Charlie Eppes paused in the hallway when he heard Larry's familiar voice. He turned, smiling, as his friend hurried up to him.
"Weren't you a little early today?"
Charlie continued walking down the hall, Larry accompanying him.
"Yeah. I had some work I needed to catch up on now that Don's solved his case." Charlie rolled his eyes at Larry and Larry nodded sagely. Charlie had been spending a huge portion of his spare time helping his brother with a robbery case and his own work had begun to pile up.
"Perhaps you'd like to take a break and join me for coffee?"
"I'd love to, but I just realized admin didn't give me the correct information about the seminar tomorrow on—"
"You know, it's a funny thing that you bring that up. I would have thought you'd have been invited to speak there beforehand."
"I have. This is the third time I've been invited to." Charlie grinned at his sometimes absent-minded friend. "In any case I need to head to the office and get the information."
"Okay, I'll see you later."
Although his speech was already prepared, Charlie began going through it in his head as he made his way to the administration building. He nodded to the few students and professors he recognized on his way there. As he strode up to Mrs. Walker's desk, he realized two things; one, she wasn't at her desk and two; the two men standing before her desk were not students. Or professors.
They both looked vaguely familiar and it was only when they smiled at him did he realize the reason he hadn't recognized them was that he'd never seen them inside the university, but usually at a crime scene.
"Professor Eppes," one of them said cordially.
"Hi. What's going on?"
"One of the women who works here, her husband's been shot." The agent nodded to Mrs. Walker's empty desk. "Your brother's in there talking to her." The agent nodded towards one of the glass-encased conference rooms where Megan and Don were talking with the secretary.
"What? That's horrible!" Not that Charlie knew Irene Walker very well, but her son had taken a few of Charlie's classes. "Wait, why are the FBI involved? Shouldn't this be a case for the LAPD?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I'm afraid I can't discuss the specifics of the case."
Charlie nodded; he'd worked with both agents before but knew the rules. Unless he was working specifically on the case, he was left out of the loop.
Still, Charlie felt torn between leaving them to do their jobs and knocking on the door and offering his help. Standing there undecided, the choice was taking from him when Don spotted him.
"Charlie." Don shut the door behind him, leaving Mrs. Walker alone with Megan.
"Hey, Don. I hear Mrs. Walkers' husband got shot? How is he?"
"I'm afraid he didn't make it," Don said as he punched some numbers into his cell phone. He let the phone ring several times, then hung up with a frustrated sigh.
"Is she all right?" Charlie motioned to where Mrs. Walker was sitting in shock.
"For the time being." Don grabbed Charlie's shoulder and pulled him away from the few students who were passing by and gawking at the decidedly overdressed FBI agents. "The Walkers were under the Witness Protection Plan." Don's voice was soft and pitched so that it wouldn't go further than Charlie's ear. "Irene Walker witnessed a mob execution five years ago and she and her family had to be given a new identity in order to protect them."
"She testified against the killer?"
"No. One of the suspected killers was murdered just a few days later so it never went to trial but there was substantiation she was still in danger. Everything pointed to Guiseppe Bosco but we never managed to nail him for it, and she never got a good look at the second hit man, so—" Don hit redial and put the phone back to his ear.
"She and her family were moved halfway across the country and began a new life, just in case?"
"Yeah. But it kinda looks like someone's caught up to them."
"So you suspect the mob's the one who killed her husband?"
"The odds are that it is." Don made a face as Megan exited the office. She smiled at Charlie as she shut the door behind her. "The kid's not answering the phone," Don told her.
"Mrs. Walker did say he tends to study with his Ipod full blast."
Charlie ducked his head as Don gave him one of those looks about his own habits of listening to loud music while working.
"Do you want me to go to the house and see if he's there?" Megan stopped beside the two men. "His mother confirmed he has no classes this morning and he was studying for an exam."
"Yeah, I think you'd better go check the house out. You wanna get the key from Mrs.—"
Megan playfully waved a key before her, indicating she was already a step ahead of Don.
"Wait, you're going to bring Nat in?"
"We need to put both mother and son in a safe place while we investigate the shooting."
"I'll go with you." Charlie looked at Megan expectantly. He pushed his annoyance down when she looked to Don for permission with a hint of a smile curling at her lips. "I know Nat, he's in some of my classes," Charlie continued. "If you just show up and say you're from the FBI, he may not believe you, especially since..." Charlie glanced up as a couple of students walked by, "...You know. He'll believe me if I go along. Anyways, I can help break the news about his dad."
Charlie had to keep telling himself that despite the fact he was a grown man, yes, he needed Don's permission since this was FBI-related but it still rankled him sometimes, bringing back childhood memories of wanting to tag along with his older brother and being left behind because Don and his friends were bigger, taller, had longer legs and thus could run faster. Many times he was able to figure out where they'd gone, though, and had caught up with them anyways.
"Okay," Don said after a moment's hesitation. "How's she holding up?" He canted his head back towards the closed door.
"Pretty shook up and very worried about her son."
"I'll take her to the safe house myself. Let me know when you find Nathan."
Charlie waved a hand in farewell to Don as he hurried behind Megan, all thoughts about his upcoming speech forgotten.
- - - - - -
"So, what's this kid like?"
Charlie glanced at Megan, who had her eyes on the road.
"He's pretty quiet, keeps to himself a lot. Doesn't participate much in discussions." He grinned. "You know, he went out with Amita a couple of times. Maybe you should be talking to her."
"Well, if he was in his early teens when his family went into the Protection program, it could have been pretty hard on the guy. Having to pull up roots, not seeing family, friends, girlfriends."
"But he could be the naturally quiet type personality." Charlie grinned to himself a moment. "I mean, just look at me."
Megan chuckled, casting him a quick look before turning into a driveway. "Yeah, right. You? Quiet?"
"Well, I do admit to getting carried away when things interest me." He shrugged. "Can I help it that lots of things interest me?"
Megan shut the motor off and patted Charlie's bicep. "And I wouldn't want you any other way." She winked at him and got out of the car. Charlie laughed softly to himself, thinking how different she was to Terry. Not a bad different. Just a different different.
Megan rang the doorbell twice and when there was no answer, put the key to the keyhole. She pushed the door open and both Charlie and Megan stood inside the entrance for a moment, listening intently.
"Nathan?" Megan took two steps forward after motioning for Charlie to stay behind her. She'd drawn her gun, which was making Charlie pretty nervous. "Nathan Walker? Hello, anybody home?"
Charlie followed Megan as she methodically checked the house. When in the kitchen, it was obvious someone had been home recently; the coffeepot had been turned off but the remnants inside was still hot.
Finally Megan reached for her cell phone, glancing at Charlie as she hit speed dial. "Doesn't look like anyone's home."
"No, it doesn't." Charlie glanced out of the kitchen windows, looking out into the back yard. There was a small in ground pool there, and a few shady spots that looked like inviting places to sit and study. As Megan began talking with Don, curiosity drove Charlie to open the back door and step into the yard.
He peered around the tree-shaded yard as he approached the pool, thinking he'd have loved one of these growing up. He stopped at the pool's edge and admired the view a moment when suddenly a thought hit him. The kitchen door leading to the backyard had been unlocked; which meant that Nat must be out here somewhere. Even as he turned to check the yard, he heard the scuffed sound of a footstep to his right. He twisted quickly, caught sight of a gun and then his head erupted in pain.
- - - - - -
"Shot fired. Send backup!" Megan yelled into the phone as she ducked for cover when a bullet broke through the kitchen window. She barely heard Don's affirmation as she ran in a crouch to the window, then made a quick motion to look outside, pulling back before she could be seen as a target.
"Charlie! Charlie, you okay?"
Her initial glance had shown a form running across the back yard and out the back gate and someone in the pool. It took a second look to confirm her first suspicion, before she was out of the house like a shot, yelling Charlie's name again.
"Charlie, are you okay?" She slowed by the pool, half expecting Charlie to swim to the edge where he'd dove for cover when the assailant had shot at her. To her horror, Charlie was lying face down in the water, and there was blood seeping out near his head. "Oh God, no."
Without a second thought, she threw her gun and phone to the side of the pool and dove into the water. She surfaced and reached for Charlie, turning him over onto his back. Immediately she looked at the head wound; it looked more like a bullet wound than him hitting his head on the side of the pool when he'd gone in. More than likely the bullet had grazed him and he'd fallen into the water.
He was breathing; thank god for that. With one arm wrapped around his shoulder, she swam until she reached the shallow end then, keeping Charlie's head out of the water, she clambered up the built-in steps and began to pull him out of the pool. With a lot of grunting and swearing, she managed to tug Charlie onto the cement edge and onto his side. She checked his breathing again before running around the pool to pick up her phone and calling 911. She knelt beside Charlie as she made the call.
"Hang in there, Charlie," she whispered into his ear as she gently eased thick locks of dripping hair from his face.
- - - - - -
"Dad." Don had paused at the entrance to the waiting room but upon seeing his father and Larry sitting at the far end, rushed into the room. "How is he?"
Alan stood and passed a hand over his forehead as Don grasped his arm. "I don't know. I mean, he's alive, they're doing tests on him but I haven't heard anything since they took him away."
"What kind of tests? Megan told me he had a head wound?"
Don had arrived at the crime scene just as the ambulance carrying Charlie was pulling away. Megan, who was soaked from head to toes, had hurried to Don's side to bring him up to date. He'd sent men to canvas the neighbourhood but as Megan hadn't gotten a clear look at Charlie's assailant, they didn't have much to go on.
"Who shot him, Don? The cops told me he was at a crime scene and—"
"We don't know, Dad. Whoever shot Charlie might have mistaken him for Nathan."
"Nathan Walker, one of Charlie's students. Charlie went with Megan to talk to Nathan because the boy's father had just been shot and... somehow... Charlie..."
"So, in other words, you don't know who shot Charles." Larry leaned back in the chair, rubbing his knuckles of one hand across the palm of the other in a nervous gesture.
