Carol pulled up to the Aird estate with Rindy in her car seat in the back. “Mommy, where do you have to go again?”
“Honestly, sweet pea, I’m not sure yet. I may have to go to a bunch of places this time.” She turned off the engine and used the rearview mirror to look back at her beautiful daughter.
“But you will be back soon, right?” Carol noticed a hesitancy in Rindy that was not normally there when she had to leave for work.
“As soon as I possibly can, my love. Can you get yourself unfastened?”
“Yeah.” She unbuckled herself from her seat. “Will Therese be going with you to catch the bad guy?”
Carol took a breath to steady herself as she felt her heart drop. “Yes.” She hated to lie to her daughter, but she knew that the truth would be too much for Rindy to understand or process.
“And you will call me every night?” There it was again.
“Rindy, are you okay with staying with your grandparents this week? You seem a little worried.” Carol turned in her seat and looked back at her daughter. “Has something happened? You know you can tell me anything.”
“No mommy…it’s just I really miss you when you are gone.” The seven-year-old looked down at her shoes and Carol felt her heart melt in her chest. With everything that had happened over the past few years, Carol knew the only reason she survived any of it was her daughter. She was Carol’s main source of strength and her light in a world that could get incredibly dark.
She reached back and lifted her chin. “I will miss you too, my sweet girl. I will call you every single chance I get, ok? I promise.”
Rindy seemed to settle with that and smiled as Carol got out and walked around to open her door. “Don’t forget your back-pack, sweet pea. I put all your favorite things in there.” Along with a tracker to keep you safe and on my radar, she thought to herself.
“Got it!” Rindy jumped out and ran to the front door as Carol grabbed her suitcase and followed behind her. Jennifer Aird greeted them from the door. “Hello Nerinda. You look very pretty today.” She ran her hands through Rindy’s blonde curls. “We should see about getting you a haircut this week, hmmm?”
Rindy was oblivious to the backhanded compliment, but Carol recognized it immediately and felt her hands ball into fists. “Hello Grandmother! Where is Papa?”
“He is in the study waiting for you.” She smiled in a sickeningly sweet way that Carol instantly recognized as fake.
“Where is Ms. Florence? Can she make me some cookies?” Rindy asked excitedly.
Carol watched as Jennifer Aird’s body language stiffened. “Florence had to take some time off, but your grandfather and I can help you make them. Run inside now, dear. I need a quick word with your mother.”
Rindy turned and gave her mother a big hug and a kiss. “Bye mommy! I love you! Good luck catching the bad guy and tell Therese I said hi and I can’t wait to beat her at Mario Cart again!” Like a flash she was gone, running to find her grandfather.
As soon as the young girl was out of earshot, Jennifer’s fake warmth dissipated, replaced with a disapproving sneer. “Therese? That must be the person Harge spoke of. Do you really think is it appropriate to bring your little flings around my granddaughter?”
The wheels in Carol’s mind started to turn. Confirmed, Harge knew Carol was seeing Therese. There was no way it was a coincidence that she was taken Sunday. How could he have known about that unless he was following her. Carol avoided speaking of Therese, refusing to take the bait. “I take it Harge is out of town? He didn’t mention any upcoming travel when we spoke last, so thank you for keeping her while I’m working.” Carol attempted to keep the conversation polite in the hopes of gathering more information, but Jennifer cut her off.
“I should thank you for finally letting us spend time with her.” Her voice was filled with venom.
Carol rolled her eyes, refusing to give in to Jennifer’s manipulations. “You just had her for a week earlier this month.” They stared coldly at each other. “Anyway, I hope to wrap this up by week’s end. Thank you again for keeping her and I will check in with her each night.”
“You don’t need to thank me for being a good grandparent, Carol.” She started to turn to go into the house, but Carol spoke again.
“And you’ll have no problems getting her to and from school while Florence is gone?” The discomfort crossed Jennifer’s face again.
“We are more than capable of getting Nerinda to where she needs to be.” She quickly spun on her heels and closed the door in Carol’s face.
