a moment, and he began to wonder if he'd been wrong, if Brian wasn't home after all, maybe he was involved somehow, on his way back to West Virginia. The officers he'd sent ahead would be catching up to him there, if that was the case. Horvath banged on the door again.
The door slid open with what sounded like a grunt of effort. The early dawn light that spilled from inside the sparse loft illuminated the mostly-naked figure that appeared, sweat-slicked and languid, in the doorway. Brian was dressed only - obviously only - in hastily-dragged-on black track pants that rode low on his hips, a few red weals that looked like fresh bite marks impressed along the sides of his lean torso.
Prentiss couldn't help the soft noise that escaped, a strangled sound that expressed all of the 'OH. I get it now,' that ricocheted in her mind, fitting the man in front of them in and around Reid and Morgan's descriptions. Kinney was beautiful, predatory and dangerous, and she felt a wave of guilt at her immediate adrenaline response even as her heart rate picked up and her cheeks flushed.
Brian glanced at Prentiss, wheels turning behind his eyes, then skimmed his gaze over Morgan again before glaring at Horvath. "Now what?" he asked abruptly, the irritation in his voice at odds with the sex-saturated evidence of his body.
"We interrupting something?" Morgan asked, absolutely certain that they were. If they'd managed to catch him before he cleaned up, there was a chance there'd be some physical evidence - oh, he was going to enjoy seeing this son of a bitch go down. And not in the way Kinney would obviously have liked to. He shouldered his way in past Horvath, who was still standing at the door, and Prentiss, who appeared to have blown a mental fuse.
The loft was larger than Morgan had expected, the space decorated by the same hand that had chosen the pieces for Kinney's office. A tall bank of windows faced the street, a small open kitchenette was built into the wall on the left of the door, and living-room furniture was arranged around and near a workdesk to the right. Thick pillows and rugs scattered on the floor by the coffee table gave the living room area the look of a seraglio, despite the subdued shades of the cream-and-brown colour palette. Takeout containers - mostly empty - littered the low table, a pair of chopsticks fallen to rest on the floor.
A raised platform almost in the middle of the room held a bedroom, of sorts, the bed and closets enclosed by shutters that were currently standing half-open, showing tumbled charcoal sheets and little else. Clothes were scattered across the floor, enough for two, and a pair of dirty and distressed running shoes had been dropped haphazardly near the door. There was no way someone like Kinney would ever let those things on his feet, and Matthews had been wearing his shoes when they'd found his body. Someone else was there.
The loft itself seemed secure. There was only one door to the building, and that was the one they'd come in, which led to the industrial elevator in the hallway behind them. The tall windows were all in plain sight. No way out other than the loft door, which meant Kinney and his companion would have to come through him in order to get out. That was a choice Morgan would be fine with.
"As a matter of fact, yeah. You are." Brian evaluated the trio at his door and seemed to give up on the notion of shutting the door on them again - especially as that would leave Morgan in the loft. Not that that was such a bad idea in its most general outlines, but the FBI agent didn't seem at all inclined to join the party. Brian took a few steps back instead, let the others in. "What's so damned important that you need to interrupt me at six in the fucking morning?"
"Six-thirty," Horvath corrected, a grim set to his face. "Just for the record. Where've you been tonight, Brian? Go clubbing, by any chance?"
"Brian?" A tenor voice came from the raised bedroom, followed in short order by the appearance of the speaker. A shorter, much younger blond man came down the steps, adjusting a pair of clinging grey track pants around his waist. The twenty-something was barefoot, shaggy hair tousled, damp and standing up in odd directions, and Prentiss recognized him from his pictures, found herself scanning one side of his head for the scar Garcia had told them would be there. Taylor.
"Justin?" Horvath was the first to speak, his tone incredulous. "What the goddamn hell are you doing here?"
"Hey, Carl," Justin smiled, a sudden burst of light in the room, but one that dimmed when he looked around at the scene in front of him. "What's going on? Is everything ok?" He looked stricken for a moment, his tongue darting out to moisten his bottom lip. "Did something happen to Deb?"
"No, no, Deb's fine," Horvath shook his head, obviously trying to wrap his brain around something. "We're here to talk to Brian. But - why are you here? I thought you two called it quits?"
"Not... exactly," Justin shrugged gamely, glancing at Brian as if to confirm their story.
"Not at all," Brian caught Justin's gaze, replied with the correction as though to him rather than Horvath. Some wordless message passed between them, then Brian turned and strode into the kitchen area. Justin turned back to the detective with a frown of concern.
"So are you moving back to Pittsburgh?" Carl was still lost, trying to make the scene in front of him make sense. He'd been at the station too damn long, that was what it was. Debbie had been asleep by the time he'd gotten home for a couple of hours of shut-eye – and when was the last time she'd actually been in bed before him? – and then the call about the body had had him up and out the door before she could do more than roll over. Three hours of sleep was just not cutting it.
"I'm just down for a few days, to see Brian. I got in last night; I'm flying back on Friday."
"Wait, let me get this straight."
"Poor choice of words," came the aside from the kitchenette. Brian frowned at his fruit bowl and picked out a green apple, tossed it lightly in his hand.
"You two stayed in touch? And didn't tell anyone? How often have you been back, and no-one knew?" Oh, Justin's mother was going to be fit to be tied. And he wasn't even going to contemplate the kind of mayhem that Deb was going to dish out.
"It's been about once a month," Justin shrugged, starting to feel a little self-conscious around the detective and the two strangers who were watching the entire exchange. Half-naked at Babylon or in the backroom was one thing; this was just awkward. "I come here, or Brian comes to New York. It's just for a couple of days at a time, and there's no time to see everyone, so-"
"So you hole up in your love nest, just the two of you, ignoring the rest of the world-" Carl was grinning like a maniac. "That's real cute, you guys. I'm all warm and fuzzy on the inside."
Brian toyed with the apple, turning it over as he spoke. "Do you mind getting to the point, Carl? As touching as this is, and all," he finished, his annoyance clear.
The reunion was interrupted, at least for Prentiss, who was beginning to feel uncomfortably like a voyeur, by the ringing of her cell phone. She glanced at the screen, mouthed 'JJ' to Morgan, who had installed himself between Kinney and Taylor and the door to the loft, and took a few steps towards the back wall to get some space to talk.
"Prentiss," she answered, keeping her voice low. In the background, she could hear Horvath giving Justin her name and Morgan's, as the beginning of an explanation.
"Hey, Emily," JJ's voice came through the line. "Where are you?"
"We're at Kinney's loft. Taylor's here – he says he flew in last night."
"Garcia found his flight when she was running his background," JJ confirmed, and Prentiss could hear the sounds of paper shuffling in the background. "She sent a pile of records over – credit card bills, plane tickets, video footage. Taylor's got alibis for at least three of the murders, including a gallery show in New York City the day Max Dunn was killed. Kinney's clear for that one as well; he was at a gala, in full view of about two hundred people."
There was a pause, and clicking as though JJ had moved to a computer. "She pulled a tape from a bank security camera down the street that covers the front door of Kinney's building; I'm looking at it now. Kinney and Taylor go inside just after nine last night and don't come out again, and his car doesn't move. So unless they have a third partner, or there's a back door to the place and they have another car back there..."
"It's not them, is what you're saying," Prentiss caught Morgan's eye, and answered his frown with a glance towards Kinney and a shake of her head. He started to object, and she held up her hand to forestall him.
"That's about the size of it."
"Thanks, JJ." Prentiss closed her phone, hanging up the call, and rejoined Morgan just as Horvath wrapped up the basics. "They're cleared, Morgan," she informed him quietly, hand resting briefly on his folded arms. "Garcia found surveillance footage that proves it. They couldn't have done it."
"Murders? Jesus, Brian, why didn't you say anything?" Justin's reply to Horvath's news rose above the quiet exchange, getting louder with his surprise and alarm.
"They have newspapers in New York," Brian objected, biting into the apple with a defiant crunch. A moment later, "I thought you knew." He directed his frown at Morgan. "The FBI came by my office yesterday for another version of this chat; I assumed everything was settled. It's got nothing to do with me."
Morgan put his hand down on the kitchen bar; not a hit, but not gently, either. "Then let's talk about your club, Kinney – Babylon. And why there's a body laid out in the parking lot right now."
"Fuck!" Justin's eyes went wide and headed for the bar that separated the kitchenette from the rest of the loft. "Who was it? Was it anyone we know?" he looked at Brian again, then back at Horvath and the FBI agents, and rubbed the palm of his right hand in an unconscious motion.
Prentiss stepped into the conversation, noting the young man's nervous tic and filing it away. "Simon Matthews. They just found his body about half an hour ago. The other names are Max Dunn, Anthony Penn, Pancho Mansfield, Jason Pitt and Alex Easley. Do any of those ring any bells?"
"Oh my god." Justin paused, hand on the counter, and sank slowly down on to the bar stool behind him. It shifted away a little and he grabbed for it with his free hand, steadied it to prevent himself from tipping over and dumping onto the floor.
"You know them?" Prentiss could tell by the set of Morgan's jaw that, while he'd heard what she said, he still wasn't at all inclined to trust the pair of men. What else had happened when he and Reid had gone to interview Kinney originally? She was going to have to pester Reid later to get the full scoop.
"I - yeah. I mean, not all of them, but I know all the names. Brian-" Justin looked over at him, bright blue eyes suddenly dark with a mix of horror and... concern? For the victims, or his partner? "It's the fuck-list."
"The what?" Prentiss got there first, Morgan biting back the exact same question a moment after she asked it.
Brian lowered the apple from his mouth, the skin glowing a little yellow in the light from over the bar. His mind was working as he woke up more fully, the slowly dawning comprehension obvious to all of the others in the room. Justin turned back to Prentiss.
"About two, maybe it was three? years ago, Brian had this early mid-life crisis-"
"Fuck you, Justin."
"Fuck yourself. It was, too." Justin snapped back, then relented in the face of Brian's glare. "OK, quarter-life. Whatever." He turned back to the trio interviewing him, grimacing a little. "He made a bet with this guy, Brandon... something. First one to fuck the ten hottest guys in Pittsburgh, won. They made this list-"
Prentiss couldn't help herself. "Who won?"
She was favoured with a withering look from Kinney in return. "I did," he answered, in a tone that suggested she was brain-damaged for even considering the alternative as a possibility.
"And these names were all on the list?" She turned back to Taylor, who was proving the more immediately helpful of the two.
"Yeah. And four more."
"Do you remember the other names?"
"I can try-?"
"I can't believe you remember that, Sunshine."