Don took a seat beside his father and sighed. "No, we don't. There were no eyewitnesses and there's no sign of Nathan Walker." He glanced at his watch. "It's been two hours. Shouldn't there be news? Did Charlie wake up yet?"
"I don't know. They took him for X-rays and some kind of scans that has way too many letters to remember."
Don thrust his hands through his hair then squeezed his head. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have let Charlie go with Megan. What the hell was I thinking?"
"You were thinking Charlie could help someone whose father just got killed. I heard the news on the radio earlier." Alan patted Don's arm a few times. "There was no reason to think Charlie would be in danger."
"Wasn't there? I was sending an agent to collect the kid in case whoever went after the dad decided to go after the kid or the mother."
He ignored his father and continued with his self-flagellation. "We have no idea who might have shot the father," Don lied. "I shouldn't have let him go with Megan. I should have sent someone else who—"
"Donnie. Don't do this." His father's hand was heavy on his shoulder and Don looked up, seeing the concern for Charlie focusing on him instead. "Charlie will be fine."
They all turned to see a green-clad doctor standing in the door. Immediately Don and Alan stood and hurried to the doctor, with Larry only two steps behind them.
"How is he? How's Charlie?"
"Your son is suffering from a concussion. Our tests have shown that there's a slight subdural hematoma—" When Alan frowned, the doctor paused and rephrased his words, "bleeding inside the skull, but we don't think at this point it's serious enough to attempt relieving the pressure. We're monitoring him and—"
"I know what a hematoma is. Why wouldn't you want to relieve the pressure? Isn't that serious? I mean, if there's bleeding, that means his brain got knocked around inside his head and it could be swelling."
"Alan, I'm sure the doctors don't want to cut Charles' skull open if they don't have to."
Don winced at Larry's words, but he was probably right.
"Cut his... yes, yes, right, but how will you know if the pressure begins to affect him. It can't be a good thing, can it?"
"We're monitoring Mr. Eppes and we'll know by his vital signs if he begins to deteriorate. At the moment, he's still unconscious—"
"He hasn't woken up yet?" Don couldn't help asking.
"No, I'm afraid not, but he has been showing signs of waking. I expect he'll appreciate having family with him when he does."
"Yes, yes, please." Don's dad suddenly looked as if he'd had a weight lifted from his shoulders and the doctor turned, leading them down the hallway.
"I'll just wait here," Larry said, pointing to the couch.
Don paused as Larry sat down. "We'll let you know as soon as he wakes up."
"Go." Larry shooed Don towards the direction the doctor and Alan had just taken and with a quick nod, he hurried to catch up with them.
"He may not be coherent when he does wake up. He may also be extremely nauseous. He'll definitely be in considerable pain; but we'll need to ascertain his neurological condition before we can give him any painkillers."
The doctor stopped in front of a room which at first glance, appeared filled with beds and medical equipment. The doctor led them through the floor until they were standing before a curtained-off section, with Charlie lying on a bed behind a curtain. An IV was affixed to his right hand, a heart monitor beeped rhythmically, the wires of which snaked beneath the blanket, and a pulse oximeter was attached to his right index finger. Don thought morosely how well-acquainted he was to all this paraphernalia, something he'd learned about during his mom's dying days.
Charlie's face was pale, his dark hair and stubble contrasting widely. There was a small bandage taped to his left temple; funny how such a small-seeming wound could have such repercussions.
Don and Alan moved closer to the bed. "Charlie?" Alan leaned over and moved a curl of hair that was threatening to fall into Charlie's eye.
Charlie moaned softly, then turned his face away from Alan's touch.
"Hey, kiddo, you waking up there?"
Charlie opened his eyes and looked at Alan, his gaze unfocused and groggy. He coughed, moaned again, the suddenly he was gagging and trying to turn onto his side. Before Don could react, his dad had grabbed an emesis basin from beside the bed, pulled Charlie onto his side and was holding the basin beneath Charlie's mouth as he vomited.
Immediately a nurse was beside his father and took the basin from him as Charlie continued to heave. Don winced as the sounds and smell caused him to swallow convulsively.
"It's all right, some nausea's to be expected with a concussion," the nurse said kindly as Charlie coughed and retched.
"Can't complain about your reflexes," Don said to his dad as the nurse took a tissue and wiped Charlie's mouth.
"I got plenty of practice when your mom got sick." Alan gave Don a slight smile before he returned his attention to Charlie, who seemed to be over his bout of sickness. "Feeling better now?"
"Nghh," Charlie moaned, closing his eyes. His breathing seemed to ease and the nurse straightened.
"He's sleeping," she said softly as she rearranged the blankets around Charlie's shoulder with one hand. He was laying on his side now, his hand hanging limply off the mattress.
"Sleeping or unconscious?" Don asked as he took Charlie's hand and placed it under the covers.
"Sleeping. He'll be in and out for a while." She smiled at them and took the foul-smelling basin away. Don took a deep breath, then regretted it when the sour odor of vomit assailed him. Feeling he needed to do something, he looked around for a chair, found one and brought it close to the bed for his father.
"Mom had those tests done, didn't she? The ones with all the letters," Don clarified when Alan looked up at him.
"MRIs, PET scans, you name it, your mother had it." Alan shook his head. "They still mean squat to me. Give me an old fashioned X-ray anytime – those I understand."
Don leaned against the foot of the bed, watching his father watch Charlie sleep.
"You planning on going back to work?"
"Um, no." His team had things under control; one of them would come find him if something relevant was discovered, otherwise he would be here for Charlie. And his dad.
"Then get yourself a chair. It's going to be a long day.
- - - - - -
The doctor had been right; nurses came in every twenty minutes to check up on Charlie. It was two hours later that Charlie truly woke up again, right in the middle of a blood pressure check.
"Hello there," the nurse said softly when Charlie opened his eyes. Immediately Don and Alan leaned forward, but Charlie seemed to only have eyes for her.
"What..." Charlie licked his lips and cleared his throat. "Where am I?"
"You're in the hospital. You have a head trauma so that's why you probably have a migraine from hell."
"Yeah." The word wasn't much more than a puff of air.
"I need to perform a couple of tests and ask you a few questions." She raised the penlight before Charlie's face. "Follow this with your eyes only." She moved the penlight slowly from side to side. "Do you know what day it is?"
Charlie's were obviously unfocused as he attempted to follow the movements of the penlight. He dry heaved once and closed his eyes. "Monday."
"Do you know the date?"
"September... 19th," he replied thickly.
"Good. Can you squeeze my fingers?" She stuck her fingers through Charlie's palms and he squeezed. "What year is it?"
"Good." She pulled her hands away and took up the penlight again. "I need you to open your eyes a moment." When Charlie obeyed, she leaned closer. "I'm going to flash this into your eyes. It'll probably hurt."
She aimed the light for Charlie's eyes.
"Can you tell me your birthday?"
"Ow!" Charlie turned his head, bringing a hand up to shield his eyes.
"Sorry, I know the light seems brighter than normal, but I need to check your pupils." Don held his breath as the nurse flashed the light into Charlie's eyes. He was panting in pain as she moved to his other eye.
"Okay, all done." She stopped a moment to jot down the information into the medical chart and Charlie shut his eyes and turned his head away from them all.
"All right. Can you tell me your birthday?" she repeated. When Charlie didn't answer, she leaned over him. "Charlie?" she said softly. "He's asleep again," she informed Don when, alarmed, he began getting out of his chair. "It's okay, it's normal with head injuries."
"How long will be he like this?"
She made a slight grimace. "It's hard to tell. He'll be experiencing headaches for a few days at least, maybe a week. In some cases the migraines can recur for a few months. Double vision, nausea, dizziness. We'll test him again when he wakes up."
"So, this..." Alan waved towards Charlie... "these tests you did weren't good?"
"He's having trouble focusing and has one hell of a headache. That's to be expected and since he's sleeping, there's no need to give him anything for the pain. He's also experiencing nausea, which is normal and there's no sign of weakness in either side of his body, so that's a good sign. His vitals are strong and stable. So far, it's looking good."
She put the chart on the hook at the foot of the bed and moved on to another patient. Don stood, feeling the need to work off restless energy. "I need a coffee. I need to call the Bureau and I'll go see if Larry's still here... tell him that Charlie woke up again if he is and—"
"Coffee sounds good. Get me a chocolate bar or something sweet while you're at it."
"Okay." Don looked at Charlie's sleeping form one last time before heading out towards the waiting room. To his surprise, Megan and David were both sitting with Larry.
"Aren't you two supposed to be working?"
"We are." Megan stood as Don approached. "We were in the neighbourhood and thought we'd stop to see if there was news."
Don nodded. "Charlie's got a concussion; he woke up for a minute but fell asleep before we could talk to him. Dad's still with him." Don pointed down the hallway, towards the elevators. "I was going to get a coffee, wanna join me?"
"Sure." Megan smiled overly brightly at Don as David and Larry followed. They got their coffees, Don deciding to get one for his dad before he returned to the room. They all sat around a table next to a window.
"Any luck with tracking down Nathan Walker or the shooters?"
"Nothing so far." David toyed with his cup, turning it round and round, the plastic making scritching sounds as it moved through spilled sugar on the table. "Megan said Charlie stepped out of the Walker house and into the backyard. Now that door's got a deadlock that can't be opened without a key. So for Charlie to step outside meant the door was unlocked. The front door was locked so we assume Nathan left the house by the back."
"What we don't know is whether whoever shot Charlie was aiming for Charlie, or for me. Or Nathan."
"The guy who shot Charlie was in the backyard. How could he have mistaken Charlie for Nathan?" Don took a sip of coffee. The heat of the liquid scalded his mouth and he swallowed it, feeling it nearly burn his throat as it made its way into his stomach. Irritably, he opened the cover and put two more creamers into it to cool it off.
