Force Factor
ImageBy: Lady Shelley

What happens when the Mob gets interested in probability theory?

February 15, 2005     70K     Case Story

Author's Notes: This story was started Feb 7 and completed Feb 15, 2005. I happily practice TV medicine, so if medical detail is a must for you, you might be disappointed. Oh, and I gave Alan's wife a name.
Thank you to everyone at the Numb3rs Yahoo group and the forum for answering my questions.

Don stood next to the Chevy drumming his fingers on the hood and checked his watch again; Charlie was late, again. For all his math genius, Charlie never could keep track of time.

As he stood waiting, Don watched the foot and vehicle traffic pass by. The middle of a Tuesday afternoon didn't offer much, but he watched the few cars coming and going out of habit. He checked his watch again 3:15 PM; Charlie was now a half hour late.

He noticed a dark grey sedan pull into a space not far from him, noted the three men inside didn't really look like students: all three were too old and none were dressed quite right. Before he could really digest this, the door to the Thales Building opened and Charlie walked out talking to another student, dressed in the same careless manner as Charlie, and he didn't give the car any more thought.

"Finally," Don said in a frustrated tone and started walking toward the two.

"Hey, Charlie!" Don said. "Come on, we're gonna be late as it is."

Charlie looked up from his conversation and waved. He turned back to his companion with a last word and started down the steps of the building. Don met him at the base of the stairs and Charlie said, "Hi, Don. I'm sorry about making you wait; I just got tied up with something."

Don shook his head and replied, "Whatever. Look, we've got a meeting to be at in twenty minutes, you're lucky it's at least on this end of town." Don turned and walked back to the Suburban, Charlie following. "You're supposed to be answering questions about your equation on the Redstone case, you know, and these people ..." Don's voice trailed off as two men from the sedan came around from behind the truck.

The first was dark-haired, tall and muscle-bound, wearing a button-down shirt and jacket that almost hid the bulge from his shoulder holster. The other was blonde, younger and smaller, but also was trying unsuccessfully to hide the gun under his arm with a coat; he tapped the fingers of his left hand together as if he were counting something in his head.

As Charlie bumped into his back, Don turned and said in a low voice, "Get back in the building."

"What? Don, what's the problem?" Charlie asked confused by the change of Don's tone from admonishment to concern.

Don didn't answer; he reached out and turned Charlie around and started walking back toward the nearly deserted common area and the Thales Building. "Charlie, there are two men I don't like the look of by the car, just get back in the building and stay there until I say it's OK."

It was one of the last things he remembered.

Don turned to see where the men were just in time to see one pulling out a gun and the other moving to intercept their path. Don pushed Charlie in the back and yelled, "Run!"

Charlie took a few stumbling steps and turned back.

"Charlie, get out of here, now!" Don turned to face the man with the weapon and reached down to get his gun from the holster at his side, but never had a chance. The dark-haired man in front of him opened fire. The first bullet chipped up the blacktop in front of Charlie, stopping his motion toward the steps. Don never saw the second, but he felt it slam into his upper chest.

He was aware of the warm asphalt under him and Charlie yelling his name, but he couldn't move. He heard footsteps coming near and opening his eyes, he saw the dark-haired man walk past him and take Charlie by the arm. "Finish it," he growled to his accomplice.

Don could hear Charlie trying to get back to him, but it was no use, the dark-haired man out muscled him and Charlie was dragged off, still struggling and still calling his name.

Don could feel the blood dripping down his side but otherwise he felt numb. Concentrating very hard, he opened his eyes again to see the other man stop next to him. While Don's hazy mind watched, the man raised the gun in his hand. The man glanced up, then took something from his pocket and kneeling quickly, put it in Don's hand. Standing again, he pointed the gun at Don and fired.

"Charlie, get out of here, now!" He heard Don's order, but Charlie stopped anyway, which was just as well as a bullet hit the ground right where he would have been standing. Turning to see what Don was doing, he watched in horror as the dark-haired man fired again and the bullet hit Don and he fell.

"Don!" Charlie shouted and started to run back to his brother's side.

Before Charlie could take more than a step or two, a second man was beside him, grabbing him. "Don't move, kid," he snarled in Charlie's ear.

Charlie ignored the command and started for Don again. The man at his side increased his hold and said, "I mean it, kid. You don't want to get hurt, too."

Charlie was still trying to pull away and calling Don's name when the dark-haired man came up beside him, took his arm in an even tighter grip and told his original captor, "Finish it." and tossed over the gun.

Hearing this, Charlie started thrashing harder to get away. "No! Don! Don, get up!" Charlie was near tears and his voice rasped as he pleaded for Don to move, to do something.

The dark-haired man pinned Charlie's arms to his side and picking him up, hauled him over to a dark grey sedan, and opened the back door, pushed him into the back seat climbed in beside him and slammed the door quickly behind them.

Sitting up, Charlie looked out the window. He couldn't see Don's head or upper body, there was another car parked between the sedan and Don, but Charlie did see the blonde man point a gun at where Don's head would be and fire.

"NO!" Charlie screamed and made a break for the door on the right hand side of the car. The dark-haired man grabbed him and snarled, "That's enough out of you for awhile." and hit Charlie hard enough that his head bounced off the window frame and knocked him out.

When Charlie opened his eyes all he saw was concrete; the floor, the walls all were an unrelieved grey. There was no light other than a fixture in the ceiling with one of its bulbs burned out, and no windows. The room smelled of mildew and looking closer, Charlie could see water dribbling in rivulets at various points down the walls.

Turning his head to survey his surroundings started his head pounding and sitting up slowly, Charlie rubbed at the two most painful spots, one near his left ear at the joint and the other his right temple. Probing the spots carefully he didn't find any blood, but there was a lump on the right side, "Must have hit the side of the window," he mumbled.

With the memory of his own injuries, Charlie's mind flashed to the last view he had of Don, lying on his side with blood soaking through his shirt and the realization that Don was dead. Charlie started rocking back and forth, but the movement caused his head to hurt even more and he stopped.

A scraping noise behind him was all the warning Charlie had before a door he hadn't noticed before opened and a man walked into his prison carrying a tray

"Well, I see you're finally awake," the man said.

Charlie didn't reply. The man was still in shadow and all he could make out was a general idea of his size: large, and the tray.