"I can't believe you don't." A beat. A vaguely disgusted look. "You know what? Scratch that."
"That's what I was doing, until we were so rudely interrupted." Brian dropped the sarcasm at the looks on their collective faces, and set the partially-eaten apple down on the counter. "Look. I don't know why anyone would care about a stupid bet from years ago, or why whoever did, would dump a body at Babylon. But I can't help you. I don't know anything about the murders beyond what's been in the news." And if he blanched a little at the word 'murders,' Justin certainly wasn't going to point that out. Brian stared Morgan down at that, breaking the look himself after a beat.
"I picked Justin up at the airport just after eight, and we've been here. Together. All night." Brian crossed the room, heading for the desk by the tall windows at the back of the loft. "I might still have the list saved on my computer somewhere. If not, I'm sure Justin-" he said his lover's name mockingly and Taylor rolled his eyes, apparently used to these sorts of dramatics, "-will remember eventually."
"We need you both to come down to the station," Morgan asserted, pressing the advantage while he had it. "And answer some questions – about 'Brandon,' and this list. What's his last name?"
"I don't remember," Brian shook his head, silhouetted against the window where he was leaning over the computer. He frowned, clicked a few times, then typed. He paused and reflected. "I don't think I ever asked," he added offhandedly, then turned back to his file search.
"Don't play games, Kinney," Morgan replied, the mistrust in his stance and in his eyes not fading much. "Another man died last night, and it's connected to you."
"No games, officer," Brian held up his hands with mock-innocence as his printer kicked into life, deliberately baiting Morgan with the use of the wrong title. "I don't do last names. Or phone numbers. Takes some of the mystery out of things, wouldn't you say?" Another look exchanged between Kinney and Taylor, another mark on Prentiss' mental list of things she was dying to know.
Morgan lifted the printout from the tray before Kinney could reach for it, the list of ten names somehow too simple for what they represented. "You've got until we get down to the station to come up with something," he spoke firmly, a threat behind every word and his eyes cold.
"The fuck I do," Brian shook his head, digging in his metaphorical heels. "I've given you everything I know," he nodded to the paper. "I've got places to go, people to... see." He turned and levelled a stare at Horvath and Prentiss. "Are we done here?" Taking Horvath's moment of hesitation as confirmation, Brian stalked off toward the bathroom at the back of the loft, sliding the door most of the way closed.
Justin hung his head for a moment, folded his arms across his chest, then looked pointedly at the door. "We're both coming," he asserted with a certain sense of finality. "Can you give us ten minutes to clean up and get some clothes on?"
An outraged voice emerged from the back of the loft at the suggestion. "Ten minutes? Are you fucking kidding me? It'll take that long just to shave, never mind get dressed-"
"Christ, Brian! Pull some jeans on and stop being such a fucking princess," Justin turned to yell back over his shoulder.
"We can wait," Morgan crossed his arms and leaned against the kitchen bar, an immovable object.
Horvath joined Morgan and Prentiss, shoved his hands into his coat pockets, and gave them a pointed look. "Submissive junior partner, hunh?"
The corners of Prentiss' lips tugged up a little in a gesture that wanted to become a smile. "We've been known to be wrong before."
November 14th, 2007, 7 am, en route:
"You have to be middle-aged to have a mid-life crisis. BY THE WAY."
"OK, so what would you call it, then?"
"Seasonal affective disorder."
"What? How do you figure that?"
"Temporary insanity brought on by an extreme lack of Sunshine."
"Don't you even think about making the fuck-off my fault. God, you're a loser."
"That wasn't what you were saying forty minutes ago when I had my cock in your-"
"That's hot. Say my name like that again."
"I can't believe you. You are so fucking retarded."
"750 on his verbals, boys and girls."
November 14th, 2007, 7:30 am:
The tall, dark-haired man who entered the precinct behind Prentiss and Morgan was leonine, JJ decided at her first sight of him. That was the word for it. He strolled down the hallway like he was hunting for something, and it felt like everyone in the room held their breath for a split second, waiting to see if they were going to be his chosen prey. He locked eyes with one of the uniforms heading in the other direction and it was as though some steel rope bound their gazes together for a moment, heads turning, until they were too far apart to sustain the gesture. Kinney's head turned forward, the officer's did as well, and the short blond beside Kinney stepped on his foot to break the moment in a way that JJ was sure had to be deliberate.
She hid a smile at the interplay and turned back to Hotch and Reid, both standing behind her at the bulletin board that was covered with case notes and clippings. "Morgan and Prentiss are back. They've got Kinney and Taylor with them."
Horvath had stopped at the front to talk to the desk sergeant, nodding and gesturing to the group as though giving instructions. He slapped his notebook against the edge of the desk a couple of times as he answered a question, then turned and followed the others back through the precinct until he reached the door of his office.
"Hey, guys," Prentiss reached them first, Morgan bringing up the rear looking like he'd accidentally eaten something foul. "Is the sketch artist in yet? Mr. Taylor and Mr. Kinney are going to need to sit down with her to put together a sketch of the unsub."
Justin stopped at JJ's desk, Brian close behind, and gave the pair of women a half-smile. "Justin Taylor," he extended his hand to the blonde FBI agent sitting at the desk.
"Jennifer Jareau," she shook his hand. "SSA Hotchner," she gestured behind her to the two men, "and Doctor Reid. Thank you for coming down this morning."
"We didn't exactly have much of a choice," Brian murmured from behind Justin's shoulder. He wasn't sure whether to be more annoyed with the cops, with Justin or with himself at the moment, and he hated that sort of indecision. That, and he badly needed a cup of coffee. Or five.
Reid noted the slightly different curl of Taylor's right and left hands, the faint white line at his right temple that was mostly covered by hair, the snug red cotton crewneck and too-long jeans that were so unlike the high-end wardrobe Kinney favoured.
Taylor nodded in response to JJ's greeting. "If it's a sketch you want, I can-"
And that was the red-headed girlfriend of Detective Horvath, descending upon the pair of them like a cross between Mother Goose and an avenging angel. She had come in the door with a stack of takeout containers wrapped in plastic bags, a burden she left on top of the half-high dividing wall without a second thought before she steamed across the floor towards them. It was amazing to watch, Reid considered, how the pair of men, so physically different on the surface - one tall, tanned, lean, one short, pale, blond - managed to look exactly the same as they cringed in unison.
"Oh god." That was Taylor.
"Been nice knowing you." That was Kinney. And the look that passed between them was a wordless communication of the kind that took years to develop, based on shared experiences, emotions, understanding, and something else entirely unquantifiable. The look made Reid feel, for a moment, like he had his hands pressed against a pane of glass, on the outside looking in.
"Jesus FUCKING Christ!" Debbie made it as far as Justin, and threw her arms around him with an expression of unholy glee. He hugged her back, relaxing a little – maybe this wasn't going to be so bad – but only for a moment. Deb let go and delivered a slap to the back of his head, followed that up with a matching one to the back of Brian's. The smirk that had appeared briefly on Brian's lips vanished at the moment of impact, a different sort of smile resurfacing a moment later. Prentiss jumped a little, her surprise evident, and exchanged a look with Reid. Intervene, or-?
"You two have a lot of explaining to do," Debbie put her fists on her hips, looking from one to the other with the kind of glare that would fell lesser men. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"That it's nobody else's business?" Brian offered up, the faint smile still playing over his lips as he gave up entirely on the idea of continuing the subterfuge.
"That we wanted to avoid scenes exactly like this one," Justin at least had the grace to look a little bit sheepish, folding his arms across his chest and sinking down to sit on the corner of JJ's desk.
Debbie shook her fist at them, then poked Justin in the ribs. He doubled over a little, and flashed her a glimpse of the smile that had earned him his nickname. "You're getting too goddamn skinny, Sunshine. Tell Brian that he needs to feed you properly, if you're going to hide at his place instead of coming over for dinner once in a fucking blue moon."
"He can eat my-" Brian began to suggest, a gleam in his eye, only cutting off when Deb wagged her finger.
"You, I'm not talking to."
Morgan joined Hotch on the other side of the quad of desks, away from the slightly turbulent 'family' reunion. "Any luck finding the other four men on the list?" He'd phoned the names in on the way back, while Prentiss drove and Kinney and Taylor followed in the older man's car.
"Garcia tracked down contact information for three of them," Hotch replied with a terse nod. "Rossi's making the calls now. I'm going to talk to Horvath about assigning some protection details, or possibly taking them into protective custody until we can make an arrest."
Morgan scanned the desks, noting the new files that seemed to have sprouted there and on the bulletin board even within the past hour. "Has she been up all night working on this?"
"Possibly," Hotch acknowledged, flickering his eyebrows in a way that suggested pride at the analyst's dedication, and affection, as well as concern for her well-being. Someday, Morgan was going to have to study how he managed to do all of that with the sparest of facial movements. "We're running out of time," Hotch admitted. "If his pattern holds, there's going to be another death tomorrow night."
Horvath had emerged from his office as they'd been speaking, and Hotchner spotted the gruff detective exchanging words with Mrs. Novotny. She peeled off from the group and retrieved her stack of containers, and he caught a few words, over the rising hubbub in the station, of the enthusiastic conversation that followed. "...rking all night! So I brought breakfast. Muffins, danishes, sandwiches; there's lemon ba..." Hotch turned away.
Mrs. Novotny now otherwise occupied, JJ rose from her chair. "I'll take you to Rhonda McKinley; she's the sketch artist here. We need you to work with her to put together an image that we can use for a press release."
"I'm an artist," Justin offered, his arms folded across his front. He looked from one agent to the other, his attention landing back on JJ at the end. He felt the immediate impulse to like her; there was something about her that reminded him of his mother. Not that he imagined she'd find the comparison to the mother of a twenty-four year old flattering. "I can do the sketch myself, and it might be easier than trying to describe him. I only met him twice, though. Brian-?" He turned his head to ask, catching sight of Brian's nod as Kinney passed him and took over the chair that JJ had only just abandoned.
"I remember," Brian confirmed confidently. A smirk played over his lips as he met JJ's eyes. "You want a head-shot, or full-frontal?" Would she be as easy to fluster as Muscles had been? It was worth a shot, for the entertainment value if nothing else. Behind him, Justin rolled his eyes.
JJ picked up one of the folders from the table but held it loosely in her arms, not crossing it across her chest like armour. She didn't need that kind of prop for this. She smiled peacefully, but Prentiss had to bite back a grin at the steely look that had come into the other agent's eyes.
"A head shot will be fine," JJ replied, not taking the bait. Kinney was being deliberately provocative, singling her out as a supposedly easy target; it was a bit ridiculous, really. She didn't have time to indulge him, and she needed the information he had locked away behind that smug and lazy smile. "Unless he has any major distinguishing characteristics that might help with identification."
