Can't See the Forest for the Family Trees
Summary: Spencer knows that Shifters and Shamans exist. He works with one of each. He knows that they can kill as easily as anyone else, but this case of the death of a famous, TV supernatural hunter is going to expand even his knowledge.
Warning: slight crossover with Sherlock (BBC) and In Plain Sight
"If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reasons."
― C.S. Lewis
"The Jet's waiting," JJ said to Hotch as Reid entered the briefing room. He was the last to arrive.
"Nobody sit down," Special Agent in Charge Aaron Hotchner ordered. Obviously, this was going to be a bad one.
Everyone stood behind their normal seats and waited.
JJ used the remote control to bring up the first picture. "The tiny town of Huntsville, Arkansas. Alleged werewolf kill." The woman's body was torn to shreds. It was ugly and brutal. "The residents are trying to find the right parts for an identification, but her fingerprints aren't in any database."
All of the BAU knew what this meant. "Wheels up in five," Hotch ordered. "We'll further brief on the plane. We have to get there before a mob forms and the media descends. Garcia, find out everything about every missing person in the area that could be the victim."
The FBI members cleared out in a hurry. Garcia was left to tidy up before retreating to her office to investigate missing persons and then every single resident of Huntsville.
Reid knew that Shifters were Emily Prentiss's weak point, so he expounded, "Werewolves are a subspecies of the Shifter family. Like all shifters, they can be divided into two main categories: those who don't know what they are and those who do. The werewolves aware of their second nature either take precautions against hurting any one, or revel in chaos they cause when they are loose or take the attitude of 'come what may.' The behavior indicators can vary greatly depending into which category and sub-category the shifter falls. Not to mention the bleed through of the shifter characteristics in human form. This is going to be a difficult case."
"I know, Reid, you've told me all this before," Emily said. "Twice," she smiled to show she wasn't trying to insult. "I might not be the genius you are, but I do remember the important things. I just want to get there before the townspeople start hunting their own."
Without Emily to talk to, thoughts tumbled in Reid's head like a waterfall over rocks. He had extensively studied Shifters in general and werewolves in particular. Part of his job was to separate fact from fiction, but also to understand how people would react when faced with a Shifter.
The biggest myth believed by the general public was that it was possible for a normal human bitten by a Shifter to be 'infected' and to become a Shifter themselves. Despite the fact that Reid had yet to find one correctly documented case study, the fallacy persisted.
Given that even scientists couldn't precisely identify how a normal human became a Shifter, was it any wonder that the general public believed such myths to be truth? Science had confirmed with the invention of DNA typing that Shifters were a combination of genes and stress. For those with more dominate Shifter genes, the amount of stress needed to produce a Shifter was less. For those with less dominate Shifter genes, for example one with a grandmother with recessive Shifter DNA, an extreme amount of stress needed to be applied for Shifter gene expression.
So some normal humans did become Shifters after a stressful interaction with another Shifter –and who wouldn't label any interaction with a 180-pound wolf as extremely stressful? In every case that Reid had read –and he had read everything available to his clearance level and several reports above due to Garcia's hacking ability- the source of becoming a Shifter was engrained in the victim's DNA and not from any wounds caused by a Shifter. The most revealing report acquired by Garcia for Reid's last birthday had been a study completed by the Red Cross. They had feared that they were spreading the Shifter DNA through blood transfusions. They knew that any active Shifter would never –ever- volunteer their blood in a blood drive, so when they tested donated blood against Shifter DNA, they knew they were finding those with the deeply recessive gene. They were horrified and surprised with the results: nearly one out of seven blood donors had a recessive Shifter gene.
The results diverged greatly with the assumed Shifter population. Though it was impossible to census Shifters, the general consensus approximated that somewhere between one person in one hundred eighty-nine thousand people and one person in three hundred twenty-six thousand people was a Shifter. That meant that a city like New York with a population of eight million, two hundred forty-four thousand, nine hundred and ten at the last census would have somewhere between twenty-five and forty-four Shifters. Reid was of the opinion that though the higher occurrence of Shifters was likely throughout the country, the Shifter population of New York City was closer to twenty-five. The confirmed incident reports of Shifters were seventy-five percent more likely to occur in rural and suburb areas. Logic dictated that the number of reports indicated a higher percentage of Shifters in those areas, making this particular case likely to feature an actual Shifter. Shifters tended to shy away from densely populated areas; Huntsville was the very definition of rural. Another conclusion of the report was that many, many more people had the capacity to become a Shifter written into their genes than actually were.
The Red Cross classified medical report detailed the next step: whether the non-Shifter blood recipients could become Shifters. They found that the Shifter DNA in the transfusion blood did not rewrite the recipient's DNA. So once the blood cells died and were expelled from the patient's body, no Shifter DNA could be found in their test results. The report also confirmed that recipients of blood with the recessive Shifter DNA had a thirty-three higher percent chance of surviving their medical emergency. Once the immediate danger had passed, the recipient was ninety percent less likely to contract an infection.
For obvious reasons, the medical report was not published. The general population would have been horrified to know that certain doctors had experimented on their patients and that the Red Cross potentially had a list of blood donors with recessive Shifter DNA. The medical community did issue an article theorizing that recipients of recessive Shifter DNA blood could not become Shifters even if stressed.
Reid forcibly reigned in his mind and concentrated on this case. What would the team have to do to solve it?
It was almost impossible to find a werewolf with physical evidence; any cross-contamination would vanish when the creature changed to its human form. Shifter poachers had to track through behaviors, which was why every suspected Shifter case was handed to the BAU. If the Shifter didn't know its other nature, than the signs would be subtle and unconscious. If the Shifter did know about the wolf, then they would hide any signs. Wolves were the most probable Shifter animal in the Continental United States, due to the pack mentality that protected others of similar nature. Shifters without a support system tended to die. In Africa, there were Shifter-hyenas and lion prides that ruled the wild lands. They were given wide berth by normals, to battle each other when the territories overlapped. Occasionally, poachers would attempt to kill an African Shifter as a part of the ultimate safari. They rarely succeeded. Like all wild animals, werewolves and other Shifters were dangerous when cornered and threatened. They were predators that often hunted those that were hunting them. Australia had the smallest occurrence of death by Shifter of all the continents, since normals both avoided the wild lands where Shifters roamed and the laws punished poachers as severely as they punished murderers.
In civilizations, the true danger occurred when people thought that there was a werewolf around. People would only become paranoid when a Shifter-suspected crime or death had occurred and those only occurred when a Shifter lost control. When a Shifter lost control, things would get hairy. Situational control could quickly slide out of law enforcement's hands. The discrimination and persecution against Shifters crossed race and religious lines. Friends would turn on friends, family on other family members. People would accuse non-Shifters of the crime or death. Anyone accused of being a Shifter was in danger.
For the BAU, progress had to be shown on the investigation, or the residents would 'investigate' themselves. People who preferred their steak rare were often the first ones lynched. African Americans and Native Americans were the second. As the BAU statistical guru, Reid knew that Africans and African Americans had four times the occurrence of Shifter genes than Caucasians. Native Americans had a similar occurrence of werewolf genes. Both groups had bred for the gene, as opposed to the Europeans who had tried to breed the trait out of the gene pool. Interestingly enough, just the opposite phenomenon happened concerning Shamans. The Europeans and Asians celebrated them and the Africans killed them. The educated opinion of Dr. Reid suggested that there was a long-standing feud between the Shifters and the magically inclined. The Shamans won in Europe and Asia and the Shifters won in Africa and Australia. The Native Americans were one of the few people groups world-wide that celebrated cooperation between Shamans and Shifters. Their oral stories were often told and spread to encourage tolerance worldwide.
As a result of this influence, the Americas tended to be a mixed bag, with no clear preference given to either minority. It was illegal to discriminate against Shifters or Shamans, but it happened to both depending on the community. The military tended to quietly but aggressively recruit Shifters. The Secret Service also had a couple Shifters, as they made excellent bodyguards. It was perhaps the source of the highest salary a known Shifter could earn. Shamans flocked to the political arena, while never revealing their powers to the public both in the United States and in Europe. In Europe they would have been accepted, but Shamans were secretive by nature, stereotypically the 'anti-social scientist' type. A high-level US Representative, Jani Santoro, had been voted out of office once it had been revealed that she was a Shaman. The FBI didn't have many of either supernatural subset. The BAU was unique in that they had one of each among their team. Morgan was a were-lion and Prentiss was a very weak Shaman, with European training. Unbeknownst to the FBI, Hotch was a supernatural that didn't fit into either category.
JJ walked back into the cabin of the plane, distracting Reid.
Hotch looked her. "Still quiet." It should have been a question, but the SAC could read her face.
"Still no lynchings and no one is missing," JJ confirmed. "The sheriff and his deputies say that it's rather quiet. They're trying to sit on everyone but are having trouble confirming the locations of those that live in the hills."
"Considering how spread out they are, they are doing really well," Prentiss mentioned.
Rossi smiled humorlessly, "Or they are hiding all the evidence before we can get there."
JJ shook her head. "It was odd. The sheriff suggested that the Shifter had followed the victim into town."
"Blaming an outsider?" Morgan was surprised but pleased. "That's interesting. But as long as it delays the Shifter-hunt, I'm all for it."
Hotch had more important matters on his mind. "They have an ID on the victim?"
"Garcia?" Morgan called out.
The blonde computer tech appeared on the plane screen. "Yes, my love?"
"Have you confirmed the ID?"
"Dentals just came back: Sherri Swift. It confirmed what the sheriff thought about their missing tourist being the victim."
Hotch blinked. Even he was a bit startled. "Swift? Of Swift Supernatural Exposé?"
"Exactly. The queen of endangering supernaturals herself." Garcia lived in constant fear that Swift would come after either Morgan or Prentiss. Swift's exposé on US Representative Santoro had booted her out of office. Swift was not afraid of going after the well-connected as well as the homeless. Her only stipulation was that her targets were supernaturals.
Hotch looked at JJ. "You are going to be busy. Let us know what you need and when."
JJ looked at little perturbed. She hadn't had much time to look at the case file. If it even looked like a Shifter kill, it was shoved onto the BAU and they rushed to the scene of the crime. The unit had investigated eleven suspected Shifter kills the previous year; only three had been truly done by werewolves. One had been done by were-cougar. Normal humans trying to hide their connection to the victims had perpetrated all the other killings. JJ hadn't connected Sherri Swift's name –then missing- the first time she read it as a possibility of being the victim. This was going to be a media extravaganza as soon as word leaked out, which it would, possibly (probably) by Swift's own producer. The producer had a financial reason to leak her death as early as possible, more people would watch her shows out of morbid curiosity.
"And the sheriff's little theory just became a lot more plausible," Rossi remarked.
Hotch took over before anyone else could speak. "Garcia, I need everything, all phone and financial records. Everything you can find, I want it, and as far back as you can go. JJ, get her producer on the phone, we need every second of every recording Swift made, also a list of the people who have made death threats to her. See if they can package up all of her fan mail and hate mail and express it to us. We're going to hit the ground running. Prentiss, you and Rossi go to the where the body was found. Shifter crime scenes are never small. See if you can't backtrack to where Swift and the Shifter first crossed paths. Morgan and Reid, find, separate her film crew and question. I'm going to meet with the sheriff and check her room."