Moving farther into the room the man bent over and put the tray on the floor. "You can call me Mr. Smith, Jason."

Before Charlie could voice any correction to his name, he realized who the man was. "You! You shot my brother! After he was already down, you shot him." Charlie stood up and started to move toward Mr. Smith, but a sudden wave of dizziness stopped him. "You won't get away with this you know. You've killed a federal agent, no way will the cops stop looking for you." Charlie knew he sounded belligerent and he didn't really care.

Mr. Smith managed to keep the shock he felt off his face and sneered, "Hey, kid, I got news for you. Cops are killed all the time, and no one ever gets caught. If I were you, I'd stop with the bravado and do what you're told. There are more members of your family we can find if we have to." When Charlie didn't respond, Mr. Smith pointed at the tray holding some half-cooked vegetables and meat recognizable as hamburger and continued. "Much better. That's your supper, I suggest you eat it as you're gonna need it come the morning."

Charlie didn't move as Mr. Smith walked back to the door and once it closed again Charlie could hear a key scraping in the lock. He ignored the tray, not only was his head and stomach hurting too much to think about food, he wasn't about to do anything these thugs wanted. He wandered over to a dry corner and slid down the wall, landing with a thump on the cold concrete; he dropped his head and let the tears fall.

Mr. Smith closed the door with a bang and missing the lock the first time, shoved the key into the lock on the second try, nearly breaking it off.

Moving down the corridor, he mumbled to himself and tapped his fingers together out of nervous habit. Climbing the steps to the next floor, he ran into Jack coming down. "We have a problem," he said and continued climbing.

"What do you mean we have a problem? Is the kid dead or something?" Jack growled, turning to follow.

"Or something is right," Mr. Smith replied. "We grabbed the wrong kid." He walked into the lit kitchen area and grabbed a can of beer open on the counter.

"How do you know? He fit the description we got: Brown, shaggy hair, brown eyes, layered clothes, blue and grey backpack, coming out of the Thales Building at 3:20PM."

Mr. Smith paced back and forth, "I'm telling you, Jack, we grabbed the wrong kid. He says that guy with him was his brother and a federal agent." He stopped and turned to Jack, "Look, the kid put up some front about the FBI not stopping because we killed some fed."

"Please, Eddie, just stop with the melodrama all right?" Jack said. "We can make this work. The kid has to know something since he's obviously in the same class with the one we wanted."

Before Eddie could say anything else, a third man walked into the kitchen. "The boss will be here in the morning. He wants to know when we'll have either the money or the blood."

"We'll be ready," Jack said and Eddie made a snorting noise. "We'll make this work. The kid we got can figure out what we need, then we can dump him. Make him a warning or something."

Don was only slightly aware as a car sped off, presumably with Charlie in it.

"Hey, man, you OK? Someone call 911 this guy's hurt pretty bad," a young voice said by his ear.

Hands rolled him onto his back and he groaned with the pain. "Sorry, man, but I think we gotta try and stop the bleeding."

Don opened his eyes a crack and saw a young man kneeling over him, looking almost exactly like Charlie. "Charlie?" he mumbled. "Charlie, you all right?"

The young man stopped what he was doing and said, "I'm not Charlie, my name is Jason, Jason Villers. Someone called an ambulance, they should be here soon, OK?"

Don closed his eyes again, realizing that while there was a slight resemblance, this face looking at him wasn't his brother's. His chest and shoulder were a sheet of fire interlaced with stabs of pain. The only other thing to penetrate his mind was the fact that someone had kidnapped Charlie and he had no idea who, why or where they would have gone.

"All right everyone, back off, give the man some room here," a new voice ordered.

Don cracked open his eyes again to see a police officer bending over and looking down at him. "Hey, buddy, can you tell me your name?" he asked.

Don licked his lips and whispered, "Eppes, FBI."

"Oh, Christ," the cop swore and straightening he spoke into his shoulder mic, "Dispatch? 340, shooting victim is FBI; repeat man down is FBI we need someone from the LA office here ASAP."

He must have faded out as the next time he opened his eyes, he saw a couple of paramedics working on him.

"Gunshot wound to upper left chest." One of the men reported probing at the wound. The other was readying an oxygen mask and IV. "Left clavicle is broken, looks clean. No exit wound." Don could feel a hand under his shoulder and groaned again with pain. "Sir, can you tell me you're name?" one of the paramedics asked.

Don glanced around the area and when the paramedic asked him a second time he replied, "Eppes, FBI. Where's Charlie?"

"Victim is conscious, but disoriented," the paramedic reported to his partner. Turning back to Don, he said, "I don't know who Charlie is, Mr. Eppes. We're getting ready to transport you to LA General."

"Let me through! FBI, let me through," a female voice said. "Don? Don, can you hear me?" Terry Lake asked, concern and worry written plain on her face as she kneeled by his side.

Don opened his eyes again, and seeing Terry and David Sinclair in the background asked again where Charlie was.

"He's not here. Was he with you when this happened?" Terry asked, reaching down to touch his arm.

Don could only nod. Terry's hand on his arm clicked something else in his memory and he opened his hand to show her what the gunman had given him.

She took the paper and opened it, reading quickly. "Don, where did this come from? Who gave this to you?"

Before Don could answer, a gurney was wheeled into place. Terry was moved out of the way while he was lifted onto it and an oxygen mask placed over his face.

Terry watched as the ambulance sped off, then turned to David. "Find out what you can from witnesses and the police. It sounds like in addition to Don getting shot, Charlie has been kidnapped. We need to know if anyone saw what happened."

"You got it," David replied and turning to the police officer still standing next to him said, "Any suspicions vehicles make, model and direction if you can get it; description of the shooter and any accomplices." The officer nodded and walked off to start the interviews.

"What was the paper he gave you?" David asked turning back to Terry.

She held up the piece of paper and opened it again, for David to read:

Charlie Bravo 17893

"Any ideas on what it could be?" she asked.

"No idea. It might be a code of some sort. We can run it through the system and see what comes up. Did Don say where it came from?"

Terry carefully put the paper, their only hard evidence so far, in a plastic baggie even though the odds of getting anything useful were poor. "No, he was pretty out of it between the pain and well ..."

David glanced around at the gathered student body and nodded. "Right."

