September 22, 2012
“Just sit down, will you?” Reggie Marks scolded his kid, restless eight year old Clive. The two were sitting with their mother and a family friend a few seats up from the front row just behind the penalty box, watching as the Philadelphia Flyers were dismantling the Boise Pacers 6-0 midway through the second period.
“I’m going to get something to drink,” said the burly Marks, who got up from his seat to go to the concession stand.
“Okay, so I’ll have three hot dogs and two Cokes,” said Marks to the attendant.
“$33.50, please,” said the attendant.
“$33.50? Are you kidding me?”
“If you didn’t eat so much, it wouldn’t cost so much.”
“Are you blaming me for being fat?”
“Did I magically force feed you the food?”
Marks then angrily tossed down $40, then left without taking his change. As he carried his tray, raised to his shoulders to avoid hitting people, his life changed for good.
“What the…?” exclaimed the surprised Marks, covered in cola and the condiments from the hot dog. Someone had given him a “drive by” poke in his gut, making him spill everything and sending the stadium into a panic. Moments later, another person, a woman, claimed she was poked by the perpetrator as well.
“That’s unreal. Who would do something like that?” said the horrified Marks. “I can’t believe this guy…I’ve been irreparably violated and he doesn’t care.”
Both Marks and the lady, Jeannine Stinson, couldn’t recall their attacker with much precision. They asked people around them if they saw the attacker but witnesses came up blank, as the attacker wore a hoodie to conceal his identity. Marks and Stinson were left flabbergasted, but there was not much they could do.
They would receive their break after the game. The Flyers completed their 10-0 rout of Boise, and were piling out of the arena to celebrate. The team’s first line, Sidney Crosby, Kevin Stills and Rick Nash, showed the remarkable chemistry they were predicted to have, with the unit scoring seven of the goals during the game. Afterward, the trio headed towards Broad Street to do some barhopping, when Stills felt a poke in his hip from behind.
“Hey! You!” shouted Stills, who saw his attacker, a muscular man wearing a hoodie who had his hood up so Stills couldn’t see his face following the attack. Stills started to chase the man, who also started to run. His linemates followed suit, but the chase was fruitless, as the trio lost the man down a dark alley.
Stills reported the incident to the Philadelphia Police, who proceeded to laugh in his face, mostly so they wouldn’t have to deal with what would be a difficult case. He then took out his cell phone and placed a call.
“Hi. Zoe?” said Stills, calling Special Supervisory Agent Zoe Hawkes, the newest member of the Federal Investigation Bureau’s Behavioural Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virgina.
“Oh hey Kevin,” said Hawkes, delighted to hear from him. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been better, and I was hoping to get your help. The police just brushed me off.”
“I’ve been poked.”
Hawkes immediately knew something serious was happening in Philadelphia, and promised to bring up the issue with her team.
“Who was that?” asked Nash.
“That was Zoe Hawkes of the FBI,” said Stills. “We dated briefly last year but we’ve remained friends. I know she’ll help me where the police won’t.”
“Oh, you’re talking about the BAU, the basis for Criminal Minds and the only force that seems to actually solve crimes on this continent.”
“Yeah, them. Plus this is a mind-based crime, so they’re perfect for the task.”
“Better than calling Horatio Crane.”
The next day, the BAU’s Media and Police Liaison Jennifer Jareau, 33, known to her team as “JJ”, called Stills and told the trio they would travel from the FBI headquarters in Quantico to discuss the attacks. That morning, Jareau brought up the case to her team:
-Unit Chief Aaron “Hotch” Hotchner, 45, known for his steely, no-nonsense approach
-Senior Agent David Rossi, 60, a goateed older gentleman who had a mobster vibe to him who serves as the team's historian being the longest tenured BAU agent
-Special Supervisory Agent Derek Morgan, 36, a former football player who brings his athleticism and competitive fire to his job and is the de facto second in command of the Unit. He is an expert in crime scene observation
-Special Supervisory Agent Emily Prentiss, 36, a former international operative and is the team's linguistics expert as well as their go-to-person for interviews and interrogations.
-Special Supervisory Agent Doctor Spencer Reid, 30, an academic genius (though socially awkward) that is the team’s academic expert with an emphasis on behavioural analysis.
-Hawkes, 27, who, like Reid, is an academic genius, though she is sociable. She is also an academic expert, with an emphasis on statistics and probability.
-Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia, 33, a blonde who carries her weight well, she is sassy and playful and serves as the team’s computer expert
The BAU gained prominence following the collapse of the United States in 1991. As police forces collapsed with it, the team- transferred with the FBI to the auspices of the North American Union- had to take on more of a crime-fighting role, and have been successful at it. The BAU broke into the greater public consciousness in 2007 after they successfully took down renowned terrorist Ian Doyle (and had to defend their tactics against a NAU inquiry, who were worried about jurisdictional issues), two years after the team was rebuilt following a warehouse bombing in Boston just seven months prior. The TV show Criminal Minds was created in their honour, featuring fictional characters and cases based on the real team. Though the TV show never asserted it to be the case, a perception exists that the show’s case portrayals are entirely accurate to reality.
“Philadelphia Flyers forward Kevin Stills reported to us that he was poked by a random stranger last night in Philadelphia, after they had played a preseason game against the Boise Pacers. Since his report, filed with Agent Hawkes, two other people, 39-year-old Reggie Marks and 24-year-old Jeannie Stinson, have also reported incidents.”
“So we have a serial poker on the loose,” replied Morgan with a sense of urgency. “This is definitely a case for the BAU.”
“Do we know anything about the Unsub, JJ?” asked Rossi.
“Not yet,” replied Jareau. “No one got a good view of the attacker, though preliminary reports suggest that he is a big man. Stills reported that he was wearing a hoodie and outran him when he gave chase.”