Reid shifted uncomfortably, remembering a tiny detail. He had watched the show due to its popularity and in hopes that they refuted the 'bitten can become Shifters meme.' Unfortunately, the show had chosen to perpetuate the myth. They also hinted that Shamans can exert mind control, decidedly not true. If it was, Santoro wouldn't have been voted out of office.
"Yes, Reid," Hotch prompted.
"Swift Supernatural Exposé always has a van that they use as a backdrop for filming. It's just a plain black van with tinted windows; they also use it for stakeouts."
"Stakeout? No, stalking," Prentiss murmured. "Like stalking a priest who was trying to help homeless Shifters into a situation where they can exert control over their circumstances." Shifters had to have control to Shift and they had to Shift to have control. The opposite was a vicious circle that Father Marcum of a parish on the fringes of New Orleans had been trying to break.
The team paused for a moment to reflect on Swift Supernatural Exposé. That particular exposé had aired four weeks ago and the next night the parish priest's church was burnt to the ground. Father Marcum, three homeless Shifters and a children's choir had burned to death. The police still didn't have any suspects. Since the priest had moved into that parish and started his homeless outreach, not a single Shifter-caused death or maiming had been reported in that town. The arson had not been out of a local person's need for revenge, but out of fear, superstition and racism. Since there had been no recent Shifter incidences, and a higher than average concentration of Shifters than expected resided in the parish, Reid suspected that the community must quietly support them. The community had loudly denounced the fire. The arsonist was probably from another town or state, driving into the Louisiana town for the sole purpose of killing the Shifters. The church arson was merely the latest in a long line of crimes against supernatural beings outted by Swift Supernatural Exposés. Swift Supernatural Exposés had been one of the highest rated cable shows for the last two years. Boycotts and protests against the show only pushed the show to new extremes. The Vatican had publically condemned the show for leading to the death of a priest. They and Reid held Sherri Swift responsible for a number of Shifters and Shamans being exposed to danger, but since she and the rest of the crew never acted out any violence personally, no one could bring her up on criminal charges. The show was always fighting civil suits.
Reid broke the silence. "The van is not mentioned anywhere in the police reports. I don't believe it was recovered."
"So keep an eye out for that van," Hotch concluded. "Garcia, I need you to comb through the records of Huntsville. Find whatever clue brought Ms. Swift to town. Also, I need a list of people featured during the exposés. I need to know how many of them were lynched afterward. How many disappeared suspiciously and how many lost everything. Just grab everything on everyone affected and send it to Reid to read. JJ, figure out how you are going to tell the next of kin."
Morgan looked at the laptop in front of him. "Hotch, Garcia's already sending through data packets."
"Send them to the printer," JJ said as she stood. "I'll arrange files for everyone."
The rest of the plane ride was quiet as everyone tried to read and absorb as much information as possible. They were about to land when Garcia's voice floated across the line, "Hotch?"
Hotch stood and leaned over the laptop. "Yes, Garcia?"
"I found the van, or at least the van's GPS signal."
"You rock, Baby Girl. Where?" Morgan encouraged.
"It's in a junkyard, not in Huntsville but close-ish."
Rossi tilted his head, thinking. "One wreck hiding among others, in plain sight. That's interesting and smart. Either our UnSub planned beforehand or had ice cool composure after the fact."
"And the obvious observation is that a Shifter cannot drive a van," Prentiss added. "And there is no known evidence of a Shifter being able to change back into human form on the same night and being capable of driving."
"Someone is covering for the Shifter?" Rossi suggested. "Definitely suggests a two person job, or one person who is not a Shifter or a second person not in a Shifted shape."
"Garcia," Hotch called. "The junkyard is closest to which site? Where her body was found or her rental residence?"
"Thank you. Let me know if it moves."
"Will do. I'll call the second it moves an inch."
The pilot reported that they would be landing in fifteen minutes and the team tidied their mess and gathered their belongings. A local law enforcement officer was waiting at the regional airport with two SUVs. Reid appreciated them being prepared. The sheriff was short, measuring five foot, two inches, with a full head of white hair. He weighed approximately one hundred and seventy pounds, most of it muscle. He was the very definition of 'barrel-chested.' Reid watched him shake hands with Hotch and introduce himself as Sheriff Michael Todd. The sheriff moved smoothly and didn't mind that the entire BAU team was taller than him by a head. His deputy was of Mexican heritage, five foot five inches and thin. As Reid listened, he decided that they were competent and knowledgeable. They knew their territory and their people. They truly did not believe that their community would try to find the Shifter on their own. If a mob did not form in Huntsville, than it was truly a unique and level-headed town.
Reid climbed into the back of Todd's SUV with Morgan and JJ. Hotch, of course was in the front. JJ climbed all the way to the back, with her phone attached to her ear. She was negotiating with Swift Production Company. Todd understood that they were heading toward the motel where Swift and her people had rented rooms after a quick look to evaluate the town's state of mind. Rossi and Prentiss climbed into the SUV driven by Deputy Cortez; he would drive them straight to the dumpsite. The sheriff and his deputy looked slightly surprised at their eagerness to start working before even dropping off their toiletries at their temporary residence. They didn't understand that it was wariness and preventative measures.
Once Reid saw the actual town, he realized why the local law enforcement was so caviler over the possible trouble. First, the town was tiny. Thirty minutes away from the regional airport, they drove off the freeway and through the bulk of the town to the sheriff's station in less than five minutes at the appropriate speeds. Reid could see the end of every residential street and knew that none turned out of sight. He calculated approximately three hundred residences. He counted three diners, two gas stations, five churches, six taverns and one fast food restaurant. There was a smallish grocery, two banks, a medical clinic and a hardware store. The school was kindergarten through twelfth grade. From estimating the perimeter and dividing it by the number of classrooms, Reid could deduce the size of each grade level. He guessed that each graduating class had somewhere between fourteen and nineteen students.
The second reason Todd was confident in his people was that they were not rioting. They were not congregated around the sheriff's station yelling for news. Nor were they grouped together on the sidewalks. There weren't an abnormal number of cars in front of any of the bars or the churches for the time and day. People were walking around, seeing to their own business. The residents looked worried and preoccupied but not fearful or angry.
Reid exchanged a look with Morgan and knew that he had come to the exact same conclusion: this town was not on a brink of a lynching. The profilers were impressed, but knew that they couldn't slack off at the apparent lack of a mob. They had to find the killer fast.
"Do you know where the film crew is?" Hotch asked Todd.
"They haven't moved from their rooms at the hotel in Springdale." At Hotch's raised brow, Todd elaborated, "Not my jurisdiction I know, but I know my people and what was left of the body didn't match anyone that wasn't missing. The cameraman reported Swift missing in my office after a full day had passed, so it was a gray area. My deputies volunteered to sit on the place. The film crew was the only ones that made sense and in a place this small, they stick out like a sore thumb. They tried to be sneaky, but after they were seen in town twice, everybody knew to look out for them. That woman and her crew were reported trespassing fourteen times in the last week."
"And you didn't arrest them?" Morgan was surprised but not, Swift had enough money to bankrupt a tiny town like Huntsville fighting a petty misdemeanor.
Todd chuckled darkly. "For trespassing? We cover a lot of ground out here. We have kids that have to ride the school bus for fifty-five miles to get here and we're the law for all that. Swift didn't trespass in town. When you own forty acres, you don't put up a lot of 'private property' signs. Around here, you know what land you're on. Swift always said that she and her crew got lost and didn't know they were on private property. It was possible. When the owners found her snooping, they'd point a gun at them and call me. If they didn't have a gun, they'd call us anyway and tell us that Swift had been there. Can't do much if the trespassers are long gone before I or a deputy can show up. She was a right nuisance, so much so that the town council convened the day before she was killed to draft a new law that we'd be able to use against her and not catch one of our own. I had no evidence against them in relations to the dead female. She looked like she had been done in by a wolf and neither of the camera crew are registered Shifters."
Morgan huffed. "I bet not, that would be near suicide with the reputation of the show." After a short pause, he changed the subject. "We're going to need the list of people who lodged a complaint against Ms. Swift, and we'll need to talk to them," Morgan warned Todd.
"You don't think one of my people did this, do you?" Todd sounded horrified.
"Actually," Reid explained, "Those that lodged a complaint are the ones least likely to be the unsub, because they are exhibiting trust in the establishment. We need to talk to the residents to be able to trace Ms. Swift's movements since she arrived. I'll be able to build a geographic profile based off of it."
Todd looked relieved. "Oh, I'll have Rita get that list together right away."
Hotch said, "Thank you."
From the very back of the van, JJ spoke up. "If you could just drop me off at the sheriff's station before the rest of you go to the camera crew's hotel, that'd be great."
Morgan twisted around to view JJ. "How're negotiations with the show's producers?"
JJ's smile was all teeth. "It was hard between the producer, Richard Swift, which I'm betting is a relative and all the dropped calls. I do believe that I've postponed the media storm, though. They don't want to be scooped on their own show. They said that they'll have much of the information we requested here by tomorrow. It's going to be hand delivered by someone I'm betting is supposed to take up where Sherri left off."
"Good job, JJ," Hotch told her. "Do you need help setting up the command center?"
"No. I can handle it."
At the station, the BAU males did get out to help carry in all of their equipment and to be introduced to a couple of the deputies there, but then they were back on the road immediately following. Todd made a point of telling them that cell phone reception was spotty in the hills, so to be wary of their location and insure that someone always knew where they were headed. He also warned them of watching where they stepped; rattlesnakes, king snakes and other snakes were all native to the area and could be hiding anywhere. The snakes were active since it was late spring and warm. The environmental preliminaries mentioned, the team switched topics and peppered the sheriff with questions concerning the socio-economic structure of the town, potential problems and every incident he knew surrounding Sherri Swift.
Reid asked Todd about local junkyards. Where would he go if he needed a part or was retiring a vehicle? Todd told them that a vehicle had to be in really, really bad shape to take in to a junkyard. Most people would just drive it into the hills somewhere and leave it if it didn't have any useable parts. If something could someday be scavenged, then they would park it out of sight and come back to it later. Most people knew who had what vehicle so if they bought something; they knew whose 'junkyard' to visit for parts.
The locals had over a thousand acres to hide a vehicle and if they knew how to disable a GPS unit –it wasn't that hard- they could have made the evidence disappear. Either a local was trying to set up an out-of towner, or the unsub was from out of town.
With all the leading questions, Sheriff Todd wasn't surprised when Hotch directed him to pull off at the junkyard they were about to pass. Todd was surprised when faced with Sherri Swift's van. All of them were surprised when they found the shotgun. They weren't sure how it played a part in the case, but it would be important. Morgan was nominated to sit on the van until a tow truck could come and then deliver it to Little Rock where crime scene technicians could scour it top to bottom.
Todd drove Hotch and Reid to the hotel where Sherri Swift's camera crew was staying. At an hour and a half away, the hotel was the closest one to Huntsville. The BAU had the option to reserve rooms at the same hotel or to rent a house in town. Hotch had chosen to rent in Huntsville, so that they would be on hand if a riot took place. Sherri Swift and her help had not been offered the same amenities.