"All right, you get started here; I'll meet you back at the office in a few hours," Terry said recovering some authority. "I think it goes without saying we need to get a fix on this one fast. I want to be able to tell Don Charlie is safe and sound."

"Where are you going?" David asked.

"Someone has to tell Alan what's happened. Hopefully I can get there before LAPD."

LA General was the source of far too many memories for Alan as he sat in the ER waiting room. Both of his sons had been born here, Charlie's tonsils were removed here when he was five, Don's knee surgery after one too many slides into third in college.

And Helen had died here.

He was grateful to Terry for driving him here, but he was also happy she took his hint and didn't press her offer to stay.

"A car from the office is here," she said quietly. "You're sure you don't want someone to wait with you?"

"No, really, I'm an old pro at waiting in this place," he replied with a sigh. After a few seconds he continued, "You need to find Charlie. I talked to one of the doctors while you were on the phone. They seem to think the surgery will be relatively simple. Go."

Terry nodded and said, "Let me know how things go. I'll call you later if I can." With one last look back, Terry had walked out the double doors to the waiting car.

So Alan waited. He knew Terry and the rest of Don's team were doing everything possible. He knew if anyone could find Charlie it would be the people that knew him and worked with him. He knew all of that, but it didn't stop him from worrying anyway.

He sat back in the hard, plastic chair and glanced up as a doctor hurried passed. He hadn't lied to Terry about Don, the doctor he spoke to had said the surgery was going as planned and everything would probably be fine. The bullet had come out easier than expected; the hard part was repairing the broken bones. It was the 'probably' part that was the problem. Infections, complications, were always a possibility he knew; he'd heard all these before with Helen.

What would he tell Charlie?

What would he tell Don?

Another doctor walked by dressed in surgical scrubs, this time stopping in front of Alan.

"Mr. Eppes? My name is Doctor Kelly," he said holding out his hand. "I wanted to update you on your son's condition."

Alan stood up and asked, "How is he? Everything went all right didn't it?"

Dr. Kelly motioned to a closed door. "Would you like to step in here, sir? We can talk in private."

Once Alan was sitting in one of the padded chairs, the doctor continued, "The surgery went well. As you know we were able to remove the bullet and the collarbone is held together with plates."

Alan sat back and let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "So, he's going to be fine? When can I see him?"

"He's in recovery now, once he's moved you can see him. But I don't want to fool you. Complete recovery could take several months, though he will probably be able to go home in a few days. However, depending on how the bones heal, we may need to do additional surgery down the line to either stabilize the plates or fuse the bones."

Alan was nodding along with what the doctor said but he didn't hear much beyond that Don would recover. Somehow he would have to convince his obstinate, self-reliant son to realize he would need help for at least a little while and stay with him and Charlie instead of going back to his apartment.

Charlie ...

"They will find him, and he will be OK," he said in a low whisper.

"I'm sorry?" asked Dr. Kelly.

Alan realized he'd spoken and to cover his confusion, he asked, "Where will Don be once he's moved?"

"He'll be in the critical care floor for a day or two and then moved to a regular room. If you'd like to follow me, I can take you up and you can wait for him there."

Once again Dr Kelly held the door open and led the way to the elevator.

Terry walked into the bullpen looking tired. The last thing she had wanted was for Alan to sit in a sterile waiting room alone, but she had noticed his subtle hints and had called for a car, leaving Alan with his own to get home.

David Sinclair was sitting in front of a computer running a decipher program while two other agents were reviewing files and looking at a map.

"What do we know?" she asked the room in general.

David turned away from the keyboard and spoke first. "From the witnesses, we know a dark grey Chevy Impala was seen leaving immediately after the shooting." David glanced at his notes and continued, "We think there were two men involved with the shooting and a third driving. Suspect One is dark-haired, between forty and fifty wearing a tan sport jacket and jeans. Suspect Two is blonde, mid-thirties and wearing a dark colored sport coat and black pants. No one got a good look at the driver."

"Did we get a license plate for the car," Terry asked picking up one of the witness reports.

David shook his head. "Only a partial -- HG. We're running it through now to see if we get any matches on the car, but ..."

"Yeah, either the car or the plate was probably stolen and won't do us any good," Terry said with a sigh. "Did we get anything for a direction it was going?"

"A couple of the students thought it was heading west when it left the parking lot."

"OK, call the Highway Department. See if we can track the car with their cameras. We can at least get a better handle on their direction."

"I'm on it," said one of the men standing by the map.

"We found two bullets: one near the steps leading to the Thales Building and the other about a foot from where Don was lying," David continued.

"What does Ballistics say?"

"Not much. The bullets are 9mm, one of the most common ammunition types around. They're still working on it."

Terry dropped the file she was studying and stared off into space. So far she had nothing to go on in this case and she could feel her frustration level rising. Taking a deep breath in an effort to refocus, she turned to her desk and started making a list of people to call to get more information.

"How is Don doing," David asked in a low, concerned voice.

"He was still in surgery when I left. Alan talked to one of his doctors and was told he should be fine."

David sat back in his chair and relaxed a little, however he shot straight up again as the computer pinged it was done.

"Terry, we may have something with that paper Don gave you," he said slightly excited.

Terry walked over and looked over his shoulder to see the screen. "What did we get?"

David punched a few keys and read the result. "Charlie Bravo was a code name for an agent in Special Crimes, Richard Maitland. No other information, but we can try --"

"You won't try anything, sir," a female voice said from behind them.

Turning around Terry and David found a female agent standing stiffly in the doorway.

"Richard Maitland has been undercover with a mafia cell for the past eighteen months. You will not compromise his position under any circumstances"

Terry walked toward the door and asked, "And you are?"

"I'm Agent Teresa Rothschild, I'm the head of the Special Crimes unit, and this case is now off limits."

Before David or any of the others could voice the anger she saw in the room, Terry motioned to a closed office and asked, "May I talk to you in private?" When the woman showed no sign of moving Terry added, "Please."

After another slight hesitation, Rothschild nodded.

Once the door was closed, she said, " Agent Lake, this won't change anything. I have an agent in the field in a very precarious position and I will not compromise him."

Terry leaned against the desk and said, "I understand your position in this, will you try to understand mine. A federal agent has been shot, a consultant to the FBI has been kidnapped and your agent is involved some how. There has to be a way we can work together on this."