“That explains why no one ID’ed his face,” said Prentiss. “He has to be athletic, though, if a professional hockey player couldn’t outrun him.”
“Victimology seems to be random,” said Hotchner. “Marks is African-American, Stinson and Stills are Caucasian. Age is all over the place. Do we know anything about the MO?”
“From what we do know, it seems like the poker favours attacks from behind,” replied Morgan.
“That means that with a similar style of attack they have to be the same guy. OK gang, let’s get started,” said Hotchner authoritatively, as they all moved to the plane to fly to Philly.
When the team arrived in Philly and met the threesome, the linemates were greeted by Morgan.
“Hey guys, great victory last night,” said Morgan. “You guys are really coming together as a line.”
“Thanks,” said Nash. “It’s only preseason, but we like where we’re going.”
“I wish you guys luck, as long as you don’t beat my Blackhawks,” replied Morgan with a smile.
“I want to know when I can meet the hot blonde,” said Crosby, referring to Jareau.
“She’s married. Keep dreaming kid,” replied Morgan.
The next person the trio met was Reid, sporting his traditional cowlick haircut.
“Hey, it’s the brain” said Nash. “I love Criminal Minds and the characters that are based on all of you. I’ve also read all of your books, Reid.”
“Finally! I have a normal fan,” exclaimed Reid, excitedly.
“I’m not so sure about that,” cracked Crosby, who got a playful jab from Nash.
The trio then headed inside to meet the rest of the team.
“Thanks for coming,” said Jareau. “Could you describe the attack in more detail?”
“Well…here’s what I remember,” started Stills. “We’d just gotten out of the stadium. We were ready to head downtown to celebrate at the bars. We’d gone a full block away from the stadium when I could feel this jab coming into my hip from behind. I at first thought it was one of my friends here but they gave me a blank stare. I quickly turned around and shouted at the guy. We ran after him for a couple of blocks but he lost us pretty quickly. He’s one fast mofo.”
“Mofo?” asked Hotchner, who never heard the term before.
“Mother…” started Morgan, who insinuated the next word.
“Oh. OK,” replied Hotchner. “Carry on.”
“You described him as a tall, muscular man,” said Rossi. “Do you remember anything else about him? Anything remarkable about his dress or how he carried himself?”
Stills paused. Rossi continued. “Think for a little bit. Even the slightest detail could provide significant information.”
“On his wrist,” replied Stills, remembering more of the incident, “he was wearing a brightly coloured bracelet with what looked to be a cartoon elephant on it.”
“Child life fantasy,” replied Hawkes confidently. “I knew it.”
“Child life fantasy?” said Crosby, quizzically.
“Yes, Child life fantasy syndrome, or CLF as it is called in the medical profession,” responded Reid. “Basically the sufferer ‘never grew up’ from when they were a child and have continued acting as if they were still a child. They can lead somewhat normal adult lives but those lives are marred with hyper immaturity. People with CLF have very short tempers and are prone to outbursts at the slightest provocation.
“What’s most important, thought, is that sufferers of CLF think they are constantly playing a game, and figuring out what game they are playing can be a clue to understanding just how dangerous they can be. Poking is a common form of CLF, but that, by itself isn’t enough to tell us about his threat to society, although the majority of pokers do become dangerous. If we’re not careful, this could escalate quickly.”
“Escalate? It’s just poking,” said Crosby.
Nash responded, as if on cue. “Sufferers of CLF are incapable of understanding that adults are just not playing the same game that they are. See, as mature adults, we understand that there is a time for play and a time for work. CLF sufferers don’t understand this and thus have a hard time holding down jobs or building meaningful relationships. Eventually, when they realize that people are not playing their game, they snap, and it can be catastrophic.”
Crosby and Stills gave Nash a nod of approval, not realizing just how smart he actually was.
“The thing about CLF is that it can come and go in waves,” continued Hawkes. “The intensity of the condition can be brought upon by certain life stressors, and more powerful episodes come when a life altering moment occurs. Therefore, we also need to know how far along in his ‘progression’ he is so we can stop him before it is too late.”
“CLF…never heard of this before,” said Crosby. “How common is it?”
“About one in twenty people have the condition,” replied Hawkes, “though most don’t become dangerous. They’re just really immature. Some famous sufferers include Homer Simpson, Michael Jackson and Al Gore.”
“Former Vice-President Al Gore?” said Crosby, surprised.
“You’d be surprised how it manifests itself,” said Reid.
“So what seperates CLF from being mentally handicapped or autism?” asked Stills.
“The difference is in physiology,” said Hawkes. “A mental handicap involves the brain itself being physically underdeveloped in some capacity…CLF is a delusion, and is strictly psychological. CLF sufferers are still highly functioning members of society, but they are under the delusion that they are still children and are aware of this. Someone who is mentally handicapped is still, for all intents and purposes, a child.”
“So let me get this straight,” replied Stills, “Someone who is mentally handicapped is actually a child whereas someone with CLF merely pretends to be a child?”
“That’s right,” said Reid.
“I’m glad you came to us,” said Morgan. “Citizens far too often overlook CLF, and some crimes that could have been avoided occur far too often.”
“Well, as we all know,” replied Crosby confidently, “you guys are the only ones that actually solve any crimes out there. The police in North America can be quite useless.”
“It’s one thing Criminal Minds got right,” said Nash. “It’s understandable, though, given what happened after the Cold War.”