The hotel was in decent shape and was clean. Todd checked in with his deputy while the FBI agents approached the front desk. The manager gave Hotch the correct room numbers when he and Reid showed their FBI badges. Hotch knocked on the door to the room that Sherri Swift had been staying and a woman answered it after the first knock. Reid could tell that the FBI wasn't who she was expecting. So who had she been expecting? A man with a video camera on his shoulder was standing behind her. He was expecting to have to use it immediately.
"I'm Special Agent in Charge, Aaron Hotchner. This is a member of my unit, Dr. Spencer Reid. I believe you are Ms. Emily Felten and Mr. John Siddall. May we have a word?"
The woman glared first at Hotch and then at her partner. Reid was simply ignored. Siddall put down the camera when Felten nodded curtly.
Hotch evaluated at the two crew members. Emily Felten was five foot, five inches tall, one hundred fifty pounds, mousy brown hair and glasses. John Siddall was six foot, two inches tall, two hundred ten pounds –all muscle, and a shaved head. Felten was standing in front of Siddall with her arms crossed and her chin high. Siddall had his arms crossed and was decidedly not looking at anyone. He was hunched forward just the slightest bit.
If Hotch was profiling the two people the same way Reid was, Reid would be interviewing Siddall and Hotch would take Felten. "Reid, please interview Mr. Siddall down in the lobby. Ms. Felten? Where would you prefer to be interviewed?" Hotch offered the woman a smidge of control, in the hopes of trading it for cooperation.
Yep, Felten was the brains and Siddall was the brawn. Reid was supposed to establish a rapport with the big man while Hotch intimidated Felten. Reid was about as non-threatening as an FBI agent could get. Reid smiled at Siddall. "Sir, if you please?"
Siddall nodded and walked to the lobby and then the corner chair Reid had indicated. He sat and folded his hands into each other.
Reid sat across from him and leaned forward. "Tell me about Sherri," Reid asked the big man softly.
John Siddall smiled through suddenly wet eyes. "Driven. In one word, Sherri was driven. She was smart and beautiful. Her career meant everything to her."
"You were in love with her," Reid stated.
Siddall nodded. "Yeah. No surprise there. She was a force of nature. All eyes were just pulled to her."
"Did she return your affection?" Reid knew that the truth would be complicated but would Siddall admit to it? Reid had seen enough of the show to profile Sherri Swift and had concluded she was a textbook narcissist. He had been expecting a string of lovers rather than bringing a boyfriend with her on her travels.
Siddall paused. "She appreciated me," he finally admitted honestly. "I was available. I am a damn good photographer and I'm good in bed." And he didn't demand anything from her.
"But she didn't love you."
"She's…" Siddall broke a little. "I think she was starting to love me. With me, she could have her career and some fun too."
Reid didn't mention his suspicions that with Siddall, Sherri Swift had a warm and willing, good-looking body for when she wanted to burn up some energy, few emotional attachments and a built-in bodyguard and fall guy if anything turned sour. Reid doubted she had been faithful when the opportunity presented itself. In contrast, Siddall would have done anything for Sherri. Reid was waiting for the first lie given to protect her memory. "So you were dating?"
"She was my girlfriend," Siddall said proudly. "But we couldn't tell anyone because she's in the public eye so much." Siddall deflated. "I guess that doesn't matter any more."
"How do you like your job?"
"I like it a lot. I don't mind carrying everything and I really liked capturing Sherri as she made her big speeches on camera. That was when she was happiest."
"What about the people with their secrets?"
"They're dangerous," Siddall defended the team's actions. "Look at what they did to Sherri. They should all be locked up."
"They are only dangerous when you corner them. No one gets killed until after Swift Supernatural Exposés shows up on the scene. It's rarely dead bodies that bring Sherri to town, but there are normally dead bodies after she leaves."
Siddall looked rather stumped at Reid's logic. Reid didn't push. He had planted the seed; Siddall would only change his mind after he thought through all of the ramifications. "Tell me what happened last night."
Siddall wasn't looking at Reid when he started. "Sherri went off on her own." Lie, Reid evaluated. "She often did that." Siddall met Reid's eyes. Truth. "She said that she had a lead." Truth, then his eyes slid to the side. "She left and said that she'd call me when I needed to bring the camera." Lie.
"How did she leave?" Reid asked.
"How?" Siddall looked confused.
"Did she have the team van?"
"Yes. She left the chase car for us to follow," Siddall lied, but at least one that had a bit of truth mixed in. Reid guessed that Sherri Swift had come up such an arrangement before. Reid would have Garcia find the chase car registration. He guessed that it would be the plain, grey sedan in the parking lot with the California plates. It made sense that a team of three adults would have at least two vehicles, as invisible as possible.
"So what did you do while you were waiting?"
"I watched TV with Em."
Siddall sniffed. "Em channel surfs constantly. I don't bother trying to watch something with her." Truth. "I mostly fussing with my camera in the same room… but Sherri never called." Lie. "She's done that before." Truth. "When she never back in the morning, I started to worry." Lie.
"Did you call her?" Reid asked.
Siddall shook his head no, vehemently. "Oh, no. If I called and she was in the middle of a delicate interview, Sherri would be pissed. I did it once and Sherri said that if I ever did it again, she'd fire me on the spot." Truth. "'Sides, we've been having a horrible time keeping in touch on this project. The phones keep dropping calls and losing reception. You know what I mean?" Truth.
"Haven't experienced it yet," Reid said, "but Sheriff Todd warned us of the possibility."
"Todd," Siddall snorted dismissively.
"You've met?" Reid asked.
"He kept telling us to stay off private land and when I went to report Sherri missing, he gave me a hard time because it had been over twenty-four hours. Sherri knew the importance of people knowing where she was because her job was dangerous so she always –always- made sure that she checked in at the minimum of every twenty-four hours." Truth. "Once a day had passed, I knew Sherri was in trouble, and I knew that she had been looking for something in Huntsville so that was where I reported her." Lie. "I also reported her missing here in this town, just in case." Truth, mostly. "Sheriff Todd didn't even tell me about the body that had been found on the edge of Huntsville and sent to the Little Rock city medical examiner. It was only when Em threatened to call the studio and get the Feds involved, did he help at all and that was to call you guys." Truth.
"Do you own a gun?"
Siddall looked surprised and alarmed. "No." Truth. "I've always been able to take care of myself with my fists. I've never bothered to learn how to use a gun." Truth.
"What about Sherri?"
Siddall hedged. "Yeah. She liked to think that she could take care of herself. She knew how to use a gun."
Reid finally stood, ending the interview. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Siddall. I might need to talk with you again. Don't leave town."
"I won't," Siddall promised. "I have to claim the… body. I need to take Sherri back to her folks. I haven't seen her; I wanted to be the one to identify her but the people in Little Rock said that they had to identify her through dental records. Could you get me in to see her?" He looked horrified at the idea, but determined it was necessary. As if it was on a list he had to accomplish. Reid found the mix of emotions curious.
"I don't believe so. It wasn't a pretty sight."
"Werewolf kills never are," Siddall told him authoritatively, "but I need to see for myself that Sherri really is dead. I mean, there's still hope. She could be alive. It could be a mistake."
"No," Reid told the man firmly. "I am very sorry but Sherri Swift is dead and at this moment, we don't even have confirmation that she was killed by a Shifter, let alone a sub-type."
"You don't know?" Siddall echoed, his voice oddly flat. "It's easy, you just look at the body and if it's a wild animal and nothing's been eaten, than it's a were."
"It is not that easy," Reid countered. "Over half of all reported Shifter victims are manufactured. Twenty percent are teens or anarchists stealing a dead body and using knives shaped as a Shifter claw to create chaos. Forty percent are adult murderers attempting to disguise their own kills. They too use the Shifter Claw – I believe that that is its trade name- to inflict the wounds. The Shifter Claw is readily available on the internet."
"I didn't know that," Siddall said. Reid had a hard time translating the statement. He eventually decided that it was partly true.
"There're even ones that replicate a feline type of Shifter as opposed to a canine."
"And you can tell the difference," Siddall sounded amazed.
"A trained medical examiner had no trouble telling the difference."
"Oh. Thank you for telling me, Dr. Reid. I'll be in our… my room, if you need me."
"Don't leave town," Reid reminded the man walking away.
Siddall nodded once to indicate that he had heard the order. Reid walked outside to the rental SUV and waited for Hotch to show up. He did fourteen minutes later with an unfamiliar laptop in hand.
Reid nodded his chin at Hotch's load. "Sherri's computer?"
"Yes. I planned to overnight it to Garcia for the computer tech to work her magic. Felten said that Swift had a password for everything. We don't have time to guess, so Garcia will have to hack it."
"That won't take her long," Reid was certain.
Reid and Hotch climbed into the vehicle and waited for Todd to start the engine. Hotch rehashed Emily Felten's witness statement in the SUV as Todd drove them back to Huntsville. Morgan would meet up with them once the van was delivered. "Well?"
Reid quickly summarized the interview with John Siddall. "He's lying. But he'll stick to the story until we can find a hole and maybe even then. He said that Swift went off on her own and that there's no recording of the last night when she died. He said that he was in his room all night. He was Swift's…" Reid hesitated, but then used the witness's term, "boyfriend."
Hotch raised and eyebrow. "Felten referred to herself as Swift's slave and Siddall as Swift's receptacle."
"Crude but probably accurate."
"Felten said that she and Siddall were sitting in the same room, watching TV, waiting for Swift to call."
"Siddall said basically the same thing."
"So they are using each other for alibis. That means they were both with Sherri. If it really was a Shifter, why aren't they saying so?"
"What are they hiding?"
"The manager couldn't see the rooms or the resident parking lot, nor are there any cameras. We don't have any independent witness."
Reid turned his attention to their driver. "Sheriff Todd, Siddall said that you gave him a hard time?"
Todd grunted. "The man has been living with the woman for over a year and waits a full twenty-four hours to report her missing? I smelled a rat."
"We'll need that incident report," Hotch warned him.
Todd shrugged. "I'll tell Rita. You guys deal with a lot of paperwork."
"That we do," Hotch agreed. He settled a bit in the passenger's seat. They still had more than an hour of drive time to use to the best of their abilities. "Since we have time, why don't you tell me all of your interactions with the Swift team? That way I don't have to read the reports, Reid can skim them later."
Todd nodded and then launched into a series of stories. They all followed the same formula: a resident caught Swift and her crew sneaking around. Todd and/or a deputy drove out to the resident's place and tried to find any evidence of property damage or a law that they could have broken, but they never found anything actually illegal. The Swift team was very good at skirting the laws.
Todd parked his SUV in his reserved parking spot. Reid climbed out and stretched. Now that the film crew was available and interviewed, the genius's role would have to change. "Reid?" Hotch started as soon as they walked into the sheriff's office.
Reid smiled at him. "I know. You need someone to plow through all the lawsuit data and create a list of viable unsubs –people that Sherri Swift hurt."
"I don't have to tell you who to add to the list and who belongs on a secondary list."
"If their court case is progressing nicely, they belong on the secondary list. If they're a Shifter and their court case is stuck somewhere or they don't have the money to pursue a case they belong on the primary list."
Hotch wandered off to make nice with the locals and Reid settled in to read. Todd had thankfully offered nicer seats to go with the conference room table that would be the BAU's office for the duration of the case.