"I don't see how we can do that. Richard Maitland has been undercover with this mafia cell for the last eighteen months. This is the first contact we've had with him in six." Rothschild sat in one of the office chairs, her arms crossed.

Terry started to pace around the room and passing the window noticed everyone on her team was making covert glances toward the office.

"Can you tell me what Agent Maitland was investigating?" Rothschild began shaking her head, but Terry pushed on. "We have very good evidence that whatever else they are doing, this mafia cell is definitely involved kidnapping and attempted murder."

Rothschild sank back in her chair and said, "Originally Richard was investigating racketeering and illegal gambling allegations."

When she didn't continue, Terry said, "But?"

Rothschild sighed, "But as I said we haven't had any contact with him for six months. Frankly some people have begun to wonder if he ..."

"If he changed allegiance?"

"Well, if you want to be blunt about it, yes." Rothschild looked up as Terry paced around to the desk and sat down.

"Does the number sequence under Maitland's code name mean anything to you?" she asked, leaning forward on the desk.

"No, but as soon as his code word hit the system, we were alerted and I came to see who had found it. We haven't done any direct analysis of the rest of his message yet." Rothschild stood to leave.

Before she left, Terry made one last try. "If you do figure it out, we want to be involved. Two members of this team have been hurt because of this cell. We won't do anything to compromise your agent, but if you go in, we want to be there."

"All right, Agent Lake, we'll try to work this as a joint effort. My team will decipher the rest of Richard's code. If you learn anything else in regard to this case, you are under orders to tell me about it. And one last thing, any decision to raid this cell will be made by my department. Is that understood?"

"Perfectly." Terry watched as Rothschild left the bullpen. Turning back to her team, she said with authority, "We need to find out what's going on and we need it fast. And it better be enough to convince Special Crimes to take measures, Don and Charlie are counting on it."

The beeping was becoming annoying. It had been tickling the back of his mind for some time and just as it he thought it was gone, it would start again. As he became more aware of his surroundings, the beeping increased and opening his eyes, Don realized it was a heart monitor patiently ticking away.

The only light in the room came from the wall behind his head, but it was enough to make out the array of medical equipment against one wall and a bed table pushed off to one side.

He also saw his father sleeping in a chair next to his bed. "Dad?" he said in a low, hoarse voice.

Without moving, Alan answered, "Donny, everything is fine, go back to sleep. We'll talk in the morning." Don had the impression his father had said this several times already.

Don ignored this and tried to sit up anyway. Alan leaned forward in his chair and put a restraining hand on Don's good arm. "Hey, listen to me," he said in a calming whisper. "Everything is going to be fine," he said pushing Don back down. "We'll talk in the morning, OK?"

As Don drifted back to sleep, he could hear his father murmuring, "It will be all right." Don wasn't sure who he was trying more to convince, Don or himself.

There was a small window after all; unfortunately it was so covered with grime that Charlie didn't even know it was there until the morning sun glowed around the edges.

He hadn't seen anyone for several hours and to entertain himself he had watched the dripping water and figured it would take roughly fifty years for it to eat away the foundation thus giving him a way to escape.

Hearing the scraping of the key in the lock, Charlie stood up and backed against the wall.

"Oh we're going to have a hunger strike, 'eh?" Mr. Smith said walking in the room and seeing the tray of congealed food.

Charlie shrugged and said nothing.

Mr. Smith didn't seem to care one way or the other if he got an answer; instead he walked over to stand in front of Charlie and asked, "So what's your name, kid?"

Charlie looked up at him with a jutting chin. "I thought I was Jason."

"Yeah, well, we both know you aren't Jason Villers, so who are you really?"

Charlie tried, unsuccessfully to keep the surprise off his face, but Mr. Smith saw it anyway. "Oh, so you know Jason do you. Well that's good 'cause you're going to have to solve a problem for us."

"Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to do anything for you?" Charlie asked angrily, He moved away from Mr. Smith and kicked the tray, watching as the cold vegetables dribbled off the edge.

Mr. Smith lost his easy going manner, stomped over to Charlie and snarled, "It's real simple kid, you want to live, you do what you're told. Now you're here and Jason ain't, that means you get to solve our little math problem instead of him, got it?" With that he took Charlie by the arm and hustled him out of the room.

The corridor was long and still dim, though there were fixtures every four feet in the ceiling, and Charlie looked longingly up the stairwell they passed, two sets of twelve steps with a three foot landing between them. The floor was carpeted here and the walls were in better shape, from that Charlie assumed he was in a house or small office complex. As more doors led off the corridor they were in, an office seemed more likely.

"In here," Mr. Smith growled and opened another door. Charlie walked in with as much dignity as he could muster but stopped dead once in the room. The space was much better lit, both from windows high up in the wall and a few lamps, and the floor here was carpeted as well. There were three dry erase boards lined against one wall and sitting in the middle of the room was the dark-haired man from the university and another man, older, and balding wearing a very expensive suit.

"Well, well, who do we have here?" the man in the suit asked.

Mr. Smith came in behind Charlie and answered, "This is the kid who's going to figure the roulette for us?"

"What?" Charlie cried spinning around.

"Shut up," Smith said, cuffing Charlie in the head.

"Now, let's not be hasty," said the suit. "Let's hear what the boy has to say."

Charlie glared at each of the men in turn and said nothing.

"Really this will not do," the suit said. Motioning to Mr. Smith, he continued, "I asked you a question, and you will answer. Now." Mr. Smith grabbed Charlie's arms from behind and propelled him to a chair placed in front of the well-dressed man. Once Charlie was in the chair, Mr. Smith said, "Mr. Antonio asked you a question."

Charlie stared across the room saying nothing until Mr. Smith standing behind him dug a thumb into a pressure point in his shoulder. Wincing in pain, Charlie moved his shoulder and said with forced bravado, "The probabilities for roulette have been worked out several times. The odds are the same with each spin, there's no way around simple math."

"Well you better think of a way kid because we know it can be done and we want you to show us." said Mr. Antonio. "You're ability to continue breathing will depend on it."

With that, Mr. Antonio stood up and signaled to the other men in the room. "This room is much more comfortable than your previous quarters. I suggest you use your time wisely," he said with a nod to the white boards against the opposite wall.