Brian pursed his lips, considered. He tongued one of his molars and replied. "Seven and a half inches, cut, slight bend to the left?"
Justin snickered, and JJ caught the motion in her peripheral vision. She ignored him, and flickered an eyebrow at Brian. "Are you done?"
Blondes had always been Brian's undoing. Justin – that one went without saying. He'd begun to unravel the moment he'd first spotted that golden, shining boy under the streetlight outside Babylon. But before Justin there had been Lindsay, who had talked him out of a cupful of sperm and into fatherhood before he'd even begun to comprehend how un-simple that simple request had been. And Jennifer Taylor, implacable and stubborn, with that same damn tilt to her chin and steel in her eyes as her son... Now this FBI agent, another Jennifer, staring at him coolly until the bullshit melted away and there was no point to doing anything except co-operate.
Brian had never been inclined toward co-operation. He quirked an eyebrow and smiled slyly at her from under hooded eyes. "Oh, I can go for hours-"
"Brian!" Deb's annoyed holler from the other desk gave him a split-second of warning and he caught sight of motion from the corner of his eye. He still didn't have enough time to fully duck from the attitude-corrective muffin that she'd whipped at him, the baked good delivering a sound hit on his shoulder before rolling away across the floor. "Get over yourself and stop being such a shit!"
His head hung for a moment; he sucked at his front teeth and gave a small nod, knowing when he was outnumbered. When he looked up, the arrogance was gone from his eyes, replaced with a flash of amusement and resignation. "I'm done." Brian pondered for a moment, brushed the bran crumbs from his shoulder fastidiously, and searched his memory for anything that would be truly useful. A voice from the past bubbled up, along with the image of shaggy honey-brown hair and muddy blue eyes, the long, fair length of a toned body against his sheets, and a sneer. 'Your years are numbered. Eventually I'm going to tear you down. And pull you apart.'
Brian shook his head.
"No. No birthmarks or tattoos, if that's what you mean."
JJ waited him out another minute, watching the processing going on behind his closed expression. When he stayed silent she nodded, turning back to Taylor where he sat on top of the desk. "I'll get you some paper."
November 14th, 2007, 9:30 am:
"Horvath's going to run them all over to the safehouse once we find Blayne Ross-" Reid was filling Hotch in on the current state of things. A figure moved in his peripheral vision and he turned his head slightly as JJ joined the pair of men. She didn't look terribly pleased, and Reid's brow furrowed a little at the frown on her face.
"Kinney's holding back information," JJ shook her head.
"You think he knows something more about the unsub?" Hotch asked for clarification.
"I do," she nodded. "Even if he's not aware that he does. Taylor's being slightly more forthcoming, but he can't give us much other than the sketch and the basic outlines of the original incident. I don't know how much more I can get out of them."
Reid shifted, stuck one hand in his pocket. "Let me talk to Kinney," he suggested, throwing the idea out there for consideration. "Morgan wasn't wrong about his dominant personality, and he's not going to view me as a threat. I think I may have the best chance of anybody of getting him to open up about whatever it is that he's hiding."
The chairs in the interview room at the police station weren't technically torture devices, but they certainly felt like they were, all hard plastic that probably hadn't ever been cleaned. Brian settled back into one as best he could, and waited for Skinny to start whatever interrogation he'd dreamed up. The blinds were up on the window that looked out into the hallway and Brian could see Justin leaning against the wall out there, speaking with Agent Jareau.
Doctor Reid had joined him in the interview room and was closing the door. Brian gave him the once-over with an abstractly critical eye as Reid turned and approached the table. The FBI agent had runway-model features; interesting rather than overly pretty. High fashion looks, if you didn't consider what he was actually wearing. The camera would love him. His wardrobe needed a defibrillator.
He caught Reid's eye and smiled, slowly, deliberately, keeping eye contact as he did so. He saw Reid swallow, a subtle movement, caught the slight dilation of his pupils. This might be more fun than he'd originally anticipated.
Kinney's eyes were hazel, flecked with green and gold, liquid and warm- It didn't signify. Reid was the first to look away, dropping his eyes and giving Kinney the advantage. He'd be taking the lead back again in a moment anyway, if things went as planned. He sat down across from the other man and put the file folder he was carrying down on the table. Brian was still watching him when Reid looked up again, one hand resting casually on the table and the other arm draped over the back of his chair. It was a defiant pose, intended as a challenge, and Reid took that as his starting point.
"You have issues with authority," Reid began, leaning backward in a conscious mirror of Kinney's posture. "Why is that?"
Brian titled his head a little, kept his smile the same, but something about the younger man was prickling at the back of his neck. Game on. "You're the profiler, you tell me."
Reid considered it, considered a couple of options, then cut right to the meat of things. "Insecurity."
Brian blinked, shook his head once, chuckled. "Come again?" This obviously wasn't going to be the 'do you have any idea where Brandon might go, blah blah blah...' garbage that he'd gotten from Jareau before. What was he up to?
Reid leaned in, put his elbows on the table between them and watched Brian's expressions shift, noted his gaze flicker out and over Reid's shoulder at the door. He had deflection and escape on his mind, was feeling discomfort under scrutiny. Reid could sympathize. "You only feel safe when you're the most powerful one in the room," he elaborated on his initial evaluation. "It's not compensation..."
Brian snorted. "You've got that right."
"You're incredibly successful by any measure - financially, professionally, socially – and yet you still constantly feel like you have to prove something to others. That suggests to me that you don't think you deserve all those things you have."
And again Brian's eyes went up and away, his gaze flickering over Reid's shoulder and through the window. Justin seemed to feel the weight of his look, even though it was fleeting, met his eyes and gave him a worried smile in response. Brian felt the raw edges of his nerves smooth down and pulled his glance back to Reid, who was still talking.
"A feeling probably based in the abuse you suffered as a child and adolescent, which eroded your burgeoning sense of self. More importantly, you're afraid that, since you don't deserve them, you're going to lose them."
Brian reacted almost viscerally to that, pulling his hand back and sitting up a little taller. He flicked his eyes at the window again, then back at Reid. "You're profiling me," he laid out the accusation, as ridiculous and redundant as saying it out loud might be. "That's what you do all day, isn't it? Profile psychos and killers? I thought we'd already established that I'm innocent, here." He let out a dark laugh, just one, rested his hand against his chin, and stood his metaphorical ground. "Blood's a bitch to get out of Prada."
Reid clasped his hands, watched Kinney over top of them. "We don't only profile killers, Mr. Kinney; victimology is a major part of it as well. And you're right – you're not a killer."
Throwing his hands up in the air in a grim 'hallelujah,' Brian affected a look of shock. "You finally figured it out. What tipped you off?"
"You've studied human behaviour as much as I have, albeit in a different context. You know what buttons to push to get the results you want, but not just to sell people things," Reid suggested, his lips twitching up a little as he hit a mark. He shifted in his chair again, picked up his pen and toyed with it, looking at Brian while he spoke.
"It makes you feel safe. You do it because natural reactions are too unpredictable, too frightening; shock is easier to fathom, and control. Your arrogance is a conscious cover. You're not naturally narcissistic or damaged enough to be capable of the kind of brutality that our unsub has shown. And speaking of which." Reid flipped open the folder in front of him, marking an end to that section of the interview. Destabilize, then refocus on what he really wanted to talk about. Basic technique.
"You were able to have Brandon banned from your club – you had all the power there. And yet you took part in this bet. What did he say or do that made publicly proving yourself so important?"
Brian found himself at a loss for words. His immediate impulse was to say something sarcastic, something caustic, but the right words wouldn't come. He set his jaw instead, looked down at his hands. He fought the memory of the way he'd felt back then, the cancer of self-doubt that had gnawed at his gut, the bleakness that had surrounded him from the moment Justin had walked out his door. Again. Only that time, it had seemed certain that the little twat wasn't going to come back. Really, he hadn't been responsible for his own reactions after that. Anyone would go a little off the rails with that kind of provocation.
And speaking of provocation – it would probably be bad form to haul off on an FBI agent. For someone who was generally opposed to fists as a method of communication, he'd been having a lot of violent urges since Skinny and Muscles had first showed up at his office with Officer Krupke yesterday. They probably got that kind of reception a lot.
Reid waited, but it seemed that no answer was forthcoming. It was obvious he'd hit a nerve, and he pushed that button again to see what would happen. "Was it that he was challenging you on your own turf? Is that what it was? A power struggle for top dog?"
That gave Brian a way back into the conversation, and he grabbed at it a little bit too energetically. He looked back up, sneered at Reid in a gesture of bravado. "There was never a question of who was going to be the top," he advised. A flash of his eyes back at Reid, throw some heat into it – would the little twerp be distracted? No, Brian re-evaluated. Reid wasn't that little. Skinny, yes, could use a lot more time at the gym, but they were probably about the same height.
Kinney was deflecting again; that was fine. That was to be expected. Reid flickered his eyebrow at Brian and grasped for the next topic he wanted to address. "What was supposed to happen once you won? What were the terms of the wager?"
That was an easier question to answer. Brian's shoulders relaxed a little, some of the tension there ebbing. "If he won, I had to let him back into Babylon. If I won, he'd let me fuck him." He was aiming for shock value, ended up surprisingly disappointed by Reid's non-reaction. "I turned him down," Brian added for good measure.
"I'd made my point." Brian shrugged off the question, leaned back in his chair and resisted the urge to clasp and unclasp his hands. He drummed his fingers on the table instead, pursed his lips and elaborated. "He could spout all the bullshit he wanted about taking my place, or being younger and hotter; I'd already proven him wrong. Besides," he tipped his head a little, a concession to the good doctor. Let him think he'd scored a point. "There are hundreds of guys who would give their left ball to suck on mine." One corner of his mouth quirked up in a smile, as though he'd said something funny. "Why waste my evening on someone who was only there because he was a loser?"
And that was the thing they'd been missing. Reid's mind spun with that new fact, nibbling around the edges, fitting it into place. "That could have been the final humiliation," he suggested aloud, briefly forgetting the interview in the rush of understanding. "He wasn't even worth collecting the forfeit."
What was Skinny saying? The final humiliation-? "Wait." Brian shook his head, sat up a bit in his chair. The weight of it was enormous, heavy and crushing, and he spoke slowly as he tried to wrap his head around the implications. "You're saying that this is my fault? That if I'd lost the bet," not that he'd have let that happen. Or would he, if he'd known what the results would be? "Or if I'd fucked Brandon, then what –? Those men would still be alive?"
