Chapter Fourteen: Let's make a deal

When Don walked into the bull pen on Monday morning, he tried hard to remain unseen. He wasn't supposed to be back at the office, but he needed a file from his desk. Ok, he wanted a file from his desk. With Alan standing guard like a sentinel, he hated to ask anyone to deliver it….not that him sneaking out to retrieve it was a better idea.

Even with the white bandage on his head, he had managed to walk unobserved, or at least unnoticed to his desk. Lowering himself into his chair, he quietly opened his file drawer. His attempt at self concealment was abandoned when Megan's voice rang across the room.

"Charlie. It's good to see you. What are you doing here?"

He heard the answer from about six feet away.

"Looking for my brother."

"Don?"

"I hope he's the only one I have."

She laughed and Don knew that if he stood up, he would be almost face to face with them both.

"I haven't seen him. Was he coming in?"

"It seemed like the most likely location for him to take refuge from our father. Four days and he's acting like a caged animal, pacing the bars and desperate to escape."

Colby's voice spoke from almost directly behind him.

"Maybe he just wanted to sit at his desk in peace."

Don felt like a deer caught in the headlights.

He glanced up as the two faces of his fellow agents looked over the cubical wall.

"I uh…..just needed to grab something."

Charlie rounded the corner and stopped in the door staring at him.

He looked embarrassed that Don had heard his caged animal comment.

"Oh. Well, I guess you are here."

Don grinned at his brother.

"I see you didn't hesitate to follow my example."

"By fleeing in terror? No, I was right behind you."

David rounded the corner and looked shocked to see Don.

"Didn't expect to see you today….but since you're here……."

Four pairs of eyes shifted in his direction.

"Lieutenant Walker is here with the de Gattás kids."

"Marcus is here?"

Don was not surprised to find himself instantly feeling hostile towards the young man who had almost gotten them both killed.

David nodded.

"Yeah. His brother too….he's downstairs. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security is deporting two of the young men from the Dewey Street shooting back to El Salvador. The other four are, unfortunately, American citizens…..so the U.S. Attorney's office has decided to indict them under RICO….that puts the whole case and it's subsequent investigation under federal jurisdiction."

Don raised his eyebrows.

"Robin?"

"Yeah. She's been working with the de Gattás kids, trying to get them to testify. Marcus is still being held on another charge. She's offered to work out a deal for him, but he won't budge. Says he'd rather go to jail. The younger one won't do anything his brother won't do."

Don cast his eyes toward the lobby.

"Then why are they here?"

"Well, they witnessed the shootings at the Menendez house...at least one of these remaining four members of the Mara 13th left prints at that crime scene. So allegedly they were the trigger men. Along with the evidence that proves the 13th is an organized criminal organization,the kid's testimony would make a racketeering charge stick and the murder conviction would be a sure thing. She wants a sure thing. It's kind of a last ditch effort, but she asked Lieutenant Walker to bring them over here. She thought maybe one of us could talk the older kid down. Maybe you should…………."

"I'll talk to him."

They all turned and stared at Charlie.

"No."

Don shook his head.

Colby stood up.

"I took his phone call, Charlie. I'll go talk to him."

"Please. I want to."

Charlie looked apprehensively from Colby to his brother.

"I know this was all….sort of his fault…but….he knew he'd made a mistake. He didn't know how things would turn out. He tried to make it right. I think he'll do the right thing. Just let me talk to him."

Colby shrugged his shoulders and glanced at Don, who nodded hesitantly.

"Ok, let's all go talk to him. If nothing else, we may scare him straight."

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When they rounded the corner into the large lobby of the FBI offices, Marcus was sitting between two uniformed LAPD officers. His hands were cuffed and his expression made it obvious that he was not there by choice. Charlie was walking just behind Don and Colby and the young man didn't spot him until he was standing almost directly in front of him. Marcus jumped from his seat so quickly that the officers moved to restrain him and Don defensively stepped in front of Charlie.