Morgan smiled, then discussed the show a bit more. He never hated pointing out the flaws in the program. “We shake our heads sometimes thinking about Criminal Minds. It’s a very entertaining program, though it’s not completely accurate. We can work on over 100 cases a year, and oftentimes we have to work on two or three at the same time. They can also take weeks or months to complete. I mean, we’d all love it if crimes only happened one at a time so we could devote all of our energy into them before moving on to the next case, but that just doesn’t happen in real life. Also, a lot of cases are dramatized and sensationalized for television, but we understand why they do it. It’s entertainment…not all of our cases really lend themselves to entertainment…they can be quite boring. Plus, they don’t know all of our methods, for a very good reason- obviously, the FBI won’t reveal all of their tricks.”
“You guys are already aware that the show’s team are fictional characters based on us,” continued Rossi, his dulcet tones increasing in intensity as he warmed to the subject, “and that, while they say their episodes are based on real episodes, they’re all fictionalized to a certain degree, if not made up entirely. The narrative isn't true to reality- it's a bit all over the place. Most of the public doesn’t know what parts of the program are actually accurate but we do- because we worked them. I can’t go into all the inconsistencies, but the main one is Erin Strauss. On the show, it's depicted that Strauss- who was actually the FBI director- used Emily Prentiss as a mole for the team so that she can give information about Aaron and Jason Gideon to sabotage their careers. That part is true, but show doesn't tell you that she was fired for her actions, since they had no merit. We now report to Lucius Black.”
“Plus, their depictions of us do have some inaccuracies,” said Prentiss. “I mean, I have a cute and sensitive side…I love giving hugs.”
“So where’s mine?” slyly asked Crosby.
“Fat chance,” retorted Prentiss. She then continued. “Also, while Morgan is strong both physically and mentally, he does have a few irrational fears. I mean, if he sees a spider he screams like a little girl.”
“I do not!” replied Morgan sternly. Then, as if on cue, a spider darted across the floor right where Morgan was, who did react like a little girl upon seeing it.
“Oh Morgan,” responded Reid, smugly. He then coolly stomped on the spider, eliminating the threat as the whole room laughed.
“I told you spiders are his kryptonite,” cracked Prentiss.
“Another thing,” said Reid, as if he made another discovery, “the show doesn’t seem to mention that people actually do laugh at my jokes.”
“No, they still don’t,” responded Morgan, sardonically. Reid smiled and shrugged, admitting defeat.
“Criminal Minds operates like most forms of entertainment- it requires the ‘suspension of disbelief’,” said Reid, starting to recover from his past statement. “The basic premise is that you’re asking the audience to momentarily forget what they’re watching is fictional in exchange for providing the audience with a believable story. You aren’t required to provide something that is realistically accurate- rather, what you are required to provide is something that is merely plausible. In other words, the writer needs to make sure that their story is simply a possible explanation for what happened- it does not have to be definitive.
“The burden of proof in the public eye isn’t very large. This is largely because the greater public, for whatever reason, has a limited knowledge of the field that is the focus of the story- in our case, the FBI and its procedures. It’s that premise that allows conspiracy theories and ‘alternate explanations’ such as creationism or 9/11 conspiracy theories to gain traction, because they can only be shown to be illogical if the person has a deeper understanding of the subject in question. However, the motivation isn’t dishonesty as is the case with something like creationism- it’s merely creative. As Morgan said before, quite a few of our cases are pretty mundane and since the FBI can’t reveal all its tricks, to make things entertaining you do have to play with the poetic license a little bit, as long as you promise not to stretch it too far.
“Which is a perfect segue into the case,” said Reid, smiling at Hotchner because he knew he was agitated at the diversion from the task at hand, “because CLF sufferers don’t understand what the ‘suspension of disbelief’ really is. They don’t understand that the public isn’t playing the same game.”
“I guess our time is up,” said Stills. “Thanks guys.”
“You’re welcome,” replied Hotchner. “We’ll keep in touch. We think you guys will be valuable to the investigation. This kind of unsub, though a random attacker, does develop a bond with his victims, so be on the lookout.”
“Okay,” said Nash, as the three of them departed, with Prentiss hugging Nash and Stills but not Crosby.
Later that day, the team split up and met with both Marks and Stinson at the same time, hoping to receive more clues. Reid stayed at the command centre at the Philadelphia Police Chief’s department, since his expertise wasn’t in interviewing but in analysis, while Garcia stayed in her customary office at Quantico to serve as the team’s informational gatherer.
There’s not a whole lot to work with, thought Reid. All we know is from the victim statements and since none of them saw the attacker with much precision or dealt with them for a long time, there isn’t a lot to go on. However, I have succeeded with less, so let’s get started.
People with CLF like to play a game with other members of the public…we know that. Pokers are especially obsessive and the most prolific, since they can play the game with the most amount of people without getting caught. Since the UnSub went to great lengths to conceal his identity and ran at every instance, this has to be a game like ‘Hide and Seek’. It could very well be inverted, where the target is being poked, is blindfolded and has to find all the people who are poking them. However, the targets all followed each other, indicating that the UnSub seems to have a particular order. I wonder if there is any significance to the fact that Reggie Marks was carrying food…
“I just got up to get food,” said Marks. “I was with my son. We were having a great time.”
“What happened immediately before your poke?” asked Prentiss.
“I was at the concession stand…I ordered my food. I had a ‘nice’ exchange with the concession attendant…he said that I was fat. I didn’t like that very much.”
“It’s OK brother,” said Morgan. “I feel you. Do you think the concession attendant was the one who attacked you?”
“No…he was a scrawny kid,” replied Marks with a bit of a snarl. “Knew that if he messed with me, he’d get a poundin’. No, this guy was a big guy…bigger than me. That says something.”
“Do you think he knew the attendant and lashed out because you were rude to him?” asked Hotchner.
“I’m not sure…I didn’t really focus much on who was around me,” replied Marks.
“Think a little bit,” urged Morgan.
“You know…there was something,” said Marks with a spark. “I remember looking back at the attendant and I saw him laughing.”