Reid was in the middle of reading the second lawsuit when his phone rang. He looked at the screen and read Prentiss' name. He answered it with a simple, "Yes?" He could hear the sounds of a car being driven in the background. Rossi would be the one driving.
"Oh, good. We finally have good enough reception. I've been trying to call for ages. It was a werewolf," Prentiss reported. "Hotch isn't answering his phone, so please tell him. We found the scene of the crime. We had to chase off a huge king snake, so Hotch owes us." Prentiss could follow a trail of strong feelings better than trackers could follow footprints in the snow (and feelings after or while hiding a killing were often very strong). She could also recognize the 'feeling footprint' of any supernatural being. It was her one true talent. Emily Prentiss was a very weak Shaman. She was so weak, in fact, that most Shamans and Shifters couldn't identify her as such. A real Shaman would be able to follow the trail of the Shifter to his or her current location and a very strong Shaman would be able to recreate the scene of the crime from the dust and wind. Talented Shamans tended to not work in minor government roles. The government couldn't afford the cost.
"What else?" Reid asked.
"Someone moved the body to the edge of town. Someone big and strong and probably on two feet. Rossi found those tracks. The fight between Sherri and the werewolf was a mile away from the dump site. But get this, we found a silver buckshot in a tree at the kill site. And there is evidence of blood. We didn't find a gun."
"We found the gun, but you were saying…?" Reid prompted his friend.
"There was a chase. Swift chased a werewolf, a fight and I think the werewolf got cornered and then wounded. But it's all supposition, nothing I can say in court." Emily's Shaman status was a matter of record, but it rarely helped in court. The defense would simply hire a stronger Shaman to 'prove' how easy it was to trick Emily. Emily Prentiss could use all of her observation skills though and the stronger Shaman would only prevail fifty percent of the time.
"What did you pick up?" Reid was asking a question for information that would be limited to the profile reports.
"Animal terror. Sheer, frantic, overwhelming terror. Trying to escape."
"Not from Swift?" Reid confirmed.
"No, from the Shifter. The terror overpowers whatever Swift was feeling at the time."
"You know how I said that the person who moved the body was on two feet?"
"That's because there are tracks for a four-wheeler. That's how the body was moved. Rossi found them too. The four-wheeler was around the werewolf. I don't know who followed whom, but they came from the same direction. It's nothing that I can track," because of the lack of extreme emotions went unsaid, "and the two groups went over terrain that is regularly used by locals for both walking and on four-wheelers. It's even crudely marked so visitors would know which way they needed to go. We need a real tracker and I'm not even sure that they would be able to pick out our four-wheeler tracks from all the other tracks."
They needed a tracker that they could trust. They didn't know who in town they could trust. They knew that a Shifter lived in town and Shifters tended to be excellent trackers. There were added difficulties with a Shifter tracker. There was a high probability of a second or a third Shifter in the community. The victim/unsub was a werewolf and werewolves could be found in packs. They protected their pack above all else. If there were more Shifters in the community, they already knew who Sherri Swift had been chasing and were protecting the unsub. The BAU needed a tracker that wasn't a Shifter that could mislead the investigation. How could they hire a tracker without hiring a Shifter? None of them could identify a Shifter by sight, not even Prentiss and Morgan. Prentiss was too weak. Some Shifters could identify other Shifters by 'feel' like a strong Shamans could, but those were surprisingly few and far between. The most common way for Shifter strangers to identify each other was by smell while the human form was wet. According to Morgan, who answered many of Reid's questions in a long-suffering manner, the smell of a Shifter's wet hair was similar enough to the smell of their wet fur to be a huge clue.
Otherwise, one couldn't identify Shifters by appearances. There was a normal in England –who was most emphatically not normal- with an extraordinary success rate at identifying Shifter and Shaman alike. The normal, named Holmes, was a 'consulting detective.' The man had a website dedicated to his ego, his genius and his deductions. While Reid read it regularly, he rarely commented. Any exchanges with the detective left Reid frustrated and annoyed, though often better informed.
Holmes even, at one time years ago, had posted a list of how to spot a Shifter and a second list of how to spot a Shaman. Alarmed, Reid had showed Garcia. She had understood in the inherent danger of people trying to apply the conclusions on those around them. Garcia had promptly hacked the website and had taken down the update less than an hour after its three AM posting. Reid –through Garcia- had sent a carefully worded e-mail detailing the dangers to society the post contained. Garcia had added a less carefully worded postscript informing Holmes that he ever posted anything similar again, she would promptly disable his website and any subsequent replacements.
The response was interesting as it was addressed to 'Mycroft' and congratulated 'him' into making Holmes believe that 'Dr. Reid was an American federal agent of above average intelligence.' The e-mail was filled with derision and immature pique but since Holmes didn't threaten to upload his observations every hour, it didn't matter.
Reid wasn't sure how much he trusted Mr. Holmes' lists. He had accidently memorized them, or rather, he couldn't forget them since he had read them. He didn't believe that he could correctly apply them in this case to weed out any potential Shifter tracker.
Reid cornered Hotch in the break room and informed him of Rossi and Prentiss's results. Hotch listened solemnly and then sent Reid back to the case files to weed out the suspected unsub from the pile.
It only took Reid reading through the third lawsuit against Swift Supernatural Exposés to see a pattern and to realize that they were chasing the wrong lead. He checked the last page of every case summary for confirmation and found the same clue on forty-seven of the fifty-three cases. In twenty-two of the cases, the defendant was a Shaman. In thirty-one, a Shifter. Reid took the information to Hotch. Hotch read through it and, as a former lawyer, recognized the implications immediately.
"Santoro is uniting all of the lawsuits against Swift Supernatural Exposés. It looks like they have enough for a class action suit," Hotch said.
"Exactly, so even the suits that have stalled, or were previously thrown out of court, now have new life infused into them."
"Santoro united the Shaman and Shifter victims?" Hotch asked.
Reid nodded, impressed. "It's almost eighty percent for the Shifters. She has all the Shamans in agreement but Santoro is actively negotiating with everyone who has a suit against Swift. They're keeping it very quiet so far but in looking at all the preparation work, it's clear that they are planning for this to go all the way to the Supreme Court."
"We can only hope so," Hotch muttered. "In any case, our unsub won't be among those files. They are all too focused on Santoro. She's commanding their attention, whether they want her to or not."
"Agreed. I'll inform Garcia and have her strike these from our unsub list."
"And I'll concentrate on the episodes that endangered someone and the victim didn't file a lawsuit against Swift Supernatural Exposés," Reid preempted Hotch's next order.
"Good. Let me or JJ know if you need anything."
Reid called up Garcia for her assistance. Garcia had all of the files organized by whoever had been hurt the worst by Swift Supernatural Exposés. Those that had been killed after the airing of a show and had close family and friends were the highest on Reid's suspect list. Reid personally called the family members. All of them answered. Two of them assumed that he was part of US Representative Santoro's legal team. So not only was Santoro uniting all the legal cases, they were gathering up those that never started legal proceedings. By adding all the evidence, the unsub was beginning to look like neither a local, nor a personal victim of Swift Supernatural Exposé. By eliminating the most probable suspects, the BAU was searching for an unsub that either a, was a Shifter that wanted Sherri Swift dead out of principle or b, someone who wanted Sherri Swift dead for a yet unknown reason but used a Shifter as bait, either willingly or unwillingly. Such a combination was unlikely, so the BAU was investigating the fact that someone used the Shifter out of convenience. Only the camera crew would have been close enough to take advantage of convenience, or was someone lurking? No one could lurk like a Shifter and they had Emily's confirmation that a Shifter had been involved.
Fact: a Shifter and a normal human were both involved in Sherri Swift's death. The BAU needed more facts. To that end, Reid called up the medical examiner in Little Rock for the autopsy. Sheriff Todd had sent Sherri Swift's remains to the federal building for review. Dr. Rivers hemmed and hawed for fifteen minutes, saying that something wasn't quite right and could Reid get back to him in twenty-four hours? Reid pressed for a moment and then decided that he wanted an accurate autopsy and not something rushed. He asked Dr. Rivers to transfer him to the Crime Scene Unit. A friendly, cheerful man named Joe answered the phone and all of Reid's questions. No, the Swift Supernatural Exposé van had not been wiped clean. It only had the fingerprints of the film crew. So either one of the film crew had been involved in the cover-up or a Shaman was involved. The shotgun only had Sherri Swift's fingerprints, no one else's. Sherri Swift could not have moved the gun from where she shot the Shifter to the van after she had died, but none of the fingerprints were smudged.
A Shaman could have moved the gun and the van without leaving prints or smudging the existing ones. A Shaman would have reason to frame a Shifter and a talented one would be able to alter Emily's perception of the event. It was possible that a Shifter had not been involved at all. Interesting. Emily was on the books as a weak Shaman and if it was a suspected Shifter attack, the BAU (and Emily) would have ordered to the site. That was SOP. Anyone who knew anything about federal investigating procedures would be able to find that with five minutes of research. A Shaman as the unsub? Finding an unregistered Shaman was even more difficult than finding an unregistered Shifter. Reid would run the theory by the rest of the team and see if a Shaman profile would fit the known facts. A Shaman could do many things but they wouldn't be able to change the wound pattern after the fact unless they were directly in the vicinity of Dr. Rivers and manipulating his thoughts. A Shaman would never have let Dr. Rivers express misgivings over the initial cause of death. If Dr. Rivers remembered the phone conversation tomorrow and explained autopsy clearly, Reid would know that a Shaman was not influencing the medical examiner.
They needed more clues. The blatantly missing clue was the four-wheeler. Where was it? Why wasn't it near the van? The fact that it was still missing was important, but Reid didn't know where to begin looking for the four-wheeler. With only one data point, it was impossible to build a geographical profile as to the unsub's comfort zone.
They needed some way to narrow down the profile.
Sheriff Todd was talking to someone, probably the person who had arrived in the rental car outside. Reid watched Hotch glanced at JJ and she knew her job. JJ hurried to interject herself into the conversation; they couldn't have the sheriff accidently giving out information to the press. JJ brought the stranger to Hotch after a short conversation. Reid sat to the side to quietly observe. Hotch didn't need him to question the man, just to be the occasional distraction.
"Hotch, this man claims to be Sherri's brother, Stephen Swift. Stephen Swift, this is Special Agent in Charge, Aaron Hotchner." She point indicated Reid, "And Dr. Reid. They'll need to interview you." She walked off with his driver's license in hand and was already dialing Garcia.
Hotch nodded sternly. "Please sit, Mr. Swift, as we confirm your identity."
The man sat with a practiced, engaging smile. He was maintaining eye contact with Hotch and ignoring Reid. That suited Reid just fine. "I'm glad to see that you are taking this case so seriously. The producer sent me, with all of the mail and recordings that you requested. They're in the car. Swift Supernatural Exposé is named such because the whole family is involved in someway. My sister is… was merely the face of it all. My dad is the producer. My mom takes care of the books."
"May I have your keys?" Hotch requested, "so we can get a start on the paperwork?" For someone like Sherri Swift, the stacks of paper would be mountains.
Stephen understood. He was the one who would have had to carry it from the airplane to the car. "Here."