Reid snapped back in, shook his head and tried to correct his error in speaking aloud. "No, we don't know that," he assured Kinney. "The kind of obsessive power-dominance personality capable of committing these crimes was bound to snap at some point. If it hadn't been about the list, it would have been something else as his focus."
That wasn't nearly as reassuring as it was probably supposed to have been. Brian sagged back in the chair, his hand coming up to splay across the side of his face. He stared off into the middle-distance, not seeing the room around him.
"Mr. Kinney?" Reid stood, anxious to get back to the team and their impromptu bullpen, share the information. "You can't blame yourself." It was a platitude he was mouthing, but his attention was entirely elsewhere. Brandon had challenged Kinney, had lost to him and been humiliated by him, had been further humiliated by life failures even as his rival continued to succeed – Brian was at the center of everything. Was it possible that Kinney himself was a focus, along with the list of men and the bet that had precipitated Brandon's initial downward slide?
"Thank you for your time today," Reid added as an afterthought, even as Kinney was already standing.
Brian rose, his body on autopilot and his brain checked out. He needed a smoke. No, more than that. He needed to get drunk, or high, or fucked up in some other immediate and potent way. He needed Justin. He needed out of there. But more than all of that, he needed to get back into control.
He paused at the door, glanced back at Reid. He straightened his shoulders, closed his eyes for a heartbeat, remembered what it was to be Brian Kinney.
"Are you ever wrong?"
Reid hesitated. "Sometimes."
Brian gave Reid a sly, smug smile, and another flash of those hooded eyes. There – there was that response again, and he hadn't imagined it this time either. 'Shock value' this, Skinny. "There are some things I'm never wrong about." And he walked out, letting the door to the interview room swing closed behind him.
[notes: Officer Krupke is a reference from West Side Story:
Brian's called Horvath that before. It didn't endear them much.]
November 14th, 2007, noon:
Hotchner sat at the desk in the precinct with a frown on his face as he leafed through the results of the past five hours. Taylor had turned in a sketch and JJ had gone to appeal to the press, working the reporters with her usual deft skill. Prentiss was on the phone with Garcia as they went through stacks of records, as well as security footage from local clubs, and Rossi, Reid and Horvath had gone out to round up the rest of the men from Kinney's list. Kinney and Taylor had been allowed to leave an hour ago after their interviews were finished, and Morgan was prowling the station while he waited for the tip lines to ring, frustration oozing off of him in waves.
Hotch waited until Morgan was facing his direction, and he waved the other man over. The boil needed to be lanced before something worse came of it. He nodded towards the extra chair, but Morgan only leaned his forearms on the back of it and stayed standing.
"Something on your mind, Hotch?" Morgan asked, brow furrowing.
Hotchner's frown mirrored Morgan's, tinged more with concern, though, than with anger. "What's going on, Morgan?" he opened bluntly. Morgan always responded better to that than to pussy-footing around an issue. "You've been mono-focused on Kinney since his name first came up, and it's still distracting you."
"I know his kind, Hotch." Morgan straightened, fidgeted, pushed back against the chair to shove it back under the desk with a force that surprised even himself, for a moment. "He may not be our unsub, but he's still a predator. He'll use that kid up until there's nothing left of him, then he'll move on to another target."
Hotchner shook his head, a barely perceptible movement. "You're projecting, Morgan, and it's understandable. But think back. We know their history. We saw them interacting at length this morning. Did Taylor present like a victim to you?"
Morgan folded his arms across his chest, paced a little along the wall. His jaw was set, the muscle along the back pulsing a little from the tension, but he stared off into the distance and considered.
Kinney leaning over Taylor's shoulder to make a suggestion on the sketch, his hand resting high on the younger man's back. Taylor leaning back to reply, exposing his throat as he did so. Intimate. Trusting.
Taylor accepting two cups of coffee from JJ, flashing her a brilliant smile; Kinney lunging for one of the cups and Taylor holding it just out of reach, taunting him. Kinney murmuring something in Taylor's ear that made his eyes narrow and his lips part, before grabbing the cup away. Familiar. Utterly at ease.
Taylor's way of taking charge, back at the loft; overriding Kinney's wishes without hesitation or fear of retribution. Secure.
"It's not that simple, Hotch, and you know it." Morgan shook his head and continued to stare off toward the center of the room, but Hotchner could see the tension starting to ebb from Morgan's arms and jaw. Good.
"I also know what we're here for, and what the physical evidence tells us," Hotch replied, as gently as he could. "A profile is only a guide; you know that better than anyone. They're useful tools, but that's all. And the evidence says that Kinney isn't the unsub, and that Taylor isn't being abused." Hotch hesitated, weighed the wisdom of his decision to press in on the subject, then did it anyway. "You can't let your own history cloud your judgment, Morgan. You're better than that. And I need you to be sharp right now."
Morgan turned, opened his mouth to object, but whatever he might have said was interrupted as Prentiss came around the corner, phone still held to her ear. She drew up short at the expression on Morgan's face, but turned to Hotch to deliver her news anyway. "Hotch? We've got a name."
Hotch stood, indicated to Morgan to follow as Prentiss turned to go back the way she'd come. "Tell me." JJ was just arriving back at the desks when Hotchner, Prentiss and Morgan joined her, and Hotch nodded to her in acknowledgement.
Prentiss glanced at Morgan one last time, then decided that discretion was the better part of valour. She answered Hotch's question instead, beginning with the explanation. "Reid found ten 'Brandons' in Babylon's membership records, and Garcia matched Taylor's sketch to one of them." Prentiss picked up a photocopy of a driver's license and passed it to Hotch. The face that stared out at him from the picture bore a striking resemblance to the young man's pencil sketch, except for the shorter hair.
"I'm putting you on speaker, Garcia," Prentiss spoke into her phone, pushing the button to follow through on her statement.
"Who is he?" Hotch asked, without preamble.
"Brandon Straker, 29, born in Connecticut." Garcia began, the thrill of the hunt still evident in her voice. "His credit cards place him in the right cities at the right times-"
"Wait, as in the Greenwich Strakers?" JJ looked up from the photo in surprise. "That family's worth over ten million."
"They'd be the ones, my darling! Young Brandon was next in line to the throne. Yale for business, Harvard Law, on the fast-track at daddy's firm, until 2004."
"Then what happened?" Morgan broke his silence, dropping his arms and sliding his hands in his pockets.
"Disinherited, fired, trust fund dissolved. Little brother Benjamin stepped in to fill big brother's shoes, and Brandon left town. I assumed it was going to be a case of fingers in the till," Garcia suggested, "but according to some gossip items I dredged up, it looks like he had something else entirely inside one of the paralegals. Male, for the record."
"So Brandon got disinherited for what - being gay?" Morgan raised an eyebrow, engaging in the discussion for real. Hotch relaxed a tiny bit.
"Looks like. He bummed around Miami for a while, picked up a lovely golden tan, and then headed for glorious, glamorous Pittsburgh. He'd been working as a corporate lawyer for a couple of years but was let go in the spring. Downsizing. He's now working for an ambulance-chaser type law firm in the city."
"That's quite a drop in status," Prentiss offered up, tapping her pen against her paper. "From golden boy to grubbing for desperate clients; his self-esteem must have taken quite a hit. He'd be angry at the world."
"Angry enough to kill?" JJ asked, reaching for a bottle of water on the desk.
"That's the question."
"It still doesn't answer the other question," Hotch shook his head. "Why now? He was disinherited three years ago, let go in the spring – why start killing in July, and on such a specific timeline? If he keeps going as planned, the ten men on the list, halving the time between each kill- there'll be another one tomorrow, then one on the 16th. The last two would have to be no more than twelve hours apart, on November 17th. What's the significance?"
"November 17th?" Garcia repeated. "That'd be Straker's birthday. He turns thirty in three days."
"That's a reason to drink, maybe, but hardly a reason to kill," Prentiss objected, looking bemused at the idea.
"For some people," Reid suggested, his expression thoughtful as he processed all of the new information and the pieces began to fit together in a neat and satisfactory way, "it could feel like the end of the world."
November 14th, 2007, also noon:
"And it doesn't creep you out?" Justin shifted in the passenger seat of Brian's corvette as Brian slid the car into a parking spot around the corner from the diner. The FBI interrogation had been interesting, and putting the sketch together – actually being useful on a serial killer manhunt – had been kind of exciting, though not the kind of exciting he ever particularly wanted to relive. But now that they were out of the thick of things, back on home turf, Justin found himself scanning every face that they passed, in cars, on the sidewalk, looking for Brandon. He had the odd sensation that they'd painted great big bullseyes on their backs, if they hadn't been there already. Brian had been unusually quiet ever since they'd left, though, which usually foretold some kind of epic fallout to come.
"What?" Brian turned the car off and pulled the key out of the ignition. "That the guy who thought he was my arch-rival – as if – could be cutting off cocks because of some sick obsession, like a fucked-up cross between Psycho and Hedwig and the Angry Inch? What could be creepy about that?" He turned to meet Justin's eyes, and his look betrayed the unsettled worry and the trickle of fear coiling in his gut that he'd never be caught dead admitting to aloud. He tried for a small smile instead, the look not reaching his eyes, and Justin shook his head in reply.
"What if he's planning to come after you, once he's killed everyone else?" Justin voiced his own worry, pressing his lips together after he said it, as though wishing he could take it back.
Brian looked out the window instead of at Justin, drummed on the steering wheel, then shrugged gamely. "Then I guess it's too bad you don't still have that gun." He wrenched the door open abruptly, and levered himself out of the car. "You coming in, or am I going to have to face Deb solo?"
The lunch rush was just beginning, and Brian spotted a familiar pair of heads at the front counter. His hands went into his coat pockets and he slipped into his standby casual loping stride as he and Justin made their way towards them. Nothing to see here, just move along... "Hey Mikey," he loomed over Michael's shoulder, just because, and spoke directly into his ear. "What's new?"
"Brian! Holy shit!" Michael just about levitated off the barstool from surprise, rounding on Brian to tell him off. He stopped when he caught sight of Justin as well, and his shoulders settled as he got his heart rate back under control. "So you are back in town."
"Just for a couple of days," Justin shrugged, moving past Michael to greet Emmett. "Hi, Em."
"Hello yourself, stranger," Emmett embraced Justin in a slightly restrained greeting, then held him out at arm's length to give him a proper once-over. "Look at you! New York suits you, kiddo."
Michael waited until Brian had taken the seat beside him before asking. "So what's going on, Brian? Is it true that the FBI thinks you killed people? Ma and Ted told us they came looking for you."