Mr. Smith was the last to leave and as he closed the door, he gave Charlie an indecipherable look.

Once again there was the rasp of a key in a lock and Charlie was alone.

David was hanging up his phone as Terry walked into the office. "I'm glad you're here," he said standing up. "We might have a solid lead."

"Oh?" she said dropping her purse and briefcase on her desk.

"Yeah I just got off the phone with a Jason Villers. He's friend of Charlie's at CalSci." David paused at the door long enough to pick up his suit jacket and let Terry catch up.

"Wasn't he one of the kids interviewed yesterday?"

"Yes, but he says he has some new information that we need to hear. He's going to meet us outside the Thales Building in thirty minutes."

Once they were both in the car, Terry asked, "So did he say anything about what this information was?"

"Not really, just that he thinks Charlie may be involved in this by mistake."

"Oh great," she said staring out the window. This case just kept getting worse. The car had turned up abandoned in a Safeway parking lot wiped completely, a dead end. The ballistics analysis came back with inconclusive results. The piece of paper Don had given her had been hijacked by another department, and now this.

As David parked the car near the Thales Building, Terry saw a young man sitting on the steps watching passing cars nervously, for a moment she thought it was Charlie. He stood up as they walked over and said, "Umm, I'm Jason Villers. I ... umm, I was the one who found," he paused and looked across the parking lot to where bits of crime scene tape still fluttered in the morning breeze.

"Hi, Jason. My name is Agent Terry Lake and this is Agent David Sinclair," Terry said steering Jason back up the stairs and away from the parking lot. "You told Agent Sinclair on the phone that you had some additional information for us."

Sitting down at one of the patio tables, Jason nervously started playing with the zippers on his backpack. "I've been working on a series of probabilities and gambling, specifically roulette wheels."

"What like a system for beating it?" David asked.

"Not really. It was more to show once and for all just how impossible it was to really predict what would happen with any real consistency. I had been talking to some other mathematicians online and there was a challenge, you know brain teaser kinda stuff, about different games of chance. I hadn't done much beyond some basic calculations and modeling, though. Did you know there are more so-called systems out there trying to beat a roulette wheel than any other form of gambling? It's like the ultimate sucker bet. You can bet a trend, but it's rare to have any success in a real casino situation."

Terry nodded and said, "Right, something about the wheel has no memory of what the last spin was, so the odds are always equal for all the numbers."

"Exactly, and that's what I wanted to prove once and for all. Except ...," Jason hesitated. Terry raised an eyebrow and motioned for him to continue. "I've been working on one line of thinking and, it looked like it would actually prove the opposite, that there is a complex theory that can explain the motions of a roulette wheel."

Terry, looked up from her notebook surprised and asked, "So what does this have to do with what happened yesterday?"

Jason put the backpack on the ground and scrubbed his hands through is hair. "My brother heard about what happened on the news last night and when I told him I had seen just about all of it, he freaked. He said these were dangerous men and I should just stay out of it."

"He knows who did this?" David asked glancing at Terry.

"Not exactly. It seems he found my notes and ... well ... Matt has a gambling problem, and he won a lot in an illegal casino. But now they think he cheated and they want their money back. There's no way he can repay it, so Matt figures they were here yesterday to kidnap me to force him to pay."

"And Charlie?" David asked.

"We were coming out of the Thales Building at the same time yesterday, I had been showing him some of my equations and we were still talking about them when that guy that was shot came up and said they had to go." Jason looked down at his hands. "It all happened so fast. All I could do was stand there and watch. Then when they left with Charlie I saw the guy lying in the parking lot."

"Where can we find your brother and talk to him about his gambling habits?" Terry asked.

"I don't know," Jason mumbled.

"Jason, this is very important," David said emphatically. "Matt could tell us where to find Charlie; we need to talk to him."

"I don't know where he is," Jason snapped, then realizing how he sounded, he continued in a lower voice, "He left last night after telling me about what he'd done and I haven't seen him since. My notes are missing, too. I think Matt went to try his luck at another casino."

David was about to try again, but Terry shook her head. "Jason, I want to thank you for talking to us," she said. "If you think of anything else that can help us find Charlie, this is my card, don't hesitate to call me."

Jason took the card and glanced at it before putting it in his pocket. As they were leaving Jason asked, "That guy that was shot, is he going to be OK?"

"The doctors think so," Terry said turning back. "And if I know Don at all, I'll bet he's already making noises about leaving and driving everyone crazy."

Don hated being sick. He hated feeling like he needed someone else's help to do anything. Now, half-reclining in a hospital bed, he was assaulted with good intentions. His chest and shoulder were swathed in bandages and while he could feel a dull, constant throb, he could bear it; luckily he was right-handed as his left arm was strapped to his torso. He'd been moved to a regular room that afternoon and while it wasn't his apartment, it was a step in the right direction; the sooner he was released the better. He'd already snapped at Alan because of his over attention and he was sure he was on a nurse's hit list for his attitude.

His father had left almost an hour ago saying something about calling Terry, and he was thankful for the respite. Of course, now that he'd had time to stop and think, he realized he should have accepted his father's concern and assistance with better grace, and he was relieved when the door opened and Alan walked in.

"Hey, Dad, I'm sorry about earlier. It's just ...," Don started to apologize.

"I know. Trust me, Don, I know," Alan said sitting down in the chair by the bed and patting Don's arm. "You've never been a good patient. When you were a kid and had the chicken pox you drove your mother crazy because you weren't allowed out of the house."

Don looked down at the bed. "Well, still, I know you're worried about Charlie, and I'm sorry for the way I acted."

Alan took Don's hand in a surprising grip. "I'm worried about you, too, you know. Do you realize how scared I was when Agent Lake told me what had happened? She couldn't tell me how bad you were, only that you'd been shot."

Don started to say something, but Alan interrupted, "Speaking of, she and Agent Sinclair are outside. They have some news about Charlie."


Alan opened the door and Terry walked in followed by David.

"Don, how are you doing?" she asked coming toward him.

Alan walked back to stand next to the bed, offering Terry the chair by the bed. David moved a chair from the corner for himself.

"I'm fine," Don answered testily and heard Alan "humph" softly.