"The similarities are pretty striking." David pushed a photo in front of Don. The first thing he noted was the dark curly hair and flashing dark eyes. It took him a moment to realize that this wasn't Charlie. The boy in the picture was just that, a boy. But there were times when Charlie looked much younger than he actually was, and it was clear as to how someone could have mistaken Charlie for Nathan from a distance.
"That picture looks incredibly like Charlie," Larry said. "I never really noticed that before."
"Which is why we think that maybe, just maybe, the intended victim was Nathan Walker and not Charlie." David pulled the photo back, stuck it into a small envelope and placed it in an inside pocket of his suit.
"I think that's a pretty good assumption." Don took another sip of the now slightly cooler coffee. "But then that brings up the question – where is Nathan Walker?"
"Could his mother have been mistaken about him being home studying and he went out with friends instead?"
"Either he was out of the house before you and Charlie showed up," Don said as he took another long sip of coffee, "or he caught wind of something and ran. The unlocked door to the back yard fits that theory better."
"Or else Bosco got him already," David added.
"If it is Bosco. We still have no leads as to who shot Ray Walker." Don planted his elbows on the small, wobbly table and massaged his temples. He looked at Larry, who was uncharacteristically quiet.
"Charlie said that Nathan and Amita went out a few times?" Megan said softly to Larry. So, she'd also picked up on Larry's introspection.
Larry seemed to shake himself out of his thoughts and brought himself to the here and now. "I don't recall them dating; of course I don't usually pay attention to the who's dating who game." He seemed to realize there was coffee before him and he took a large gulp. "I could ask her about him, if you think it would help."
"Could you? Ask her about friends, interests, those his mother might not be aware of." Don finished his coffee and turned to David. "Go and question Mrs. Walker; ask her where Nathan might have gone – friends, hangouts, hobbies."
His team quickly finished their coffees and stood, leaving Don and Larry sitting at the table. "You'll let us know about Charlie?" Megan said after a moment. Don nodded, then glanced at Larry as they left the cafeteria.
"There's not much more I can do here," Larry said after a moment, pushing away from the table. "I'll go speak to Amita, I'm sure she's anxious for news about Charles."
"I'll call you if there are any new developments. But so far the doctors think he's doing okay."
Don stood and returned to the lineup and got this dad a coffee and a muffin, then stopped at one of the vending machines and also got him a chocolate bar. He returned to the floor and quietly walked through it, aware of all the filled beds he passed. He handed his dad the coffee and goodies and glanced at Charlie as he sat down.
"He's still sleeping," Alan said as he took a grateful sip of the coffee. "Dates and walnuts?" he asked after taking a bite of muffin.
"Wasn't much choice."
"So, did your people find anything new?"
The coffee hadn't helped much except give him a burning sensation in the pit of his stomach. He reached for a bite of his father's muffin, hoping to quell the fire. "Not really. They're still looking for the guy who lived at the house where Charlie was shot."
"Why would anyone want to shoot Charlie?" His father broke off a large piece of muffin and handed it to Don.
"We're not sure – maybe Charlie surprised the assailant. Nathan Walker looks a little bit like Charlie. The hair, the build. So it's possible he was mistaken for him." He nibbled at the sticky piece of muffin, watching Charlie as he slept. "At this point we have no leads, just a lot of speculation."
Charlie coughed and shifted in the bed. Don hurriedly stuffed the last of the muffin into his mouth and tensed, ready to call the nurse if he should wake. He wasn't disappointed; a few seconds later Charlie opened his eyes. Don hurriedly pressed the call button.
"Charlie?" When Charlie didn't react, Alan leaned forward and placed his hand on Charlie's arm. Two pain-filled brown eyes squinted up at Alan, then shifted over to look at Don.
"Hey, how you doin'?" Don's smile was heartfelt at seeing Charlie awake but began to wane at the amount of pain his brother was in.
"Ah, you're awake." The nurse quickly entered the room and began performing the same tests on Charlie as the previous time.
"Where am I?" Charlie's gaze skimmed the room before falling back onto the nurse. "Hospital?" he added before she could answer.
"Yep. Do you know what day it is?" she asked as she flashed the penlight into Charlie's eyes.
"Monday," Charlie answered when she'd finished. "My head? It hurts. A lot."
"I know. You have a concussion." She held the penlight up in front of his face again. "Follow this with your eyes. Can you tell me your birthday?"
Obviously still having trouble focusing, Charlie squeezed his eyes shut a couple of times before trying again.
"Your birthday, sweetie. You haven't told me your birth date yet."
Charlie raised a shaking hand to finger the area around the injury. "I don't know," he said in an equally shaky voice, eliciting a look of worry from the nurse.
"How about your name?"
"I..." Charlie opened and closed his mouth a few times. "I don't know. I can't... remember. God, my head hurts." He turned to Alan. "Are you a doctor?" His gaze slid past Alan and fixed on Don.
"Um, no, no, we're not doctors, Charlie." Obviously at a loss, Alan didn't seem to know how to answer Charlie any more than Don did.
"I'll get a doctor," the nurse said softly, leaving father, brother and patient together.
Charlie slowly turned onto his side and brought his knees up to his chest. He tried to stick his hands under his armpits, stopping only when he realized he had an IV stuck in one and a pulse ox affixed to the other. He shivered and Don realized he was seeking warmth.
"Here." Don hurriedly reached for the extra blanket at the foot of the bed and spread it over Charlie. His brother reached for the blanket's edge and pulled it up past his nose; a very Charlie-like action and one that he'd done as a child and into his teens. Don hadn't spent much time with Charlie in the past several years but he assumed it was still something Charlie would do when cold. "Better?"
"How can you not remember...?" Alan blurted the words out before Charlie could answer. He turned to Don in confusion. "How can he not remember his name? He's answered to it for almost 30 years – he can't have amnesia. He told the nurse earlier what day it was."
"Monday. September 19th," Charlie replied, his voice slightly muffled from beneath the blankets.
"See. You can remember what day today is but you can't remember the day you were born?"
"Dad." Don grabbed hold of his father's arm and kept his voice low in deference to his father's slightly shriller one. "He's got a concussion; amnesia does happen occasionally."
"What?" Alan stood up quickly, shaking off Don's hold and turned to face him. "He was fine before. How can he not be fine now?"
"Amnesia can be selective. You don't forget everything, just certain personal details, like your name, your past, your family."
"So now you're an expert on this? You know people who suddenly get a knock on the noggin' and forget their family?"
"Yes, I do. And I'm sure the doctor will tell us that it's fairly rare but it does happen, and that Charlie's memory will start to come back slowly as he recovers."
"You guys must be family, huh?" Charlie was peeking out from beneath the blankets. His eyes were half closed, and sharp lines marked his face, radiating from his eyes up to his forehead.
"Oh." Alan suddenly seemed to collapse back into his chair. "I'm your father, Charlie. This is your brother, Don."
"Is the doctor coming soon? My head really hurts."
"Yeah, I'll go see what's—" Before Don could finish the sentence, the nurse and doctor entered the small space.
"Mr. Eppes," the doctor said as he took Charlie's medical record and began scanning it. "I think it would be best if you allow me to examine my patient in private."
Without a word, both Alan and Don returned to the waiting room.
- - - - - -
Don would have thought the doctor would spend more time examining Charlie, but he came looking for them less than five minutes later.
"As you've guessed, your son is suffering from traumatic amnesia due to the concussion caused by the bullet wound."
"Yeah, the fact he didn't recognize his father or brother sort of gave the amnesia thing away."
"Mr. Eppes, I know this is upsetting, but in most cases, a patient's memory does come back with time."
"He's right, dad, it does."
"You never really answered my question, Don. You sound like you've experienced this first hand that you can tell me not to worry."
"Yes, dad, I did." Don winced inwardly, knowing the look from his dad was going to be one of disappointment and disbelief.
"And this happened, when? Oh, don't tell me. During those years when you were running around chasing bad guys all over the country?"
"No, afterwards, in New Mexico. I got hit on the head with a tire iron just as we were going to apprehend a suspect – didn't remember much of anything for a couple of days. Kim took me in, gave me some TLC and showed a hell of a lot more patience with me than I ever expected or deserved. After a week I could remember everything except the six hours leading to the arrest."
"And you didn't think it important to tell me or your mother?"
The doctor coughed softly, bringing Don's attention back to him.
"What you've described is how amnesia usually presents itself. We'll keep Charles overnight for observation and tomorrow he'll probably be well enough to go home."
"Go home? He can't remember who he is or remember his family. How can you talk of letting him go home when—?"
"Dad, the best thing is for Charlie to be in a familiar place with people he knows."
"How can he know them if he can't remember them?"
"Dad." Don was well aware his father's stubbornness was simply his way of dealing the worry and frustration, but they weren't getting anything accomplished here. "Don't. Please."
"Will someone be available to stay with him for a few days? He shouldn't be home alone – there will most likely be residual dizziness and double vision – he should have some supervision."
"Dad, I can't—"
"I'll be home. It's not a problem."
"He just requires rest and quiet. He'll be experiencing headaches for a few days, maybe longer. He'll probably be sleeping a lot; both due to the concussion itself and to the pain killers we'll prescribe for him. He shouldn't be overwhelmed with people and things – friends can come over but only one or two at a time. When he's strong enough, bring him to places he knows well. Work, friends' homes. Anything that might trigger a memory."
"So that's it? Bring him home and just wait."
"That's all we can do, dad." Don turned back to the doctor. "Can we go back and sit with him?"
"Of course. I've given him something for the headache so he'll be sleeping most of the afternoon. His life's not in any danger; we'll be moving him into a room as soon as one is available. I suggest you spend a little more time with him and then go home. Get some rest, have yourselves a good supper, then come back later tonight."
Don followed his dad back to Charlie and they sat silently, watching the lump beneath the blankets sleep.
Those days Don had experienced without remembering anything now felt more like a movie he'd seen, not something he'd gone through personally. He figured that was part of the concussion's effects, but he did recall the intensity of the headaches he'd lived through and he didn't envy Charlie the next couple of days.