Brian gave him a wordless look, his shoulders hunched as he leaned his elbows on the counter.
"They had us in to the police station for questioning this morning," Justin supplied over Brian's silence, shaking his head at the absurdity of it all. "It was insane! They asked all kinds of questions, had me draw up a sketch of the suspect. Except they kept calling him an 'unsub,' whatever that means." It was easier talking about it, he decided. It felt like he was doing something, rather than just sitting around and waiting to find out if – when – the cops were going to do something useful.
"Of the suspect," Emmett repeated, cocking his head and staring at them. "So you two aren't – suspects?"
Brian turned his head to give Emmett a withering glare, and Justin looked briefly taken aback at the question. Not that it wasn't true, of course; or at least it had been at one point. He'd seen his own picture up on the bulletin board full of clippings and maps that the FBI had been using back at the station. But that was different than hearing a friend say it.
"They think it's Brandon," Brian supplied succinctly. He cast his gaze around the diner looking for Deb, but she was dashing back and forth between the kitchen pass-through and the booths, likely hadn't even noticed their entrance yet.
"That guy that Brian banned from Babylon a couple of years ago," Justin added, resting his elbow on the counter. "The men that got killed were all off that list, from their bet."
"The fuck-off!" Emmett gaped, then clapped his hands together. "Oh my god, Brian. Oh my god."
"Holy shit," Michael breathed out, repeating himself.
"Now what's he done?" Deb bustled back behind the counter and smacked Brian upside the head. The little shit deserved it for something, she was sure, even if she didn't have a specific reason in mind at the moment. "Did you piss off more of those FBI agents? Don't think I didn't see how that Agent Morgan was staring at you at the station. I thought your head was going to spontaneously combust. What did you do, kick his dog?"
Brian just shrugged. "I'm not his killer. I think he's disappointed that he doesn't get to slap me in cuffs." He slipped off his coat and looked up, meeting Debbie's eyes for the first time. "Can I get some coffee here, Deb?"
"So what happens now?" Michael asked. "Is he still out there? Brian-" his eyes went wide. "What if he comes after you? Are you and Justin in danger?"
Justin crossed to stand behind Brian and ran his hand up the back of Brian's neck to ruffle his hair, not pulling back even when Brian batted his hand away. "Agent Hotchner said we shouldn't go back to the loft, since Brandon knows where it is," he explained, a little uncomfortable – no, a lot uncomfortable – at the thought of a confrontation. "It's just until they catch him."
"So where are you going to go?" Michael asked, as Debbie came back with the coffee pot and a pair of mugs.
She looked back and forth between the men as she poured the coffee, her concern obvious in her frown. "Not out to the house – it's so isolated!"
"He could be waiting for you there already!" Emmett added, not entirely helpfully. "And no-one would ever hear you scream."
"We'll be fine," Justin shook his head, grinning a little at the back and forth. As good as his stolen weekends with Brian were – and they were, on the whole, very, very good – the banter was reminding him of everything else that he missed from Pittsburgh. "I called my mother on the way over from the police station; we'll stay with her tonight."
Was it Brian's imagination, or did Debbie look a little bit disappointed that they had a plan already in place? He straightened up and cupped his mug in his hands, letting the warmth sink into his bones. "We're on our own for dinner, though," he added, a little hesitantly. "Mother Taylor has a house showing. So if there's space at the table for two more-"
"For Sunshine," Debbie riposted, recognizing Brian's overture for the incredibly rare thing that it was. "I can make room. You..." she paused, stared into Brian's eyes, then gave him a broad smile and relented. Forgiven. "Well, I suppose we can find an extra chair somewhere. You're both getting too damn skinny."
[[end notes: Brandon's surname and background were never revealed on Queer as Folk, so I needed to create something that would fit with what we did know about him. Brandon was consistently set up to be a mirror of Brian throughout his episodes, and I chose biographical elements that fit with that concept.]]
November 14th, 2007, 4 pm:
The house that Brandon Straker was renting was on the outskirts of town in a new suburb, a small bungalow flanked on either side by a wooded area and a construction site. The outside was reasonably well-kept, the paint on the woodwork freshly touched-up and the garden and lawn maintained. A small tag tucked into the flowerbed advertised the name of a lawn-care company, which explained the attention to the garden beds and hedges.
Morgan got out of the black SUV with his tac vest on and his gun in hand. There was no car in the driveway, which wasn't entirely unexpected. Straker's boss had confirmed that he hadn't shown up for work that day; it was likely – no, probable – that he was hiding in reaction to the press conferences and increased scrutiny. They just had to hope, as backwards as that seemed, that Straker's compulsions were strong enough that he would choose to stay and try and complete his list rather than skip town.
The cops that Horvath had sent with them followed Hotch and Morgan into the house, Reid keeping to the middle of the throng. The entry was anticlimactic; other than breakfast dishes in the sink, there was no sign that anyone had been there that day.
"We're clear," Morgan nodded back to the officers once the group had been through the house, and holstered his gun. Now to figure out how Straker's brain was working, and get some idea as to where he'd gone to ground. The kitchen and living room were nothing particularly special, the furniture clean and reasonably good quality, utterly decorator-neutral in look.
The first bedroom was plush, decorated in shades of red and gold and dark brown wood, a king-sized bed taking up the vast majority of the space in the room. Warm lights over the bed cast a golden glow over the scene when Morgan carefully flicked the switch. The care with which the decor had been chosen managed to keep it well on the tasteful side of 'mob girlfriend,' though the items in the drawer of the night table – some of them in sizes surprising enough to earn a raised eyebrow from Morgan – tipped it slightly over towards 'high end bordello.'
The second bedroom was different. It was set up as a home office, with the pre-requisite desk and bookshelf and computer. What drew the eye immediately, however, was the collage that sprawled haphazardly across the far wall, newspaper clippings tacked up beside and under and on top of photographs and notes scrawled on unlined paper.
Reid stepped in to take a closer look, his gaze skimming rapidly over the mess, taking it all in, sorting it all out, categorizing.
Item: A printed copy of the same list that Kinney had given Morgan, notes scribbled across it detailing workplaces and phone numbers of some of the victims. Six names crossed off, in heavy black marker.
Item: News articles and press releases, cut from papers and printed from newswires. Kinney receives an advertising award. Kinnetik, new ad agency opening its doors. Local executive purchases Club Babylon. Body found behind Toolshed. Body found behind Pistols. Liberty Avenue Killer Strikes Again.
Item: Photographs of the six victims, candids taken with a long lens. Photos of the last four Garcia had traced, same.
Item: A current calendar. The dates of the murders crossed out and a single initial inscribed in each box. M. A. P. J. A. The first initials of each of the victims. November 13th marked S. B on the 15th. An M on the 16th. November 17th circled in red, crossed out, circled again, and two letters scrawled across it. A candid picture of Kinney tacked on to the calendar with a drawing pin, covering the remaining dates.
The center of the collage was the most telling, and Reid drew out his camera to take a few shots for the team's sake. The photographs in the middle of the wall were all of Brian Kinney. Most were taken from a distance, the subject obviously unaware of the scrutiny. Kinney at the airport in a passionate clinch with Taylor, his hands buried in the younger man's hair. Kinney with a gym bag over his shoulder and sunglasses on, opening a door. Kinney coming out of a comic shop, his friend Michael Novotny beside him. Kinney standing on a metal balcony, mostly shadowed, green light that looked like a strobe flashing over his right shoulder. That photograph taken from below.
"He's obsessed with Kinney," Reid spoke without turning, responding to the footsteps that stopped in the doorway behind him. It was obviously Hotchner, the footfalls both too light and too quick for Morgan. "The men on the list – they're just warm-ups. He's refining his technique until he feels ready for the real thing. Hotch," Reid half turned, and gave his boss a vaguely owl-like stare. "I think Brian Kinney is his final target."
The stairs down to the unfinished basement were creaky, the faded linoleum that covered the treads worn away and sagging. It was an odd contrast to the well-appointed main floor, suggesting that whoever the landlord was, they didn't place much importance on the basement beyond storage space. A single bulb hung from a wire that ran up through the beams that crossed the ceiling, and Morgan reached up to pull the chain as he scanned the room with a critical eye. The dim light didn't help as much as he'd hoped, the shadows it cast throbbing gently along the walls as the bulb swayed on its wire.
There was a small furnace room to his right, holding nothing more than the furnace and hot water heater. A small washing machine and dryer combination sat against the wall, a chest freezer kitty-corner to that and plugged in to the next outlet. The floor was sealed concrete, a drain marking the center of a slightly sloping depression in the middle of the floor. A glint of brown dirt caked around the drain caught Morgan's attention, and he bent over the drain for a moment to confirm his suspicions. Dried blood, he'd stake his badge on it. The freezer was next, and he mentally steeled himself for – well, who really knew? The number of horrific things that serial killers stashed in their freezers could give anyone nightmares.
The bottom of the freezer looked innocuous enough, lined with boxes of frozen foods and bags of vegetables. The basket, on the other hand, held half-dozen tightly-wrapped semi-cylindrical packages, each generally about the same size and shape. He reached out to pick one up, turned the frozen package over in his hand. The multiple layers of plastic hid most of the details of the items inside, except for a general sense of the colour, which seemed to be within the right range for flesh-tone-
It took Morgan a moment to recognize the plastic-wrapped shapes for what they were. He winced and dropped the one he was holding back into the freezer basket, an immediate visceral reaction that he couldn't bring himself to be ashamed about. He dropped the lid of the chest freezer and it fell closed with a bang. Hotch and Reid were coming down the stairs together, their footsteps on the stairs speeding up at the sudden noise.
Morgan looked up at the pair of men and nodded at the freezer, his jaw set and expression grim. "Found his trophies. I think they're all there." He changed the subject onto something slightly more palatable, pointing at the drain in the middle of the concrete floor. "This is the primary site, Hotch. There's blood around the seam."
Hotch nodded, glanced up toward the first floor at the sound of other people entering the house. "It's time we cleared out. Local CSIs are here to process the scene, and we need to go back to the precinct to coordinate the manhunt."
November 14th, 2007, 5 pm:
"Give me some good news," Hotch greeted JJ curtly as he dropped his tac vest on his chair at the precinct.
JJ tensed, her mouth tight. "I can start with good news," she temporized, waiting a moment until Hotch had finished divesting himself of his gear from the raid on Straker's house. "We tracked down Blayne Ross, Straker's 'number seven,' and he's being taken into protective custody along with the others. There are four officers being posted at the safehouse as well. Straker's not going to get anywhere near them."
"And the bad news?" Hotch raised an eyebrow and waited.