Terry thought he looked pale and exhausted and decided they wouldn't stay very long. "I wanted to fill you in on where we are at with the case, but I don't want to tire you out."

"No, I'm fine, really. What do you have?" Don tried to sit up more and accepted Alan's help as graciously as possible.

She nodded to David who handed him the file. Don took it and laying it on his lap, flipped it open and started reading.

"As you can see, we've got a couple of ideas we still need to run down, but we think we're getting close."

What Don actually read was lead after lead drying up before their eyes, but he knew what she'd said was for Alan's benefit more than his. Skimming the report for something positive, Don asked, "What's this about a code?"

Terry looked startled, but recovered and said, "You gave me a piece of paper with a name and a series of numbers." She hesitated a moment and when Don didn't say anything she asked, "Do you remember how you got it?"

Don thought back to the shooting and tried to think of where the paper would have come from. He started to say no, but had a flash of a blonde man bending over and putting something in his hand. "I think it came from the guy who shot me," he said in a low voice. "No wait, there were two, the one who shot me had dark hair. This guy was blonde, I think."

"That confirms the theory we had, then," said David shifting forward in his chair. He started to say something else, but Terry glared at him across the bed.

Don however caught the signal and knew there was something else, something she didn't want Alan to hear.

"Dad, can you see when they plan to bring supper?" Don knew the excuse was terrible, but Alan took it in stride and left the room.

"All right you two, spill it. What is going on, and where is Charlie?"

Terry and David exchanged a look and Terry said, "We think Charlie was kidnapped by a mafia cell?"

"What?" Don exclaimed.

"That's not the bad news," David said taking back the file before Don could damage it.

"Oh, what's the bad news?" he hissed angrily. "Can you imagine the look on my father's face when I tell him his son has been kidnapped by the Mob? How can this possibly get worse, Dave?"

David glanced at Terry again and said, "We think he was kidnapped by mistake."

Don sank back against the bed and closed his eyes. He knew his father would be coming back any minute and he needed to know what the others knew.

"Don, we talked to a student at CalSci, Jason Villers," Terry said in a low voice. "He said he figured some way to predict roulette reliably and was writing a paper about it. His brother saw his notes and went to an illegal casino run by the Mob and cleaned them out. When they figured out they'd been had, we think they were planning to kidnap Jason to get the brother to pay the money back. Something went wrong and they got Charlie instead."

Only Charlie could get himself kidnapped by mistake. Don sighed, and asked, "What about this code?"

Terry sat straight in her chair and said, "That's our best lead. It appears to be a communication of some sort from an FBI agent undercover with this particular group. If," she checked herself, "when we figure out what the code is, hopefully it will lead us back to them and Charlie."

He could tell there was something else she wasn't saying but before Don could ask anything else, Alan came back and Terry and David stood up to leave. Terry gave Don's hand a squeeze and said, "We'll let you know the moment we find anything out, I promise."

"You'd better," Don replied and watched them leave.

After moving the chair back in the corner, Alan sat down by the bed and asked, "So, what is it they don't want me to know?"

"It was just procedure stuff, Dad."

"Uh huh. Don, you never were a very good liar," Alan said. "Now what's really going on with Charlie?"

Don rubbed at the bridge of his nose and resolved to tell part of the truth. "Charlie was kidnapped by mistake," he said with a tired sigh. "Terry and Dave think they meant to grab another student named Jason Villers."

Alan sank back in the chair. "By mistake? You were shot and he was kidnapped ... by mistake?"

"Dad, please, I know this is hard to hear, and that's why I didn't want to tell you. The good news is this Jason kid is another math whiz like Charlie. What ever they wanted Jason for Charlie can figure it out easily. As long as he doesn't get too cocky and cause trouble, he'll be all right." Don didn't really believe it, but he had to say something. If the only reason for kidnapping Jason was ransom, then Charlie was in real danger when they figured out he wasn't the person they were after.

Charlie did use his time, not to do any math but to investigate the room. Besides the chairs and white boards, he found a cot with a blanket, a table and a small refrigerator with a few bottles of water. Taking one of the bottles we wandered back to center of the room and started re-arranging the chairs and table.

He was still at it, when the door opened and Mr. Smith walked in carrying another tray. He dropped the tray on the table and said, "You planning on eating this time?"

Charlie looked at the mass of macaroni and cheese and shuddered.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Mr. Smith then noticed Charlie hadn't done any actual work in the hours since he was left alone.

"What's the deal? You waiting for an invitation or something? Mr. Antonio ain't as pleasant as I am, kid. I suggest you get to work."

Charlie sat down and stared up at his captor. "Do you think equations just appear out of the air? I can't just make them up, I need data. Information. Something to actually work with."

Without another word, Mr. Smith turned and stomped out of the room. Just when Charlie was beginning to think he'd be left in peace, the door opened again and Mr. Smith came in with a folder of papers. "Here. Try that on for data."

Charlie opened the folder and started flipping through pages; he easily recognized Jason's handwriting from some of the notes. "Where did you get this?" he asked, flipping faster until he reached the bottom of the pile.

"None of your business, kid. All you have to worry about is making some sense out of it and giving Mr. Antonio the answers he wants."

Charlie went back to the top of the pile and started reading slowly. Mr. Smith snorted and left the room.

Charlie had promised himself he wouldn't give these people anything they wanted, but the seduction of the numbers and the logic overcame his resistance and his hand reached for one of the dry erase pens.

By Saturday morning, Don was more than ready to go home. The doctors had explained everything he needed to know about changing dressings and keeping his arm strapped down to allow the bones to heal and then given him several prescription sheets he needed to have filled. Alan had taken the papers and promised to return that afternoon with the pills and some clothes, in a few hours he would be safely ensconced in his own apartment.

Terry and David had been conspicuously absent the last two days and Don was eager to get out of the hospital and away from his father long enough to find out why. His father was getting more and more worried with the lack of information, and for good reason. Don knew the longer Charlie was missing the lower the chances were of finding him alive. The odds had sunk even further when Don saw a news report that the body of Matthew Villers had been found in an old quarry.

Alan arrived with the clothes and the first thing he did was burst Don's bubble about his future living arrangements.

"I'm sorry I took so long, I wanted to get your old bedroom ready before we got home."

"Dad," Don interrupted.

