II: The Smartest Plotters Work Alone
Anyone who knew Garcia used the same vocabulary to describe her: larger than life, bubbly, chatty…. So far during today’s briefing, she’d kept very much to herself and barely made eye contact with me once. I’d hardly even realised that she could be this quiet, let alone when it was obvious to her that something was going unsaid.
Normally when she was unable to speak, you could practically see Penelope swelling with tension, as if she were holding her breath, not her tongue. Why wasn’t our promise driving her to distraction? There was no way this wouldn’t bring it to the forefront of her mind. Every other time we’d talked of it, she had spent a good five minutes glancing over her shoulder at me afterwards, whenever she thought I wasn’t looking.
Nothing calmed Penelope’s nerves like having a witty response prepared, so I swallowed at the thought of whatever she was certainly cooking up to throw at this problem. Worse still was the fact that she would attack it from an angle that no one would think of until she was done.
I believed for just a second that she might follow convention and protocol when she raised a hand to signal Hotch. “With your permission, sir, I’d like to make Grace lead analyst on this case. You can spare her in the field, can’t you? It’s the next logical step in her training as shadow technical analyst.”
“I think we’ll manage fine without her in the field,” replied Hotch. “In fact, you might need the extra pair of hands more than we do. What do you think, Grace?”
“No!” My hands struck the table with the rattle of dozens of black wiry bangles on either arm shifting. Wincing, I shook the shooting pain of the impact off with much the same sound. “Don’t remove me –”
I had attracted every gaze in the room, but only Penelope’s knowing scrutiny kindled annoyance. How could the innocent confounded looks of the others be aggravating? Realising I was on my feet, I sat back down, cringing. I was sure my cheeks were warmer than the coffee left in my cup at this point.
“Grace?” probed Morgan. “What’s up?”
“You know, sometimes we forget that you’re just nineteen, and might need a little time…” added Prentiss, whose round-eyed look seemed to suggest that she wanted to reach across and squeeze my shoulder in sympathy, except Penelope was in the way. Her typically shoulder-length dark hair made even the slight tilt of her head obvious.
The joke’s on her, though, I thought coldly. She has nothing but the illusion of ‘understanding’, and no idea how much better off she is for it.
“I’m fine. Did I smudge my eyeliner or something?” It was instinct to dab under my eye with a finger, to see what came off. And nothing. If I got truly emotional, the as yet unbroken kohl line would be ruined. All of my make-up would. “Pen, I, um…. I’m very grateful for the offer – you have every right to ask – but I would prefer to be working in the field.”
“No, what I have a right to is my shadow analyst when I need her,” she argued back. “Not to mention this is for your benefit as much as mine.”
“Do you really think I care what’s in it for me?” No, she couldn’t believe that, surely. We knew each other well enough. “I’m not spending the case holed up! You might feel safe surrounded by walls and computers. Good for you! Say I contribute as TA all you want, but when you always seem to have things under control, my job becomes an attempt to be useful, between waiting and keeping up with you.”
“There are so many facets to this case! That means widening the search for the undiscovered victims, sifting through any and every type of record,” Penelope soon became quite animated, looking about her with similar vigour to make sure she didn’t hit me or Prentiss during her gesticulations. She filled her personal space, and then some, with the billowing of her loose chiffon sleeves. “It means paper trails and common denominators, all of which might answer one or two questions, and I’m sure present far more before we can even say ‘next lead –’” With a deep breath, she halted her rant. “Help me out… please. I’m only asking you to do what you signed up for. No more.”
She tucked a few stray pink-streaked blonde curls out of sight behind her ear and fuchsia glasses frames, nibbling her lower lip. The progress bar on a significant search would produce a very similar effect, as she reclined in front of her digital command centre during an investigation.
Penelope cocked her head towards a silent but puzzled looking Doctor Reid. “What’s eatin’ ya, Boy Wonder?” she drawled, her relaxed dialect now showing through the formality of the occasion (or what was left of it).
“Garcia, I don’t understand what’s going on. You openly ask for help for the first time in my memory, then Grace refuses you! None of us can deny that under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be happening.”
Excellently played, Pen. Commendable! I’d counted on her laying a trap, but was I crazy, or had she set it up for everyone but me? For profilers, these guys sure were well wound around her finger...