“A lot of people probably were though,” responded Prentiss.
“I know…but there was something about the attendant’s laugh that made it seem like he enjoyed it on a different level,” said Marks. “This was personal.”
“Did the attendant say or do anything other than laugh?” pressed Morgan.
“I think I heard him say ‘1500 points’ or something like that,” said Marks.
“Thank you,” responded Morgan. Later, the trio analyzed what they gathered.
“So Reggie Marks gets poked immediately after he had an exchange with the concession stand attendant,” noted Morgan.
“The attendant appeared involved as well,” said Prentiss, “but we don’t know if it was opportunistic or if he helped out in the attack.
“There was also a point total uttered, which backs up the game theory,” said Morgan.
“It could be just an expression,” said Hotchner. “He could still be targeting people at random and that’s the game he plays. Let’s see what the others got before we draw a conclusion.”
“I was just milling about the concourse,” said Stinson, teary-eyed. “He came out of nowhere…there was nothing I could do.”
“It’s okay,” said Jareau, comforting her by rubbing her shoulder.
“What were you doing immediately before the attack?” asked Rossi.
“I was just wandering…the game was pretty much over, so I was just out for a stretch,” said Stinson.
“Did you talk on your cell phone…venture to a concession stand…make small talk with anyone?” asked Hawkes.
“No…I was just walking,” said Stinson. “I mean, I called my boyfriend who was in the stands, but that was well before…” Stinson again started to cry.
“Would you like us to come back later?” asked a concerned Rossi.
“…sorry…I’m sorry…no…stay. I can do this,” said Stinson, again being comforted by Jareau.
“So you were just walking around…taking in the sights…and then…it happened,” rationalized Hawkes. “Can you think a little bit more about the attacker?”
“Zoe…she’s traumatized by him…we have to be delicate,” said Jareau.
“I told my boyfriend I would be strong…” replied Stinson, doing her best to hold back her tears.
“I know it’s hard,” said Hawkes, who sounded apologetic, “but…I’m thinking that if you weren’t doing anything special this poker knew you.”
“There was something I recognized,” said Stinson, remembering. “A star necklace. I remember there was this guy who bought me coffee earlier in the day, just out of the blue. So I gave it to him to thank him for his kind deed.”
“Then what happened?” asked Rossi.
“Well…he asked me for my number…I told him I had a boyfriend…he wasn’t too happy about that,” replied Stinson.
“How did he take the rejection?” asked Jareau.
“He just said ‘OK’ and walked away,” said Stinson. “I didn’t think it would lead to this.”
“What’s his name?” asked Jareau.
“We never got to that point…as soon as I gave him the necklace he asked for my number,” said Stinson.
“What did he look like?” asked Rossi.
“Black hair, white, like myself…big guy,” said Stinson. “Tall. Had a goatee. Brown eyes and a Roman nose.”
Rossi then interrupted the interview to take a phone call from Prentiss.
“Jeannie…we’re talking to the other victim, Mr. Reggie Marks,” said Rossi. “He said the poker received ‘1500 points’ for the attack on Marks…did he make a similar declaration around you?”
“He did,” responded Stinson enthusiastically. “I only got 500. That’s how I bumped into Reggie…because it was odd to hear a point total come out.” Stinson paused for a moment and then continued.
“There’s one other thing you should know,” said Stinson. “Earlier in the day, when I saw him…he had a bit of a limp when he walked and seemed to clutch his knee every now and then. I don’t know if that means anything.”
“It means a lot,” said Hawkes, now alarmed.
“Am…am I in danger?” responded a terrified Stinson.
“We believe he is a sufferer of a condition called ‘Child Life Fantasy’,” responded Hawkes plainly. “Those who contract the condition through injury are the most at risk for escalation, but we don’t believe you are in any danger. Rather, the target of the escalation is someone specific, someone they know on a more personal level.”
“Thank you for your time,” said Rossi as the three left.
At the police station, the team gathered what they knew and delivered the profile for the local authorities.
“We are looking for a white male, aged 25-30,” started Hotchner. “He is tall with black hair and brown eyes and may be sporting a goatee.”
“He is a sufferer of ‘Child Life Fantasy’, meaning he believes he’s constantly playing a game with the public,” continued Reid.
“He is a high functioning member of society,” continued Prentiss, “but he is prone to immaturity, likely so bad that he cannot hold down a job or a steady relationship.”
“So look for anyone who fits this description who bounced around from job to job with a history of termination for immature acts,” concluded Morgan.
“Thank you for your time,” said Hotchner.
“Okay, so Reid and Hawkes…you two figure out what kind of game this unsub is playing,” said Hotchner. “The rest of us are going to pay this concession stand attendant a vist.”
“Hey baby girl,” said Morgan, calling Garcia.
“That never gets old,” cooed Garcia. “How can I service you today?”
“Well, I need you to get the whipped cream…”
“…oooh…feeling adventurous today Derek?”
Morgan replied with a smirk. “I’m always adventurous.”
“Just the way I like it.”
“I need you to look up who was working near Reggie Marks’ seats the night of the game. The concession stand attendant may have ID’ed the unsub.”
Garcia typed away for a few seconds and came up with the answer. “Eric Spiller, he lives on 134 Castleview Avenue…sending the info to your phones.”
“Thanks baby doll…and save me some of that whipped cream for when I get back.”
“You got it.” Garcia could then be heard spraying whipped cream into her mouth before cutting off her phone.
Five minutes later, the team was at Spiller’s door.
“Eric Spiller, this is the FBI!” sternly yelled Hotchner. “You are under arrest.”
Spiller’s father opened the door.
“What are you doing here?” asked the bemused father. “Eric is 17…he’s just a kid.”