"Dad, the doctor said he'd be sleeping. Why don't you go home and—"
"That's okay. I'm fine right here. You go on; I know you have work to do."
"Dad, I... look, he's sleeping. He'll be sleeping for the rest of the day."
"So you're only going to tire yourself out worrying about him by staying here. Go home; relax... look, I'll come by later, pick you up, and we'll go out for supper and—"
"I'm not the one who's sick. I can cook."
"I just meant I didn't want you to stress yourself over—"
"Donnie, I cook every day. Whether I stay here and worry about Charlie or go home and worry about Charlie, I'm going to be stressed."
"Dad, you know what I meant."
Alan took a deep breath and stood up. "I'll expect you for supper at five. We'll eat early and then come back here."
Don stood and nodded. "Sounds like a plan." He waited while his father leaned over Charlie's bed and kissed the bit of cheek that wasn't hidden by the blanket.
- - - - - -
"Sorry I'm late," Don yelled as he shut the door behind him and put down his suitcase beside the door. The house was dark and cool and after the events of this morning and the fruitless results of the remainder of the afternoon, Don felt like he'd come home.
"You're not. I'm just putting the stew on the table." Alan peeked from the kitchen door and looked at Don in surprise. "What, are you moving in?"
Don bit back a grin. "Yeah, sort of, if you don't mind? I thought I'd stay here a few nights instead of my apartment." He shrugged. "Maybe talk to Charlie, keep him company. I'll try to take a few extra hours off work this week, if I can."
"I'm sure he'd like that." Alan frowned. "Well, he would if he remembered you. But he will once he does remember." He turned back towards the kitchen and Don moved to the dining room to see if he could help. "It's all so confusing," his dad called out from the kitchen.
"I know." Don grabbed two paper napkins and placed them on the already-set table.
"You'll have to make the bed, there aren't any sheets—"
Don took the basket of rolls from his dad and set it on the table. He pulled out the chair at his customary seat and sat down. "That's okay, I'll do that when we come back from the hospital."
Alan sat and helped himself to a roll. As he broke it open and buttered it, Don took a bite of the steaming stew. "Mmm, this is great."
"It's Charlie's favourite. I was hoping... there are plenty of leftovers and you know how it always tastes better when it's reheated."
"Dad, he may not feel like eating much in the next day or two."
"That's fine." Alan picked up his spoon and took a bite. "It'll keep for a few days," he said after he'd chewed. "So, any luck with the case?" Alan stopped eating and looked at Don expectantly.
"No. Megan's questioning Nathan's friends and David's questioning neighbours. We got a tip that the mob's definitely behind the father's shooting; I've got people looking into leads but we can't even figure out how they caught wind of the Walkers."
"They were hiding out from the mob?"
"Yeah. Mrs. Walker was at the wrong place at the wrong time and witnessed an execution a few years back. We placed them in the Witness Protection Plan but things didn't quite work out the way we'd hoped." He took another bite of stew and reached for the rolls. "This is really good."
Alan put his spoon down and rubbed the back of his head. "I was thinking we could take Charlie to that park where we'd go for picnics when you boys were kids. Then there's CalSci – I'm sure Larry wouldn't mind giving Charlie a tour. There's the Botanical Gardens and the zoo and that place that had the origami displays. And there's—"
"Dad, I don't think Charlie will feel like going to many of these places for a couple of days. He's going to have headaches and probably getting off the couch will seem like a lot of effort. He's better off just staying home and resting and maybe we can bring the memories to him."
"Is that your tire-iron experience talking?"
"Yeah, it is. By the time I did feel good enough to go places, I was beginning to remember. Let's just play it by ear, okay? And not push him or pressure him into feeling he needs to remember." Don dipped the last of his bread into the bowl and wiped up the remaining juice.
"You want more?"
"No, thanks. I had a late lunch."
Alan grabbed Don's dirty dishes and piled them on top of his own. "Let me just load these into the dishwasher and we can head on to the hospital."
As his father cleared the table, Don picked up his suitcase and brought it to his old bedroom. He stopped in front of Charlie's room on his way there, then on impulse, went inside and looked around. He figured he could grab a pair of pajamas and a robe for Charlie; Don remembered the embarrassment of those backless hospital gowns. He could at least not have his brother subjected to that – he'd have enough on his mind as it was.
The place was crammed with books and papers, scribbles and notes. Honestly, aside from the furniture, the room hadn't changed much since he'd lived here. There were no memorabilia, no mementos, only one picture of the family taken three years ago when Don had come for a short vacation.
He stepped up to the bureau and picked up the picture. He'd never seen this photo but he remembered the day it had been taken. They'd gone out to celebrate dad's birthday and had asked one of the waiters to take their photo.
Don sighed as he put the picture back down in its place. Somehow they had all seemed so innocent then, unaware of the major changes that were already in the works. Changes that in their mom's case, had become permanent, and not in a good way.
He just hoped that Charlie's lost memories weren't one of those permanent things.
- - - - - -
It was the sensation of being airborne that woke Charlie. He jerked in alarm and that small movement sent a wave of pain shooting through his head. Then he was on firm ground, or on firm… something. It took him a moment to realize he was on a bed and a gentle voice was murmuring to him.
He opened his eyes, seeing a blurry face before him. He blinked and squinted against the light in the room. An older, grey haired woman dressed in hospital scrubs was smiling down at him as she arranged a blanket around his body.
"Hello there, Mr. Eppes," she said in a soft voice. "I'm sorry we woke you."
Charlie looked around in confusion, noting the curtains that were half-drawn around his bed. He realized he was alone in the small cubicle; she must have been talking to him. Mr. Eppes. Funny, the name did nothing for him. He felt as disassociated as if she'd called him Mr. Smith. Or Mr. Jones.
There was medical equipment and he could see glimpses of a second bed when the nurse moved aside. He might not remember who he was but he realized he'd had some sort of experience with hospitals if he could recognize the room for what it was.
"That's okay." Charlie turned onto his side, shifting his head and neck until the injured portion of his head wasn't touching the pillow.
"How's your headache?" The nurse adjusted the line leading up to the IV beside the bed, glancing at him as she worked.
"It's… still there."
"You're almost due for another dose of medication; if you're still in considerable pain afterwards, I'll talk to the doctor to see if we can increase the dosage. Would you like some water?"
Charlie realized his mouth was dry and pasty. "That would be good."
There was a pitcher of water on the small table beside the bed which he hadn't noticed until the nurse walked around the bed and poured some into a glass. She raised the head of the bed slightly and handed him the glass.
His hand shook but he managed to drink most of the water without spilling any.
"They'll be serving supper in a few minutes; do you think you feel up to eating? If you can manage some food, we can get rid of that." She pointed to the IV. "How about we give you a little more Compazine along with the pain meds first to make sure your stomach can handle the food?"
Charlie really wasn't very hungry, but he nodded carefully. Maybe he'd feel better if he managed to eat something. He swallowed the pills she gave him, drank some more water, watched as she injected something into his IV, then tried to relax when she left the room.
Funny how this motherly woman seemed more familiar to him than the two men who had been to see him earlier – his father and brother, he recalled fuzzily. He wondered if he had been in a hospital before, or if it was just the woman's motherly instincts that seemed to be attracting him to her.
He knew there was someone else in the room with him; he could hear rustling sounds as the person shifted on the stiff sheets. His head was pounding but the pain was receding considerably. He closed his eyes and drowsed, listening to the noises out in the hallway that seemed far away, until he was woken up by a loud, shrill voice nearby.
"Why is he getting the bed by the window? You were here first."
Whoever she'd spoken to mumbled something which Charlie couldn't catch. "It's not fair. You should speak to the nurse when she comes back in."
"Why did they close the curtain around the bed?" Another voice piped up, younger, even shriller, and closer to the foot of Charlie's bed. "You can't see outside now. We don't have a view anymore."
Charlie turned his head, noting that although the curtain had been pulled to separate the two beds, it had remained partly opened, allowing him to see out the window. Well, he could only see darkening sky but he realized that with the curtain closed on the other side, the window would be hidden from the other bed's occupant's view.
Someone, or rather, several someones, entered the room and there was loud, happy talk as they all got reacquainted with his roommate and one another. Despite the newly-administered painkiller, the loud voices reverberated painfully inside his head.
They were family, Charlie realized. Listening to their conversations made Charlie realize how lonely he felt. Although he'd been pretty much out of it earlier when he'd woken up, he desperately wanted some sort of connection with who he was, even if it was a stranger stating he was his father or brother.
He had no idea of the man he was, except for a name. He raised his hands in front of him and looked at them. They were hands, ten fingers, nothing to write home about. He realized at that moment that he had no idea what he looked like. He raised the sheet, trying to see his body. He was wearing a hospital gown, his hairy legs peeking from below the short hem. He appeared to be slim, not muscular, but from his vantage point he couldn't figure out if he was tall or short.
He looked around for a mirror, wondering what his face looked like. He rubbed a hand across his mouth and felt the slight rasp of stubble. His hair was long, longer than the two who had been with him when he'd woken. He pulled a strand, noting the curls and the dark color.
They had called him Charlie. And the nurse had just called him Mr. Epson. No, that wasn't right. Something similar to Epson, but he couldn't quite remember.
The laughter and talk quieted for a moment, and he heard the nurse who'd been to see him earlier asking them to keep their voices down. A moment later, she pulled the curtain separating the two beds and entered his small, private space.
Several heads turned and craned to look at him. Charlie shifted his eyes and kept his attention on the nurse as she bustled around his small space.
"Here's your supper, Mr. Eppes." She placed a covered tray on a roll away table and moved it closer to the bed. She raised the bed slowly, allowing Charlie a chance to adjust to the movement.
"I'm sorry about the noise," she said softly. "We'll move you to a private room if one becomes available but it doesn't look likely that will happen tonight."
