The first time it happened, it was a nondescript day. Well, as nondescript as any day on a case could be, Hotch supposed. They had been here for nine days now.
Hotch got a phone call from Haley. Apparently, some creep had texted a message to their landline. That had the possibility of being a stalker or someone having entered the wrong phone number; however, the usefulness of the message didn't fit with that pattern.
The message read this: "Agent Hotchner, the MO of the murders in Oklahoma corresponds with ancient Greek ritual killings."
Well, that was just plain weird. After calming Haley down, he called Unit Chief Jason Gideon. Gideon understood his concern, intended to follow up the lead and had the technical analyst track down the phone that had send the message.
They cracked the case within a day, thanks to that lead. Unfortunately, the phone appeared to be harder to find. The signal came from Caltech, and there didn't appear to be due cause for further investigation. Besides Haley being worried sick.
Perhaps three months later, Haley called Hotch again distressed. There had been another text message send to their phone. Again, it helped them solve the case. Again, it was ruled there was no due cause for concern.
After the third text message, Hotch send a message back with his own cell phone. It politely requested that the other stopped sending messages to that particular phone number, but that it could send any such information to Hotch's cell phone. The next time a message came, it arrived indeed on Hotch's cell.
It then fell into some sort of pattern. Every two or three months, Hotch would receive a text message. Hotch tried to call back – never mind the caller ID had been blocked, that's why they had technical analysts – and text back, but it never received a response. Then suddenly the location changed. The message had come from Las Vegas once before but it had now come from MIT three times in a row.
The thing was, the information had helped them crack more than one case. It had sometimes helped them identify the unsub quicker than they had hoped for. More than one victim had been saved because of it.
What was also interesting was that the information showed no inside knowledge of the case; it was based almost solely on what the media had reported. A message usually consisted of this: "Agent Hotchner, the MO of the murders in (state) corresponds with (Shakespearean methods of killing, ancient rituals, whatever it was). It was always about murder, which could be explained because of the information that could be gained from the media alone on killings – besides the fact that any other crime didn't get as much attention, a rape didn't leave a body that was photographed by media. Nor did a kidnapping. The information Hotch got wasn't always useful, but it was always right. Sometimes it was information they already had, sometimes it was new.
Hotch was considering convincing Gideon to allow him to call MIT and ask about any transferees from Caltech – there was this loophole in regulations allowing for Bureau agents to check on "persons of interest". Persons of interest were civilians who were desirable for the Bureau to employ or to recruit because of certain factors, which meant an extreme aptitude for something or another, most of the time. However, quite suddenly the messages stopped. Instead he got calls from payphones anywhere in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It were always payphones with no camera surveillance nearby and never twice the same one. When Hotch picked up the phone, a muffled voice would say, "Agent Hotchner? It's me." The person on the other side would then blatantly ignore whatever Hotch had to say – it were always questions but he did offer a "thank you" now and then – and deliver his message in the same style he had previously delivered his text messages. Never mind that one just didn't ignore Hotch. The times when Hotch didn't answer the phone he would get a voicemail which was exactly the same as any of the text messages had been.
It should have been investigated. Of course it should have been. The thing was, though, that it was explainable. Someone who knew just about anything could have gotten all this information from media coverage only. And it would be quite impossible that for the last four years, the BAU had solved cases helped by anonymous messages from someone who didn't appear to have an ulterior motive.
When a case took them to Cambridge, it was damn near impossible to stop himself from investigating. He knew Gideon was curious, too. Then he got a surprising phone call.
"Agent Hotchner?" The muffled voice again. Funny, this time it wasn't followed by the ever-present "It's me." Hotch was curious, because the voice seemed to be expecting an answer this time.
"Yes?" Hotch replied warily.
"I have no idea about the MO of this victim, but I wondered if you wanted to meet once your case is over?"
If it had been anyone other than Hotch, he might have fainted. Of course, this was Hotch, and Hotch didn't faint, but he was surprised.
Hotch was shocked into silence, though.
Then the voice on the other side lost some of its ever-present control and began to ramble just a bit. "Of course, you don't have to, and it's not that I want something from you, but I thought you might want to know who has been sending you messages for the past four years."
Strangely enough, Hotch believed him.
Hotch didn't want to give too much away, though. He decided not to tell the other person that yes, he wanted to meet with him, but searched for information first. "Are there any conditions tied to that proposal?" Hotch asked just a bit warily.
The voice on the other end paused for a second but replied quickly. "We meet in public, which can be anything from a park bench to a diner, but not a police station. It should be within a ten mile radius from MIT and not more than a mile from public transport. I'm coming alone, you can bring someone. You can pick the time providing I don't have other plans, which I usually don't but I do go to university. Oh, and if you want to go to a diner or something, I'm not covering your expenses."
Hotch thought it sounded very reasonable, although that last line was a bit.. over the top. Socially awkward, Hotch's mind supplied. Actually, those conditions were pretty lax. He was allowing Hotch to decide everything. Hotch desperately wanted to ask the other man's name or anything really, but he knew that would be useless. He also was curious about the other man apparently relying on public transport.
"I'll have to discuss this. Where can I reach you?" Hotch answered.
The other person didn't appear to have thought of that. "I'll send you a message with my cell phone later this evening. You can reach me there."
Hotch was surprised. "Why the change from cell phone to payphones anyway?" He really was curious about that. Hotch knew that he was always nearing informal speech when talking to this person, but when you didn't even know the gender of the other person – although he was pretty sure it was male – it made it difficult sometimes.