It was obvious from the teen's expression that he hadn't expected to see the mathematician again and definitely not here.

"It's ok guys. We'll take it from here."

Colby put his hand on the young man's shoulder to lead him away from the officers and out of the lobby.

Lt. Walker approached from the front desk and nodded to Don.

"Good morning. I certainly didn't expect you to be here today."

He turned to Charlie. "Professor….Good to see you as well."

Marcus recognized Don as the agent that had been shot outside the garage in Pasadena and he suddenly looked far more nervous. He tried to keep his eyes on Charlie as they walked back into the office areaand escorted him to one of the open interrogation rooms. He could sense the open hostility from the older federal agent and he looked inquisitively at the police lieutenant.

"You're not gonna leave me here with these guys are you?"

Lt. Walker scanned the ominous expression on Don's face with amusement. The agent had taken a protective stance behind his younger brother, when Charlie had sat down at the table across from Marcus...and he showed no sign of intending to move.

Marcus twisted his head around to look at Colby, who was leaning against the wall behind him. The young man appeared visibly intimidated by the group of men standing around him.

"I think I'm done here. You can take me back to lock up."

Charlie turned to look at Don.

"Can I talk to him, please? Alone?"

After several moments of silence, Lt. Walker turned and headed out the door followed by Colby. Don raised his eyebrows to ask Charlie if he was sure about this. When his brother nodded a silent response, Don followed the other two and closed the door behind him.

Charlie knew the rest of them were watching from the next room. But not having them standing over him, seemed to put Marcus at ease.

"What the hell are you doing in the FBI office, Math Man."

"I think it might be time for you to start calling me Doctor Eppes. Or Professor. Or something that incurs some level of respect. Try my name. You remember it? I told you once."

The kid looked slightly bewildered by the authoritative tone in his voice.

"Charlie, right?"

"Right."

"Why are you here? Charlie."

Charlie decided it was time to really throw the kid for a loop.

"I work here."

Marcus looked so shocked, Charlie decided to soften the blow.

"Only part time. I'm a consultant for the bureau."

"The FBI uses math teachers?"

"Mathematicians, yes. More often than you might think."

Marcus crossed his arms and stared across the table at him.

"They think you can talk me into testifying, don't they?"

Charlie matched his position, going as far as to extend his legs under the table, learning back into the chair.

"No. They don't think anyone can. I think they were just going to sit around here for a while and then take you back to lock up. But I'm glad you're here. They wanted to know if I'd like to file any charges against you. But I had wanted to talk to you about it first."

The idea of additional charges was disconcerting, but Marcus knew it was a play to get his attention. He took the bait anyway.

"What for?"

"You tried to save my life. Agent Granger told me about your phone call."

Marcus looked embarrassed.

"Yeah, well, all it got me was two cop cars in my driveway ten minutes later and a trip downtown."

Charlie sat up quickly, startling the young man across the table.

"NO. What it got……..what you've been given... is a chance to do the right thing. To make up for all the times you screwed up. You have a great opportunity here, Marcus."

Marcus leaned forward and put his hands on the table.

"An opportunity to do what. Die?"

He slung himself backwards in his chair, scooting it several inches.

"If the 13th doesn't kill me, my boys will. I'll be singled out as a rat! The cops didn't get Roberto, the 13th did………I may have betrayed them to save you, but I won't do it again. I'm loyal to the 18th. I've pledged my life to the barrio. I've sworn my allegiance to them. You don't walk away from that."

Charlie moved to the edge of his chair, without taking his eyes off the youth.

"And do you walk away from your brother, Marcus?"

The young man's face maintained it's calloused expression.

"What do you mean?"

"Jose is dead because of Roberto….is that what you want for Frankie too? You've watched your 'friends' die. Are you still willing to drag your little brother right into the middle of it? Look at what he's already seen, Marcus."

