Usual Disclaimer: They own all. I own nothing except an over-active imagination and the hope that people will like this little offering.
"Thank you." Charlie wiped at his nose with a handkerchief. There was nothing in the conference room in the research facility of Caldwell International to trigger allergies, but the building was located in the eastern California mountains and it was the middle of autumn with leaves falling. Allergens were happy to slip in through the various windows to sow havoc and despair among those afflicted with hay fever. "Show me those numbers again?"
"You've already seen them twice, buddy," Don complained mildly. "There's nothing there. Dr. Halligan got in the way. She was not the target. There was no reason to kill her."
"I don't know how you can say that, Don," Charlie disagreed, peering blearily at the paper in front of him. More papers were tossed carelessly around the massive table, most with the chicken scratches known as Charlie's handwriting upon them. "If the angle of bullet entry is accurate, and you say that we have an eye witness account that Dr. Halligan was standing upright exactly four feet three inches from the window—"
"Got a scuff mark on the floor to prove it. And we measured the distance twice. And the local crime lab re-constructed the broken window."
"—then Dr. Halligan was the target." Charlie leaned back in his chair, satisfied. And sneezed again.
"Bless you. Didn't you take those anti-histamines I gave you? Dr. Halligan may have gotten in the way, but she was not the target. Dr. Bostwick was. He was standing right behind her, and he's the one with the price on his head. He's the lead researcher on Formula K-19. She was an also ran. And why do your numbers not match up with Rufus's? You're both working with the same evidence."
Charlie shrugged. "He's of the opinion that ballistics theory is pertinent. It isn't."
"A little explanation, for those of us without your erudition?"
Charlie looked at his brother with amusement. "'Erudition'?"
"What, I can't use proper English? I went to college, too, Charlie."
"I know that, Don. It's just, you, um, you—"
"Don't bother to stupefy and enthrall my listeners with witty prose? Is that it?" Don grinned to take the sting out of the words.
"And is 'yeah' proper English?" Don needled. The grin got wider. "Do you use 'yeah' with your students, Dr. Eppes?"
Charlie broke down, grinning himself. "Yeah. Finished changing the subject?"
"Hey, I could probably keep this up for another six minutes at least. And it'll give the antihistamines a chance to kick in so that you're not sneezing every two seconds. Can't take you anywhere," Don told him, the affection for his brother obvious. "Good thing you didn't come out to visit me in New Mexico. Lots of dust and cattle out that way."
"I'm getting my share right now in eastern California," Charlie acknowledged. "Now, you were asking about ballistics theory?"
"Only if it will advance my understanding of who shot Dr. Halligan when Dr. Bostwick was the target."
"Dr. Bostwick was not the target. Dr. Halligan was."
"Rufus's numbers say otherwise, brother mine, as does the entire staff of Caldwell International. And don't take the easy route by telling me that your Ph.D. trumps his bachelor's degree. That's cheating."
"Rufus Gordon thinks that ballistics theory applies. It doesn't. Want me to explain?"
"No, but I'd better listen anyway. What's ballistics theory?"
Charlie settled in for the explanation. The antihistamines were finally working, Don noted, and hoped that the sleepy side effects would make Charlie less long-winded than usual.
"Ballistics looks at the trajectory of bombs," was the opening salvo. "Think of the old cannons, Civil War stuff. When they fired a bomb, that bomb didn't travel in a straight line. It traveled in an arc, and the people firing the bomb had to account for that arc in order to deliver the bomb where they wanted it. Gravity pulled down on the object being fired."
"And gravity pulls down on all objects."
"Right. There's a whole body of science that looks at exactly what path those bombs follow. That's Ballistics, in a nutshell. They used it back in the Civil War, and the military uses it to deliver missiles to the desired location even today. A simplified explanation, but it still applies."
"So why doesn't it apply here?"
