"Did something happen to my mom?" Derek whispered into the phone.
"You do know it's two o'clock in the morning, right?"
"But what?" Derek began to panic all over again. "Is it Sarah? Des?"
It was silent for a moment while Derek struggled to process what he had just heard. Penelope began to stir next to him so he carefully eased himself out of bed and headed out of the room.
"Detective Gordinski received a call from Derek's cousin Cindi about an hour and a half ago that her son was missing." Hotch began.
"Hotch, you said the call came in about an hour and a half ago. That would mean that she noticed he was missing about one thirty this morning. What was she doing up so early?" Rossi asked.
"According to Gordinski, Cindi told the responding officers that she couldn't sleep so she got up to make herself some tea." Derek answered.
He had seemingly come back from wherever his mind had taken him and he was ready and present working the case.
"Derek…" Hotch began.
Derek looked at his boss with a stone cold look in his eyes.
"Hotch don't even try to tell me that I can't work this case!"
Garcia desperately wanted to be on that jet with Derek and the team. He needed her with him and the thought of him dealing with the old demons that this case would conjure up made her stomach knot up. She knew he still blamed himself for Cindi's abduction and all of the torture she'd endured for eight years; now it would begin again with her young son's life in danger.
Stan Gordinski had met the team at the airport and driven them to the station. The distraught faces of his family met Derek as he rushed through the door. Seeing the tormented eyes of his Aunt Yvonne and Cousin Cindi pierced him deep to his core. The blame and guilt that he'd been able to control for the last two years welled up in him and he felt nauseous.
After a short while, Morgan joined the team in the conference room. Hotch was giving orders and preparing to send each out into the field.
"Time is running out. We need to bring this case to a quick close sooner rather than later."
Hotch looked up to see Morgan enter the room.
"Morgan I want you and Rossi to go to your cousin's house and look around."
Morgan quickly turned not waiting for Rossi and headed toward the front door. Rossi quickly caught up as Derek neared the SUV.
"Hotch did send us out together." Rossi barked.
"Anthony's running out of time, Rossi!" Morgan struggled to maintain his control.
"Don't you think I know that, Derek? Look, I know this is hard but you've got to keep it together!"
Morgan climbed in and gripped the steering wheel and closed his eyes inhaling and exhaling before he spoke.
"I'm sorry." Derek began. "He's just a little kid, Rossi. He's been through so much already. I've got to bring him home."
"No. We have to bring him home. This isn't your fault!"
"Rossi…this is my fault…"
"No!" Rossi interrupted. "No! it isn't! If you take this on it will destroy you!"
Morgan, not ready to believe his partner looked helplessly at Rossi and started the SUV and headed toward the Barnes home in silence.
Home of Cindi Barnes -
The home that his cousin shared with her 9 year-old son was small, sparsely decorated and immaculate. It was odd to see a home so organized especially a home with a young energetic little boy. Derek searched the house beginning with Anthony's room. Rossi searched the perimeter surrounding the home looking for clues that may have been missed by the CSI unit that was still on the scene.
Rossi approached Anthony's bedroom window and noticed something that had caught the attention of the crime scene tech. It was a foot print.
Derek smiled as he picked up the toys and carefully examined them. Things hadn't changed much since he'd been a boy; hot wheels, baseball gloves, footballs, and comic books where still the stuff that filled the closets and toy boxes of kids even in this day and age. Judging by this little boy's room he had an interest in football and crime mysteries. Derek remembered his aunt mentioning Anthony's wanting to be a cop or an FBI agent when he grew up. Morgan silently prayed that he'd get a chance to see that dream come true.
So deep in thought, Morgan didn't hear Rossi enter the room.
"Nothing. He likes football." He said holding up an old worn pigskin.
Rossi smiled as his eyes surveyed the small room.
"CSI found a foot print."
"Just outside this window." Rossi pointed to the room's small window.
Derek moved to the window and looked out.
"CSI thinks it may belong to a woman or a teenager."
Rossi had already formulated a theory in his mind but he was leery of mentioning it to Derek just yet.