Hotch accepted the keys and threw them across the police station to Morgan who caught them easily. Hotch noticed that Stephen looked a little envious at the obvious athletic ability. He resembled Reid, only ten inches shorter and with glasses. He was a smooth urban, decent looking man, but he was no jock. Reid tilted his head and narrowed in on the man's glasses. He saw no optical curve and wondered if Swift needed corrective vision. Reid doubted it. The man was not a jock, so he was faking studious and educated. He was probably of average intelligence, but he would have Garcia check for both an ophthalmologist and school transcripts.
Hotch used the observation for his next leading question. "You mentioned the rest of your family. What do you do?"
"I'm a background fact-checker. Researcher. Sherri calls me up to get histories of towns and families after she's got her film."
The profilers knew there was a little lie in there. "How does Sherri find her subjects?"
"She gets tips, thousands, millions of tips and sifts through them until she gets a real one."
"She does that herself?"
Stephen rolled his eyes. "Yes. Well mostly. We have a staff that can weed out the obvious liars and crackpots. Sherri's got a nose for finding supernaturals in hiding, she never said how. She's paranoid, even about the family. She refused to e-mail, phone when she's close. She thought that someone has tapped our lines and was reading our e-mail, stuff like that."
After seeing some of the things Garcia was able to 'find,' Reid considered such paranoia warranted. Sherri had been smarter than Stephen and probably had lorded it over her sibling. She was possessive over her methods. "So when was the last time you talked with or saw your sister?"
"After she turned in her last show. Two weeks ago?" Stephen thought about it. "Twelve days if you want to be precise."
"Please be precise. What happened?"
"She turned in her tape, did the needed voiceovers, collected whatever she needed, told us that she had a lead here in Arkansas and left. Normal family together, Sherri and I bickered a bit, but the books are balanced, so no real stress. Sherri didn't care for how well I had researched her last case. We argued, but that's normal." Reid was sure it was, Stephen was at least as narcissist as his sister, just better at hiding it.
"Was she worried at all?" Hotch asked.
"Sherri? Never. She was excited though. She said that this lead here was going to make for the best show we've ever filmed."
"Did she tell you why?"
"Naw." Stephen looked around. Was he lying or looking for something? "See, Dad is a bit of a hardass. If Sherri doesn't come through on a lead or picks a wrong one, he yells at her. So she doesn't really tell anyone what's happening beforehand. That way Dad can't be disappointed. We have a schedule to keep and she's been cutting it close on the filming. We're only two shows ahead of the airing schedule. If she was wrong here, it would have put us way behind. Don't know what Dad will do now that Sherri –and the episode- are gone." Stephen hardened his jaw. "Dad sent me here to make a tribute episode for Sherri. I'm going to find what Sherri was looking for. I'm going to take over the face of the show and keep it going."
Hotch showed the slightest hint of being impressed. He was stroking the man's ego for more information. "You knew why she was here."
"Yeah, she let it slip. A real werewolf or something masquerading like one. She was so sure something was here that she told me to get a head start and do the history of the town. You gotta understand Dad and the fact that even Sherri is wrong at least half of the time. Weres are really good at hiding and tons of people think they're right when they were really just drunk when they saw what they thought they saw." He sounded disgruntled at the thought. As if Shifters were going out of their way to make his job harder than necessary. "Sherri chases a ton of leads that go nowhere. She has to be right, or we get sued. And with the show's popularity going up, when some weres see her, they go on vacation, just leave town until Sherri moves on. Sherri was sure that had happened at least three times this year already, but it wasn't anything she could prove."
"Does Sherri know how to use a gun?"
The question caught Stephen by surprise. "Yes. Why?"
"Where and when did she learn?"
"As a kid, Dad taught us both." Stephen looked ashamed. "She's a better shot than I am. I mean, I'm pretty sure that's still the case. I haven't picked up a gun in… oh eight years. It might be even longer for Sherri." Reid would get Garcia to concentrate on where Sherri could have bought a gun. Reid realized that it was probably one of the reasons for the van; they didn't want any record of a gun going through airport security.
"Does she own a gun?"
"Not that I know of. Why are you asking?"
"There's evidence of a gun at the crime scene. We're eliminating the possibility that it wasn't Sherri's."
"It wouldn't have been Sherri's. Mom handles all of the billing for Sherri's team and Sherri was such a cheap-skate, she would have asked to be reimbursed for buying a gun. I would have heard it if she had bought a gun. She didn't."
Hotch hmmed. "That's interesting, because we found the gun and the only prints on it were Sherri's, inside, outside, there were quite a few prints and none of them didn't match your sister. If it wasn't her gun, where did she get it? Who would lend her a gun?"
Reid liked how Hotch left an obvious lie for Stephen. Hotch must have been hell in the courtroom, he was constantly leading the witness.
"I have no idea." Stephen winced slightly but it looked practiced to Reid. "Sherri's more reliable tips came from the rougher neck of the woods. I know those people traffic guns."
"Where did her tip concerning Huntsville originate?" Reid finally inserted himself into the conversation.
"A trucker. Which is a common tipster demographic for our show."
"What did the trucker say that convinced Sherri?"
"He said that it was a pack of three werewolves and the youngest one was pre-adolescent." Stephen finally showed some true emotion: joy. "The youngest were on record is fifteen. Swift Supernatural Exposé is going to have proof that weres can happen before the teens, like everyone believes happens."
Hotch was a professional and didn't show his distaste at Stephen's desire to endanger a minor. He thanked Stephen Swift for all of his assistance and escorted him out the door. Hotch made noncommittal noises about keeping Stephen informed of the ongoing investigation.
Hotch returned to the BAU's temporary work space and closed the door. He addressed Reid. "You warn Morgan what's coming and I'll brief the rest of the team." He glanced at his watch. "How long until everyone returns?"
"Well, based upon speed limits and familiarity driving the roads and distance…"
"Reid," Hotch was too weary to deal with him at the moment.
"Rossi and Prentiss should be back in an hour; Morgan, closer to four."
Hotch didn't like that the team was spread so thin, but there was no recourse. He held out a hand. "Pass me some of Swift's tip files. Let's build a working victim profile."
Reid passed his boss a stack of files and organized the others. He excused himself for five minutes to call Morgan and tell him what was going to happen as soon as returned. Prentiss, Rossi and JJ all found a seat and started reading through the hints and clues and hate mail as to how Swift Supernatural Exposé worked and who would consider themselves Sherri's enemy. They knew what Stephen believed Sherri was after, but did the facts concur?
The team was hard at work when Morgan finally returned, bringing dinner. They ate quietly, each focusing on their pile of folder. Only when all the food had been devoured did Hotch get up and close the door, locking it even to keep the locals out.
Emily took this as tacit approval and started the conversation the BAU had to have. She addressed Morgan. "Is it possible for a child to be a Shifter?" Reid already knew the answer to this question, but kept silent. It wasn't his story to tell.
Morgan met her eyes squarely. "I Shifted the first time when I was nine. When my father died before my eyes. I was a lion cub standing over my father's body, trying to protect it. Scared the shit out of the thieves that had been trying to rob the convenience store. Luckily, all the cops knew about my dad and they had Shifter tranqs in the squad cars. They tranqed me and dropped me off with my mom and no mention of any Shifting made it into any report. Even the owner of the store didn't know that I had Shifted, he was too busy hiding behind the counter. The accounts of the thieves were dismissed as the ramblings of drug addicts."
"Stress plus DNA," Reid reminded her. "Morgan's father was a known Shifter, even if his mother has no Shifter DNA, at all. Him dying was an extreme stressor."
Morgan offered up helpless hands. "I didn't Shift again for three years. Mom found me a… tutor to show me the ropes and even then, I didn't Shift but once every other month."
"I thought bi-weekly Shifting was necessary for control," Emily looked to Reid for an explanation.
Reid was quick to speak one. "Ten hour, bi-weekly sessions are necessary for those learning control or don't have much control in the beginning. Teens, with their hormones already working against them, especially benefit from such a schedule. Adult felines, interestingly enough, tend to more follow Morgan's schedule: one night every other month and sometimes up to fifteen nights in one month, during rough patches. Ninety percent are nocturnal. Adult canines statistically Shift in groups, so they plan it so that everyone can participate. What little research that I can find seems to indicate a monthly pattern, perhaps that's where the 'Shifting during the full moon' myth originated. Avians tend to skip six or more months and then they stay in their Shifted form for a week to several months. Reptiles in temperate climates only Shift in the summer months. In desert and sub-tropical climates, it is assumed that they Shift more often, but data is sketchy."
Emily blinked and Rossi smirked at her. "You asked," he reminded her.
Emily turned rueful. "I did indeed. Thank you, Reid."
"You are very welcome."
"Alright, enough fun," Hotch said. "Everybody get back to work. How does this affect the profile?"
"The Swift brother's been all around town," Todd reported grimly to the conference room filled with BAU agents. "Asking how residents feel about 'Sherri's murder'."
"Already?" Hotch asked. "I thought it would take him another day."
JJ shook her head. "No. He gathered Sherri's crew and hit the streets of Huntsville."
"I'm betting he's not getting the sensationalized race-baiting that he's used to," Morgan added. "You've got good people. I just hope they realize that it's a ruse to investigate what Sherri was after."
Todd puffed up at the seemingly off-hand compliment. "They realize alright. We're getting phone calls left and right. I've got a trail for you to follow, Dr. Reid, if you need it."
Reid knew that Morgan wasn't done yet and was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. He wasn't disappointed even as he nodded in acknowledgement of the future geographic profile.
"I just don't get how no one could have witnessed anything," Morgan mused in the same off-hand, non-confrontational tone of voice. He obviously didn't say that other Shifters had to be protecting the injured one. They knew there was a pack involved and since no lynching groups had formed in town, those not in the pack were accepting and protective toward Shifters.
"There's a lot of territory out there," Sheriff Todd tried to explain yet again to the city folk who had heard the concept but didn't understand the practicalities. "Acres and acres with nothing in between. Someone would have to be intending for a house to end up near one. This is not the city where someone might see something looking out their window at night."
Hotch understood, but still… "The Shifter was hurt," he explained. He didn't say that the Shifter was probably very young. "And he had help of the two-legged variety. He's a local. Someone knows something. Our profile is unclear, we need answers to get a fix on what occurred."
"I asked around," Todd told him. "The Lacys are an older couple to the south of the scuffle and didn't know anything. The Morrises to the north of them have a sick daughter that they've been hovering over for a couple days now. Steve Kieran, east of the site, thought he saw something his way, but the man has been hitting the bottle since being laid off. The Auers, the Lees and the Livingstons, west of the site and closer to town, all reported an eventless night. I don't know how to help you, Agent. No one is coming forward as an eyewitness." Todd was getting defensive, so Emily, JJ, Morgan and Rossi excused themselves so that the sheriff didn't have an audience.
Hotch was visibly frustrated and Reid was surprised that he let it show. Finally Hotch said, "I just want to show some evidence of progress being made on the case before some of the residents start taking things into their own hands."
Todd straightened. "I know most people think we're hicks, but I think we're better than that. And we're proving it. There's no mob here. Robert Heilick is the only loud mouth against Shifters in town and nobody's listening to him."
Hotch nodded. "Good. Keep an eye on Heilick and make sure he doesn't gain a following."