Carol walked back to her car and immediately called Garcia. “Carol? How did it go? Is Rindy settled?”
“I need all the information you can get me on Florence Wesley, the Aird family’s housekeeper.”
“Because for the first time in the ten years I’ve known her, she wasn’t at work today and Jennifer Aird flinched at the mere mention of her name, so I need her address, Pen. I’m going straight there.”
She heard Garcia typing, followed shortly by a ping on her phone. “Sent, but couldn’t she just be sick or something?”
“It is possible, but I have to trust my instincts, and based on Jennifer’s reaction, it is more than just being sick.”
“Ok then! Well I’m glad you called because I just got word from Dannie and Phil. Forensics is processing the car, but they said there were no obvious signs of violence. I mean there was no blood or anything. That’s good right?” There was so much hope in her voice.
“Let’s hope so. I’ll call you after I speak with Florence.”
It was a small, two-bedroom apartment in an older outdated complex just outside of Alexandria. Carol rolled her eyes. She knew that the Aird’s paid Florence’s housing expense as part of her salary and with all of their wealth they could have found a much nicer apartment that was closer to their house. Of course, Jennifer was never known to be anything resembling generous. How Florence had managed to stay with that family for so long, Carol would never understand.
Carol approached her apartment on the second floor and knocked. She could hear the shuffling of movement behind the door, but it did not open. “Florence? I know you are there. It’s Carol and I need to speak with you. It’s important,” she stressed.
The door cracked open, and Carol could see a fragment of the older woman’s face. Florence was wearing an unseasonable black turtleneck sweater, and it was much too warm for that. “What do you need Ms. Aird?” Her soft voice croaked, and it was clearly painful for her to speak.
“I’m sorry to bother you while you are on vacation, but I need to speak with you regarding a family matter. May I come in?” Carol had stressed the word vacation on purpose to get a reaction, and it worked. Florence huffed at the word and the door opened a little further. Carol now had a full view of the woman and her eyes instantly found a dark purple mark just above the neck of her sweater. “Are you alright? Has something happened?”
“I’m fine,” she struggled. “What did you need to discuss?” She tried to swallow, but it was difficult.
“It’s about Harge. Something has happened and I need…” Carol stopped as Florence’s face reflected a mix of fear and anger. “What happened to your neck, Florence?”
“Nu…nothing.” Florence stuttered and turned away from Carol, wincing in pain. “It was just a stupid accident.” She moved to pull the neck of the sweater up higher to her chin, but Carol quickly moved around her, entering the apartment, and stopping her hands. “Let me see.”
Florence hesitated and then realized there was no use in fighting it. Carol had seen enough to be suspicious. She slowly lowered the sweater and the full picture came into view. There were dark purple and blue finger marks wrapped all around the older woman’s throat.
Carol’s eyes went wide with horror. “Did Harge do that to you?”
Florence jerked away and moved to cross the room, putting space between her and the other woman. “I told you it was an accident!” She walked over to the front door and went to open it back up to escort her unwanted guest out, but Carol was too fast, blocking the door with her arm.
“Are you trying to tell me that Harge accidentally choked you?” Her eyes narrowed. “Because those are clearly handprints.”
Florence was silent, staring forward. She tried to pull the door open again, but Carol was too strong.
“Fine. We’ll do this another way.” The color faded from Carol’s eyes, which were now an ice-cold grey. “You can answer my questions here and now, or I will take you to Quantico and you can answer them there. Your choice.” Carol stood up taller, asserting herself over the smaller woman.
It worked. All the fight left Florence’s body and she moved away from the door. She slumped down into her old couch, covered in yellow and orange flowers. “You don’t understand. If Mrs. Aird finds out I talked to you, I will lose my job, my apartment, everything. She has all the power Ms. Aird. I cannot betray the family.”
“Ah yes, Jennifer Aird and her demands for loyalty. Too bad she doesn’t return it.” Carol sat down next to her and placed a comforting hand on Florence’s. “Listen, I can protect you, but you need to tell me everything that happened.”