"Your insurance covers a private room. Unfortunately we have none available but we'll move you the moment one is free." She pushed the tray closer so that it was over his lap. "Try and eat." She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorily. "The doctor said there's a good chance you'll get to go home tomorrow so you won't have to worry about listening to them for much longer." She nodded at the tray. "Eating your supper would be a step in the right direction."
Charlie reached for the plate and uncovered it. He stared at the chicken covered in gravy, mashed potatoes, string beans and corn. "I'm not quite sure where home is," he said after a moment, fiddling with the fork.
"You'll know it when you get there, sweetie." She patted his arm and him a smile.
"I don't—" Charlie made a small motion with his finger, pointing towards his head, all too aware of the teenager who had parked her butt on his bedside table. He glanced at the people milling about in the room. There were five adults, one teenager, and a sixth adult lying in the bed next to him.
"But they do." The nurse glared at the young girl who defiantly glared back at her before getting up and sauntering out of Charlie's sight. "The scuttlebutt is that your family sat with you for most of the day and they only went home after the doctor told them to. They'll probably be back here after supper." She reached over and added another pillow behind Charlie's back and neck, helping support his head.
"Scuttlebutt?" Charlie couldn't help but grin. So there was gossip here in the hospital about him?
"Hey, we're only human, and anyone as good looking as you is sure to evoke the maternal instinct, even in us hardened Florence Nightingales."
"So, tell me," Charlie said as he took a tentative bite of chicken. It was bland and lukewarm; the gravy tasteless. "Have you come across other cases like me?"
"Unfortunately, yes, I have. But," she added quickly when Charlie went to ask another question, "most patients have recovered. Fully. Those who haven't had experienced severe head trauma. So give it a few days, a week or two."
"This is a little embarrassing to ask," Charlie said after swallowing a mouthful of mashed potatoes, "but could I have a mirror? I don't have any idea what I look like. Or how old I am." He studied the hand holding the fork and didn't see wrinkles. His brother looked like he was in his 30's. He wondered if he was a younger or older brother. Then he smiled. Maybe they were twins.
"Of course. I'll bring one when I finish my rounds."
"What about personal effects? My wallet? Did I have a wallet or something?"
"I'm sure your personal effects are in the safe. I'll see what I can do about a mirror, though. You try and finish that food, and I'll be back in about an hour."
Charlie managed to force a few more mouthfuls of food down, hyper aware of the visitors staring at him through the partly-opened curtain. They had taken all the chairs, one person even being so bold as to enter Charlie's sanctuary and helping himself to the lone chair by the window. By now it sounded like a party atmosphere; there was laughing and jokes and back slapping. What he could figure out was the patient was scheduled for an operation the next day and everyone was here tonight wishing him luck.
Charlie's head was pounding so badly that he had to push the plate away; his almost non-existent appetite fleeing in the wake of the pain.
The teenager had taken up the seat on the bedside table again. She had put on a pair of headphones which was leaking music. The hard bass drumbeat was shrill and disturbingly loud, thumping in counter rhythm to his head.
He glanced at his left wrist, wondering what time it was. There was a lighter band of skin where his watch would have been; he wondered if it had been taken away for safekeeping, the same as his wallet. And there had to be set visiting hours, hadn't there? These people had to leave sometime soon.
Stupid. It was suppertime. The bland, unappetizing meal was confirmation of that. He probably still had a few more hours of this kind of racket to endure. He closed his eyes, trying to ignore the increasing pain. Every time someone laughed, it felt like a nail being gouged into his brain. Someone began telling a joke, his voice getting louder and louder as he reached the punch line. When the room erupted in laughter, Charlie bit his cheek, trying not to moan in pain.
The song the teenager was listening to changed, and Charlie could just make out the lyrics as the drums beat sharply next to him. The song was familiar, the rhythm would have been weirdly soothing if he hadn't been in such discomfort. In his head, he saw a flash of a blackboard and a hand writing down numbers and equations as quickly as if he were penning a letter. The image was accompanied by the same pounding music and song, its beat adding impetus to the rush of numbers appearing on the blackboard.
The image disappeared, leaving him dispirited and edgy. He wanted to sleep. He knew with sleep he could escape the pain, the loneliness – oh yes, he realized despite the nurse's words earlier, he was lonely and somehow felt abandoned – although he wasn't sure if the feelings were towards those who'd said he was family or towards himself for somehow having forgotten who he was. But with the noise in the room, sleep would be more than elusive, it would be downright impossible.
One lady decided she wanted to look out the window and pulled the remainder of the privacy curtain back, leaving Charlie fully exposed to the horde. He'd had enough of this. Raising his leg to hide his actions, he pulled back the bandage on the back of his hand, exposing the IV needle stuck into it. He gripped it and slowly pulled it out. Once it was free he tossed it over the far side of the bed and covered the bleeding puncture wound with his napkin.
Once the bleeding stopped Charlie slowly swung his legs off the bed. He got up, the room slowly spinning counter to the direction he wanted to go. The floor was cold beneath his bare feet but he grabbed the back of his gown, aimed for the door and hoped he didn't stagger too much.
A chair, a bench, a couch, anyplace quiet where he could shut his eyes and not hear the racket in his room. Where he could let the medication do its work, allow it to numb the pain as his brain had numbed his memories.
He grabbed the door jamb as he passed through it, realizing he was breathing noisily through his mouth. He turned into the hall and looked for a place to sit. But the walls undulated sickeningly so Charlie quickly had to lower his gaze and stare at the cracked tiled floor. He began shuffling down the hallway, looking for a place to rest.
But there were only walls and doors. Conversation came from most of the doorways as he crossed them. He peered inside, seeing blurred visions of patients and visitors. He must have crossed half the floor when he heard silence from one doorway. He stopped and peered inside.
It wasn't a hospital room, it was larger, equipped with two old couches and several padded, fake leather chairs. Charlie entered the room and stumbled towards the couch the farthest away from the door.
Easing down onto the cracked fake leather, he pulled his cold feet up off the ground and tucked them under his butt. He leaned his head back, feeling the food he'd eaten begin to roil sickeningly in his stomach.
He was cold, the thin cotton gown not doing much except cover his dignity. But it was quiet and he was alone. Maybe he could yet get some sleep, if only he could stop shivering.
- - - - - -
Don heard the loud voices even before he reached Charlie's room. He double checked the room number the nurse had told him and nodded to the FBI agent who'd just been assigned guard duty sitting outside the door. The agent nodded at Don, recognizing him.
"That been going for long?" he asked.
"Ever since I got here, about twenty minutes ago."
"This is ridiculous," Alan said, pushing past Don to step inside. Mumbling to himself, Don could hear his father saying something about Charlie needing peace and quiet with a head injury. Don shouldered past the small crowd and aimed for the bed at the far end of the room, only to come up short when he noticed two teenagers sitting on the rumpled bed, playing cards.
Don surveyed the area quickly. There was a partly eaten meal on a tray near the bed, but it was the nearly empty IV bag hanging from the IV pole at the far side of the bed that caught his attention. He quickly skirted the bed just as Alan shooed the girls off of it.
There was a pool of clear liquid on the floor. It could be spilled water but the needle attached to the IV was still dripping its contents. There was a crumpled napkin on the floor beside the liquid. He picked it up and noted the dabs of blood on it.
"This is Charlie's room, isn't it?" Alan looked at Don with a perplexed look on his face.
"Yes it is."
"Then where is he?"
Don winced as someone laughed shrilly. "I don't know, but I'm sure as hell going to find out."
He hurried out of the room and stopped before the FBI agent. "Did you see the patient leave this room?"
The man's eyes widened and he stood quickly and peered inside. He shifted from side to side as he attempted to see the bed. "No sir. Like I said, I just came on duty about twenty minutes ago. I... Agent Eppes, I know your brother and I swear I haven't seen him since I got here. I just assumed he was inside."
"You're assigned to guard someone and you don't even know if that person is in the room?" Alan looked at Don in disbelief, then shook his head. "I'll go alert the nurses." Alan was off and running towards the nurse's station while Don tried to think what Charlie would do. Not that he could easily get into his brother's head at the best of times but Charlie was hurting and there was certainly no rest to be gotten in his hospital room.
He began walking down the hallway, in the direction opposite his father had taken. He surreptitiously looked inside each room as he passed them. Most patients were sitting and talking with guests in their rooms; none of them were Charlie.
He came across the small lounge and even before he stuck his head inside, he knew this was where Charlie would be. Curled up on a couch in the far corner, head awkwardly balanced on the couch's bolster, Charlie was fast asleep.
Don hurried into the room and knelt beside his brother. His face was still pale and a darkening bruise was spreading around the bandage on his temple. He placed a hand on Charlie's arm, feeling the chilled skin beneath his fingers. "Charlie?"
He reached for Charlie's shoulder and gently shook it while calling his name again. Charlie reluctantly opened his eyes and looked around blearily. His eyes were glassy, a sure sign that he'd been given some type of medication.
"Hey. You gave us a scare, disappearing like that."
"I...?" Charlie licked his lips and looked around. "It was a little noisy in my room." He pushed up until he was sitting, leaning a shoulder a little crookedly against the back of the couch, fiddling with the hospital gown so it covered his groin.
Don suddenly remembered the small carryall he was still carrying. He unzipped it and removed Charlie's black bathrobe. "Here. You look cold and uncomfortable with that thing on." He opened the robe up and draped it over his brother's shoulders, then wrapped the ends so they covered his thighs.
"Thanks." Charlie pulled the collar close to his chin.
Satisfied that Charlie was okay, he hurried to the door and looked out the hall. He spotted his father walking towards him accompanied by two nurses. He waved, and when his father caught sight of him, he went back to Charlie.
Don reached into the bag and pulled out a pair of socks. "Why didn't you tell those folks to keep the noise down?" He unfolded the socks and offered them to Charlie.
"Too much trouble," Charlie mumbled as he fingered the socks. For a moment Don wondered if he was talking about putting the socks on, or making a fuss and getting his roommate's visitors culled to the bare minimum.