Don was watching Charlie's progress through the state of the art video surveillance system. It fed audio and video into the television monitors that covered the desk in the corner. His brother was starting to act like a trained interrogator and the rooms other occupants appeared to be thoroughly enjoying the show, regardless of it's serious nature. Megan walked into the room. "Any luck?"

Riveted by the mathematician's performance, Colby laughed, then shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, he's got nothing on me, but Charlie's working him pretty good…for an amateur."

Don allowed himself a chuckle.

"Well, he does have to pull answers from large groups of reluctant teenagers every freshman class he teaches…so he isn't completely without experience."

Don had taken his eyes off the screen for a minute and when he turned back, he could see that something had changed. The accusatory tones in Charlie's voice had finally riled the kid up. Marcus's anger was obvious when he replied to the last statement Charlie had made.

"Frankie has seen reality, man! I've shown him how to be strong, how to stay alive in our neighborhood. In this city. I've taught him loyalty. I've shown him what it's like to be independent. It takes strength to be a part of a gang and I've shown him that too."

Charlie was disgusted by the thought of someone considering it an act of strength to be willing to stick a gun to the back of his head. His voice reflected his revulsion as he spit back a reply.

"The only strength you've shown him is the strength it takes to move your index finger and pull a trigger."

With a sudden surge of movement that made Charlie flinch, Marcus pulled himself to his feet.

Don lurched for the hallway but Megan grabbed his arm.

"The kid is cuffed Don. And David's just outside their door with Lieutenant Walker."

He turned his eyes back to the monitor, and he could see David'sshadow just outsidethe tinted glass door. Don remained tense as Charlie quickly leapt to his feet. He could see from his brother's eyes that this confrontation had him shaken. But he was shocked when Charlie raised his voice at the young man.

"You are really going to want to sit down, Marcus. There are at least two federal agents in the next room that I'm sure are ready to come in here and sit you down if you don't do so quickly."

He paused, the continued at a normal volume.

"And I mean now."

The young man glanced around the room, spotting the video cameras in the corners and quietly recovered his chair. He lowered himself into it and looked up at Charlie. His eyes were dark and brooding.

"I don't have to listen to you."

Charlie remained standing and nodded his head with conviction.

"Yes, you do. Because if you don't, you and Frankie are likely to end up just as dead as Jose and Roberto. You're going to get shot at again, Marcus, whether you testify or not. You might even get hit. Next time the bullet might hit something important. What happens when that something is Frankie?"

Marcus didn't reply, his eyes growing darker.

Don learned against the table and focused on the monitor. It looked like Charlie may have hit a brick wall. Don gave a defeated sigh just as Charlie spoke again.

"It's a statistically demonstrable fact. I can prove it. If you retain your current partiality for guns and those who carry them, you will be shot again. You understood what I said about probability, Marcus. Don't you remember? The probability is too great for you to deny that it will happen. I offered to give you the numbers that night. You didn't want them."

Suddenly Marcus looked defeated.

"Jose did."

"Yeah, Marcus. He did. But would it have made a difference?"

The young man shook his head.

Charlie leaned forward over the table.

"Will it make a difference now?"

Silence filled the room as Marcus considered his words. After a moment he shook his head slowly, but resolutely.

"Once you get in, there is only one way out."

"This is the way out. These people can help you. Don't pass it up, Marcus."

His expression of denial looked more tentative this time.

"No, I don't have any options. This is my life and I can't change that."

Charlie moved around the table and leaned up against it directly next to Marcus.

"Somebody told me once that your choices are always yours to make. There are always options."

His voice reflected his sincerity as he continued.

"If you just want a bunch of twelve year olds to think you're God…..Ok. But there is already one kid who will never see you as anything less no matter what you do. And he is going to spend his entire life trying to impress you no matter how you treat him now and no matter what direction you head in."

Charlie's eyes darted to the surveillance camera.

