A dull ache had formed at the base of my skull, radiating down my spine. I was beyond ready to go home. My lips tilted at the word "home." I wouldn't call it that exactly. It wasn't anything glamorous. Just a one bedroom that gave me a place to sleep. I rarely spent time there.
My chin tilted. I met the stern gaze of my sergeant. His normal smirk of annoyance was gone. In its place, a grim look nearing desperation. I knew I wouldn't be going home. None of us would. I muttered an unladylike expression beneath my breath.
"He's killed again, hasn't he?"
It was a moot question. Of course, he had. It kept in line with his pattern…. a pattern I'd told the sergeant about three months ago. He hadn't believed me. He'd called me crazy, said that it wasn't my place to look for other cases to investigate.
"I've called in the BAU." He muttered, clearly unhappy about the idea of other hands in his kitchen.
I bit back a smile. "Good. Maybe they can help catch this son of a bitch."
"I've made you lead detective on this case. You can be the one to bring them up to speed."
He thought he was punishing me. In his eyes, he was. But not in mine. The BAU were the perfect people to bring this monster to justice. I didn't say this of course. I merely nodded. Once he was gone, I rose from my desk. I slid open a drawer, pulling file after file from it. The BAU would have no time to waste once they arrived. I needed to have things ready.
"Three hours later and every inch of the once empty bulletin board was filled. Twenty bodies, going as far back as five years, stared at me. The first body had appeared back when I was just a rookie in the academy. The second, a year later. The MO was identical. Runaway teens were no rare thing in the city. No one would think twice about a troubled teenager disappearing from their fourth or fifth foster home. They were the perfect victims.
I glanced down at my watch. The BAU wouldn't be in for another hour at least. Perhaps I could manage a few minutes of Z's at my desk. I make a quick exit, shutting the door behind me. I begin to make my way over to my desk when, from the corner of my eye, I see them.
Though I'm glad they are here, I am exhausted. I know I look it. I haven't gotten a proper night's sleep in months, partially due to the serial killer I knew existed but that everyone else was too afraid to admit haunted the city. The other reason was…more complicated. It was something not even the detectives I worked with knew about.
"SSA Aaron Hotchner." I overheard him say, reaching my sergeant. span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanI'd managed to pour half a cup of poorly made coffee before steps echoed behind me. I didn't need to turn to know who stood there
"Coffee any good?"
Only then did I turn. I brought the bitter liquid to my lips, nose crinkling. "It's not bad-" I paused a beat. "If you enjoy guzzling battery acid."
A grin spread across his grizzled face. "It's been too long, Natalie."
My head tilted. "Five years, four months, one week, one day, and-"I glanced at my watch again."-six minutes. But, hey, who's counting?"
At this point, I realize all eyes are on us. Right. They have a case. No…WE have a case. "Let me introduce you to the team."
David Rossi. He'd been younger the last time we met. Or maybe it only seemed that way? I'd been in my last year of the police academy. He'd actually attempted to poach me, to try and get me to join the FBI…even though, at the time, he'd been retired. I'd considered it…for all of five seconds. I didn't want to be a Special Agent. I barely wanted to be a police officer. My heart just wasn't in it either way.
Now, that wasn't to say I didn't enjoy certain aspects of my job. The bureaucracy was just hard to abide by sometimes. I'd gotten into trouble on more than one occasion due to what they called my "insubordinate attitude."
I followed Rossi over to where the rest of the BAU members stood. To the outside eye, our behavior might have been construed as "flirting." In a way, maybe it was. I'd held a little crush on Rossi back in the day. We'd kissed. One time. That was it. He'd shut me down. I was "too young" for him he claimed. He was right.
"Natalie. This is SSA Aaron Hotchner, Derek Morgan, Emily Prentiss, our media liaison Jennifer Jareua." His gaze slid over to the youngest of them all, "And Dr. Spencer Reid." He waved a hand towards me. "Natalie and I go way back."
"Seargent Grant says you're the lead detective on this case." Hotchner spoke, deciding to cut right to the chase./p
I nod. "Yeah." I motion them towards the small office where I'd done all my work. "I first noticed a pattern five years ago, when the first known victim surfaced." I began to explain as we made our approach.
"Five years? You've been investigating this for five years?" Hotchner commented. "Why weren't we called in sooner?"
We entered the room. I waited for each of them to enter before returning to my board. I flipped it over for all to see. A hushed silence fell over them. "Up until three hours ago, no one even knew he existed. Well, no one but me."
Dr. Reid took a step forward, fingers pushing long strands of hair from his face. His eyes landed on me a moment before returning back to the board. "This is quite extensive."
"And it's just the tip of the iceburg." I sighed. "I believe he's been killing for a lot longer than five years. These are just the ones I've managed to connect him to." I'd tagged each name on a map. "He never kills twice in the same location which is why he was so hard to track. He crossed numerous state lines, switched up his dump sites. Some he stabbed; others were shot. Hell, one was eviscerated with her throat slashed."
"How do we know it's the same unsub?" Prentiss was the next to speak up.
"I pulled each case file." I waved towards the pile of files on the table before them. "There was one detail that connected them, something that was never released to the press."
Rossi plucked a case file from the desk. "Melissa Hart. Sixteen years old. Runaway." He continued to read. "Her hands were bound with a rosary."
I nodded. "And not just hers." Each one of them took a file. "They all were. Each and every one was found with a rosary looped around their wrists."
In that moment, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my chest. From the way they buried themselves in the files, I knew I had something. After five years of not being believed, of being called crazy, someone finally believe me.
"Your Sergeant said there was a new body?" Hotchner asked with a sigh
"Abigail Adams. Seventeen. Washed up in the river a few hours ago. Only-"
"Only what?" Rossi spoke after my pause extended for longer than a few deep breaths of air.
"This one wasn't found with a wrist bound rosary. He shoved it down her throat."
"Emily. Reid. You to go to the crime scene. span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanDerek and I will canvas the neighborhood, see if anyone saw or heard anything. JJ. You talk to the foster parents." Hotchner's eyes flickered to Rossi. "Rossi. Since you and the detective are so well acquainted, I want you to go over the case files. See if she missed anything."
I crossed my arms over my chest. "I am very good at my job, Agent Hotchner. If something was missed, it wasn't done by me."
"I appreciate that, Detective. But we were brought it to assist your department with this case. We need to collect our own data in order to deliver an accurate profile."
I considered his answer for a moment. "Fine.