His brother wouldn't mind what Don was going to do next; he just hoped the man sitting next to him wouldn't be too embarrassed. He took the socks from Charlie's grasp, knelt down before him, picked up one of Charlie's feet, and began pulling the socks on. He was surprised at how cold his feet were.
Charlie looked up in surprise when his father and the nurses barged into the room.
"He's okay," Don said quickly. He reached for Charlie's other foot. "He couldn't rest with all the people in the room."
"We've already told them to leave, Mr. Eppes," one of the two nurses informed him while the other gave Charlie a quick look over.
Don put Charlie's foot down and smiled at his brother. "Better?"
Charlie curled his toes and gave Don a slight smile. "Much. Thanks."
"Can you walk back to the room?" the nurse asked.
"I can walk."
Charlie stood slowly and Don took his arm to steady him, then helped Charlie thread his arms into the robe when it slid off one shoulder. He glanced at their father, whose pressed lips and furrowed brow warned Don he was livid. By the look of the nurses' faces, he had already vented but Don suspected they hadn't heard the last of this.
Charlie was wobbly on his feet, needing to put his left hand against the wall for balance. When they passed a doorway, Don shifted places so he was on Charlie's left and Charlie could hold onto him. The room seemed far away and Don wondered how Charlie had made it here all by himself without collapsing.
The crowd in the room had lessened, there being only three visitors sitting around the other bed. Don guided Charlie straight for his own bed while Alan grabbed the last of the free chairs and dragged it over to the other side of the room.
Charlie sat then slowly slid down on the bed, trying to pull the robe up over his bare legs. He looked totally exhausted, in pain and if Don were to take a guess, scared.
"Mr. Eppes, you do know you really shouldn't have taken your IV out." The nurse tsked a few times as she began gathering the spoiled IV and cleaning up the mess. "It was very irresponsible of you."
"Sorry," Charlie mumbled as he tried to pull his robe which was caught between his legs.
"Hey," Don said softly, gently taking hold of Charlie's hand and holding it still. "I brought pajamas. Wanna put them on? I think anything would be more comfortable than that shrunken sheet with holes you're wearing."
Charlie examined the soft jersey pajamas that Don held out and a hint of a smile quirked at the corner of his lip. He sat up and their father, still not having said a word, pulled the privacy curtains tightly shut.
Watching Charlie moving so slowly, trying not to tilt his head down to avoid further aggravating the headache and most likely the nausea, reminded Don of those days he'd suffered from his own concussion. Kim had been there with him day and night and he'd been too miserable to be embarrassed as she and the nurses had helped him with the most basic of tasks.
Without a word, Don shook out the pajama bottoms and threaded them up Charlie's legs. Allowing his brother a modicum of dignity, he stepped back to allow Charlie to pull the pants up over his hips beneath the hospital gown, then took the green gown from him and draped it over the foot of the bed.
Don reached for the tee shirt he'd stuck in the bag, but Charlie had already slid back onto the bed, covering himself with his robe. His brother had always preferred to sleep bare-chested; funny how certain traits continued even if the amnesiac victim didn't realize he was doing it subconsciously.
"Dad, you want to sit?" Don motioned towards the chair his father had brought over. Don sat at the foot of Charlie's bed, leaving the chair free.
Without a word, Alan sat. Don cleared his throat, feeling awkward in the light of his father's anger. He knew it wasn't directed at either of them but it was making him uncomfortable. He wondered if Charlie noticed it.
The nurse finished her task of cleaning up the spilled IV and straightened. "Someone will be back soon to replace your IV, Mr. Eppes." Don watched her leave; Alan totally ignored her.
"Did the nurses give you anything for your headache?" Alan finally asked when Charlie rubbed at his forehead.
"Yes. I think so."
"Do you need something stronger?" Don pulled the blankets up over Charlie's feet and the few inches of exposed skin on his legs. Seeing Charlie hesitate, he spoke quickly. "I know how painful concussions are. You can't get any rest if you're hurting and if you're hurting, you're going to take longer to recover."
"You've had a concussion before?" Charlie raised his eyes, looking at Don.
"A couple, yeah. Kinda goes along with the job."
"What do you...?"
"I work for the FBI."
A hint of the old Charlie appeared when he smiled. "You're a G-man? You're kidding me, right?" There was a trace of laughter in Charlie's voice.
"Um, no. I really am with the FBI." Don reached into his pocket and removed his badge and ID. "See?"
Charlie squinted at what Don held before him and Don could have smacked himself in the head. No way would Charlie be able to focus on anything right now. "Sorry. I guess you're not seeing too clearly."
"If two of everything means clarity, then I'm good."
"That'll pass in a day or so."
Charlie nodded, then swallowed loudly. He cleared his throat once, and swallowed again.
"Charlie, are you okay?" Alan leaned closer and put a hand on the edge of the mattress.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Charlie took a deep breath. Don exchanged a glance with his dad. Just as Alan opened his mouth to speak again, Charlie sat up. He slid his legs off the bed, the robe falling on the mattress as he fumbled with the edge of the curtains. Don and Alan stood, hurrying after Charlie who had stopped in the middle of the room. He looked around, radiating anxiety.
"Bathroom," Charlie said in a strained voice.
"There." Don pointed towards the closed door on the far side of the room. Charlie stumbled to the door and tried to open it. It wouldn't open.
"Hey, wait your turn," a young female voice called out from behind the door.
Charlie turned and looked at Don and Alan with what was now amounting to panic. He leaned on the wall and slammed his palm against it, his breath coming in quick, sharp gasps. Even as Alan rushed to get an emesis basin, Charlie leaned forward and threw up.
Don, having gone through some of his buddies' drunken bouts after celebrating baseball game wins in his younger years, simply held onto Charlie's shaking body as he leaned weakly against the wall. Alan thrust the basin into Don's hands and hurried out the door.
"Oh ewwww." The bathroom door had opened and a teenage girl was standing there, staring at the vomit-splattered floor and wall. The smell of perfume and hairspray competed with the stench of puke. "And how am I expected to get out of here?" she demanded.
"You done?" he asked Charlie gently. At Charlie's strained "yes," he shepherded his brother back towards the bed. "Try cleaning up the floor," Don answered over his shoulder.
"How dare you talk to my daughter like that?" One of the female visitors approached them, her face red with anger.
"If your daughter hadn't been primping in the bathroom, this wouldn't have happened." Don said over his shoulder as he eased Charlie back onto the bed, giving Charlie a quick once over to see if he'd thrown up on himself. Thankfully, he appeared to be clean. Don put the basin on the rolling table next to the bed then pulled the blankets up over his brother's shivering form. He tried to ignore the continued complaints coming from the other side of the room, but the voices were deliberately loud and insulting.
"Oh my, Mr. Eppes, you certainly aren't having a good day, are you?" An older nurse entered the cubicle and approached the bed, Alan a step behind her. "I brought the mirror you asked for earlier. I'm going to put it here, okay?" The woman put a mirror on the roll away table next to the bed. She turned and handed Don a wallet. "He was asking for this earlier," she told Don softly. "The rest of his belongings are in the safe; I'll bring them out to you later."
Don nodded as he absently pocketed Charlie's wallet.
"I'm going to check your vitals, Mr. Eppes. Just lie back and relax." As she performed her duties, Don stepped out from behind the curtain and leaned against the wall, arms folded. He glared at the teenager, who was still whining from inside the bathroom. An orderly was mopping up the floor and was pointedly ignoring her pleas to hurry up.
When the teen was finally able to leave the bathroom without soiling her shoes, she urged her parents to leave. Even before the nurse had finished with Charlie, the Eppes family was alone, except for the sole lone patient who had kept to himself through most of the commotion.
Don grabbed one of the purloined chairs and brought it back to Charlie's bed. When he pushed past the curtain, it was to find that the nurse had set up a new IV and was administering a syringe of medication into it. She caught Don watching her and smiled. "It's something for the headache. I think your brother can use all the help he can get."
"Thanks," Don returned. He dragged the chair close to his dad when she left, and sat. The medication didn't take long to take effect; within seconds Charlie's face seemed to lose some of the tension he'd been holding, his body becoming limper in the bed.
"Try and get some sleep." Alan leaned forward and made a move to push some strands of hair from Charlie's face, but after a moment he dropped his hand.
"You two don't have to stay," Charlie said in a sleepy voice.
"That's okay, Charlie." Don knew how awkward this was – not knowing whether Charlie wanted to be touched by what he deemed to be strangers. Still, he leaned forward and patted his leg. "We'll stay a while, even if you go to sleep."
"Why?" Alan stuttered? "Because you're my son. You're his brother. You don't think we'd leave you when... no, that's right, you don't remember. You just remember this. You have a family – a father and brother who love you very much. You may not remember now, and probably my telling you doesn't make it sound like much, but it's true. Just hold onto that when you're feeling a little lost, okay?"
Charlie smiled at Alan. "Okay." He licked his lips and Don looked for a water jug. There was one beside the bed and Don filled a glass of water from it.
"Here." Don handed Charlie the water. As Charlie raised himself on his elbows and sipped, Don sat down again.
"Look, what dad said... he's right. I guess I know what you're going through right now. You're feeling alone and scared and disoriented and—"
"How could you know what I'm going through?" Charlie frowned up at Don.
Don rubbed the area behind his right ear, remembering the twenty-day headache that particular blow to the head had caused. "Because I've been where you are. I had a concussion about four years ago which resulted in amnesia."
Charlie blinked at Don, then looked at Alan.
"I'm sorry, I don't remember..."
"It's okay, concussions tend to make you forget things when—"
"First of all, Charlie," Alan said with a sideways glance towards his elder son, "stop with the apologizing about not remembering. And secondly, you wouldn't remember that little episode. Apparently Don decided it wasn't important enough at the time to tell his family."
"Well it's true."
"I'm sorry," Charlie said, interrupting, "but doesn't it sound a little coincidental that two brothers suffer amnesia? It seems to me the condition would be a fairly rare one. What are the odds of that happening in a family?"