"And have a deputy walk through the bars to get an idea of the what the hotheads are thinking." Hotch gathered his computer and put his borrowed coffee mug in the sink. Reid was trying to make order out of his mess. Hotch was waiting for him so that they could walk to the rental house together. "We'll see you in the morning," he told Todd.
"Hopefully, things will be clearer," Todd offered.
Arkansas had been in the middle of a dry spell, so the early morning rain was a welcome relief even if it might wash away evidence not yet found. Unexpectedly, the rain also revealed evidence. Reid had known it to happen, but was always surprised when it did.
In this case, Sheriff Todd walked around the station wrinkling his nose and frowning.
"Something the matter?" Emily asked politely.
Todd shook his head. "I swear I smell a cat. I guess one snuck into the building to escape the storm. Do you smell it?"
Emily shook her head, 'no.'
"Ah, well, I'll have Cortez hunt it down. He's got a good nose."
"That won't be necessary," Morgan said in the even voice that warned the rest of the team.
"You tossed it out?" Todd assumed.
"No. This particular cat was invited in."
Todd snorted. "What dumbass would do a thing like that?"
Morgan grimaced. "You did."
Reid watched at the sheriff realized that Morgan was the cat, a Shifter. Morgan had run through the rain on his way into the station. His hair had been just wet enough for identification. What Todd had smelled had been too faint for normals and he had outted himself as a Shifter.
Morgan tried to relax but at the same time step away from the team if there was a confrontation. Hotch, being Hotch, stepped between Morgan and Todd. Morgan opened his mouth and said, "It's funny. All I smell in the station today is canine."
Todd, to his credit, didn't try to deny the revelation. Morgan was a feline Shifter (and his team knew it and accepted it) and Todd was a canine Shifter, probably a werewolf alpha. Reid took into account Todd's comment about Cortez and deduced that most of the deputies, if not all, were werewolves. The Shifter pack was dramatically larger than first supposed and larger equated more organized. As much as the BAU used past interviews to understand unsubs, Shifters used thousands of years to predict how other Shifters would react to certain circumstances. When there were physical repercussions for a misstep, normally a beating, people learned from mistakes quickly.
All this to say: Shifters don't follow normals.
They'll lead normals. They'll partner up with normals, but for the most part, Shifters lead other Shifters. The notable exceptions tended to be within the mob or the military, places where there was a clear-cut chain of command, with physical consequences for breaking the rules. Young males not in the military –Morgan's age- often would be loners, not associating with anyone. And they very, very rarely followed Shamans, if one or both of the supernaturals were Native American. The fact that former US Representative Santoro was managing to unite Shamans and Shifters against Swift Supernatural Exposés in their lawsuit was a phenomenal accomplishment. So, Reid could almost see the wheels turning in the Sheriff's head. If Morgan was a Shifter, what was Hotch, his obvious leader?
Unlike Morgan, Aaron Hotchner's heritage wasn't evidenced by smell. Reid watched Todd try to puzzle it out, knowing that the likelihood of a correct answer was less than three percent. He was much more likely to guess 'Shaman' than the truth.
Todd caught Reid staring at him and must have smelled his amusement. Reid grinned at being caught. Todd grinned back at Reid's amusement. Reid could easily see why such an even-keeled, smart, alpha had been elected sheriff twenty years running. Todd could have easily turned the sheriff's station into a blood bath. Some Shifters would have considered killing an entire FBI team as an acceptable way to protect their pack.
As the perceived threat dissipated in the conference room, Reid's mind was leaping from revelation to conclusion with a few deductions in the middle. He forgot his mind/mouth filter and blurted, "You must be huge as a werewolf."
Hotch shot him a long-suffering look. Morgan rolled his eyes and Emily giggled. Todd adjusted his belt on his portly girth. "You think I can't lead other Shifters without being the biggest, baddest wolf on the block?"
"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. I mean that Shifters don't carry fat on their bodies; it's used up in the transformations. They only carry muscle mass and that muscle mass carries over in a 1:1.34 ratio. So what appears to be fat on your human frame is assuredly muscle as wolf. To accommodate that much muscle, your skeleton would be approximately four feet high, at the shoulder."
Todd looked overwhelmed at the overload of information. "You're actually pretty close."
"Plus or minus two inches," Reid allowed.
"Where did you get him from?" Todd asked Rossi, referring to Reid.
"He was a special order from a Shaman in Las Vegas," Rossi quipped. It was an intentional use of humor to lighten the mood.
Todd laughed at the blatant lie. Shamans were notoriously protective and possessive of their experiments, even more so if they breathed.
"Sheriff Todd," Hotch said sternly. "Have you been protecting the Shifter that defended his or herself against Sherri Swift? We know that you only called in the FBI when it was apparent that the Swift camera crew would have done it for you."
Todd huffed. "I would if I knew who they were. But whoever it was isn't coming forward in the pack. I really truly believe that one of Swift's previous victims caught up with her here."
"Bad luck," Morgan muttered.
"Yes," Todd agreed vehemently. "The pack knew to stay out of her way, act normal and call me any time Swift got on their lands. Everybody was keeping to the script. Swift wasn't getting close to any of them."
"Or you?" Rossi asked bluntly.
Todd inclined his head to admit that he was in as much danger as any of the others. "Or me. She ran from anybody in a uniform. She was breaking the law and we had her at that. We just couldn't legally keep her out of town for being a pain in the ass."
Reid mused at how the Sheriff's language deteriorated as he became more comfortable and relaxed. Reid was suspicious that the werewolf was putting on show for their benefit. He need not have bothered: until they had proof otherwise, the BAU would assume that the werewolf alpha was protecting one of his pack.
Now they just had to evaluate the size of the pack and the members. They didn't ask Todd for a list; he would lie.
No. Now that the light sprinkle outside showed no signs of stopping, Morgan would have to go for a walk around town and count up the number of Shifters. Reid decided to walk with him and to attempt to deduce a Shifter before Morgan confirmed it. Reid had found too many in town that had a majority of Holmes' listed characteristics.
"They're all Shifters, wolves," Morgan muttered to Reid ten minutes later. Everyone would know he was a 'cat' by sunset. They needed the head count before Todd could warn the pack to stay indoors.
Still, Reid looked at the crowded Main Street and blinked. "Are you sure?" He had deduced the possibility but to hear it confirmed was amazing. So many of the residents were Shifters that Reid was getting plenty of practice of visually recognizing a person to be a Shifter as versus a normal.
"Well over half of them are and it looks like interracial dating and marriage is accepted," Morgan elaborated as he watched two teen couples enter the diner under the watchful eye of the waitress. By Reid's deductions, both of the females were werewolves and one of the males was. The count fit with Morgan's analysis.
"I had wondered," Emily murmured.
Reid faced his other co-worker. "Are your powers getting stronger? I've read that a Shaman gets more powerful as they age."
Emily grinned. "No, genius. I watched them react to Hotch."
Reid opened his mouth and then closed it. It was a painfully obvious litmus test. All Shifters reacted atypically to Hotch. Which, by definition, made it a typical Shifter reaction. They all, even alphas, submitted to Hotch, mostly subconsciously but then, so did most normals. Reid evaluated every interaction between Hotch and the town residents. No one had given Hotch a hard time. Nothing obvious, but still, relevant all the same. Reid started to add up all the little clues, like the disproportionate number of dog owners to cat owners. In the United States, the proportions were 39:33 percent. Reid did a quick calculation in his head. In Huntsville, the proportions of pet owners were 45:13 percent dogs to cats.
"Well," Emily state wryly. "We know what brought Sherri Swift to town: a large pack of werewolves, with possible child Shifters. That, at least is confirmed."
"Musta thought she'd hit the motherload," Morgan added. He ushered Emily and Reid into a quiet, abandoned store off the beaten path.
Reid trusted that Morgan had directed them enough away to be out of Shifter hearing and pulled out his cell phone and put it on speakerphone. "Garcia?"
"Yes, my favorite genius?"
"Have you had a chance to search Swift's laptop?"
"Yep. And it's a doozy. Can we say 'paranoid'?"
"What evidence can you find to tell us where and on whom Swift was investigating?"
Garcia practically growled. "You remember that website you and me took down a while ago?"
Since there had only been one, Reid answered, "yes." He knew the heading of this conversation. After all, he had been basing some of his own theories off of Homes'.
"Ms. Swift had a screen capture of Holmes' deductions on how to spot a Shifter. The link to that file was one of a few icons on her desktop. She referred to it often. She even had a secondary file listing Holmes' deductions and then adding her own. Keep in mind that she had everything and I mean everything password protected, so that you should be applauding my genius."
"You are a genius," Morgan flirted.
"I know I am," she sighed. Then she turned to business. "So Sherri Swift had tons of files and different passwords for each of them."
"Anything that relates to Huntsville?"
"She had a folder for Huntsville. She was filling out a Shifter questionnaire based on Holmes' work for several residents of the town. She had fifteen different questionnaires in various levels of completion."
"She has the actual person's name coded, even behind all of her other security measures. Some with titles like EN1 through 4 and others titled MT1 and 2. TE1 through 7. It made sense to Sherri Swift, not to me."
"Send us the files," Reid said. "We'll try to match them up with residents. We need to know who felt the most threatened by Swift."
"Will do, snookums. But here's the really interesting piece of news. Those files were accessed two hours after Sherri Swift had died. For all of her security, someone knew her passwords and snooped through her computer. I don't believe they removed anything, but they copied some things. I'll call if I find more."
"Thank you, Garcia."
"No, thank you, I love playing in someone else's sandbox and finding the sewer."
The computer tech hung up before Reid could evaluate whether or not she was being serious or snarky.
Reid's phone rang not ten seconds later and after looking at the area code, knew that it was Dr. Rivers, the federal medical examiner from Little Rock. Reid answered the phone. "Dr. Spencer Reid, FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit." He noticed Morgan and Emily wandered away as he took the call. They were within listening distance but focused more on the residents in town going about their daily routines.
"Dr. Reid. This is Dr. Rivers."
"Good to hear from you, doctor. What is your conclusion on Sherri Swift's autopsy?"
"There are three types of wounds on Sherri Swift. The first are bite marks made by a Shifter. It's a small Shifter, werewolf and female according to the DNA swab."
"Young?" Reid asked.
"I can't guess that from the evidence."
Reid liked that answer as much as he didn't. "Please, go on."
"There are only two shallow bites on the body. There are two kinds of claw marks. The first kind is shallow and has no hesitation marks. As the paw size seems to be small, I would make an educated guess that they belong to the same Shifter that bit Ms. Swift. The second kind of claw marks was clearly made by a standard werewolf size, Shifter Blade, much deeper and with hesitation marks. I found traces of silver in those wounds. You are familiar with the type of blade."
"Yes, I am. The top of the line Shifter Blade. Interesting. So you've confirmed two different unsubs. Where were the Shifter's wounds on Swift's body?"
"One bite was on Swift's left hand and one was on Swift's left knee."
"And the Shifter's claw wounds?" Reid prompted.
"All on Swift's left side, none higher than her hip."
"Any of them dangerous?"
"The Shifter managed to catch a vein in the leg. If Swift had been alone and didn't know enough to keep pressure on the wound as she tracked out of the woods, it might have killed her, but odds were in her favor."