Derek turned to see the troubled look on Rossi's face.
"What are you trying to say, Rossi?"
"Morgan, I'm not trying to say anything but you know how these cases work."
"No way. I know you're not trying to say what I think you're trying to say."
"I know this is hard but this is our job. This is family, I get it and if you can't separate the two…"
"I can do my job, Rossi!"
"Then do it!"
Morgan felt his jaw tighten as he looked at Rossi. He was right. This was their job. It was also why agents were not allowed to work cases where they had a personal interest. Morgan shook his head and let his eyes look around the room again. Then something struck him.
"What?" Rossi responded confused.
"Shoes!" Morgan repeated. "Rossi, is the ground damp outside the window?"
"Yeah it's pretty muddy."
"Damn!" Morgan sat with a thud on the small twin bed.
"What's going on?"
"My cousin had mud on her shoes…"
Chicago Police Dept.
Hotch had asked JJ to interview Cindi. As a mother she couldn't imagine if she were in this mother's shoes. Cindi and her son had gone through unimaginable horrors at the hands of Malcolm Ford. He'd raped and tortured her repeatedly forcing her to have his child and then using the child to control her.
"Cindi, I'm not sure if you remember me from a few years ago… "
"Yes. Of course. Agent Jarreau I remember you." Cindi answered.
"Please call me Jennifer."
Now the hard part began. She had some tough questions that needed answers and she had to do it in a way that didn't cause Cindi to shut down.
"When a child goes missing the first thing we do is work to illuminate the family as suspects."
"I understand." Cindi said her voice shaky and nervous.
JJ watched as Cindi sat dazed across from her.
"Is it normal for you to be up at one thirty in the morning?"
"I haven't been sleeping well lately."
"What's keeping you up?"
"Two weeks, three days and twelve hours will be the tenth anniversary of my abduction."
JJ watched her mood change from dazed to teary.
"Every time I close my eyes I see Malcolm's face. I feel his hands around my neck. I feel the pressure of his body on top of me…forcing himself on me…"
"Cindi, I'm sorry…I didn't realize…"
"It's okay. Look Agent Jarreau…Jennifer, I didn't hurt my son. I love him. He was my heart, my life…"
"No one is suggesting that you hurt your son. These are questions we have to ask."
"Yes. Yes. I understand."
"Has Anthony mentioned any new friends, anyone, suddenly paying him a lot of attention or hanging around the house or his school?"
"No. No one."
"Has Anthony ever run away before?"
"Have you two been getting along okay?"
"We are very close. We're all we have."
Cindi broke down losing her control. JJ felt bad for the troubled woman who had worked so hard to put her life back together after her life had been interrupted by the evil intentions of a maniac. JJ had one more task and that was to get a DNA sample and to get a closer look at the mud caked shoes she was wearing.
Morgan and Rossi had returned to the precinct and joined the others in the conference room. To say that Derek was distraught would be an understatement.
"Let's not jump to conclusions…" Hotch began.
"Hotch, she has mud on her shoes and their is a foot print outside of Anthony's room!" Morgan insisted.
"She could have stepped in mud earlier in the day. Let's wait until we get the forensics report back." Hotch continued.
Morgan began pacing the room. Was he crazy to think that his cousin could hurt her own child? Had her ordeal with Ford done more damage than any of them had realized?
As the team debriefed, Morgan's phone rang and he breathed a sigh of relief to see Garcia's name on his screen.
"Hey Baby Girl."
"Hey Handsome. How are you holding up?"
"We haven't found any real leads and Anthony is running out of time."
"I know but I have faith in you and the team. You'll find him. I know it."
"Hold on to that, Garcia, because I'm not getting a good feeling about this at all."
As Morgan and Garcia were talking, he noticed that JJ had finished her interview with Cindi and was walking her and his Aunt to the door.
"I got to go, Baby Girl." He said abruptly ending their conversation.