"He will, Marcus. Because that's what little brother's do."

Colby and Megan both glancedat him when Charlie said those words, but Don didn't notice. He was completely focused on Charlie. With a smile on his face, he watched as Marcus hung his head and took a deep breath. Don shook his head, amazed at what he was seeing.

Charlie had gotten through to this kid.

"Give him something worth looking up to, Marcus. If you're willing to die for nothing, then be willing to die for everything."

Marcus was nodding silently. After a few minutes he lifted his head.

The intimidating, authoritative gangbanger Charlie had met on the rail a few weeks ago was gone.

"Will you be there? If I testify, will you be there?"

"In court?"

Charlie quickly nodded his head.

"I can be."

"Ok. Tell them to get my brother up here."

He nodded knowingly at Charlie.

"If I testify, so will he."

Charlie looked up at the monitors.

"It'll be alright, Marcus. Ms. Brooks is really good at her job…and so is the FBI. In fact, it would be safe to say, these guys are some of the best."

Then he leaned over close to Marcus, so the agents in the other room wouldn't be able to hear.

"You know how I know that? You know that FED….the one in my garage? The guy that's here this morning?"
Marcus nodded.

"Do you remember that brother I told you about?"

Charlie couldn't help but smile at the look of realization on Marcus' face.

When David opened the door and walked in followed by Lt. Walker, Charlie turned to make his way out the door.

"I'll see you around, Marcus."

As Charlie headed back towards Don's office, he almost ran into his brother and the rest of the team coming out of the surveillance room. Colby clapped him on the back on his way by, then hurried toward the office, with Megan right behind him. Don stood silently in the hall staring at Charlie until they were out of earshot.

"You know I'm impressed, right?"

"What?"

"You don't have to……………"

Don's smile showed in his eyes as he shook his head in amazed disbelief.

"That was a hellava thing you did in there. I'm...I'm proud of you."

Charlie looked slightly embarrassed and had just opened his mouth to reply when Don's phone rang.

He answered without even checking the LCD screen.

"Eppes."

Don's expression quickly changed and he grabbed Charlie's arm and ushered him down the hall toward the elevator.

"No, Dad. I'm not at the office."

Charlie gave Don a deviant grin, and he gave the team a brief wave and hit the elevator button.

"No. Charlie's with me."

"Uh huh. We're just talking."

They walked into the elevator and Don hit the button to take them to the ground floor lobby.

"Yeah, talking. We're actually on our way home."

The elevator doors opened and they both rushed out the lobby and into the parking lot.

"No, just coffee. We haven't eaten. Breakfast would be good."

Don unlocked his car by hand to avoid the telltale beep of the remote locks.

"Ok, Dad. See you in a minute."

He flipped his phone shut, and climbed into the drivers seat, givingCharlie a quick glance as he fastened his seat belt.

"We'd better hurry. Dad seems to think I might have disregarded the doctors orders and gone into the office today."

Grinning, Charlie pulled the door shut as Don put the SUV in gear and speed out of the parking lot.

"What would make him think a thing like that?"

THE END

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Final Thought: This felt like the right place to end this story. But, I feel like there is still some ground to explore, particularly with Don. A person can only hide such strong emotions for so long….eventually, they will break.

Due to some whacked out circumstances at the office, I may not be able to start on it for a week or so...but.…..Looks like I'm going for a trilogy here!

COMING SOON!

No Common Allegiance: An Elegy for Justice

Months have gone by as the FBI and the US Attorney have built a solid racketeering case against the members of the Mara 13th. And over the course of the investigation, Don has grown quite attached to a certain AUSA. When the court date finally arrives, Charlie follows though on his promise to Marcus. But things don't always go as planned. When the Los Angeles County Federal Courthouse becomes a war zone for the gangs of L.A., Don must fight to save the lives of the two people he cannot live without.

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"There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul."

Ella Wheeler Wilcox(American poet and writer 1850-1919)