"No, not another word. The doctors said you would need some help for the next few days. Why do you want to struggle alone when you have family that wants to help?" Alan stood against the wall facing the end of the bed with his arms crossed, ready for any argument Don might make.

"Look, Dad, I appreciate your wanting to help, but I'm fine, really. I just need some time to myself that's all." Don took the bag with the clothes and walked to the small bathroom to change.

"So be alone at the house, your bedroom does have a door, you know," Alan said through the closed door.

Don wasn't listening, but was making a heroic effort to get himself dressed. He had underwear and pants in place with a minimal struggle, but the shirt was proving impossible. He'd managed to get the strap off his arm, but trying to hold the short-sleeve button down in his right hand while easing his left into the arm hole was an exercise in futility. "You go out there half-dressed you make his argument for him you know," he said in a low voice to his reflection.

He made a few more attempts, but giving up he opened the door and handed his father the shirt, they both knew who had won. Alan didn't say a word as he buttoned buttons and reattached the sling.

The drive home was made in almost total silence. Once in the house Alan went to the kitchen to see about lunch. While Don was unpacking the suitcase that was conveniently already in the car, his cell phone rang.

"Eppes," Don said sitting down on the bed.

"Don? Your father said you were being released today. Are you at your father's house, yet," Terry said.

"What do you mean 'yet'? Never mind, what's up?" He thought Terry sounded excited about something and hoped it meant they finally had a line on who had Charlie and where.

"I have some good news, finally, we figured out that code," she said confirming his hunch.

"Great, what did it say?"

"That's just it, it doesn't say anything, it's actually co-ordinates," she answered.

"What like latitude and longitude? For where?" Don started pacing the room, and glancing at the door he saw Alan standing there making questioning signals. Shaking his head at his father Don said again, "Where is it and when do we go in?"

The silence went on so long Don thought he'd lost the connection, "Terry? You still there?"

"Yeah, I'm here. Look, Don, there's something we didn't tell you the other day," she said quietly.

Just as he knew she was excited at the beginning of the call, Don knew she was about to drop a real bomb on the good news.

"David and I weren't the ones to crack the code." Don didn't say anything and let her continue. "Remember I told you the code came from an FBI agent working undercover? He's in Special Crimes. They took the paper and figured out it was a set of co-ordinates."

"OK so they get the prize for solving that little mystery, what's the problem?"

"You aren't going to like it," she warned.

"I think I got that from the way you aren't answering the question. Come on, Terry, what's the hold up?"

He heard her take a deep breath. "In order for me and David to stay on the case, I had to promise that Teresa Rothschild would be the one to make any decisions about what to do. The co-ordinates are for a small office complex in Culver City, but Rothschild doesn't want to go in for fear of compromising her agent."

"What?" he asked harshly.

"I said you wouldn't like it," she said. "I'm still working on it; I'll let you know as soon as I know something more."

Don hung up the phone and turned to see his father still standing in the doorway. "What? Don, what's wrong?"

Realizing Alan had heard most of the conversation, there was no way for Don to soften the news with half-truths. "Terry thinks they have a location for where Charlie is."

"So what's the question she didn't want to answer? Is Charlie all right?" Alan asked stepping further into the room.

"I'm sure Charlie's fine," Don said wishing he really believed it. "Things are caught in a bureaucratic knot right now. This happens all the time; it's a matter of getting everyone moving in the same direction."

"Bureaucratic knot?" Don could see his father was quickly losing the thin veneer of calm he had shown the last few days.

"I know, Dad, it's frustrating. It isn't any easier for Terry or David or the others, either. They know what the stakes are here." Don walked past his father, pausing to touch his arm. "Terry is doing everything she can to get things moving. She'll call us the second she knows something."

Terry hung up with a sigh.

"That sounded like it went well," David said standing behind her.

"Oh, about as well as I expected," she answered. "Needless to say Don is not happy and I don't blame him."

She stood up and walked over to the blown up map of Culver City with the co-ordinates circled in blue. Teresa Rothschild had brought it down when she brought her news that they would not be raiding the building at once.

"Do you realize we have a kidnapped civilian in that building," she'd asked sharply.

"Agent Lake, we don't know that's the location of Agent Eppes' brother. We don't even know if that's where Richard is, it could very well be a trap set to see if Agent Maitland is a threat to them."

Terry visibly worked to control her anger and said, "Agent Rothschild, I told you Don's description of the man who gave him the paper. You said that was a match for your agent."

"Yes and he may have been spotted giving Agent Eppes the information. We can't risk anything without further investigation."

Rothschild had refused all pleas and had left right before Terry had called Don.

Now three hours later, Terry was ready to crawl out of her skin. Don had called twice asking for an update and David had left the room when she growled one too many times about the way Special Crimes handled a case. The most frustrating thing was she knew Rothschild was right to make sure of all the facts before they did anything. She was smart enough to realize she had taken this case too personally and as a result had lost her professional detachment.

The phone rang again and thinking it was Don calling a third time, Terry let it ring a few times before picking up. "Agent Lake."

"You are there," Rothschild's voice said. "I wanted to let you know we have a warrant and will be serving it in one hour."

"Agent Rothschild, thank you for the information," Terry said standing and frantically waving down David walking past. "We'll meet you at the scene."

Terry hung up and leapt for the door. "David, that was Rothschild. We're a go. Get everyone suited up and moving on the double." She grabbed her purse from the rack and headed for the elevator.

"Hey, where are you going," he asked.

"To pick up Don," she said as the elevator door glided open. "If I call to say we've got authorization, he'll just show up anyway." The door closed before David could reply.

Once Charlie was absorbed in numbers, everything else faded from importance. When a tray of food appeared, he mechanically ate a few bites while reviewing pages of data, and he never questioned how or when the refrigerator was re-stocked with water.

He'd been working through a particular set of equations for two days, but he wasn't coming up with the same answer as Jason. Paging through the pile of paper again, Charlie focused on one set of numbers Jason had written.

The sounds of running and shouting above him didn't resonate except as an annoyance that was breaking his concentration.

When Terry arrived with Don and Alan in the car, her first impression was they had the wrong building. The structure was run-down to say the least. Some of the second-story windows were broken and the foundation around one corner was crumbling away.

