Fandom: Criminal Minds
Prompt for 30_sweets: #26 Hooray!!
Disclaimer: Neither the show nor the characters belong to me, they belong to CBS. Nonetheless, I love to borrow them from time to time.
Summary: Part 17/? of the ‘No more sweets’-series.
After having received the package
with the fateful contents, Penelope had considered throwing in the towel,
asking Hotch to take her off this case. She’d wanted to head back to
She’d even considered quitting her job. Sometimes, this was just too much to handle. Having to look at this video was one thing – and it was hard enough. But receiving the organs of his latest victims… That simply was too much. How was she supposed to not identify with the victims now that this guy had started playing with her?!
She just wanted this case to be over. She didn’t want to have to think about this monster and what he did to his victims anymore. She wanted to crawl up into bed and hide from the rest of the world, hoping this would pass as soon as possible.
But she knew it wasn’t possible. The evil wasn’t going to stop in front of her doorstep. There was no place to be safe – and she knew that if she didn’t help catch this monster, she would never feel safe again anywhere, not even with Derek around to protect her.
Moreover, she would feel responsible for the rest of her life if she gave up now. This UNSUB wouldn’t stop killing – not if they didn’t stop him. She was one of the good people – and if the good people surrendered, the evil would rule the world. She couldn’t let that happen.
She thought about Derek’s words, that the evil only strengthened the good in the world. She desperately wanted to believe this. She wanted to be able to draw strength from the evil this UNSUB brought into the world – the strength to catch him.
Sighing, she hit the play button for what felt like the thousandth time. She saw the UNSUB entering the room, standing in the back for a few moments, watching his whimpering victim. From what little she saw, she couldn’t even tell how tall the UNSUB was.
Her program had calculated his height as about 5 feet 9 inches and his weight as about 190 pounds. Nothing special. He was neither remarkably small nor remarkably tall for a man, nor was he obese or malnourished. There was nothing special about him, nothing that made him stick out from the wide mass of people.
Nothing, except for the fact that he was torturing young women in unbelievably cruel ways.
The UNSUB walked over to his victim. Amanda was crying, fear written all over her face. She was naked already. Penelope couldn’t help but wonder if he kept the victims naked the whole time he held them hostage. How long did he keep them, anyway?
Was it to humiliate them? To make them stay out of shame even if they had the chance to escape? Or was it just to make the torturing worse?
The UNSUB walked over to a small table where he had laid out all his instruments. He looked at them for a while, before he picked up a knife.
Penelope stopped the video for a moment. She knew too well what would happen next, and after that…
Her eyes fell upon the fortune cookies that were left from the Chinese lunch Derek had brought her. They had stopped eating when they’d received the package. The package containing the latest victim’s heart. The package this monster had sent to her.
Did he know how hard she was taking this case?
Well, as Derek had said, their names hadn’t been that hard to guess – at least, not for a local. And if he had been able to find out their names, it wouldn’t have been too hard for him to read from her face how unable she was to handle this case.
Maybe that was why he had picked her to send the heart to. It had been addressed to her, after all. Not to the police station. Not to the FBI unit. To her.
Did he want to scare her off so that she stopped working the case? Didn’t that mean he was afraid that she might eventually find something?
If he knew she was analyzing the video footage, and that scared him, it meant that there really was something for her to find, didn’t it?
Unwillingly, she hit the play button again. She watched the UNSUB torture Amanda with the knife, heard her whimper. There was nothing new, nothing she hadn’t seen yet. There was only blood and whimpering.
He went back to the table with the instruments and took the pear.
Penelope stopped the video, rubbing her eyes for a moment. There was nothing to find. There simply was nothing in it she hadn’t seen yet, and nothing she wanted to watch again.
She took one of the fortune cookies and cracked it open. She wasn’t hungry, but she needed some distraction from the video.
The sweet scent filled her mouth, and she closed her eyes for a moment, trying to forget this case and the video and remember the last time she’d had fortune cookies with Derek. It had been only a few days before her birthday, and they’d decided to hit the town together.
She remembered the saying she’d found in her fortune cookie back then. “When it is gloomy outside, your smile shows others true sunshine.”
Derek had remarked that it was almost scary how well the fortune cookie seemed to know her, and she had laughed.
Penelope couldn’t help but wonder if Derek still thought of her that way, and if she would ever be able to truly smile again. She didn’t feel like smiling anymore. There was no reason for her to smile, after all.
They were stuck with a horrible case, and she was unable to find a lead to the UNSUB. They didn’t even have a suspect yet. And worst of all, the case was tearing her and Derek apart.
