I have finished my initial examination of your most recent paper. You have not resigned me to your apparent abandonment of the true sciences, but I will admit that your findings were sound and your conclusion fascinating.
Your inquiries into my personal life are appreciated. I have been doing well.
S. Cooper, Ph.D., ScD.
Thank you for your (relatively) kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the paper. I am looking forward to examining the work you're researching now. I hope that you will not let recent events affect your ambitions.
Although you did not ask, I am doing well myself. I find the work I'm engaged in to be very fulfilling.
S. Reid, Ph.D.
Saturday, 7:30 a.m. PST
Sheldon had hung up the phone with Reid feeling marginally relieved. He'd stayed up all night until it would be (barely) socially acceptable to call his friend and ask for help. The anxiety had been screaming in his head keeping him from true rest, anyway. Despite common knowledge to the contrary, he knew when he was well out of his depth, when… feelings made thinking difficult. He'd seen the pattern, of course, yes… any child or reasonably competent adult who habitually watched CSI could spot the pattern, see how Penny would fit it.
Anything beyond that was outside of his comfort zone, and all the arrogance in the world couldn't prevent him from admitting that… when it came to Penny he'd do things he would never do for anyone else: drive illegally, share his spot…
Ask for help.
Finally, he began to hear the sounds of someone stirring in Leonard's room. His roommate was waking up, and he could tell Leonard what he'd done. Leonard, who believed he was working himself into a tizzy over nothing. Sheldon couldn't deny that, in the past, his anxiety had led him to jump to conclusions, to skip the logical steps… to verify results. But over the past few days, he'd consciously fought what his subconscious was screaming at him. He had, of course, been following the news story carefully: he often monitored crime in Pasadena so he would know what areas to avoid, which areas were relatively safe.
He replayed that final moment in his head a thousand times. If he'd said good-bye, added a caveat to be careful… if he had acted like a concerned friend and offered to go with her, the same way she would offer to go the comic store with him…
Leonard's sigh announced his presence at the door.
"Are you still awake?"
"I missed my bedtime 7.2 hours ago, Leonard."
Leonard shook his head and went to the kitchen, forcing himself through the routine of making coffee. "So take a sleeping pill."
"Over 100 million sleeping pills were prescribed to Americans in the last year," Sheldon said absently, "none of them to me."
"I have a bottle in the medicine cabinet."
Sheldon shot Leonard a look. "Prescription drug abuse is a crime, Leonard."
"Arrest me. No cop would press charges knowing I'd have to deal with you on no sleep."
Sheldon shifted in his seat. "Leonard, I have something to tell you… about Penny."
"Did she call to check in?" Leonard asked, a glimmer of hope in his eye.
"No, she won't, Leonard, as I've said. That's not in the pattern."
"Sheldon, you can't know for sure that some psychopath…"
Leonard looked exasperated. "What?"
"Given the way the crimes are presented, the pattern and lack of evidence, the perpetrator is most likely a sociopath."
Leonard's eyebrows knitted together. "What have you been doing all night?"
"Research. Just because you refuse to do anything about Penny's abduction doesn't mean my hands are tied."
It took him a minute, because Leonard never really "fired at all cylinders", as George Cooper used to say, without at least a pot and a half of coffee in him, but eventually he got there and asked the question that Sheldon had both been dreading and anticipating.
"Sheldon, what the hell did you do?"
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PST
Just outside of Pasadena Airspace
"Don't look at me like that."
Emily was startled out of her near-trance by the sound of Spencer's voice. She'd been contemplating the evidence, yes, but she'd also been thinking about a young Spencer Reid - what he must have been like in college… what a friend from that era might think of him now. Reid couldn't read her mind, there was no way to tell she'd been thinking about him, other than her eyes had unfocused in his general direction. She decided to play it off.
"I wasn't looking at you in any particular way. I was just… thinking."
"My childhood wasn't that bad."
Emily's eyebrows raised. "I didn't think it was."
"Schizophrenic mother, abandoned by my father at a young age, an emancipated minor by 16 so I could make medical decisions and attend graduate and doctoral schools… it's not an unreasonable assumption. I certainly don't fault you for it."
"But really, it wasn't that bad. There were long stretches of time where my mother was medicated and was practically lucid. She made sure my teachers challenged and inspired me; stepped in when they couldn't or wouldn't."
Emily raised her hands in protest. "I don't know where this is coming from. Reid, I swear, I would never make assumptions…"
"Everyone makes assumptions, Prentiss. It's easier, because we're profilers. I suppose I could be kinder and call them suppositions. Given A and B, C. But it wasn't awful. It might have been, from time to time, lonely…"
"But then I met Sheldon."