Penelope continued to do what she did best…hunting down the hidden dirt and secrets that helped her team bring down the bad guys. This time a child's life was in danger and she had to dig faster if they were going to bring Anthony home.
Morgan joined JJ and his family as they reached the door.
"JJ, tell Hotch that I'm going to drive my Aunt and cousin home."
"Sure. I'll see you when you get back."
The three headed to his SUV. Once they arrived at his Aunt's home she tried desperately to convince her daughter to stay with her. Cindi refused wanting to be home in case Anthony came back.
The team was running out of ideas when Garcia called.
"Hello my fellow Crime Fighters."
"What you got Garcia? Alex asked.
"I did a deeper search on Cindi. Did you know that she is using Malcolm Ford's name on all of her legal documents now?"
"Why would she do that? JJ asked.
"So she could control his assets while he's in jail." Reid answered.
"Are you saying she is actually in love with this psycho?"
"Not necessarily. She wants what she thinks belongs to her. Eight years of being forced to be this guy's wife, bear his child and endure his torture…she wants whatever he owns as retribution." Reid added.
"You might be on to something, Reid." Hotch said.
Hotch dialed Garcia again.
"Garcia has the lab results come back on the shoe print at the crime scene and the mud on Cindi's shoes?"
Garcia began typing furiously, no doubt hacking into the crime labs computers.
"The mud on Cindi's shoes seems to be a combination of two different types of mud. The lab found traces that match the mud outside the boy's window and mud from another location. The shoe print however is an exact match."
"Thanks Garcia." Hotch ended the call.
Home of Cindi Barnes
Morgan pulled into the driveway and killed the engine just as a text from JJ appeared on his phone. It wasn't what he'd hope to find out.
Cindi was eerily quiet as he walked her to the door and entered the house.
"Do you think you and your team will find him?" She asked as she walked the few steps toward her son's room.
"We're going to do all we can to bring him home."
"Do you ever blame yourself?" She said her back to him staring into the small bedroom.
"Do you ever blame yourself?
"I-I don't under…"
"For what happened to me, I mean."
Derek's heart sunk. He'd always wondered if she blamed him, now he had his answer.
"Look Cindi, I am so sorry for everything that happened to you…if I could change it I would…you know that."
"He wanted me to have his child. He wasn't going to be satisfied until I had a baby."
"Cindi. I'm so sorry."
She chuckled. The sound of her laughter seemed odd and out of place. She still had her back to him and he kept his distance processing the tragedy of her life.
"The older he gets the more he looks like Malcolm; his smile, his eyes…his voice even sounds like Malcolm."
A sick feeling came over Morgan as he listened to his cousin. She chuckled again and then turned to face him.
"He was born exactly a year to the day of when I was kidnapped. Now that's funny."
Tears began to stream down her face as she looked through Morgan.
"Cindi, did you do something to Anthony?" Dread filled him.
"I couldn't look at him any longer. He's a reminder that Malcolm won. He ruined my life and then made me give birth to..."
"Cindi, where's Anthony?"
"I did him a favor you know. It's not fair to be born out of such ugliness…"
Chicago Police Department
"Boss, I think I may have something!"
"Malcolm Ford owned a small farm about five miles outside of Chicago. It's been abandoned since Ford's been in jail…but that's not the kicker…the mud found on Cindi's shoes, is found in that part of the city. It contains high amounts of ammonia, as in urine from farm animals…Ford raised pigs and cows on his land until Animal Control confiscated them after Ford's incarceration."
"Oh, my God! She's been behind this all along!" Alex said.
"She said, 'he was my heart.' "JJ chimed in.
"What?" Reid asked.
"During my interview with her she said, Anthony was her heart. Like she knew he was already dead."
"She played us!" Rossi said angrily.
"She interjected herself into the investigation so she would know what we knew." Hotch surmised. "Garcia send us the address."
"Already on your phones my Lige."
"Where's Morgan? Hotch asked.
"He took his aunt and Cindi home."
"Call him. He could be her next target." Hotch ordered. Reid, Alex come with me to Ford's farm. Rossi you and JJ go to Cindi's house and bring her in."