Charlie warmed to his subject. "Technically, it does. But the power of the average rifle is so great that the effect is negligible over short distances. The sniper rifle is about as powerful as you can get; a great deal of energy acting upon a small mass. In effect, the bullet from a rifle goes in a straight line until it impinges on its target. If it were to travel a lot farther then yes, it would begin to demonstrate the effects of gravity and curve downward until it hit something; the ground, for instance. The angle of entry into Dr. Halligan's body refutes that possibility. It went directly in, went in straight. From that we can calculate where the sniper was. Unless he cleaned up after himself, you should be able to recover the casings from the bullet at the distance that I calculated." Charlie sat back, and sneezed again.
"Bless you," Don said automatically, looking up as his team walked into the conference room. He greeted them with more pleasure than usual; their entrance interrupted Charlie's lecture and cut it off. "You find anything in the sniper's nest? More to the point, did you find the sniper's nest?"
The FBI agents had all dressed for the occasion. Caldwell International's research facility was located some two hundred miles away from Los Angeles, well to the northeast and in an area that reminded Don fondly of his years in New Mexico. He'd been stationed in Albuquerque but both business and pleasure frequently took him outside the city confines and into the back country. This wasn't quite the same, but similar enough that it evoked almost a feeling of home sickness. Pleasant memories, for the most part. So his team had carefully dressed in clothing that would serve them well in the forested region of eastern California: jeans and hiking boots that would stand up to mud and muck. Heavy jackets did double duty, armoring them against both the chilly mountainous autumn air and the slender branches that offered to lacerate unprotected skin when trailing after a sniper who preferred to hide himself on the tree-laden slopes above the research facility.
Don himself, as leader of the team called out to investigate the murder of one researcher/attempt on another, was required to be in more formal threads than his team to meet with the administration of Caldwell, although he'd already promised himself to change into comfortable jeans as soon as possible. David Sinclair and Colby Granger had already dressed down, with a pointed grin in Don's direction, in order to investigate the supposed sniper's nest in the hills above the Research building, as had their tag along, Rufus Gordon.
Don remembered very clearly the conference call he'd had with both Area Director D'Angelo and Area Director Thomas about Rufus Gordon.
"You've had a great deal of success with your professional consultant in math, Eppes," Thomas had said. "I've followed your work, and the credit you've given to him."
"Thank you, sir. We try to use whatever resources are available and appropriate. I'm fortunate to be able to use my connections."
"I'm looking to expand that program of yours in my own jurisdiction, looking to hire agents with a background in math who can serve as both a technical resource as well as field agents," Thomas told him. "I found a candidate who just graduated from Quantico. He has a couple of years of experience in the military, went to college on the GI Bill, and then headed off to Quantico. Looks pretty promising."
"Okay…" Don had drawled, wondering why not one but two Area Directors, including his own, had taken the time to discuss their plans with him.
"I'd like you to evaluate him, Eppes." Thomas finally came to the point. "I'd like to have my own math whiz, one with a little more on the ball than a mere consultant. I'd like to be able to use him in the field as well. Take Gordon on for a month or two, break him in. You up for it?"
Was he up for it? With his own Area Director listening in, Special Agent Don Eppes had better be up for whatever was wanted.
Which was how Rufus Gordon ended up tagging along on this case. Five men meant two vehicles for the four hour drive, because Don didn't intend to evaluate Gordon's math skills himself. Investigative skills, sure, but Don was proud to acknowledge his brother's expertise to everyone except his brother. Gotta keep up a pretense of sibling rivalry. And shoving five grown men into one car was not something that Don was going to do. Not for a four hour drive with several larger than average agents.
Rufus Gordon more than measured up physically to Area Director Thomas's wishes: taller than Don himself and at least as broad in the shoulders. 'Greek God' was Megan's description, when Don overheard her on the phone. He'd declined to question the profiler further, figuring that his own ego couldn't take much more. Half the women in the clerical pool were swooning over the man as soon as he walked into the Los Angeles FBI headquarters, and a nameless someone had let him know that some of the men were smitten as well. Don decided on the spot that he didn't want to know Gordon's sexual preferences. There were some things better left unknown.
Intelligent? A given. An earned bachelor's degree in math was nothing to be sneezed at, despite being from a college that he'd never heard of. Charlie had assured him that the man was educated, that the college was for real. Charlie had apparently had some dealings with some of the professors at that place, and vouched for them. And Gordon's records affirmed that the man was as physically fit as any of them. As Colby commented, "it's enough to give me an inferiority complex."