"Oh." Emily sat back.
"There were some whispers, I remember. Professors who worried that we would engage in some sort of intellectual super battle. IQs at 50 paces. But you know, his interests were always slightly to the left of mine. I hadn't quite figured out what my path would be, but Sheldon was a born physicist… a Feynman convert. Mostly, it was just nice to have someone who, even if he couldn't express it, understood."
"You said you hadn't talked in a while?" Emily leaned forward, ready to reengage.
Reid shrugged – a gesture that spoke a thousand words. "Life," he said simply.
Emily nodded. No one understood that quite as well as she did.
Saturday, 1:05 p.m. PST
Bob Hope Airport, Burbank, California
"Sheldon, you're telling me you have a friend in the FBI?"
"I have said so repeatedly for the last six hours. I honestly don't know why you're surprised by this, Leonard."
Leonard's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "You don't know why I'm surprised that you have a friend I don't know about."
"I find your assumption that you know everything about my life, past and present, to be both presumptuous and based on faulty logic."
Leonard whistled. "Someone's touchy."
"Penny is missing," Sheldon hissed.
"She's probably okay," Leonard said. "She's gone away without telling us before."
Sheldon shook his head once. "I issued a red alert. I warned her…"
"I find your assumption that we all obey every whim of your crazy little mind to be both presumptuous and based on faulty logic."
Sheldon crossed his arms and chose to ignore Leonard's barb. "They should be unloading the plane any minute now."
"Is your friend expecting you?" Leonard asked. "If they're FBI agents, won't they already have an escort?"
Sheldon looked unworried. "Someone from the local office will pick them up. I just… I have some information on Penny I think they should have."
"Sheldon… you don't even know if she's really missing. She could be halfway to Nebraska by now. That's what the local cops think happened anyway."
"He saw things my way eventually."
"You had to browbeat him into sub… oh… Hello." Leonard's face was slowly turning red, and his arms and gone to the middle of his chest, defensively… a sure sign an attractive potential mate was within a 100-yard radius. Sheldon looked up and tried to control his features so his relief wouldn't be obvious. He strode forward, hand extended.
Leonard couldn't exactly stop his jaw from dropping. Who was this guy?
"Dr. Reid," Sheldon said evenly. Sheldon waited patiently while Reid retrieved a bottle of hand santizer from his pocket and used it efficiently before shaking Sheldon's hand.
"Dr. Cooper," he said, surprise evident in his tone. "I thought we'd see you later?'
"Is this your friend, Reid?" A beautiful black haired woman asked, her hand coming to rest gently on Reid's shoulder before it moved away. "I'm Agent Emily Prentiss. I work with Reid." She didn't offer her hand.
"It was our plan for you to… interview me later, yes," Sheldon said, ignoring both Prentiss and Leonard, and reached in his bag for a folder. "I just wanted to give you this."
"Ah, thank you," Reid said, not sparing the folder a look. "Sheldon, we're going to do our best to help your friend, but… you've got to let our process work."
"I wouldn't presume to operate on myself," Sheldon said. "I am trusting you, Reid."
And then he spun on his heel and started walking towards Leonard's car.
Leonard started after him, but turned apologetically. "I'm sorry. He's really not trying to be rude."
Spencer looked genuinely confused. "Yes… I know. Don't you?"
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. EST
Somewhere in Pasadena, California
The air was getting close – it smelled dirty, like sweat and fear and urine…. Not hers. Penny hadn't sunk that far, yet. But it was something to file away, something to think about.
This is not the first time he's done this.
Her hands clenched and then unclenched in the box. He hadn't tied her hands – he was far too confident in her inability to lift the top of it off and away from her. If one of the guys were here – hell, if Bernadette were here, she might be able to tell Penny a way – some minor miracle of physics, that she could push the absurdly heavy lid off.
But that wasn't her luck. No, she would get snatched by herself, and she was no genius. She hadn't spent hours laying awake at night figuring out what she would do if something horrible ever happened to her, the way the guys planned (half-in-jest, half-seriously) for all of the stereotypical apocalypses of science fiction. She'd laughed at them. She was wishing, now, that she'd thought to ask: Say, what happens if a lunatic puts me in a box? How do I get out of that alive?
Through the box, she heard whistling. A jaunty type of tune… something a little old-fashioned, something she should know… it tickled the back of her mind, even as it sent chills down her spine. She thought about screaming, then thought enough to decide not to.
Keep your head down and keep quiet, Penny-girl, her father's voice whispered in her head, those deer are more afraid of you than you are of them and we don't want even the scent of you on the wind… head down.
She took a deep breath, and held it.