"I don't know, Charlie, you tell me." Don waited for the usual numbers-related lecture that would normally come out of Charlie's mouth, then realized from Charlie's confused look that it wasn't going to happen. "Um, I guess the odds are pretty high, but not when you factor in my line of work."
"Oh, right. G-Man. I guess your job puts you in danger sometimes."
"You could say that."
Charlie looked at Alan. "You must worry a lot about him."
"Worry?" Alan snorted softly and glanced at Don. "You two are the bane of my life. Worry has become a daily occurrence."
"I'm sorry... but I don't remember your names. Could you...?"
Don flinched inwardly, thinking how stupid they'd been. His dad quickly filled in the blanks for Charlie. "Okay, first off you're Charles Edward Eppes, youngest son of Alan and Margaret Eppes. I'm Alan. This is Don."
"Your mom died about a year ago, son."
Don hated to see the lack of emotion on Charlie's face when mom's name came up. He sighed deeply. Mom would have known how to take care of this; somehow, even with knowing what Charlie was going through, Don felt this whole situation was totally out of his league. The lack of reaction had to have hurt dad. He looked around, trying to think of a way to change the subject. Then he spied the mirror beside the bed.
"The nurse said you'd asked for this?" He picked the item up and held it out to Charlie. He saw Charlie's cheeks redden in embarrassment, and smiled. He knew what the mirror was for.
"Yeah, I... this might sound silly but... I wanted to see what I looked like."
"Well, before you take a look at that mug of yours, I just want you to know that I inherited all the looks in the family."
Charlie grinned at Don. "So, not twins, huh?"
Don burst out laughing. "Nope, no such luck."
He held his breath as Charlie raised the mirror and looked at himself. He squinted at the mirror, then shifted his gaze over to Don and Don knew he was comparing himself to him, and to dad. Charlie had mom's eyes and hair, whereas Don actually had grandpa Eppes' looks rather than mom and dad's. They really didn't look much like siblings, not like some families did.
"So, what's the verdict?" Alan asked.
"I need a shave." Charlie rubbed his fingers over his cheek and chin.
"I brought your shaving kit along with a change of clothes for tomorrow. You can worry about all of that in the morning."
"Thanks." Charlie fingered his hair, testing the texture between his fingers.
"Believe it or not, when mine's the same length as yours, it looks pretty much like yours."
"That's true. Except your brother likes to visit the barber more often than you do."
Don laughed softly at his father's complaint – since Charlie had taken to wearing his hair long their dad had harped on its length.
Charlie put the mirror down with a sigh.
"The nurse said you asked for this too." Don held out Charlie's wallet to him.
Charlie took the wallet and began to flip through it but the IV and pulseox made it difficult to handle, let alone the small print on the ID Charlie glanced at. He handed it to Don after a moment. "Maybe later..." Charlie closed his eyes.
Don could see Charlie wanted to sleep. He handed the wallet to his dad.
"How about you get some sleep?" This time Alan did reach for Charlie's arm. He squeezed it and then fussed with the blankets.
Charlie opened his eyes and looked at Alan and then Don. "I..."
"Don't mind us. We'll just sit here for a little while to make sure you're sleeping okay and we'll go home. We'll be back first thing in the morning."
"Go to sleep," Don said with a smile. Seeing Charlie dopey-eyed brought back so many memories of the kid brother who wanted to stay up late talking. How many times had mom or dad carried a slumbering Charlie back to his own room when he'd fallen asleep in Don's bed while Don had done everything he could to studiously ignore the babblings of his kid brother.
Charlie blinked once or twice, then closed his eyes. They watched him as he relaxed even more, and his deep, rhythmical breathing told them he was sleeping. Don glanced at his father, who was watching Charlie with something akin to fear in his face.
"He's gonna be okay," Don whispered.
Alan simply nodded, breathed deeply and turned to look at Don.
"Let's go home. I think he's out for the rest of the night."
- - - - - -
Charlie startled from a half doze and looked up to see an attractive brunette smiling at him from the door. "Can I come in?"
"Sure." Self-consciously Charlie shifted in bed and smoothed out the wrinkles in the blanket. "So, let me guess, sister?"
"You're my sister come to visit?"
The brunette grinned as she strode across the room. "Nope. I'm Megan Reeves. I work with your brother. Don."
"Ah." Charlie ducked his head in embarrassment. "Another G-man. I mean, G-woman. I'm not too sure what's politically correct. Don's not here."
She handed him a small box of chocolates and he nodded his thanks. "Don't worry, and I know Don's not here. I dropped in to see how you were doing."
"Oh." Charlie looked at her, wondering if there was any attraction between Megan and himself. She was looking him over carefully, as if she was truly concerned about him. He was glad he'd taken the time to shave earlier that morning. He just wished he'd been able to take a shower; he was feeling just a little self-conscious and hoped that he'd be released soon, as promised.
"I'm glad to see you're doing fine, except for the memory problem."
"Yeah. That one's kind of hard to forget."
Megan laughed, her eyes twinkling as she looked at Charlie. "Is your dad here?"
"Alan? Yeah, he went to get something to eat. He was here even before I woke up."
"I know it must be difficult to take all of this in, but your family really cares about you."
"Yeah, I'm beginning to see that," Charlie said in a slightly awed voice.
Megan glanced at her watch and stood. "I'm sorry I can't stay longer, I was on my way to work but I was sort of in the neighbourhood and wanted to say hi. I'm really glad you're doing better. You had me scared there for a while yesterday, especially when I pulled you out of the pool."
"Pool?" Charlie frowned at her, then tried to straighten his brow, the action having pulled on the healing scab on his temple. He realized he'd never asked anyone how he'd gotten hurt. Had he been swimming and hit his head while diving?
"After you were shot, you fell into the pool. You have no idea how worried I was."
"Shot?" Charlie's voice rose and he tried to calm himself, already knowing that his emotions would acerbate his headache.
Megan's expression changed to one of alarm. "Nobody told you?"
"I guess I didn't ask." Too late, his headache had just gone up a notch.
"I'm sorry." Megan seemed to be looking everywhere but at him, but then her gaze focused directly on Charlie, making him feel a little awkward. "The father of one of your students had just been murdered and we were afraid the murderer might be going after the rest of the family. I was going over to pick him up and you decided to come with me because you thought the kid might listen to you. We think the assailant mistook you for Nathan and shot you by mistake when you stepped into the back yard. You fell into the pool and..."
Charlie's head was reeling with this information. Shot? Near drowning? Murderer? Students? Charlie realized there were a lot of things he should have asked his father and brother instead of spending most of the time sleeping.
"I've upset you, haven't I?"
"No... yes... I'm sorry, I just hadn't realized. I was shot? It's just a little hard to take in. I have students?"
"Haven't you asked your family about what happened?"
"Um... no, not really. To be honest, I've been sleeping a lot and..."
Megan nodded. "I know. Concussions hurt. Been there, done that. I'm sorry I had to break the news like that, Charlie."
"No, no, it's okay. I'm just glad the boy didn't get hurt. He's okay, isn't he?"
"We don't know. We haven't been able to find him, but we're still searching."
"You'll let me know if you find him?"
"I will. Or Don will."
Megan smiled at him and waved before she turned around and left the room.
Charlie sighed. He was alone in the room, the other patient having been carted away earlier for surgery. He mulled over Megan's words, hating the way his brain was thick and slow from the pain meds.
He was a teacher. Somehow after last night's fiasco he couldn't envisage himself dealing with rowdy teens or even younger kids. He rubbed at the area around his temple, keeping well away from the actual wound itself. His skin was tender and heck, his skull still ached.
Charlie lowered his hand and looked at an older man who had just entered his room.
"I hope it's okay to visit. I heard about the—" He pointed to his head. "I mean, I knew about the concussion, I was here yesterday with your father but I only heard about the amnesia later when he called me at home."
"And you are...?" Charlie asked with a slight smile. The man was rambling but somehow Charlie liked him.
"Oh. Sorry. Larry. Larry Fleinhardt." He handed Charlie a small stuffed creature which looked like a green, sad-faced floppy octopus.
"Um, thanks." Charlie fingered the soft toy and looked at Larry in confusion.
"Oh, that's from Amita. She said she'd be by later, she had a class and..." Larry rubbed his scalp with a finger. "I have to admit, this is very weird, introducing myself to you. I know, I know, you don't remember but we've known one another for so many years and—"
Charlie suddenly had a vision of Larry standing before a class, rambling on about some vague theory. The students were sitting and looking obviously bored and everyone appeared to be tuning out the teacher. But Charlie had listened, vastly enjoying himself while listening to the insights this man had.
"Larry, how about you start from the beginning and tell me who you are. Who Amita is. Are you a teacher? Like me?" Charlie added, proud that he could put something of himself into the conversation.
"Yes. Yes, I am." Larry's face lit up with a smile. "You remember you're a teacher?"
Charlie couldn't help but smile at the man's enthusiasm and somewhat clumsy speech. "No, I don't remember. But I'd like to hear all about it."
- - - - - -
Don glanced at Charlie who was squinting in the harsh afternoon sunlight. He took his hand off the steering wheel, removed his sunglasses and handed them to his brother. "Here. Put these on. The sun must be doing a number on your headache."
Don met his father's glance through the rearview mirror as Charlie first looked at the sunglasses in his hand before putting them on without a word. Charlie then continued toying with a green octopus.
Charlie looked better today. He'd apparently slept the night through and had even shaved by the time Don had dropped his dad off earlier that morning on his way to work. And now, several hours later, he'd been alert and talking, up until the moment they'd begun driving home.
"You're pretty quiet, Charlie. Are you feeling okay?" Alan placed a hand on Charlie's shoulder, leaning as far as his seat belt would allow him. Don exchanged another worried glance with his father.
"Yeah. The car's causing a bit of motion sickness but the glasses help."
"Where'd you get the octopus?"
Charlie raised the small toy towards Don. "I had visitors today." Charlie's lips curled in a slight smile. "Someone named Amy asked Larry to give it to me."