The other person hesitated for a moment. "I was concerned you might be tracking it. Any smart person would have tracked it, so I don't blame you if you did. But I didn't want you to succeed in tracking me down. You can of course track my cell now, but what use would that be? I've already offered to meet with you and I'm not going to answer any of the questions you've been asking for the last two years if you do." He was silent for a moment. "By the way, I don't have a gun license nor a criminal record."
Hotch blinked, stunned at what the man had said just because it was true. The last sentence, though, surprised him again. Mostly because of the wording.
"Interesting wording there. You don't have a gun license. Most people would say they don't carry a gun."
The person on the other side replied, his voice muffled as it ever was but still managing to sound as if the statement was completely logical without sounding demeaning. "I don't, but there is no way you would just believe that because I say it. At the beginning of this conversation I addressed you as agent Hotchner, thus implying I know you are a Federal Agent. I am pretty sure I am calling you on your work phone. And although the law on lying to a Federal Agent outside of an investigation is pretty hazy, I don't want to get in trouble for it. By saying I don't have a gun license I am stating a fact which you would be able to confirm if you would know my name. Saying I don't carry a gun is also stating a fact but is a lot harder for you to confirm. Thus I say I don't have a gun license."
Hotch was impressed. "Well-reasoned."
The other person was silent for a moment, and Hotch thought he might have shrugged. "I have studied psychology."
That was also something Hotch found intriguing. As long as Hotch only asked for semi-useful, trivial information, he would get semi-useful, trivial information, but it wasn't just answering questions (now and then) – it was actively volunteering information. If Hotch asked what he really wanted to know – who was this person? – he wouldn't get an answer.
"Was that all, Agent Hotchner?" The other voice was polite, but the conversation had stretched out quite a bit. Really, Hotch wasn't used to making long phone calls. Most of his phone calls consisted of "Agent Hotchner – We'll be there right away" on cases, and he really did most of his conversations in person. Not that he and Haley couldn't chat for an hour.
This was also the first time the other voice hadn't hung up on him. Oh, he did say goodbye sometimes, but never asked if there was more. Hotch was pleased, it appeared as though he was building some rapport.
After concluding the conversation he set to call Gideon.
Gideon was curious about this man, Hotch knew, and as expected, didn't really need convincing. The two of them would meet him.
As Hotch finished the call, he saw he had a text message. He smiled when he saw the caller ID wasn't blocked.
Three days later, they had finished the case. Hotch called the other person and they agreed to meet for lunch. They "chatted" for a while in the same style as they had three days earlier. Hotch was intrigued. When Hotch asked the other man how they would recognize him, the other hesitated.
"I'm a lot younger than you expect. I'm male. I will search you out."
That was also interesting. Saying he was "a lot" younger than Hotch would expect him to be implied that even if he adjusted his guess as to the other man's age, he would be wrong. Hotch didn't doubt the other man – he was apparently right as to the gender of the other – would know what Hotch looked like. He had found his phone number, and there had to be some pictures from him online somewhere. It could even be from TV coverage.
It appeared, though, that even a thrice-adjusted guess to the other man's age would have been wrong.
The man on the other side of the table looked like a teenager and dressed as an ancient college professor. Hotch likely would have stared or done something stupid if not for the fact that he was Aaron Hotchner and that he didn't stare. Gideon, of course, was unsurprised, but it was nearly impossible to surprise Gideon.
"I'm Spencer Reid. Well, it's actually Dr. Spencer Reid now." If the man wouldn't have radiated sincerity, Hotch wouldn't have believed him. As it was, he was still doubtful. Hotch and Gideon introduced themselves. As they had decided, Hotch took the lead in the conversation.
"So you're the one who has been contacting me the past four years." Hotch said neutrally. It must have been more than the supposed doctor expected, because he seemed to relax somewhat. Honestly, even if Gideon and Hotch had been sure the other man was lying, they would have progressed like this, so it didn't really mean anything.
"Yes, sir. You are the only one on your team whose name I had that wears a wedding ring. I figured that if I tried to find your phone number, I would have the most chance of someone giving you my message."
That was impressive thinking. And Spencer Reid was either a master manipulator and psychopath – and the BAU could usually spot these a mile away – or he was honestly telling the truth. But for someone so young, the latter option would be nearly impossible. On the other hand, the first option was perhaps even more impossible for someone that age. This Spencer Reid also didn't behave in the way a psychopath would – he showed nervousness, for example.
Needless to say, Hotch was even more intrigued.
"That's good thinking," Gideon replied.
Reid flashed him a surprised smile. "Thanks."
"You were right," Hotch said. "You're younger than I expected."
Reid nodded. "I get that a lot. I'm eighteen, in case you were wondering. That's indirectly the reason why I was protective of my identity before I reached my majority."
Hotch knew better than to ask for the full reason.
"It's impressive to have a doctorate at your age," Gideon replied, sounding sincere and curious.
Reid shrugged. "Of course it is. Most people are demotivated by the age requirement."
Hotch didn't know what he meant by that. "What do you mean?"
"You have to be eighteen before you can receive a doctorate. That implies it's impossible to meet the requirements before you have reached that age and implies it's unlikable to do so before you're twenty-six. Which isn't bad thinking, but it's demotivating and illogical."
Hotch was honestly curious what this man thought would be an appropriate age to receive a doctorate.
Gideon asked. "What age do you think you could have received one?"
"I didn't really work on it after I was sixteen," Reid admitted. "Afterwards, I thought about studying for another, but I decided to go for BAS, because it's just silly to have to wait two years between finishing and presenting your thesis. I have three BAS now, in chemistry, engineering and psychology. I'm starting for a BAS in sociology next semester. I'm also working on getting a doctorate in chemistry. The one I have now is in mathematics." He all said this as though he was talking about the weather.
The waitress came by so they could order their lunches