"So the Shifter did not attempt to kill Ms. Swift," Reid concluded.
"I would swear to it on the stand."
Good. "Now tell me about the other claw marks."
"They start at the hip and overlap Shifter wounds. Due to the dirt in the Shifter wounds spreading into the claw blade wounds, I must conclude that the Shifter attack happened first and the blade was used after. The Shifter Blade was used from the neck down to the hip. Only one light claw mark at the breasts. The neck was the first wound inflicted by the claw blade. There is next to no dirt in that wound. Then, the hip was wounded and then the claw marks in between the neck and the hip were inflicted. Then the person disfigured the face to prevent identification. There are a lot of hesitation marks on the face."
The second unsub had hesitated. He or she had started at the neck to ensure a quick death and then had tried to contaminate the evidence by overlapping the claw wounds. The second unsub was not a sadist and did not have much experience killing. The fact that he or she avoided the erogenous zones could indicate two different things: the unsub was not physically attracted to Sherri Swift, or the unsub was not aroused by inflicting pain and death.
Reid thanked Dr. Rivers for his professional opinion and for taking the time to verify all of his theories. He gave the medical examiner his e-mail to send a copy of the autopsy, including all of the photos before saying goodbye.
Reid quickly called Garcia to have her double check that there isn't a connection between Huntsville and Dr. Rivers of Little Rock. If Sheriff Todd could get the state medical examiner to say that the Shifter hadn't killed Sherri Swift, it would be an appropriate alpha protection method. Garcia couldn't find any evidence that they had crossed paths anything but professionally, so Reid had to accept Dr. Rivers' word as truth. From the photos, Reid agreed with the assessment: Sherri Swift had been mauled by both a Shifter and someone using a Shifter Blade. A silver claw blade; that indicated money and a solid belief in some of the myths. A Shifter Blade made out of silver would have been a month's salary for a Huntsville resident. No one here had that kind of money. Silver blades did hurt Shifters but no more than an iron or steel alloy blade. The Huntsville residents wouldn't have bothered with that kind of expense. They would know the truth about silver. On a related tangent, silver was popular with Shamans in their experiments.
They had two unsubs, a Shifter and someone not in a Shifted form the night of the attack. The second unsub could have been a Shifter in human form (very unlikely because of the claw blade material), a normal or a Shaman.
They needed a motive, but too many people would have reason for killing Sherri Swift. They didn't even know if the Shifter was knowingly working with his or her partner. Their profile was incomplete.
The first unsub was a young Shifter and easily frightened. If he or she was working purposefully with the second unsub than the Shifter was the submissive in the relationship. The second unsub was intelligent enough to cover up the death, move the body and create misleading evidence in an effort to… do what? Frame the young Shifter? Probable. Hide their own involvement? Most definitely. They didn't want to kill Sherri Swift, either due to their own morals or some other reason, Reid didn't know. The second unsub hadn't gotten any emotional fulfillment out of the act but had killed her anyway.
They needed to find the Shifter Blade. It would fill in a number of blanks.
Reid shared the autopsy findings with the rest of the team. Everyone agreed that they needed to find the claw blade and that the werewolf pack could be used. Sheriff Todd and his deputies were the local law enforcement and would be delighted to find the clue that would exonerate the Shifter.
Hotch briefed the Sheriff and told him that they were looking for the silver claw blade and the four-wheeler and to use every available man to find it. The two pieces of evidence could be anywhere from the town limits of Huntsville, to any of the surrounding mountainside to a trash can on the way to Springdale, where the camera crew was still housed. Emily Felten was too small to move Sherri Swift's body and John Siddall had been in love with the woman, but some of the evidence (the prints in the abandoned van) pointed their way.
Todd was eager to find the clues and emptied the sheriff's office of personnel to hunt it down. As Shifters and experienced trackers, they had a chance of finding the clues. They were warned to under no circumstances touch the evidence. If they found the evidence, they were to call it in and only federal personnel would collect it. Todd easily agreed and left with his people.
Hotch waited ten minutes, while the team was reading the printouts for Sherri Swift's werewolf suspects and then started giving orders. It appeared that Sherri had not realized that the sheriff's department was full of Shifters. Todd was innocent of protecting himself and his deputies, at least. Hotch said, "I want us to interview the residents closest to crime scene. Rossi and JJ, you have the Lacys, to the south. Morgan and Prentiss, you have the Lees, Auers and Livingstons that live closest to town. Reid, you're with me. We're going to visit the Morrises and Kieran."
Rossi raised an eyebrow. "So you noticed that Todd was distancing us from the possible witnesses, as well."
"Yes," Hotch said shortly. "You know the questions to ask. Stay in contact as much as possible depending on the cell coverage."
The team nodded and scattered. They used the SUVs that had been rented for them. Normally they had a driver, but in this case, they didn't want a local around during the interviews. The team was familiar enough with the area to find the houses.
Reid climbed into the passenger's seat as Hotch climbed into the driver's seat. He read through Swift's analysis again and determined that the EN possible Shifters were a single family, living outside of town. The TE possible Shifters lived in the town of Huntsville and the MT was code for 'Mountain Trail' the four-wheeler path along which Sherri Swift had died. Sherri had been suspicious that two of the residents that lived along trail had been Shifters.
Reid shared his conclusions with Hotch and the rest of the team over the phone. Then he relaxed in his seat and waited for the ride to end. He continually mulled over the clues and the profiles and the probably places where Todd and his pack would find the silver claw blade and the four-wheeler.
Finally, Hotch pulled into a gravel driveway and followed it for over a mile to a house. The wooden frame sagged slightly, but was waterproof. It was a single story, with a stone floor porch. This family was poor. A man, followed by two females stood in the shadowed doorway at the sound of the SUV in their yard.
Tawny. That was Reid's first impression of the Morrises. All three at the door had dark blond hair that blended in with their tan skin. Their eyes were brown. Mrs. Morris had slightly darker eyes and hair than her husband and fourteen year old daughter. She was thin and athletic but not as wiry as the others.
If Reid had to guess, he would say that all three of them were werewolves. He had plenty of experience spotting a Shifter after his walk in town with Morgan. It had become easy to spot a shifter: to look at a person, run through Holmes' list and realize 'yes' or 'no.' Reid wondered if it had always been this easy to see for Holmes. Mrs. Morris was the only one who could possibly be a 'normal.' They all had the strength and the lack of tan lines. It was in how they stood and protected each other. Reid knew without a doubt that these were EN1, 2, and 3. He also bet that EN 4 was the sick child inside the house, who was not sick but injured. The Morrises had two daughters and the Shifter that defended herself against Swift had been injured with silver buckshot. Sherri Swift had shot at a werewolf knowing that there was a child under the fur.
"Let me in," Hotch demanded and the Morrises step aside without pause. They only thought twice about the command when Reid snuck in behind. "No," Hotch ordered and they shut their mouths with a click.
"Where is your other daughter?"
All three pointed to the back of the house.
"Take me there."
Bethany Morris was covered with a light blanket on the couch. She was seven.
Reid was so furious at Sherri Swift in that moment that he couldn't think. Bethany had a fever and was in obvious pain. Annalisa was fourteen, old enough to truly respect Hotch's power but young enough to crawl next to her sister to comfort her with her presence. Bethany had the same coloring as the rest of her family. She was just a pint-size version of her coltish sister.
Reid kept back as Hotch calmed the sisters and gained their trust. It was merely a matter of time until they had the full story now. No Shifter could deny Hotch when he gave an order.
"Does he have a pack?" Thomas Morris quietly asked Reid.
Reid snickered a bit but dropped the humor at Hotch's look. "He runs the FBI's BAU." It was a pack in the loosest sense of the term.
"What kind of Shifter is he?" Moira asked. "I can't pinpoint it and normally I can." That was fascinating and a rare gift, indeed. "He's not exactly a werewolf but we had to obey him. It's got to be something close."
"He doesn't Shift."
Moira and Thomas both turned huffy. "We may be hicks," Moira said stiffly, "but we're not stupid. We wouldn't follow Agent Hotchner's orders if he wasn't an alpha Shifter."
Reid looked at Hotch. The other agent was seemingly completely absorbed in making the two girls relaxed and feeling safe, and if Reid wasn't mistaken, was also starting to heal Bethany. He did nod slightly for Reid's benefit. Reid was allowed to tell the secret, the little of it that he actually knew. "Hotch is a Shaman experiment… that worked a little too well."
"I don't understand," Moira shook her head.
"The Shaman was attempting to make an alpha that all Shifters would obey." As a rule, Shifters only obeyed those of the same subset as themselves. A very powerful alpha could get other subsets that were marginally close (ie all mammals to obey a wolf, or all avians to obey a hawk) to obey them, but it was rare. Hotch had never given Reid a clear answer as to when the particular experiment occurred: two decades ago, or two centuries ago. Hotch had ordered him to drop it and like a Shifter, Reid had obeyed and dropped it. "The experiment worked a little too well. When Hotch chooses, he can make anyone obey. My guess is that the Shaman couldn't fight Hotch's," or Hotch's great-great-great grandfather's, "orders. Those who give orders routinely tend not to accept them well. The Shaman created a human that could order any Shifter around, but he (or she) couldn't order which had been the actual goal: to order all Shifters through a proxy." Reid was pretty sure that the actual experiment, whether or not it had been Hotch, had killed the Shaman that had created the genetic traits. Reid knew that it was genetic because he had watched young Jack Hotchner with Morgan. Jack could order Morgan and he could also heal him. Hotch was using Morgan (with his expressed permission) as a practical example of how someone with Jack's talents had a duty to care for all Shifters in his acquaintance and not abuse them.
There was a reason why Shifters obeyed Hotch, he was a true alpha and cared for them. He was sweating at the moment, hard at work healing Bethany. Annalisa watched in awe. She had shoved the blanket off her sister and lifted her shirt. If Reid had any doubt about the Morrises being Shifters, that move erased it. Shifters didn't have the same concepts of nudity as normals.
Reid and the rest watched as Bethany's ugly wounds disappeared. Hotch sat back on his heels to catch his breath. Thomas hurried to the kitchen and returned with one of the straight back chairs. He placed it behind Hotch with respect. Moira fetched a glass of cold water for him.
Hotch nodded his thanks and finally addressed their eyewitness. "Bethany, you tell me the truth and I give you my word that I would have you protected."
"You promise?" Bethany already believed Hotch, because all Shifters believed Hotch. She just wanted to hear the words out loud.
Hotch smiled, like he only smiled at children. "You will be a witness in protective custody, your family will go with you."
"But won't they be mean if they know we're Shifters?"
"Not where Hotch plans on placing you," Reid was quick to reassure Bethany. "The US Marshals have the highest concentration of Shifters than any other domestic force, not counting the Texas Rangers. They specifically place Shifters with handlers that will protect them…"
Hotch cut in, "Like a pack."
"But we'd have to leave this pack behind," Bethany realized sadly. "Todd wouldn't have thrown us out for lying to him, but he wouldn't have been happy."
"Yes, you have to leave." Hotch paused. "Sheriff Todd didn't know it was you."
Bethany shook her head, hair flying. "No. Can we be in your pack?"
"I don't have a pack."