"We can't find Straker," JJ reported with a frown. "He emptied his savings account yesterday, and there's been no activity on his credit cards. Garcia's put a flag on all of his accounts – if he tries to access anything, she'll get an immediate alert." She tapped the folder against her hand and shook her head at Hotch. "Where's he going to go? The rest of his prospective victims are out of reach."
Hotch straightened his tie as he replied, fussing with the knot. "He can't afford to break his pattern – he's put too much psychological weight on completing his revenge. He had pictures of Brian Kinney at the house – it seems reasonable to assume that he'll try for him next."
"I can call Kinney and suggest taking him to the safehouse again, but he seemed pretty adamantly against it this morning."
Hotch nodded, though the likelihood of Kinney acquiescing seemed minimal at this point. "Try it. They know to stay away from Kinney's properties, but Straker doesn't know that. He may try the loft. We need to cover that, and send some uniforms out to the West Virginia location. In the meantime, we'll split up and canvas the street. The bars will be open soon, if they aren't already, and Straker's likely to be hunting tonight."
November 14th, 2007, 5:00 pm, on the phone:
"Hey Ted. Are you coming to Ma's for dinner tonight?"
"Michael, hi. There's a dinner tonight? Why? It's not Sunday."
"It's a 'special occasion' - Brian and Justin are going to be there."
"Oh, that's nice. It'll be good to see Bri, considering he didn't bother to show up at work today."
"Can you blame him, considering what's been going on?"
"... No, not really. I did think we'd at least see him in the afternoon, once those profilers were done tearing him a new one. You should have seen these guys, Michael."
"You were not checking out the FBI."
"Between moments of gut-wrenching terror that they were there to close us down, and that they might arrest Brian for mass murder? Of course I was. If they come to interview you for anything, see if you can figure out if Agent Morgan is gay. He's definitely Emmett's type."
"I think I'll pass. The last thing I need is to get arrested for cruising a cop. Hang on – call waiting."
"Red Cape Comics."
"Michael! Hi. I got a call from Deb about dinner tonight? I just picked up the message."
"Hey Ben. Yeah – Ma wants everyone over. Brian and Justin are coming for dinner, and she's going on about there being 'safety in numbers.' I think she half-expects the Liberty Avenue Killer to come busting in the door to take them down right in front of her."
"And I thought Deb watching crime shows with Carl would be a good change from her love affair with QVC. I'm out of lecture now; I have to meet a student, then I was planning to stop at the gym before coming home. If I leave there by... six-thirty, I can meet you at Deb's by seven?"
"Sounds good. I'll pick Hunter up from school on the way. Love you."
"Love you too."
"That was Ben – we'll be at Ma's around six, six-thirty. Ben will be there for seven."
"I've emailed Blake. Unless he's got something planned that I don't know about, we'll swing by. Does Emmett know about dinner?"
"He should – he was right there when we were talking about it."
"I'll call him anyway."
"Michael, honey! What's shaking? And who else is on the line? I hear heavy breathing. If you and Ben are doing something kinky..."
"It's just me, Em."
"Just calling to make sure you'll be there at dinner tonight. Ted and Blake are coming."
"Of course I'll be there. Where else would I be?"
"Oh, I don't know – heading for the next county, since Brian and Justin know that you thought they might be serial killers? Hang on – call waiting."
"So who ratted you out to Brian and Justin? Was it Michael?"
"No, no. We talked at lunch. You know how it is, Teddy – everyone always says 'we never suspected a thing, he was always so quiet' – but you'd figure that Brian actually killing someone wouldn't come as much of a surprise. Someone's got to be the exception that proves the rule."
"You have a twisted little mind, Em."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"You know, you should take your theories down to the police station. Try and talk to Agent Morgan."
"Why? Is he cute?"
"Not just cute, gorgeous. He's one of the beautiful people, Em. He really is. Black guy, fantastic body, even his muscles have muscles."
"Ooh, better and better. I wonder if he carries handcuffs? 'Up against the wall! Spread 'em!'"
"I don't think cops actually say that."
"FBI aren't the same as cops."
"Maybe Carl can get you his phone number."
"Jesus, you two, can we stay a little bit focused, here?"
"Michael, honey! I didn't realize you were back on the line."
"I figured that out. I have to go and close up the store. I'll see you guys at Ma's."
"Bye, Mich- ... Well, this evening is getting off to a rousing start."
"Don't be so grumpy, Teddy. He's just worried about Brian and Justin, like everybody else. Come on, relax. It'll be fun! Just like old times."
"Except, you know, with a serial killer on the loose. Goody."
November 14th, 2007, 6 pm:
Liberty Avenue was busy most times of the day or night, it seemed, and Prentiss jogged ahead a few steps to catch up to JJ. Rossi was trailing behind a little, watching faces and looking in shop windows, the sunset casting long shadows over everything they passed. The copied sketch in Emily's hand was looking a little rumpled now, after she'd flashed it at what felt like hundreds of disinterested faces in the shops and cafes that lined the street.
"Everybody knows this guy, but no-one's seen him," Prentiss complained, receiving a sympathetic look from JJ in response. "How is that possible?" The next stop on their list was one of the bars where most of their victims had been regulars. The sign beside the stairs read 'Woody's,' and the women paused at the bottom to allow a group of young guys to come down past them and turn onto the street.
"He's laying low," Rossi noted, catching up. "He'll have seen the press conference; he knows that we're on to him."
"So why are we even here?" Prentiss grumbled incautiously. The lack of progress was making her testy, and the sun was setting.
Rossi shook his head in a minute gesture of correction. "Someone's going to know where he goes to ground. He's been a part of the community for years; somebody has to know enough about Straker to lead us to his hiding spot."
They mounted the stairs, the sound and heat hitting them as JJ pushed open the door. It wasn't as loud inside the pub as it would be later on in the evening, JJ was sure, but it was crowded enough that it was worth a try. Wooden high-top tables alternated with larger and shorter ones in the traditional-style taproom, a handful of men gathered around the pool table set up in the far corner. "Let's split up," JJ suggested to the other two. "We can canvas the room faster that way."
That was the theory, in any case, but despite best efforts – and a little help from her badge – JJ had one hell of a time getting any of the men in the pub to even really look at the sketch, never mind give her answers beyond a shrug or a 'sorry.' She glanced up to look for Emily, who seemed to be having the same issue. "I'm not used to being so invisible to guys," JJ joked, though her frustration was evident in the small creases around her eyes.
"Rossi's not having that problem," Prentiss nodded toward the last member of their team, who was chatting with a handful of men at one of the high-top wooden tables. They were shaking their heads, which didn't bode well, but at least he was getting more than a few words out of them rather than funny looks.
"Go figure," JJ laughed with a little bit of surprise.
That table was a bust and Rossi turned away, rolling the sketch up in his hands as he considered his next move. Lost in thought, he didn't notice the person passing him until they bumped shoulders, and he was brought back to himself.
"Sorry about that-" he began to apologize, and was brought up short by a pair of blue eyes. They were definitely contacts, from the shade, and the platinum blonde wig above them turned the wearer into a remarkably convincing Marilyn Monroe. She was dressed in the white dress that had become so iconic, though the neckline was a little higher than he remembered from the photos. It took Rossi a moment to process the slight incongruities that betrayed the illusion; the height – taller than he was, by a couple of inches – and adam's apple were the kicker. Right.
"Not a problem," 'Marilyn' replied, and he – no, she – looked Rossi up and down with a speculative smile. "You're looking a little lost, sweetheart. Are you looking for something in particular?"
"Looking for someone, actually," Rossi recovered from his momentary surprise with remarkable aplomb, and he unrolled the images that Garcia had provided. "Do you know this man?"
She took the flyer in beautifully manicured hands, looked at it, then at Rossi with surprise and a slow smile as she handed the paper back to him. "Brandon? Forgive me, honey, but he really doesn't seem like your type," she purred a little, her voice a deliberately husky tenor.
"How's that?" Rossi smiled back. It was the most information he'd had out of anyone so far, and there was no sense in alienating the only one here who seemed to know more than their unsub's first name and penis size.
"Look at Rossi," JJ murmured to Prentiss, as they wrapped up speaking with the bartender. Prentiss glanced back over her shoulder at the new addition to the BAU team chatting up a drag queen, and covered a little grin with her hand.
"Brandon's a big old power top," Marilyn replied, tilting her head in an implicit invitation. She gave Rossi a once-over again, not losing her smile, or her purr. "And sweetheart, forgive me if I'm wrong, but you don't look at all like a bottom to me."
Rossi chuckled, but otherwise kept his cool and played along. "What, exactly, does a 'bottom' look like? Barring the obvious, I mean."
She took his reply as flirting, he could tell, and maybe he was, a little bit. In costume, at least, Marilyn had all the characteristics of a beautiful woman, and it was easy to fall into the usual script. Her eyes lit up, and she echoed his laugh. "Take me home, gorgeous, and I'll demonstrate."
"Thanks, but I'm straight." Rossi shook his head, cutting off that line of conversation before it could get awkward. "Also, working."
"Pasta's straight too," Marilyn riposted with a grin, "until-"
"Until you get it hot and wet," Rossi chimed in, as they finished the sentence together. "I've heard that one before, too. Now about Brandon Straker-"
Marilyn shook her head, the laughter fading from her eyes as they got back to business. "I can't help you there, I'm afraid. I know him, and his reputation, but we don't exactly move in the same circles. Come to think of it," she shrugged, "I haven't seen him around much the last few weeks. Usually he's up at Babylon or Popperz in the evenings, but either he's been pretty scarce recently, or he's changed clubs."
"If you do see him," Rossi pulled out his wallet and removed one of his cards, "give us a call immediately. And do me a favour-" he added, watching the drag queen's eyes widen at the official seal on his card. "Don't say anything to him about the FBI, and don't approach him. Just call."
She looked like she wanted to ask about a thousand questions, but a look into Rossi's expression and she changed her mind. She tucked his card away into her clutch purse and took out a card of her own, toying with it between her fingers. "I'll do that. And this is for you-" she smiled sweetly, tucked a card into the breast pocket of his shirt, and patted the pocket gently. "Just in case." And she winked.
"Good night, David," she looked over his shoulder, then, and addressed Prentiss and JJ as they drew up behind him. "Ladies." And she sashayed away, moving easily in what had to be four-inch heels.
JJ waited to say anything until they were on their way down the stairs themselves. "Was that his card he gave you, Rossi?" she asked, glancing at Prentiss with a grin.
"How many guys can say that Marilyn Monroe slipped them her phone number?" Prentiss teased back.