Florence went over the options in her mind. At this point, it was too late to hide it from Carol and there was no way Mrs. Aird didn’t have someone watching her apartment. There was no choice but to put her faith in Carol. She nodded slowly. “Alright.” Florence explained everything that happened that night as Carol listened and used her camera to take pictures. It would be too late to get touch DNA, but assuming Florence would testify, they would not need it.
While she listened, Carol couldn’t help but imagine Harge with his hands wrapped around her or Rindy’s neck, around Abby’s neck, and then around Therese. He had murdered all those women and clearly felt no remorse. There was no doubt that he planned on killing Therese. Another frightening thought dawned in Carol’s mind. This was the endgame for him. Harge had lost control in front of his mother and Florence, which meant other people had seen his darkness and imperfection and his narcissism wouldn’t let that stand. He always needed to be perfect in the eyes of others, and now that had been taken from him. In his mind, there would be nothing left to lose and would use Therese as his last stand.
Carol stood and moved swiftly to the door. “Florence, thank you for your help. I will have agents here shortly to guard your door. We will make sure you have everything you need until this is settled, so please do not contact the Aird family in any way. Do you understand? I will call you later this evening.”
Florence nodded and Carol was sprinting out the door and to her car. She called Hotch as she sped back towards Quantico.
“Carol, we just got settled in the office. Officers are heading back from his hotel now with Harge.”
“I have news, Hotch! Make sure they read him his rights! You have grounds for arrest!”
“Explain.” Hotch said calmly and Carol described in detail everything that Florence had told her about that night. She forwarded the pictures from her phone. He listened intently, understanding, but before he could reply, Garcia was breaking into the line on both Hotch and Carol’s phone. They both clicked over to join the conference call with the entire team.
“We have important news. Is everyone on the line?” Garcia asked before she continued.
There was a general acknowledgement from everyone on the team. “Ok, Dannie and Phil- you’re on.”
“We are at the motel and we can confirm that Therese was here.” Phil explained to the group on the call.
“How do you know?” Carol asked in a mixture of worry and excitement. “Did someone see her?”
“No. She…well…she left us some physical evidence. I mean the lab is confirming everything, but we do already have definitive prints on some furniture. Specifically, the chair legs and the legs of the bed.” Dannie added nervously.
“What on earth made you think to check there?” Gen asked.
“The uh…puddle…on the floor.” Phil said, clearly uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, what?” Carol needed them to clarify.
“We did what you said, Carol. We took pictures of everything and we’ll send them, but as we were moving around the room, we stepped in it...literally.” Dannie cleared his throat and continued. “It was urine, so I laid on the floor, next to it, and looked around and tried to think of how she would leave us clues. We found some prints, though they appear to be reversed, like her hands were behind her or something. The lab is analyzing the liquids now to confirm, but we’re fairly certain.”
There was silence on the phone lines as everyone processed what they were saying. Carol could picture it in her mind, how her hands would be tied behind her back, lying on the floor. Hotch finally broke the awkward silence from the group. “What about the van? Garcia?”
“Oh yeah, Ford, white, rusted fender. Looks like he switched out the tags, though. Going to make it a little harder to track.” Garcia noted for the group. “The highway patrol is searching, along with local police.”
“So, we are still assuming he was travelling to meet Harge in Minneapolis?” J.J. asked the group.
“I had a thought about that, but I need to confirm it. Garcia, can you pull up his travel history, rental car history, and if possible, the mileage on those cars?" "The mileage might take a minute, but I should be able to. Why?" she asked. "I just have a hunch that make help us build a geographic profile," Carol explained.
“Good,” Hotch answered. “Once we have Harge in interrogation, I’m confident J.J. and Gen will be able to get the answers from him.”
Harge always thought he was smarter than any women in the room, but now that Carol had explained everything that had happened with Florence and his mother, Hotch had his number and would use his weaknesses against him. Carol couldn’t help but smile a little and wished she could be there to see him crumble.