Penelope carefully unfolded the paper from her fortune cookie and read the line out loud. “The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.” Frowning, she placed it next to her computer, mumbling, “I really doubt that.”
She needed to get back to work. She couldn’t stop trying to find a lead just because this case was eating her up. She should be able to deal with it, not ready to give up.
Looking at Amanda’s face twisted with pain, she took a deep breath and let the cursor hover over the play button. She needed to find this guy, if only to serve justice. She needed to find him for Amanda and all the other victims.
What was there to find? She’d watched the video so often, and still, there was nothing she hadn’t seen yet.
You identify too much with the victim, a voice said in her head, but this time, it wasn’t Derek’s voice as it usually was. It was her own voice. What had Derek told her? They didn’t look at the victims and what the UNSUB did to them; they looked at hints giving them an idea where the victim was held hostage. They didn’t listen to the screaming and whimpering, but tried to hear background noises telling them where the UNSUB was.
“Okay,” Penelope whispered to herself. “Don’t look at the victim or the UNSUB. Look at the surroundings!”
Staring at the screen, as she refused to hit the play button again, she frowned. There was something in the right corner, far behind the UNSUB – something she hadn’t noticed while the video was playing.
She went back to the beginning of the video and noticed that, when the UNSUB entered and before he walked over to his victim, he went to that particular spot. Hitting a few keys, she magnified the spot to see what it was, and her eyes narrowed.
Was that possible?
She fast-forwarded the video to the end. Looking at the time-code, she frowned. This was strange.
Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she recalled the autopsy reports of the latest victims. Comparing the times of death, she gasped. How was that possible? He couldn’t be that precise about it. Unless…
Going back to the beginning of the video again, Penelope closed her eyes, trying to listen carefully to every sound she heard – other than the screaming and whimpering. But there didn’t seem to be anything else. There were no background noises, no trains or planes passing by, no horns of cars or ships, not even a bird singing or a dog barking.
Wherever the UNSUB hid his victims, it obviously was a pretty isolated place. Maybe the walls were soundproof. That would explain why nothing came in or out. No one would ever hear any of the awful sounds that were burned in Penelope’s memory by now.
What could this place be? A former sound studio, maybe? Well, it was possible, but not necessary. The UNSUB could have made the walls soundproof himself. That meant he’d been planning this, probably for years. He had purchased the facility, made the walls soundproof, if they hadn’t been already, and he must have bought the instruments somewhere.
She watched the video again, this time with her eyes open and fixed on the screen. Don’t look at her eyes! she told herself silently.
Whenever she’d watched the video, her eyes had been glued to the eyes of the victim. She had seen all her fear, all her pain, the silent plea in her eyes for someone to save her – or at least make this end.
This time, she tried not to look into her eyes. She looked around the room in the video, trying to spot anything other than the device showing a time code. And then she noticed it. It was easy to miss. She hadn’t seen it before – and neither had JJ or one of the others.
Or maybe she’d just imagined it.
Penelope rewound the video and watched the scene again. No, she hadn’t imagined it. There was a scream, crying, the plea to stop – but it didn’t come from Amanda. By that time, she was almost unconscious. Her mouth was open, which was certainly why they’d missed that she hadn’t made the sound, but there was no possible way she could have formed an entire sentence without the slightest movement of her lips.
That could only mean one thing. Penelope’s heart started to beat faster.
She printed the object she had found, before starting to run the video through her audio software. Maybe, if she could eliminate the sounds of cracking bones and flesh torn apart, she could confirm her theory.
Penelope sighed and tiredly rubbed her eyes as she waited for her program to finish its work. It only took a few minutes, before she could replay the video – without any of the sounds the UNSUB’s toys were making.
When she heard only the screaming, it was even more obvious. The voices were different, if only slightly. There was a woman’s voice crying and begging the UNSUB to stop – and it clearly wasn’t Amanda’s voice.
Penelope decided to run the video through her voice print software. This way, she could prove that the crying didn’t come only from Amanda. She impatiently tapped her pencil on the table while waiting for the program to finish. When the results popped up on her screen, she drew in a sharp breath.
Penelope remained silent for a moment, her hands shaking as she tried to process the new information. He had a clear schedule. He didn’t only abduct one victim at a time, but at least two. He killed one of his victims – and exactly seventy-two hours and twenty-seven minutes later, he killed his next victim.
That meant he abducted the next victim when the other woman was still alive. And he made each of his next victims watch what he did to the former. Could someone really be that twisted?! She couldn’t stop the cold chill that ran down her spine.