"Just me and Joe DiMaggio," Rossi replied with a shake of his head and a flash of a grin. He pulled the card out of his pocket to take a look at it, and snorted quietly.
He drew his wallet out of his back pocket, though, and after a second's consideration, tucked the card inside. JJ and Prentiss had walked ahead a little, and once more he caught up to them, and moved on.
They've seen my face; they know my name. If I were less of a man, I would take this as my cue to run. But I've come too far and done too much to turn back now.
I set out to stake my claim on this town, and that's precisely what I've done. It ends tonight. In blood.
November 14th, 2007, 7:00 pm:
"Hi, Deb? It's Justin. No, I got the machine. Hang on. We're running a bit – ung – a bit late. Um. Traffic. Shut up. We'll be the... ahh.Be there as soon as possible. Say, twenty minutes? Sorry about tha-" [CLICK]
November 14th, 2007, 8:30 pm:
Sunset had been more than an hour ago, the streetlights taking over, but it was still a bit early for the nightlife that the street was semi-famous for. The bored doorman outside Popperz glanced up as Rossi and Reid approached, first flickering a disinterested eye over the mismatched pair then sitting up a little more alertly as they approached. They stuck out, which captured his curiosity. Maybe they were just cops. That would be a nice and easy one. The younger one looked like he was in his twenties; that was a good enough reason to hassle them a little and still look like he was doing his duty. "Let me see some ID, kid."
Reid was momentarily taken aback by the request from the bouncer leaning against the doorframe of the club, but given the authority with which he spoke and the bulked-up muscles flexing under and around his orange t-shirt - probably steroids, given the slight sheen on his skin, oil in his hair - Reid wasn't inclined to argue the issue.
"FBI," he chose to bring out that ID, and was rewarded with the flash of surprise in the bouncer's eyes. He saw movement in his peripheral vision and noted that Rossi had done the same.
"We're looking for this man-" Rossi tucked his own ID away and handed over the image of Straker that he'd been showing around what felt like half the town already. "Brandon Straker. Has he come in to the club tonight?"
The bouncer looked down again at the picture, then handed it back with a shake of his head. "No sir. He's here sometimes, but I haven't seen him in a while. I don't work weekends, though."
"Mind if we take a look inside?" Rossi asked, not really meaning it as a question. The bouncer looked between them, then moved from his position at the door to allow them access.
The club was mostly empty, not a huge surprise given the time of night, and their quarry was nowhere to be found. Rossi pulled out his phone and hit the button for Hotch on his speed-dial. "That's a negative on Popperz," he reported once the call connected. "We're moving on."
A small group of guys was coming in to the club as they were leaving, and Rossi shouldered his way briskly through the crowd at the door. Reid followed in his wake, shying away a little from the contact that was all-but inevitable in the enclosed vestibule. One man – bleach blond hair, artfully ripped jeans, tight t-shirt: confident, aware of his own attractiveness, obviously trying to be noticed. Substantiated by the pierced ear and tattoo on his forearm: decorative, generic flash, attention-getting rather than personally relevant - seemed to be going out of the way to catch Reid's eye as he passed. He flickered his eyebrow, cocked his head toward the door, flashed a brilliant smile tinged with – expectation?
Reid returned his look with one of confusion; what was he trying to communicate? He couldn't be signalling that he had information. Reid didn't recognize him and Rossi hadn't stopped to show the picture of Brandon- it had to mean - Oh. Oh. Reid looked around, catching a wink from a man who had been staring at his backside a few moments earlier. The first man dropped his gaze and turned away as he headed into the darkness of the club, and Reid's feet kept moving him outside into the evening gloom.
Rossi chuckled a little as they came out into the open night air. "Everything ok, Reid?" Rossi's arched eyebrow and flicker of a grin suggested that he hadn't missed the exchange.
"Ah – yes. Yes. Fine." Things made more sense, now, though considering how he and Rossi were dressed, they were obviously law enforcement, and not part of the standard milieu. He would have thought that would be a deterrent to personal approaches. And yet.
What would Morgan do in a situation like this?
Rossi looked up at the heavens as though searching for guidance, and unlocked the doors of the SUV. "You might try smiling," he suggested, glancing at Reid with a moment of good humour. "Be flattered." Reid pressed his lips together and raised his brows, looking for a response. Rossi grinned. "Then get back to work."
The air is cold tonight, and the dampness pools on my skin as I wait for my prey. The weight of the knife sits on my back, my constant companion these days, the leather sheath the only thing standing between my skin and the spider-kiss of its edge.
I remember every inch of skin on the trick who first showed me what a blade could do. I close my eyes on this cold November night and I can seetastefeel the memory – the flesh that slid apart with the faintest of pressure, the red lines that blossomed across the perfect golden tan of his skin, roses opening just for me. The white light over his bed betrayed the criss-cross network of scars that were invisible to other eyes, trophies and signposts of prior lusts.
I consumed him while he begged for more, for me, for blood and the endless searching tease.
He wanted more than I gave him. We all want more, in the end. There's no such thing as enough.
A car slows as it drives past the alley where I wait, and it stops. I tense. It's not him, not time yet. I'm hard, every nerve sparking and kindling along my spine, raw and flayed open.
November 14th, 2007, 9 pm:
JJ hadn't thought there would be anyone on the planet who would look more out of place at a club like Babylon than she did, but Aaron Hotchner managed it. Thankfully for everybody involved they weren't exactly trying to be inconspicuous. The club was decadent on the inside, more so than anything outside would suggest, the mostly-naked go-go dancers only slightly less dressed than a number of the patrons. Glitter fell from the ceiling every once in a while, the bursts timed to the rise and fall of the music and the lights. It was early yet, the dance floor maybe half-full, the thumping of the bass line loud and insistent enough to negate most attempts at conversation.
The manager was co-operative, maybe a little overly so, and let them into the main office to take a look at the security feeds without blinking. Kinney had tipped him off that they'd be by, JJ surmised, a little surprised at the evidence of his co-operation even as he'd been so belligerent at the precinct. That man was a bundle of contradictions.
The four monitors on the office wall ran feeds from different sections of the club, one of them trained on a blue-lit room with fewer people in it than the rest of the place. It caught JJ's attention for a moment, until she realized exactly what it was she was watching – ah. She flickered an eyebrow up and gave a small surprised smile before she looked away.
"I know for sure he's not come in here tonight," the manager was saying as she turned back from the screens; he seemed to be holding back amusement at her reaction. Hotch's phone rang as JJ took the DVD copy of the last few days' worth of footage and tucked it away.
"Understood. Same situation at Babylon." He hung up and shook his head at JJ. "That was Rossi. No luck at Popperz. We need to keep moving."
"Have you tried Meathook?" the club manager suggested with a half-hearted shrug. "I never really thought of Brandon as a leather guy, but my boyfriend tricked with him once – said he had a thing about power exchange."
"Not yet," JJ shook her head. "But thanks for the tip." Hotch nodded and they headed out of the quiet and back into the noise. The ceiling opened up as they descended the stairs, a shower of glitter covering Hotch and JJ in shimmering dust and silver sequins. They were still brushing the mess from their shoulders and hair as they left the club and headed back out, down the half-flight of stairs and onto the street.
I've watched through those windows from the apartment across the alley, watched them move together, blond and dark, sun and shadow, sound and silence.
I should have taken Justin first, all those years ago. He would never have understood, but Kinney would have known exactly what I had done, and why. The poison that already seeped around his edges would have consumed him without another word from me, consumed him and defiled him and destroyed him from the inside out.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
This time, I won't make a mistake. I know his movements, his thoughts, his habits as though they were my own. In some sense, they are. He and I, two sides of the same coin. Once, I thought I would be his successor. I was wrong. I've already surpassed him in so many ways.
He's in my sights; it won't be long now. And then my tongue will have his mouth, his body will beg for mine, he'll know what it means to be possessed by me, give everything up to me, be loved by me.
And I will have my sacrifice.
[[Notes: Miss Demeanour is original. I was originally planning to write the scene with Shanda Leer, but for some reason Rossi didn't strike me as Darren's type. It evolved from there.]]
[notes: trigger warning on this chapter – descriptive violence/blood]
November 14th, 2007, 10 pm:
Brian Kinney's loft was in a bad area of town, not far from Liberty Avenue and its nightclub scene. Morgan would have preferred to have had someone – or a couple of someones – watching the windows of the loft itself from a higher vantage point than the SUV parked in the alley across the street, but they had to work with the resources that they had. He and Prentiss had been sitting there for an hour now with no sign of the unsub, the reports coming in from the rest of the team and the cops out at the house no more promising. "This is starting to look like a gigantic waste of time," he grumbled, bracing his hands on the steering wheel and ducking his head to get a better look down the street, first one direction, then turning to look down the other.
"It's early yet," Prentiss glanced at her watch, the clock on the dashboard dark along with the rest of the instrumentation in the parked car. "His other kills were all between three and six am, according to the ME. He's got time."
"We should be doing something-" Morgan started to argue back, then stopped dead, his eye caught by movement in the alley across the street, on the far side of Kinney's building.
"Morgan?" Prentiss stopped talking when he held his hand up in a gesture of warning, then she followed his gesture when he pointed.
"We got someone." He was already reaching for the door handle as Prentiss lifted her binoculars and peered through them at the figure barely visible around the corner of the building. Whoever it was, he obviously didn't want to be seen, vanishing again after a moment, as though he'd been checking out the street just as they were. It was hard to get details from where they sat, but the height and basic colouring looked about right to be Brandon.
She grabbed for her phone, calling it in to Hotch as Morgan slipped out of the SUV and closed the door gently behind him, drawing his gun and holding it ready in both hands in front of him. "We've got movement at the loft – it could be Straker. Morgan and I are going in."
The street was empty, the side block not getting much traffic, and Prentiss was glad for the lack of pedestrians especially. On the one hand it made it more difficult to hide their movements, as Morgan circled to the right and approached the alley, and she crossed the street to slide along the side of the building and come up on Morgan's left. On the other hand, it meant much less chance of collateral damage, or opportunity for hostages.
Morgan raised his gun as he approached the alley, moving more quietly than most men of his build would be able to. He was rewarded with a flash of shock on Brandon's face when Morgan rounded the corner and spotted him, already halfway down the alley and heading for the back of the building. "Stop! FBI! Brandon Straker - put your hands where I can see them!" Morgan yelled out.
Brandon turned and bolted.
Morgan gave chase, vanishing between the buildings and out of Prentiss' line of sight. She didn't need to think about the next step; she simply acted. She turned on her heel and charged back down the block the way she had come, keeping close to the building on her right as she hurtled around the corner and pelted down towards the next alley that would take her back around to – ideally, anyway – cut Brandon off at the pass.