“Mr. Spiller, your son is wanted for aiding and abetting a crime. We have a witness report that said he egged on a serial poker.”
Eric’s father didn’t hesitate. “There he is!” He pointed fortuitously at his son, playing Xbox on the family’s TV.”
“Eric Spiller!” hollered Morgan. “You are under arrest for aiding and abetting a serial poker. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one the state will appoint one for you. Do you understand your rights?”
The team hauled Spiller off for questioning.
Meanwhile, Reid and Hawkes were getting headway into solving the riddle of the game.
“From what I’ve gathered, this has to be a target based game,” noted Reid. "The targets all followed each other so there has to be some kind of order."
"Makes sense," replied Hawkes, "64% of all poking games are goal-oriented."
“Someone with CLF would likely start with someone smaller because that’s how kid bullies work and then go to the bigger person. Did we get anything out of the interviews?”
"Makes sense," replied Hawkes, "64% of all poking games are goal-oriented."
“Someone with CLF would likely start with someone smaller because that’s how kid bullies work and then go to the bigger person. Did we get anything out of the interviews?”
“He received point totals for every poke he made,” responded Hawkes.
“So this definitely is a goal-based game.”
“Hit a certain amount of points, then go after the next target.”
“Jeannie Stinson’s poke was worth only 500 points and came before Reggie Marks’ poke. Which makes sense…but why the leap in points? Going from 500 to 1500 points doesn’t sound like a natural progression…500 to 1000 would make sense.”
“Yes, but he was contacted by the attendant. Those are bonus points.”
“So Marks’ poke came with an extra 500 points because the attendant led him to the attack…and the attendant had to spur him on or else it’d be a penalty.”
“Okay…so we know that Stinson knew the attacker…but it doesn’t appear like Marks knew him. So how do they connect?”
“Well, Stinson rejected him earlier in the day and Marks was rude to the attendant.”
“That makes the targets ‘correctional targets’, chosen so that he can ‘correct’ whatever wrong they committed.”
“That means Marks was still part of the game because he committed a wrong that needed to be corrected- being rude to the attendant.”
“That makes sense.”
“Did Kevin know the target? We need to know if he did something that needed ‘correcting’.”
“Let’s call Kevin.”
“Hey Kevin,” said Hawkes. “How are you today?”
“I’m trying to move on,” said Stills. “It’s difficult.”
“I know.” Hawkes was concerned for her friend, but she had to do her job. “Listen, I need to ask you a bit more about the attacker.”
“OK. Shoot.” Stills was still upset about the attack, but he knew if he helped he’d get some closure.
“Do you remember an incident where you caused an injury or a suspension or something like that?”
“There was this one time…I was playing with the Flyers’ youth team at a special tournament. I tried to hit this guy but he sidestepped me and his knee hit mine. He had to leave the game.”
“Do you remember who you hit?”
“I don’t recall…we never played them before and it was on the first shift, so I didn’t know who he was.”
“Okay,” said Hawkes, turning her attention to Reid, who listened to the conversation, “so we have something…just not a name.”
“Let’s call Garcia, see what she knows.”
The duo dialed Garcia and put her on speaker. “Hello happy campers!” beamed Garcia.
“I could hug you all day,” responded Hawkes. “You’re just so cute.”
“Right back at ya,” replied Garcia.
“Garcia,” said Reid, “Kevin Stills said he caused a knee injury to another player but because it was on the first shift and it was during a special tournament he couldn’t ID who he hit. Can you help us?”
“I’m looking into it now…” said Garcia, whose computer responded in a few minutes. “Ouch. We have a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Moose Jaw Tunnels at the Herb Brooks Memorial Tournament at Trenton, New Jersey where a one George Yarbo accused Stills of instigating a knee on knee collision…tore up his anterior cruciate ligament or ACL…had to be forced out of hockey. He subsequently tried to hold on to various jobs with the Tunnels but kept getting let go because of immaturity.”
“How long ago was this?” asked Hawkes.
“On April 13, 2012,” responded Garcia.
“Where was he treated?” asked Reid.
“Since the game was in Trenton, he went to the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in Princeton, New Jersey. It had to have been some injury, because none other than Dr. House treated him."
"Do we have an address?" asked Hawkes.
"Unfortunately, since the incident, he's left no paper trail," said Garcia. "He rarely did, even when he played. He was hard to track before but he's even harder now."
“Thanks Garcia,” said Reid.
“Reggie Marks. Jeannie Stinson. Kevin Stills. Do they mean anything to you?” Prentiss said forcefully to Spiller.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said a bemused Spiller.
“They were all poked by a person you provoked!”
“I got nothing to do with that. That’s on the other guy.”
“So why were you laughing with interest when Reggie Marks got poked?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“We got it all on tape. You can’t hide from it.”
“Poking someone is funny. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one laughing.”
Prentiss got incredulous. “You two had an exchange right after he ordered and right before the poke. How can you tell me you weren’t involved?”
“We just had a chat. He was next in line. I like being friendly.”
Prentiss continued in her trademark sarcastic snarl. “You know, there’s something you’re not telling me. We have evidence that you aided and abetted the poker…so, we can make this easy…you give me what I want and I just might be able to get you out of going to jail. Or I just walk out of here and I’ll say you obstructed a continental investigation.”
“Easy man, easy.” Spiller was trembling. “He said he was playing “Target Poker”…he said everyone in the concourse was playing it…so I pointed out the fat guy…if he poked him and made his food fall on the floor it’d be worth 1000 points, just what he needed to get to the next level; and because I goaded him into the poke, he got an extra 500 points to advance another level. I didn’t know he didn’t know those guys.”
Prentiss smiled. She was then pulled out of the room by Hotchner.