"But you're a wonderful alpha."
Hotch blushed enough to make Reid grin. Reid knew that only a forthright child would have this affect on his boss. An adult would never provoke a response, even by saying the same sentence.
"Tell me what happened," Hotch sat near Bethany's head. The timber of his soft voice demanded the truth.
Bethany wasn't afraid of him or his power over her. "Ms. Swift started following me in town. It was late. I wasn't supposed to be there on my own and I was afraid that I'd get into trouble. I figured that I'd be better at hiding than she would be at seeking. I could keep in the woods and she'd never find me."
"But…" Hotch prompted.
"She shot at me!" Bethany was horrified and shocked and in pain and it all came tumbling out. "Right at the edge of town. It hurt too much. So, so much. I was scared, the only thing I could think of doing was to Shift."
"Which was exactly her intention," Hotch told her.
"After I Shifted, she shot at me again. She hit me again. So I was hurt and trying to run home." Remembering the fear made Bethany start to Shift.
"No," Hotch ordered. He placed a hand on her furry arm. "You're safe. I need you to speak, to tell me what happened."
Bethany obeyed and looked amazed that she did. Normally, a Shifter couldn't reverse the Shift mid-way through the process.
"So you Shifted," Hotch reminded her. "You were running for home and Sherri Swift shot you. What happened next?"
"It hurt. A lot. She kept coming at me. I didn't understand why. She kept trying to hurt me. There was a man and a woman following the woman hurting me. They were on a noisy thing… a four-wheeler. It smelled bad. They just watched. They didn't try to help me or her." Reid noticed that as she remembered the events, names fell to the wayside. She was thinking more as a Shifted animal than as a human at this moment. It was a fascinating revelation; too bad he'd never be able to report it. He had expected that she wouldn't be able to report any actual conversations, but hadn't thought through the other ramifications.
"I was trapped. The other man and woman blocked the way. I needed to get through, so… I bit her. I didn't want to but I just…"
"You were defending yourself," Hotch told her. "You are always allowed to defend yourself. What did you smell?"
"The woman I bit smelled of fear. But I didn't bite her that much," Bethany told Hotch. "I promise. I just wanted her to stop hurting me."
"I understand. Go on, tell me what happened. I won't judge you, Bethany."
"I scratched her too," the girl admitted. "Just enough to hurt her, so she couldn't follow me."
"But you were hurt and you couldn't go far."
"So you crawled away as far as you could go," Hotch supplied. "Did anyone follow you?"
"The other woman wanted to, but the man, he was carrying something," she looked a bit confused, trying to put her memories into a human context. "A video camera?"
"Possibly," Hotch allowed.
"He put down the camera and tried to get the woman I bit cleaned up, but the woman I bit, she didn't want to be cleaned up. She stopped the man from putting the bandages on her. He was really upset that she wouldn't let him help. They were talking. He was pleading. She kept saying 'no, no". I could understand that. She kept on saying it."
Reid stilled. Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved.
Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved.
Surely Sherri Swift didn't believe that a werewolf bite turned one into a Shifter? But Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved.
"Did you see what happened next?"
Bethany nodded. "The unhurt woman talked. She gave the man something shiny and sharp. He said 'no' but not for long. The woman I bit put the shiny, sharp thing on his hand and then submitted. She bared her throat. And… and… the man… he made blood. He made the kill and the smell of blood made me sick. Then he used the shiny, sharp thing on the rest of her body. I wanted to get away. I eventually got away. I didn't want them to hunt me down. I didn't hear anymore. But I could still smell them. I could smell tears from the man. And the standing woman? She smelled like a wolf pack after taking down a deer."
"Satisfied," Hotch translated for Reid's benefit.
"Do you know where they went with the silver claw and four-wheeler?"
Bethany shook her head. "No. I'm sorry?" She didn't like disappointing Hotch.
"Don't worry about it," Hotch reassured her. "We'll find it."
Emily Felten talked both of them into it, for some reason. And then orchestrated the cover-up. Reid was sure the answer to reveal itself. Felten had not turned in all of the evidence. There was video of the fight. Reid was sure that it was already in the hands of Swift Supernatural Exposé, across state lines, along with copies of Sherri Swift's files that had been copies after her death. The BAU had no proof that the evidence existed to get a gag order on the TV show. They had no proof against Emily Felten.
John Siddall had killed the woman he loved because of stupid, stupid folklore. Sherri Swift had not wanted to be saved. Sherri Swift would rather die then chance becoming a Shifter herself. She had had less that a fourteen and a half percent chance of becoming a Shifter, but that had been too much for her.
She had convinced her lover to kill her because of such a slight possibility of turning into what she hated and hunted.
The case was anti-climatic after that. Hotch ordered the Morrises to pack up. He ordered Reid to drive away far enough to find some cell phone reception. He needed to call Morgan and Emily. They were to arrest Emily Felten and John Siddall for the murder of Sherri Swift. Rossi was to give them backup and JJ was to run interference with Stephen Swift and his camera. Neither of the camera crew resisted arrest, but Stephen Swift was not pleased to lose his camera in the middle of an interview.
By the time Sheriff Todd and his deputies finally called in with the locations of the Shifter Blade and four-wheeler, John Siddall had confessed to murder and the Morrises were safe, hidden, outside of the town of Huntsville.
They would never return.
"The Shifter did not kill your sister," Hotch told Stephen two days later. "John Siddall did." Morgan had gotten a confession within five minutes of arresting the cameraman. Siddall broke in the face of the agent's interrogation. Siddall claimed that it was all his idea, that Emily hadn't been involved. It was certainly true that Siddall had killed the woman and had moved her body and then left the van in the junkyard, but he hadn't been the mastermind. Felten had been directing every step of the way but the BAU had no physical evidence connecting her to the crime. They had no way to break Siddall's story or Felten's. They hated to do it, but Siddall was going to jail and Felten was going to walk free.
"Siddall did the right thing," Stephen said. "It was better for Sherri to die than to become a Shifter. It was the right thing for Sherri." He showed no remorse for his sister's death. "Even Dad is proud of her last choice. Swift Supernatural Exposé will continue without Sherri. Sherri would like that. If you have any further information to give me, please call my personal assistant, Emily Felten," Stephen motioned to a semi-familiar face at his elbow. She was only semi-familiar because it was obvious that she had had a makeover since their last meeting. With a new haircut, dye job and contact lens, she looked completely different. She was wearing a brand new suit that –if Reid wasn't mistaken- would have cost her two full months of her previous salary.
Reid deduced several things: one, Felten had gotten a significant raise from Stephen and two, it was a reward for a job well done. Felten had gotten rid of Sherri and bagged Stephen a huge show on which to build his career. Three, Reid had absolutely no proof. What a Shifter witnessed in his or her Shifted state was still debated as permissible in the courts. Even Reid could attest to the usefulness of such testimonies, ie the smell of satisfaction.
"I've got video evidence of the youngest were on record," Stephen bragged. He didn't even need to be prompted to spill the news. He wasn't as smart as his sister; Sherri Swift would have never admitted to the video evidence before airing it. Stephen did have a reason to be smug; Hotch would never be able to find a federal judge to confiscate the video before show time.
"She's merely a child," Hotch told Stephen Swift. "That was shot full of silver. She didn't try to defend herself until then."
"She's a monster," Stephen bit out. "A monster." Emily Felten at his side was equally unmoved.
"You're putting her in danger."
"She didn't kill your sister. We have your sister's killer in custody."
Reid could see that fact didn't matter to Stephen Swift.
Stephen shrugged. "I've already turned in my report. The family of werewolves will be featured tonight." He glanced at his watch. "In two hours, everyone will know about them."
Hotch tried to humanize the family by naming them. Reid knew that Hotch knew that Stephen Swift would not change his mind, so he was fishing for something. "Thomas, Moira, Annalisa, and Bethany Morris are humans. If Swift Supernatural Exposé features them, they will be hunted down."
"They are animals. They don't deserve your protection."
"They are protected under the US Constitution. Same as you and me."
Stephen looked suspicious. "Not same as me. We have nothing in common. Maybe same as you because you are a were. What will I find if I dig at your background?"
Hotch's smile was threatening. "Please do. It'll distract you from finding true Shifters and we'll all be safer."
Stephen looked like he wanted to punch Hotch, but was smart enough to know that it'd only get him thrown in jail for assaulting an FBI agent. He wasn't smart enough to know that Hotch was baiting him. "The show will air tonight and by Friday, the weres will be dead. I don't even have to suggest that it needs to happen. My viewers understand what this country needs." Stephen Swift stomped off, thinking he had gotten the last word.
Hotch and Reid watched him go. Then Hotch turned and touched the keypad to his laptop. "Did you get all of that?" he asked.
Garcia's voice answered him. "Loud and clear and in full color, my sneaky commandant."
Hotch nodded. "Good. Send it to former Representative Santoro. I'm sure she'll be able to put it to good use." Then he looked at Reid. "We can't stop the airing of Swift Supernatural Exposé, not at this juncture, but we can put the Morrises into protective custody as promised. The arrangements have been made. We're driving to the exchange. We leave in an hour."
The Morrises might be forced to leave their lives, but with Stephen Swift in charge of Swift Supernatural Exposé, it wouldn't last long. The man had a big mouth and half his sister's smarts. Santoro would bury him and his show in court.
They'd be off the air in six months.
Hotch chose Reid to accompany him throughout the entire process to deliver the Morrises to their new home and their US Marshal handlers. Reid knew what to expect. The Morris family was quiet and subdued as their entire life was ripped out from under them, but they trusted Hotch to do the right thing, even if their first impression of their Marshal handler was that she was rude and mean.
Unfortunately, their first impression would be their lasting impression. Mary Shannon was rude and mean. She mentioned the Swift Exposé that had destroyed the Morris's life and that Reid and the rest had pointedly not watched. She picked at that unhealed wound without reservation. That was Mary Shannon, the very definition of casually cruel. She was also the exception to every shifter stereotype Reid could remember, and Reid could remember them all. Neither of Marshal Shannon's biological parents were Shifters and yet the acidic woman was a were-puma. Reid had personally tested her blood against that of her mother and salvia letter sample from her father. The couple that Shannon believed to be her parents were her parents and yet neither of them carried known Shifter DNA.
Also "cats" and "dogs" notoriously quarreled. Shannon's best friend and partner was a werewolf. She was an alpha and yet she took direction from her "normal" boss. She and Morgan hated each other even though they were both felines Shifters. She was pretty much immune to Hotch's powers, though she respected him enough to do favors. Or maybe she was susceptible. Reid couldn't tell. It didn't matter. With or without the Shifter DNA, Shannon was one of the best Witness Protection Marshals in the United States.
Her partner, Marshall Mann was fourth generation active werewolf and US Marshal. He was genuinely a nice, smart man. His great-grandfather was the first known werewolf accepted into the Marshal service and he opened the door for many others.
Reid knew that Hotch wouldn't trust Shifters in Witness Protection to anyone but these two. The Morrises would be safe in New Mexico.
"All families have their secrets, most people would never know them, but they know there are spaces, gaps where the answers should be, where someone should have sat, where someone used to be. A name that is never uttered, or uttered just once and never again. We all have our secrets."
― Cecelia Ahern, The Book of Tomorrow