Back to business. Don pulled his attention away from the trainee to the rest of his team coming in from the forested slopes. David Sinclair shrugged out of his leather jacket, dropping into a chair, a pleased expression on his face. "Got the sniper's nest, boss. Picked up the casings; I'll have them couriered back to L.A. for analysis. Looks custom. We should get some leads there."
"Where did you find them?" Charlie asked, shooting a significant look at his brother.
David seemed uncomfortable. He glanced toward Rufus. "Pretty close to where you said, Charlie."
David looked at Colby; no help there. "A little further back," he admitted reluctantly. Right where Rufus had predicted, no one added.
"Impossible," Charlie said flatly. "Not unless the numbers you gave me are inaccurate on the victim's location and bullet wound. Or if someone moved the casings."
"Why would anyone do that?" Rufus asked reasonably. He shrugged. "From the looks of it, the guy took his shot and ran. We found tire tracks on a dirt road a few hundred yards away."
"We're sending the tire tracings back to L.A. for analysis, too," Colby added unnecessarily.
"Good." Don moved past the uncomfortable moment. Charlie made a mistake. He'd mis-calculated the position of the sniper. Had to happen eventually. Wish it hadn't been now, not in front of the new boy that Charlie was supposed to evaluate, but couldn't be helped. "Let's get organized on this. David, follow up with stuff we're sending back. Colby, I want you to coordinate with Caldwell security; check out the arrangements they've got on Dr. Bostwick. Division of labor: we're going to track down the assassin, and they'll handle the personal security issues and keep Bostwick safe as long as the sniper is at large. They up to it?"
"Their people sound good so far," Colby told him. "I'll check on the details."
"Do that. I'm going to talk to Bostwick himself, along with that chief exec, what's his name? Stewart? Rufus, you're with me. You too, Charlie," he added, not quite certain what to do with his brother and temporizing that Charlie needed to see Rufus in action in order to evaluate him. So far, Rufus was one up on Charlie. The report to Area Director Thomas would be a positive one.
Dr. Bostwick was in the conference room, waiting for Don to get around to him. Barry Stewart, the CEO, was there with him, along with a couple of security guards. Don glanced at the security people in passing: tall stalwart types, little nonsense on their faces and guns at their hips. They may have been hired security, but Caldwell International was not taking any chances with their lead researcher. Don approved; from what little he knew, the stuff that Caldwell was working on could have international implications. Charlie trailed after him. Rufus would be along in a moment, having taken a detour to clean up the dirt from outside.
Don let the head of Security, Rosa Nogales, make the introductions, putting in his share to add Charlie's name to the mix.
William Bostwick brightened. "Ah, the same Dr. Charles Eppes at CalSci who proposed the secondary equation analysis on Prisoner's Dilemma?"
Charlie flushed, but grinned. "That was a long time ago, Dr. Bostwick."
"Please, call me Bill. No, that was brilliant work. Almost persuaded me to go back for more courses in statistics."
"And we already had our hooks into him," Stewart chimed in. "That was around the time of the beginning of Formula K-19. We weren't about to let Bill get distracted."
Don looked the CEO over carefully. This was the man with the Washington connections, the one who had pulled strings to get the FBI team out here. Don wondered what exactly was going on. Caldwell had its own security, and for the head man to request federal assistance? There would clearly be a lot more inter-office politics than he'd find out in this meeting. Stewart himself was nothing much to look at: small in stature and balding, but kept himself in shape. The clothes he wore suggested a man amply compensated for his labors, someone well accustomed to flying back and forth to D.C. to meet with whomever needed meeting with. He wouldn't mention the appraising look that Stewart gave Don himself. Don smiled tightly. Not a man to underestimate in any sense of the word.
"The heart of the matter," Don said. "What, exactly, is Formula K-19?"
"I can't give you the exact formulation—" Stewart began.