“Hotch, what is it?” asked Prentiss.
“Reid has something,” said Hotchner.
“Guys…we got a name from Garcia,” said Reid. “The unsub had a run in with Stills, who tore his knee during a game played in Philadelphia. We ID’ed him as a one George Yarbo, of Dog River, Saskatchewan. However, he was treated for his knee injury in the area, at the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in Princeton, New Jersey by Dr. Gregory House. He may be going there to get some revenge on House.”
“So what do we make of Spiller?” asked Prentiss.
“I doubt he’s got anything to do with the case…the way the game works, he got involved opportunistically,” said Reid.
“Let’s keep Spiller here for now,” said Hotchner. “He still has possibly committed a crime.”
The team then got together to hear about the game that Reid and Hawkes revealed.
“The game that George Yarbo is playing is called ‘Target Poker’,” started Reid. “It’s a goal-based game where the player must achieve a certain amount of points with one target before he can move on to the next target. In this version of the game, the targets are specific, and they’re all targets that have wronged him in some way.”
“We believe that Jeannie Stinson was the first victim,” said Hawkes. “She became the first target because she ‘immediately’ wronged him, and the point total for that is 500 points.”
“How did Yarbo know that Stinson was going to the hockey game?” asked Morgan.
“We believe it was just dumb luck,” replied Reid. “Since the first victim could be *anyone* that committed an immediate wrong he’d have no problem finding a victim. He just happened to chance upon Stinson at the game.”
“He doesn’t get any bonus points for that?” asked Prentiss.
“No, because this was the first victim,” replied Hawkes.
“So how does he get to Marks?” asked Jareau.
“Marks is the second level, which represents someone who is ‘like him’,” said Hawkes. “That is worth 1000 points.”
“However, because the attendant got involved and pointed Marks out to Yarbo, there’s an extra 500 points for a 1500 point total,” said Reid.
“Spiller said that the 1500 allows him to skip a level,” inquired Rossi. “So does that make Stills Level 4?”
“No, it doesn’t,” said Hawkes. “Level 3 is known as the ‘instigator’ level, where the player must get the target who got him into this mess. You can’t skip this level. In this case, it’s Stills.”
“Level 4 is the person who rehabilitated him, because it signals the start of redemption,” said Reid. “That would be Dr. House.”
“However, he can skip that level,” said Rossi. “So we’re at the endgame then.”
“Not quite,” said Hawkes. “There’s a fifth level, the Comrade Level, where he must find someone who suffered with him.”
“Then it’s the final level…and this is where it’s most scary,” said Reid. “It’s the person who committed the ultimate rejection where he must ‘right’ it…and this could get ugly.”
“Let’s get to House first,” said Hotchner. “So far we haven’t heard if he’s been poked so we have to assume that’s where he’s going.”
“However, if he can skip a level we should also look at the people involved in that level,” said Prentiss.
“Correct,” said Hotchner. “Garcia, get me the names of the people who were treated for knee injuries on the same day that Yarbo was treated.”
“You got it,” replied Garcia.
In five minutes, Garcia came up with a list of six names, a surprisingly high total of knee surgeries at the renowned Princeton hospital.
“How come on the television show they always come up with one guy?” said Hotchner, shaking his head.
“Because that’s television and this is reality,” responded Garcia. “Not much I can do.” Hotchner proceeded to organize the Pennsylvania County police force to give 24 hour protection for the potential targets against Yarbo, as well as notifying airports in case he attempted to fly. The team, without Garcia (who stayed behind) went to Princeton.
After entering the hospital, the team managed to run into House during a break from surgeries.
“Dr. House,” said Reid. “This is Agent Dr. Spencer Reid of the FBI, do you have a moment?”
“You? An agent in the FBI? And a Doctor?” said House incredulously. “I think you’re just trying to get out of multiplication class.”
“May I remind you that you are talking to a federal agent,” said Rossi angrily towards House.
“Who peed in your Cornflakes?” said House sarcastically.
“Dr. House,” said Hotchner sternly, jumping in. “If you continue with this attitude we will cite you for disrespecting a federal agent. Do I make myself clear?”
“OK fine,” said House, admitting defeat. “Still, if you’re here for the Vicodin, you should know that was just on T.V.”
“We’re not here for that,” said Prentiss. “We believe you may be in danger.”
“I’m surprised that I’m in danger,” said a surprised House. “I walk with a cane…I couldn’t put up much of a fight against anyone.”
“It’s George Yarbo,” responded Prentiss. “He’s playing a poking game and we believe you could be next in line.”
“Child Life Fantasy…” said House in a “Eureka” moment. “I should have seen it.” House paused for a moment and then continued.
“Right after I treated him he started to poke me,” recalled House. “Incessantly. I had to put him under sedatives to make him stop. When he woke up, I reminded him about the sedatives and he went back to normal.”
“…but wait…you’d be at Level 4 we figure…” noted Hawkes. “Why is he playing this game out of order?”
“There’s a variant to the game…where you can start at Level 4…” said Reid, recalling the information.
“That’s right,” said House. “It’s called the ‘Opportunistic Exception’…you can only invoke it once and he did at that time.”
“Right…the Opportunistic Exception…how did we miss it Spencer?” said Hawkes.
“Looks like we’re just humans after all, Zoe,” said Reid with a smile.
“It also explains the cooling off period,” continued Hawkes.
“So because he invokes the rule, he has to wait before participating again, am I right?” asked Morgan.
“Exactly,” said Reid. “By rule, if you invoke the Opportunistic Exception, you have to wait four months before you can go to Level One as a quasi penalty for skipping levels. He just waited until now because he didn’t have the opportunity to visit Philadelphia.”
“Does this mean he won’t skip Level 5?” asked Jareau.
“No, he still can,” said Hawkes.