The team headed out taking Gordinski and several uniformed officers to each location for back up.
Home of Cindi Barnes
"You were supposed to protect me! Big time Chicago Police Officer! You let him snatch me in broad open daylight right under your highly trained nose!"
Cindi pulled a gun from her purse and aimed it at Morgan. He wasn't going to be able to talk her out of her madness. She'd been planning this for a while and nearly got a way with it.
"Cindi put the gun down and let us get you some help."
"Like you helped me ten years ago? No thanks!"
"Please tell me you didn't kill your son. He's just as much a victim as you are." He struggled to sound calm. "What will your mother think when she finds out that you killed her grandson?"
"She'll get over it."
Morgan began to slowly move toward the deranged distracted woman. He should have seen this coming and perhaps he did but after all this was his fault and the last thing he wanted to do was kill her.
"I took him to the farm…he always loved the farm. I figured it would be kind of me to let him die there."
Morgan could hear the cars arriving out front and so could Cindi; this wasn't going to end well if he didn't reach her before she pulled the trigger. Her eyes darted from Morgan to the door and back her hand was shaking as he slowly took another step toward her.
"Cindi, don't do this. We can still fix this."
He took another step toward her.
"There's nothing you can do to fix this."
He took another step he had to make his move and quickly. Suddenly the front door burst open and he grabbed her hand wrestling it away from her. JJ and Rossi ran toward them. JJ grabbed Cindi and cuffed her. Rossi stopped short of Morgan as he dropped into a nearby chair, the look of despair and helplessness made him feel numb; He didn't feel Rossi's hand on his shoulder as he just sat silently as the Crime Scene Investigators rushed through the door.
"She killed him, Rossi…her own son."
"I can't make sense of this anymore…"
"I'm sorry, Derek."
Morgan didn't really hear a word his friend said it was just noise mixed with the hustle and bustle of the others who had begun working gathering evidence.
After several minutes, Hotch, Reid, and Alex entered the room. Morgan looked up at them briefly before looking away.
"Morgan…" Hotch began.
He didn't respond.
"There's someone who wants to see you."
Gordinski came through the doorway holding the hand of a very confused nine year old little boy. He was home and no doubt still wondering why his mother had driven him to the farm so early that morning and locked him in the underground cellar. He'd tried so hard to be a good boy; his mother always seemed on edge and he didn't want to make her mad but she was always mad. He made it a point to try his best to be perfect but it wasn't enough.
He slowly walked in, past Gordinski and stood next to Derek. In his grief Morgan had not noticed the boy's entrance until he felt a small hand on his shoulder.
"Hi Uncle Derek."
Derek knew his mind was playing tricks on him. He slowly lifted his head and looked into the watery eyes of an innocent little boy.
"Anthony?" He said shocked.
Morgan pulled him into his arms and held onto him for dear life. He could no longer hold back his tears as his team teary-eyed looked on smiling at each other.
"Yes you are. Welcome home, little man!"
Morgan was already bracing himself for the endless speeches from his family and his friends about this all not being his fault. Still, he couldn't shake the guilt and he couldn't erase the look of madness in his cousin's eyes. Most of all he knew that he would never forget the fear and confusion in little Anthony's eyes. A child should never have to witness his parent's hatred of them. This poor kid had already lived a dozen lifetimes…it wasn't fair none of it was fair…life seldom was. There was nothing more he could do but be available should Anthony or his Aunt need him. He knew Yvonne would do her best to raise him with love and patience and prayerfully it would help her to deal with her own feelings of guilt and failure. It broke his heart to see his cousin destroyed at the hands of a man that was pure evil…it wasn't fair…not fair at all and if his job taught him anything it was that life was not for wimps. Yes, it was scary, uncertain and most times uncontrollable by any human effort, but, it also held so much promise and possibilities and it was the anticipation of those possibilities and things to come that drove him and others like him to keep fighting even when it seemed as if the battle was a sure loss. Every time they saved a life it solidified his purpose and his determination to never give up.