"Two reasons:" Stewart ticked them off on his fingers. "One: trade secret. We haven't even applied for a patent yet for fear it will leak out through government fingers." He dared Don to object. Don declined, knowing that the company executive had a valid point. "Two: personally, I couldn't tell you if I wanted to. The chemistry is beyond me. But, if successful and it looks to be a strong possibility that we will be, we will be able to enhance grain production around the world to the point where starvation will become a distant memory."
"Which is why we were called in," Don acknowledged. "Pretty lofty goals."
Stewart agreed. "There were some suggestions made at very high levels that requested your input into this situation. To put it bluntly, the world cannot afford to lose William Bostwick. Not with a potentially global application about to become a reality."
"This is embarrassing," Bostwick muttered, trying not to preen. Don spared the researcher a glance. The scientist appeared increasingly uncomfortable at the praise. Yet Don couldn't shake the feeling that Bostwick enjoyed it more than he would like others to know.
"It's true, Bill," Stewart insisted. "We have Bill's notes, but not the whole technique. It would be too dangerous to commit everything to one document. So far, Bill is the only one to be able to get the process to work."
"Alyce Halligan was just about there," Bostwick reminded Stewart. "Another week, and she could have run a test production line as well as I could."
"Yes, well, that's all in the past. Bottom line, we need help." Stewart gestured at Nogales. "No disrespect to you, Rosa—"
"None taken," the head of security said calmly. Another glance from Don; this time the words spoken were a lie. His gut knew it as sure as he knew he was an FBI agent.
"—but we're not experts in tracking these things down. We'll provide security; we need experts to find out and stop whoever's trying to put us out of business. You have our full cooperation, Agent Eppes."
"Thank you." Don turned to Rufus, who had just entered the room, and introduced him. "Another member of my team, Agent Gordon. He'll be assisting Dr. Eppes and myself." He came back to the target topic. "You said that your process will solve world hunger. How?"
"Grain production." Dr. Bostwick took over from Stewart. "My process is designed to reap maximum production from a single field of wheat, could double and possibly triple the amount of wheat grains from each stalk grown. And there's some evidence that my process could be extended to other food crops, to improve food production dramatically." He paused for effect. "Think of a single corn stalk. One stalk might produce anywhere from one to three ears. Now imagine if that same stalk grew three to six ears in a single season with no additional resources, no added fertilizer or water or anything else. Would that be a process worth investigating?"
"That sounds incredible," Charlie put in. "You can generate that sort of yield?"
"I invite you to look at my numbers, Dr. Eppes," Bostwick said, pleased.
"Thank you. I'd like that."
"That's your angle, Charlie." Don delegated that part gratefully. "Rufus, follow him." Learn how Charlie works. It's okay to get out of my hair for a bit. "Mr. Stewart, my interest is in who might not want this process to go forward. It seems like this would be a good thing for the world. Who wouldn't want you to succeed?"
"We have competition," Stewart admitted, following the trio with his eyes as Bostwick led Charlie and Agent Gordon out to his own office for a more science-oriented discussion. "Caldwell is not the only player in the field. Others would welcome a chance to get in on the ground floor, be the first with this process. Eliminating Dr. Bostwick would be an easy and fast way to leave us behind. Dr. Halligan's loss is felt as well, but not to the same extent."
"Can you give us the names of some of your competitors? We'll check them out."
"Gladly." Stewart checked his watch. "I'll have my administrative assistant prepare a list for you. You have our full cooperation, Special Agent Eppes. Anything you need, simply ask. Now, if you don't mind? I have a meeting with my head of personnel." He grimaced. "I find I suddenly have a vacancy among my professional staff." He turned thoughtful. "Your brother wouldn't happen to know any Ph.D.'s in biochemistry looking for a job in agricultural chemistry, would he? We have an excellent benefits package."
"I'll ask him. And I'll need to arrange a few discussions of my own with your people." Don had his own meetings in mind. Like with a miffed head of security, still sitting across the table from him. "Ms. Nogales? Care to show me around?"
"Gladly." The woman echoed Stewart's own word, only with a healthy helping of ice.
Uh-oh. Is she pissed because she thinks we'll make her look bad, or is there something else?