“So our time here is done,” said Rossi. “I think we need to visit Saskatchewan.”
The team thanked House for his time and got on the plane for Dog River, as Hotchner later found out that Yarbo did indeed fly to Saskatchewan earlier in the day.
“JJ, what is it?” asked Hotchner to Jareau on the flight to Saskatchewan.
“Hotch…we both have children,” replied Jareau. “You have Jack and I have Henry. Think about how much life and energy they bring…not just to themselves but to us as well.”
“So you’re wondering how something so innocent could be seen as so dangerous.”
“I mean, when kids do it we fall in love with it…but when adults do it, we ridicule it.”
“The difference is we understand kids don’t know when the game is over because we have to tell them. Adults should already know this and need us to tell them when they don’t.”
After the team landed in Dog River, they were greeted by the town’s police staff, consisting of just Sergeant Davis Quinton and Constable Karen Pelly.
“Hotch! Rossi! Nice to see you guys,” beamed Quinton as he shook their hands. “David, I have read your books many times…I never knew the criminal mind could be so complex…it’s almost like tying your shoe.”
“Is he all there?” asked Rossi to Pelly.
“I don’t think any of him is there,” responded Pelly.
“I never thought I’d see the day the BAU would come to Dog River,” said Quinton. “It’s an honour and a pleasure to have you here. I do want to know why you guys don’t answer my calls though.”
“Davis, having a flat tire is not a case for the BAU,” responded Hotchner curtly.
“See what I mean?” said Pelly, giving the “screw loose” gesture.
“I see what you mean,” replied Rossi.
“We have a very specific reason why we’re here,” said Jareau to Quinton and Pelly. “We need to find George Yarbo. Do you know anything about him?”
“Ah…George…Hank’s brother,” responded Pelly. “We don’t see him much around here…he always seems to be on the move, mostly because of hockey.”
“Then he had that ‘accident’,” lamented Quinton. “Stills was reckless. I think he hit him on purpose.”
“The whole town thinks the same way,” noted Pelly.
“Makes sense…have to stick by your comrades,” responded Rossi.
“What makes you think he’s coming back to Dog River?” asked Pelly.
“He’s playing a game of ‘Target Poker’,” responded Reid, “and this is his final level.”
“So? It’s just childish fun…what’s wrong with it?” asked Quinton as he got amused by flipping his phone cover back and forth.
“What’s wrong is that George poked three people who didn’t deserve it,” said Morgan forcefully, closing Quinton’s phone.
“I see…this is a serious case,” said Pelly, who renewed her sense of urgency.
“Do you know where we can find George?” asked Hotchner.
“I’m not sure about George,” responded Pelly, “but you can find Hank at the gas station. He’ll be able to help.”
As expected, Hank was at the station along with Brent Leroy, the station’s owner, Brent's father Oscar, and Brent’s single employee Wanda Dollard. The three of them were having an argument about asparagus when the BAU interrupted.
“Which one of you is Hank Yarbo?” asked Prentiss. As if on cue, Dollard and Brent pointed to Hank, who hung his head.
“OK fine…I’ll pay all of you back…” sulked Hank. “I didn’t think it was so serious that we needed the FRU.”
“FBI…” said Prentiss with a sigh. “What’s wrong with this town?”
“We haven’t figured that out ourselves,” replied Dollard sardonically.
“How can we help you?” asked Brent in his trademark sheepish tone.
“Brent! They’re the RBI! Those jackasses don’t need our help! Get away jackasses!” shouted Oscar.
“Dad! It’s FBI and they haven’t done anything to us,” replied Brent. “Relax.” Brent paused before continuing. “Excuse him, he’s got a few screws loose.”
“He’s not the only one,” responded Rossi.
“We need to find George Yarbo,” said Morgan. “We believe he’s coming back to this town and could be putting someone here in danger.”
“George? Danger? That’s the first I heard of that,” said a surprised Dollard. “Unless…you’re talking about CLF.”
“Wow…there’s someone here who’s not dumb,” exclaimed Prentiss.
“Don’t get too excited…it’s just Karen and I around here,” replied Dollard. “Anyhow…CLF…I think Hank’s got it too.”
“I do not!” shouted Hank defensively.
“This despite the fact you’re proudly wearing a Dora the Explorer shirt and have the intellectual capacity of an eight year old,” said Rossi in his dry wit.
“Hey! I love Dora,” remonstrated Hank, “and how dare you say I have the Internet tendency of an eight year old! I know how to find Barney the Dinosaur.”
“I said intellectual…never mind,” said Rossi, before giving up trying to reason with Hank.
“OK Hank,” said Morgan fiercely, “tell us where your brother is or we will charge you with obstructing justice.”
“Well…after his knee got attacked he was supposed to come back here,” quivered Hank. “However, none of us have ever seen him.”
“He makes less sense than Hank,” said Dollard. “That says something.”
“He’s playing a game called ‘Target Poker’ and we believe his endgame is up here in Dog River,” said Rossi. “Do you know what his target could be?”
“Well,” started Brent, “he did get kneed by that hockey player.”
“That hockey player already reported an incident to us, and he’s not ‘the last level’,” said Rossi.
“What is the last level?” asked Brent.
“It’s the one of ‘Ultimate Rejection’,” replied Dollard. “The one he has the most anger towards.”
“Who would that be?” asked Prentiss.
“Oh. That’s easy,” said Brent. “He’s after Lacey Burrows. He was the love of his life and she never batted an eye towards him.”
“Where can we find Lacey?” asked Prentiss.
“She owns The Ruby across the street, I’d go there,” said Brent.
“Thank you,” replied Prentiss.
“She’s going to be okay, right?” asked a worried Brent.
“We’re going to do our best,” answered Jareau.