The alleyway was dark, but Brandon's fair skin and blond hair gave Morgan something to focus on. There was an eight-foot high chain link fence blocking off the far end of the alley, a pair of dumpsters sitting next to it. Brandon hit the fence at top speed, grabbing at the wire and using his momentum to help boost himself up and over the top, rolling up on to his feet after hitting the tarmac on the other side with a thud and a crack. He dropped his jacket, leaving himself dressed only in a t-shirt and jeans, inadequate protection against the November chill in the night air.
Holstering his gun in a swift motion, Morgan followed suit, the metal of the fence cold in his fingers. He made it up and over with a soft grunt of effort, dropping from the top of the fence to land easily on his feet. He had his gun back in his hands before he finished turning around, raised it to point it at Brandon's back. "I said hands up!"
Morgan saw movement in his peripheral vision, his brain registering the large yellow letters on Prentiss' tac vest before he could make out her face and the black on black silhouette of her drawn gun in the darkness of the alley. She was approaching from the left, coming down the alley that ran perpendicular to the one Morgan and Brandon had just run down, and she held Brandon in her sights as she stepped closer.
Brandon paused, regarded her with cold eyes, and raised his hands. There was a knife in his right hand, a hunting knife, long and keen, the angled blade pointing skyward as he made his gesture of surrender. He took a step back, angled himself so that he could see both agents from where he stood, seemed to take their measure even as he sunk to his knees on the damp tarmac, about ten feet from Morgan and twelve or so away from Prentiss.
"Put down the knife," Morgan ordered, taking control of the situation. The man kneeling in front of them made no move to comply, and even in the semi-darkness, Morgan could see something unsettling, something blank in Brandon Straker's eyes. It was a kind of unnerving certainty that gave him pause, but only for a second.
"The man said put down the knife," Prentiss backed up the order, taking another step forward, still holding her weapon steady and aimed at Brandon's forehead. "Don't make us do this the hard way."
Brandon raised the knife as though in surrender, his movements slow and exaggerated, meant for show. "That's it," Prentiss encouraged him. "On the ground, and keep your other hand where we can see it."
Their quarry raised his head, then, his expression cold and haughty, what little light there was accentuating his long neck and handsome features. He looked like a painting for a brief moment, before he flipped the knife in his hand and opened his left arm with the blade, a clean slice from elbow to palm.
"Stop!" Morgan heard his own voice yelling as though from a distance, too late to do anything, as Brandon pushed in, his face contorting for a moment with what had to be incredible pain. The red line gaped open along his arm, white bone visible inside the chasm, the blood an obscene and spurting rush. He sat back on his heels, face tipped to the night sky, his arms held out to either side, the blankness on his face replaced with something close to what Prentiss could only call ecstasy.
Prentiss grabbed for her phone, dialled without thinking as Morgan ran in to try and staunch the blood that was even now coating his skin and clothes with an angry slick of red. "Call a bus in here, we need paramedics, now!"
I spill my release all over my hands, and I can feel my own pulse in the flow, hot and wet and slick. The air fills with the tang of salt and iron.
It began with sex.
It ends in blood.
It ends now.
"My old place was a shithole, but the new one is pretty nice," Justin toyed with his glass and ran the tip of his finger through the damp ring it left on Debbie's table. It was good to see Blake still around, his arm resting casually across Ted's shoulders as they sat across from Justin.
He'd kept up on gossip through Debbie, of course, and occasional phone calls and emails with Michael, but actually seeing Ted's now long-term boyfriend in the flesh was nice. (And who would have ever connected the words 'long-term' with Ted? It was only slightly less weird than 'long-term' and 'Brian.' Seriously.) "Carter's a sculptor, so there's half-finished papier-mâché shit in the kitchen all the time. And he's always hanging out at his girlfriend's house, which means I get the apartment to myself a lot." Talking about the mundane was making the waiting a little bit easier, but not by much.
Justin sat back and looked around for a moment, taking in the reunion-like atmosphere that sat uneasily over the unspoken tension in the room. Michael and Ben had taken over the cleanup and were busy sorting the dried dinner dishes and putting them away, Hunter was curled up in Carl's recliner playing a video game, and Emmett was flaked out across one end of the couch texting somebody on his phone. Across the living room, the conversation was a little bit different in tone. "Seriously, Deb," Brian had one hand on the door handle, and his expression was bordering on dangerous. "I'm going outside. For a smoke. Now."
"You're doing no such goddamn thing!" Deb leaned over and pushed her hand against the door, holding it shut with her own body weight. She got right in under Brian's nose, tilted her head and cocked an eyebrow in challenge. "Not with a killer out there who's gunning for you. You're staying right here where I can see you. I'm not pulling you out of a fucking dumpster, Brian."
"Fine!" he threw up his hands in surrender, then pulled a cigarette out of the pack in his pocket. "Then I'm smoking in here. Because if I don't, then I'm going to end up ripping somebody's throat out with my teeth."
"Don't you light that thing in my house-!"
The phone rang.
Debbie took a step toward the phone, and swallowed hard. Brian followed, heading across the living room toward the kitchen and the phone.
Michael got there first, chewing on his lip and staring at the group as he did so. "Hello?" He tensed at the reply, then a few seconds later, relaxed and his face transformed with a wide smile. "No, no, that's fantastic. That's great news! Thanks, Carl. Yeah, everyone's here. I'll let them know."
He hung up, then turned and hugged Ben fiercely. "They got him! They caught Brandon." There were a smattering of cheers from the others in the room, and Debbie pressed her hand to her heart and muttered something skyward. Michael grew serious for a moment, looking across the room at his oldest and closest friend. "Brian... he was at the loft."
Brian sagged backwards onto the couch he knew would be there. The sudden wash of relief left him feeling like he'd had his strings cut, the tension that had been gnawing at him the entire day melting away and leaving him feeling oddly shaky. He splayed his fingers out across his eyes and sat for a moment, adrift.
Arms slipped around his shoulders from behind the couch and Brian knew who it was without opening his eyes. He knew every muscle on that body as though it were his own, maybe better, and Justin's hair smelled like that fancy papaya-mango-whatever shampoo he'd started using last year. Brian tipped his head back and felt Justin bury his face into the crook of Brian's shoulder, the warmth of his breath pooling on his neck. The contact helped him to re-center, gave him something to focus on, an anchor. "It's over," came the muffled comment, Justin's mouth moving gently against the fabric of Brian's shirt.
Brian slid one hand over top of the one resting on his collarbone and laced his fingers in between Justin's. They sat there like that for a while.
"Looks like this is it," Brian gave Justin a pseudo-mournful look, the effect of which was somewhat mitigated by the knowledge that Justin could still taste him on his lips. Airport bathrooms weren't exactly comfortable, but they were cleaner than some places they'd fucked.
"You'll be ok?" Justin couldn't help asking again, even though he knew it would drive Brian nuts. Maybe because he knew it would drive Brian nuts, and that was a comfortable status-quo.
"I'll be fabulous," Brian dismissed Justin's concern immediately, though one corner of his mouth tugged up in a ghost of a smile in response.
"I'll see you at Christmas," Justin promised. "It's only six weeks away. Assuming I survive this workshop with Geraint in the meantime-"
"Don't worry about it," Brian shrugged, grabbing Justin's hips and pulling him in close. The sounds of the airport mezzanine faded into the background, totally inconsequential buzzing that only served as a distraction. "I'm not."
"I know," Justin laughed, closing his eyes and focusing on the feeling of Brian's hands on his hips, his breath gently ruffling Justin's hair. "I'll be brilliant," he anticipated Brian's next comment, a little self-mockingly.
"Not brilliant," Brian corrected, his lips barely grazing Justin's forehead as he spoke. "Fucking brilliant." His fingers closed compulsively on Justin's belt, and he tipped his head down to rest his forehead against his lover's. Just for one more moment. He claimed Justin's mouth with a kiss, first hard, then soft, lingering there for a heartbeat as he drew back.
They breathed together.
Justin smiled, though he knew Brian couldn't see it. He murmured his response without looking up. "I love you, too."
The boarding call sounded over the PA system and Justin pulled back, shouldered his duffel bag and squeezed Brian's hand one more time. He headed for the escalator down to security, looking back and holding Brian's eyes only once his feet were planted on the moving staircase that dragged him down and away into the throng.
Brian turned and rested his forearms on the railing, let his shoulders curve and his back slump a little. He followed Justin with his eyes, the smile lingering. He watched him as he wove his way through the crowd with practiced ease, stayed exactly where he was long after his last glimpse of tousled blond hair, a white leather coat, and a shapeless, battered black duffel.
The thrum of the jet's engines were a familiar soundtrack to the end of a case, a reassuring epilogue. Rossi was on the phone as he dropped down into the seat opposite from Hotchner at the front of the plane, the rest of the team chatting quietly at the back. "Thanks, Horvath," Rossi finished, and fumbled with the buttons for a moment as he hung up.
"Straker's going to survive," Rossi reported, his expression a little ambivalent at the news. "Thanks to Morgan and Prentiss. He's on suicide watch for now."
"I should have known that he was devolving," Hotch shook his head, his expression dark and brows lowered. "Removing his control over the process by relocating his victims was the final straw."
"You can't predict everything, Aaron," Rossi shook his head, the last thing Morgan caught in the conversation as he moved easily back down the plane aisle to rejoin the others.
Morgan grinned, glancing up at the pair of agents at the front of the jet before settling down in the seat across from Prentiss. JJ was in the window seat to his left, facing Reid. "So who's going to tell Hotch?" Morgan asked quietly, a light in his eyes.
"Not me," Prentiss replied quickly, putting up her hands in a warding-off gesture.
"Tell him what?" Reid asked, looking up from his book.
"Just look at him," Morgan advised.
Reid popped up in his seat briefly, and caught a glimpse of the back of Hotch's head and neck over the seat a few rows ahead. Rossi was looking his way, though, and he ducked back down again just as quickly. "Ohhhh."
"Don't laugh," JJ riposted with a grin of her own and a small laugh, despite her light-hearted warning to the contrary. "That stuff's insidious. It was still coming off me in the shower this morning."
"We can't let Strauss see him with glitter in his hair," Prentiss objected, but only half-heartedly. "She'll have a field day."
"Fine," Morgan replied. "You tell him."
"I'm not telling him! You saw it, you do it."
"Rock-paper-scissors you for it?"
.I have everything, yet have nothing; and although I possess nothing, still of nothing am I in want.
Terence (185 BC - 159 BC), Eunuchus