She left Don and Alan standing next to the car and walked over the David and the rest of her team. "We're sure this is it, right?"

David nodded and pointed his chin toward Rothschild's group huddled near the command truck. "They've been watching it since this morning. So far they've ID'd two people including the head of this particular cell."

Before David could say any more, Rothschild gave a signal and agents started spreading out and converging on the building.

"Come on, I don't want them going in without us," Terry said and moved toward the door in a crouching run.

Don watched as blue-jacketed men and women surrounded the building and shouting identification, broke the door and went in. After a few minutes of nervous silence, Don couldn't stand it any more.

"Dad, stay here, OK. I'm going over to the command truck and find out what's going on."

Alan started to say something, but a bang from the building diverted his attention.

Don glanced back once to see his father knotting his fingers together and mumbling to himself, then he was behind the command truck and out of sight.

"What have you got?" he asked the agent in front of the radio receiver.

The woman glanced up and seeing his badge and expression merely said, "We have two arrests, one of them tried to seal a door to the basement but it was forced open. They're searching the basement and first floor for anyone else."

Charlie jerked his head up as the door banged open. Mr. Smith was through the opening in an instant and said, "Come on, kid, you're getting out of here."

"What? What's going on," Charlie asked confused.

Mr. Smith didn't answer, he just grabbed Charlie by the arm scattering paper across the table as he pulled Charlie to his feet.

Before he could take more than a step or two toward the door, Charlie saw the entrance fill with men in blue jackets with FBI blazoned across the front.

"Freeze! FBI, don't move," several voices shouted in unison. Charlie dutifully froze. Mr. Smith was pushed against a wall and quickly handcuffed and patted down. One of the agents whispered something in Mr. Smith's ear and he stopped struggling and was led from the room.

"Charlie? Charlie, are you all right?" Terry asked walking up to him and touching his shoulder.

Trying to wrap his mind around everything that was happening, Charlie gave Terry a vague look and said, "Yeah, yeah, I'm ... umm ... I'm fine. How did you find me?"

Terry smiled and guided Charlie out the door and back up the hall to the stairwell. "That's a very long story, and right now I know there's someone outside who needs to see you're OK."

Charlie blinked several times as he walked out into the late afternoon sun. Terry led him across a street to where several cars were parked along with a large panel truck. As he moved toward one of the cars, Charlie heard his name called and looked up to see his father standing in front of him.

"Dad!" Charlie shook off Terry's hand and moved to hug his father.

"Charlie, I thought I'd lost you, boy. Are you all right?"

"Yeah, Dad, I'm fine." Charlie looked at his father and saw nothing but happiness and relief. He was still thinking about this when he saw Don hurry around the corner of a panel truck talking to an agent Charlie didn't recognize.

"Don?" Charlie let go of his father and met Don as he came over to the car. Charlie saw Don's left arm in a sling, but he was so surprised to see his brother alive Charlie couldn't do anything but stare.

"Charlie," Don said taking his arm. "Hey Charlie, you OK, buddy?"

Don touching him broke the spell and Charlie threw his arms around Don's mid-section.

He heard Don hiss in pain, but when he tried to step back, Don wrapped his good arm around Charlie's shoulders and said, "Hey, everything is fine, really," Don reassured him.

Breaking his hold Charlie said, "But how? I saw him shoot you."

"You saw him shoot at me, and I'm sorry you had to see any of it, Charlie. You didn't answer me, though, are you all right?"

"Yeah," Charlie said with a smile. "Now I am. I really want to go home."

"That sounds like an excellent idea," Alan said wrapping one arm around Charlie. He laid a hand on Don's arm and said, "Come on. I think it's time we all go home."

Sunday afternoon Don sat on the back porch bench, his feet resting against the edge of the table and his eyes closed. He wasn't allowed to have beer because of the pain medication, so instead a can of soda, slick with condensation, sat on the table.

It had been almost nine o'clock before they'd got home last night, not quite as fast as Alan wished. There was Charlie's statement to take and evidence to secure before someone could drive them back to the house. And though he didn't want to admit it, the pain medication made him feel tired and his shoulder still ached even with the pills.

He was half-asleep when he heard the back door whisper open and when nothing else happened Don said, "Charlie, stop hovering."

"I wasn't," Charlie protested. When Don opened his eyes and peered over the edge of his sunglasses, Charlie shrugged and recanted, "OK so maybe I was a little, sue me. I've thought you were dead for the past week, I just ... I just want to make sure you know?"

Don sat up straight and motioned for Charlie to sit down. "Yeah, I know."

After a few minutes of silence, Don decided to ask about the room and the whiteboards. "You know, Terry told me about the equations you were working on when they found you. You wanna tell me what that was?"

"Terry told you want Jason was trying to prove, right?"

Don nodded, Terry had explained Jason's project in more detail as they drove to Culver City.

"Well, he thought he had proved the existence of a true pattern, but I don't think so." Charlie sat on the edge of the bench and Don could see his fingers itching to illustrate what he was saying. He handed over the newspaper he'd been reading eariler and a pen from his pocket. As Charlie started to scribble numbers in the margin, Don glanced over at Charlie and said, "Wait a minute; I thought Terry said the brother had cleaned out that casino using Jason's idea that was the reason for all this."

Charlie's smile was more than a little wicked. "Yeah, well, I had two days with nothing else to do and I couldn't get the equations to work. I think Matt was just plain lucky."

Don shook his head and slouched back against the bench. "Unbelievable."

"Not really. Look, imagine this is a roulette wheel ..."

Alan looked out the back window a little later to see both of his sons sitting on the bench having a rather animated discussion. Charlie was evidently trying to explain some formula as he kept writing something while Don shook his head. At one point Don glanced up at the window and seeing Alan just shrugged. Alan thought he knew exactly what Don was doing: keeping Charlie occupied with a math problem instead of thinking about the past week.

He was happy to see that Don was taking the time with Charlie to reassure his brother everything was back to normal. He'd come very close to losing both of his sons in one week and didn't want either of them out of his sight for very long. He knew Don was itching to go home, but Alan was already planning his course of attack to convince him to stay at least another week. Charlie wasn't the only one who needed some normalcy.


Comments of all shapes and sizes welcome
Though be warned flames will be laughed at hysterically.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 25 March 2006 )
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