“I mean, I haven’t checked up on her for over an hour because it’s past lunch time,” said Brent. “I didn’t have a reason to go over there. I didn’t realize she was in trouble.”
“I know you feel guilty, it’s normal,” said Jareau in a calming tone, “this kind of thing you can’t predict, so there’s not much you can do.”
Outside The Ruby, everything looked okay, but the team was still cautious. Morgan took the lead with regards to entering the premises, and noticed the door wouldn’t open.
“He’s here,” cautioned Morgan. “He’s blockaded the door.” He then proceeded to kick the door down, along with the chair that was propping it closed. “Amateur,” continued Morgan, shaking his head.
The team entered the diner to find Lacey Burrows bound and gagged hanging from the ceiling and Emma Leroy, Oscar’s wife and Brent’s mother who happened to be a customer at the wrong time, bound and gagged sitting on the floor. Right next to Burrows was George Yarbo, who was in the process of undoing her blouse.
“George Yarbo! FBI!” screamed Hotchner. “If you undo one more button, we will shoot.”
Yarbo took a few deep breaths before collecting himself. “OK. I’m going to step away,” said Yarbo. He did step away briefly, before unhooking Burrows, kicking down a chair blocking the nearby exit and bolting out of the café, Burrows carried over his shoulder.
“Go!” Hotchner ordered to Morgan, who gave Yarbo chase. He was followed out by Prentiss, with the duo followed by Quinton and Pelly, who were guarding the back door as well as reinforcements from other Saskatchewan police units, though none could keep up with either Morgan or Yarbo.
Yarbo and Morgan ran for some distance in the nearby field, with the chase going on for some 15 minutes. Eventually, with Yarbo just past the border with rival town Wullerton, Morgan caught up with him. Morgan drew his gun but Yarbo was quick, dropping Burrows and tackling Morgan to the ground in one quick act.
What followed was a fist fight for the ages. Morgan uppercutted Yarbo from the ground, allowing him to escape from the ground and get the fight with both of them standing up. Yarbo again charged Morgan, but the swift Morgan ducked, grabbed Yarbo’s arm and flipped him to the ground. Yarbo, though was equal to the task, taking his foot and tripping Morgan.
Morgan, though, being the swifter one, successfully rolled away from Yarbo’s attempt to jump on him and got back to his feet. Yarbo took a swing at Morgan but missed, with his failure to connect allowing Morgan to grab his left leg, flip him over and tackle him to the ground. By this point, Morgan had been able to get on top of his back and restrain more movement, grabbing both of his arms and bounding his wrists with handcuffs.
“That’s what you get for messin’ with the BAU,” snarled Morgan, victoriously.
“Did I miss the fun part?” exclaimed Prentiss, who just arrived on the scene. Pelly wasn’t far behind, and tended to Burrows, who held on to Pelly tightly and started to feel better.
“Sorry we took so long,” said Pelly. “We got lost in the field.”
“It’s okay,” said Morgan. “I could handle him all by myself.”
“I can see that,” said Prentiss, impressed.
Later that night, Burrows and her friends hosted the BAU at The Ruby to celebrate George Yarbo’s capture.
“I can’t thank you guys enough,” said Burrows to the team. “I was worried about my life…George never understood when to stop.”
“You’re welcome,” replied Morgan. “I’m glad we could be of some assistance.”
“What happened to you, Emma?” asked Reid.
“Oh, wrong place wrong time,” replied Emma. “I was merely a guest when George just barged right in. I tried to say hello because I hadn’t seen him in a while but he bound me instead. I thought, ‘well he sure knew his manners.’ So how did you guys figure out that he’d be here?”
“He was playing a game called ‘Target Poker’,” explained Hawkes. “We knew Lacey would be the final target, and everyone knew she worked here. It was just a matter of figuring out the puzzle.”
The team ordered their food and were impressed with the results.
“The food here is great,” said Jareau.
“I agree,” concurred Rossi. “I think we need to get a location in Quantico.”
“I just might be able to arrange that,” beamed Burrows.
Quinton and Pelly joined the team at their table.
“That was more excitement than I’ve ever seen in this town,” noted Quinton.
“The good part is that we got the guy,” responded Morgan.
“I have new found respect for you guys,” said Quinton.
“Thanks,” replied Jareau.
“We’re always here to help, whenever you need us,” said Rossi.
“Maybe you can get Oscar to start doing his chores,” said Emma.
“I think you’re on your own there,” responded Rossi, with a smirk.
Later that day, Reid and Morgan went with Hank Yarbo on a tour of the town.
“So is there anything to see around here?” asked Reid.
“Well, we do have a pile of wood,” replied Hank.
“Is it shaped like anything?”
“Yeah,” said Hank, enthusiastically, “it’s pile-shaped.”
Morgan wore a bemused look on his face but Reid was still intrigued. “Show this pile to me,” said Reid.
Hank then showed Reid and Morgan the wood pile he was talking about. Reid became fixated on the wood and made a discovery.
“This is wood taken from the Appalachian Redwood, which died out more than 200 years ago,” said Reid. “You can tell by its cut marks that it was grown here…this is fascinating.”
“Oh Reid…only you can get enamoured by a pile of wood,” said Morgan.
“Did you guys do anything to the wood to make it last this long?” asked Reid.
“Uhh…” started Hank, “I didn’t even pay that much attention to the wood…I just thought it was some random pile.”
“That’s because it is,” responded Reid. “I just made all that stuff up.”
Hank looked befuddled as Morgan bellowed in laughter.
“Now no one can say that they didn’t laugh at my jokes,” cracked Reid.
“Hey, now you’re right kid,” responded Morgan, as the two of them walked away to rejoin the team at the town’s lone hotel before flying home the next day.