"Amy? I don't know an... do you mean Amita?" Alan asked.
"If Larry brought that over, yeah, it would most likely have come from Amita." Don took another glance at the cute toy and couldn't help but smile.
Charlie rubbed his forehead, then lowered his hand to pat the soft fur. "He might have said Amita. I'm not... yeah, probably. Amita."
"So she didn't come visit?" Don asked.
"No, Larry said she'd try and come later. Oh, she'll know I've been released, won't she? I wouldn't want someone to go to the hospital for nothing."
"I'm sure she'll call the house first before she does." Alan pushed his hand between the seats. "Can I see it?"
Charlie handed the toy to Alan and sighed deeply.
"Another ten minutes and we'll be home. So, you said visitors, as in plural. Who else came by?"
"Megan." Charlie turned towards Don. "That's right, isn't it? Megan... something. She said she worked with you. She brought chocolates."
"And you're not sharing?" Don exclaimed in mock outrage, grinning over at his brother. "Some things never change."
"So, what did you and Larry talk about?" Alan handed the octopus back to Charlie, who began playing with the floppy legs.
"I found out a few things." Charlie smiled, and his fidgeting with the toy stopped. "I'm a professor of applied mathematics at CalSci. He said I'm a universalist... a type of mathematician who can work in many different mathematical disciplines. I attended some of Larry's classes and he's helped me in some of my research."
"Wait a minute, didn't we tell you those things?" Don asked, rubbing a hand through his hair in confusion.
"We didn't exactly get a chance to discuss much of anything except who you two were," Charlie said quietly. "I guess I've spent a lot of time sleeping."
"That's okay, son. You needed the rest. So, do you remember anything about the math?"
"Not really. I mean, Larry said I was a mathematician, but I really don't know what I do."
"Okay, that comment is really spooky," Don said, pretending to shiver. "Charlie without numbers?"
"You could multiply four digit numbers at the age of three, Charlie. That's what you do."
"Well, that's easy." Charlie turned slowly to look at his father. "Got a pen and paper? Give me some numbers and let's see what I can do."
"Charlie, you were able to do that in your head."
"Are you telling us you can't do the math anymore?" Don stopped at a red light and turned towards his brother.
"I don't know. I don't know what I did before, how can I know if I can still do it?"
"Maybe it's the medicine. The headache and the pills might be dulling your head a bit. Don't worry about it." As Alan patted Charlie's shoulder, a car honked, alerting Don the light had changed.
"I can't help worrying now," Charlie said sadly. "I feel like I've suddenly disappointed the both of you."
"No, really, Charlie, it's okay. It's just that numbers have always been a part of you. I think dad's right, though. The painkillers coupled with the headache could be slowing you down."
"But we don't know that for sure, do we?"
"If there is a problem, and we don't even know that for sure yet, it's probably associated with the concussion and the amnesia." Don paused a moment as he turned the car into the driveway. "When your memory comes back, I'm sure the numbers will, too."
Don's cell rang as he was stepping out of the truck. He let his father help Charlie into the house, staying back to talk to Megan.
"Did you find anything?"
//"No. The consensus is that Nathan Walker is a quiet kid who kept mostly to himself. I spoke to Amita, about the dating thing? She said Nathan wasn't really interested in her, but in her friend, Cindy Craig. Seems the two of them hit it off pretty well since Amita introduced them."//
"Did you talk to Cindy Craig?" Don leaned his butt against the truck's door, watching Charlie and his dad disappear into the house.
//"No. We went to her house but nobody was home. I'll try again later."//
"Any leads on the hit on Ray Walker?"
//"Sorry, nothing so far."//
"Charlie tells me you popped in for a visit."
//Yeah."// Don could hear the hesitation in her voice. //You know, your brother's pretty amazing. He was concerned over Nathan's wellbeing when I told him... it was okay that I told him, wasn't it?"//
"Well, it's not like it was a secret or anything. I'm guessing that you also told him about how he got hurt?"
"We never got around to discussing that – Charlie had a pretty lousy evening yesterday and he slept a good portion today awhile while dad was there."
//"So, is he going home soon?"//
"He is home. Well, he just stepped into the house. Dad's getting him set up in the bedroom, I think."
//"Tell him hi for me."//
//"And I'll call if I get anything from Cindy Craig."//
Don pocketed the phone and entered the house. There were voices coming from upstairs so Don hurried in that direction.
"You don't have to sleep. Just lie down and close your eyes and—"
"I don't want to lie down. I feel like all I've done is sleep from the moment I woke up yesterday. I just want to look around the house."
Don stopped at the door of Charlie's bedroom and peeked inside. Charlie was walking around the room, taking stock of everything. He picked up some papers, glanced at them, put them down, picked up some more, looked them over, then raised his head and met Don's gaze. "I should know what this is, shouldn't I."
It wasn't a question. From the tone of Charlie's voice, it was evident he didn't recognize anything.
"Maybe it's because you're looking at it out of context. Like paragraphs taken randomly from a book." Alan took the papers from Charlie and waved them at Don, as if he had all the answers. "Without the rest of the story, you really can't know what it is you're reading."
"No, this is different." Charlie continued walking around the room; small, agitated motions showing he was upset. "If this were a story, then when I look at the paragraphs, I know that they're letters combined together to make up words but I can't figure out what the words are or even the language they're written in."
Charlie stopped a moment and turned to look at Don again. "This is bad, isn't it? I'm a math professor. How can I teach if I don't know what I'm teaching? I probably won't even have a job anymore."
"Let's not jump to any conclusions," Alan said quickly. "Yesterday you didn't know we were family, now you're standing in the family home."
"Thanks, but I don't know how long you'll want me here when I can't pay my upkeep." Suddenly Charlie seemed tired; the energy he'd been expending suddenly deflating.
Don laughed. "I think that's not a problem. You own the house."
"I... I do?" Charlie sat down heavily on the bed, looking up at Don in surprise.
"Yes. You bought it from me last year. Charlie, I don't want you worrying about a job, or money, or anything else right now. You just worry about getting better and your memory will come when it's good and ready."
"Dad's right. The more you rest, the faster you'll heal. The less pain you're in, the easier it'll be to think. Why don't you just put your feet up while dad and I get supper ready and then we'll call you."
Charlie finally acquiesced, kicking off his sneakers and curling up on top of the covers. Alan reached over and pulled the far edge of the comforter over Charlie, then eased back a curl of hair off of Charlie's forehead. "We'll be in the kitchen if you need anything. If you fall asleep, we'll wake you up when supper's done. Okay?"
"Okay," Charlie sighed faintly, his eyes already closed.
- - - - - -
The voice had been close to his head, drawing him out of a deep sleep. Charlie blinked, opened his eyes, and saw the face of the man who was his father leaning close.
"Supper's almost ready. You want to get up?"
Charlie raised his head and the headache which had been plaguing him even in sleep raised its ugly head, too. He swallowed hard against the threat of accompanying nausea.
"Here, you might want to take this before you eat."
Charlie looked at the pill Alan held in his hand, trying to recall if it was for the nausea or the headache. Nausea, he finally decided as he raised his head and shoulders enough so that he could swallow it with a tiny sip of water. The headache pills were supposed to be taken with food.
"I'll be in the kitchen. Call me when you're ready and I'll give you a hand down the stairs."
Charlie cleared his throat and spoke quickly before Alan could leave the room. "I need to go... can you tell me where the bathroom is?" The look Alan threw his way was guarded, but Charlie could just imagine how odd it must be for one's son to ask the way to the toilet in his own home.
"Two doors down to your left."
Charlie waited until Alan's footsteps had moved away and he stood. His balance was off, his vision still blurry and his pulse throbbed in sync with his head. He found the bathroom, used the toilet, washed his hands and splashed cold water on his face.
He glanced in the mirror at the pale-faced figure staring back at him and for a moment, saw it distort into a grimace of anger, then into shocked fear. He blinked, and saw only himself once more, looking pathetically haggard. He swayed slightly before the mirror, wondering if what he'd seen had been a memory because he felt nowhere near the emotions that he'd seen on his face.
He took his time as he left the bathroom, looking around as he went. He found Alan in the kitchen, looking very much at ease as he stirred something on the stove.
"So, what do you think of the place?"
"You've lived here most of your life. Go ahead and look around, we've got another couple of minutes while I finish the gravy."
Charlie nodded and began to walk around the old Craftsman home. It looked cozy and well lived.
"Don's not here?" he called over his shoulder.
"No, he had to go back to work. He'll be home in a couple of hours. That's one good thing I got from your acc... getting hurt. I get to see more of Donnie."
"He doesn't live here?"
"No, he hasn't lived at home for some years. Worked in Albuquerque for a while. Came back to California when your mom got sick."
Charlie heard the pain in Alan's voice, so he didn't bring up the subject of his mother. It felt weird, realizing he felt no emotions at someone's death.
There was an office off the living room filled with a table, computer and a variety of papers similar to what he'd seen in his bedroom. Charlie had a feeling he spent a lot of time in this room. He quickly backed out. For some odd reason, the idea of the room filled with numbers terrified him.
Charlie jumped, not having heard Alan come up behind him. His head burst with pain and he winced.
"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."
"That's all right." He let Alan lead him to the table and sat where he spotted his pill that had been placed beside a plate. "It smells good." Charlie just hoped his stomach thought that food was a good idea.
"It's brisket." Alan sat opposite Charlie. "Dig in."
The meal was good and satisfying; if it weren't for the continuous headache, he'd have enjoyed it immensely. He listened to Alan talk about his and Don's childhood, hating that it sounded more like he was talking about some acquaintance's children than about Charlie himself.
He helped clear the table, moving slowly and unsteadily until his father shooed him away. "Go and explore, or go and rest. I can take care of this."
He debated curling up on the couch or exploring more of the house when the doorbell rang. "Wanna get that?" Alan called out from the kitchen. Charlie found the front door and opened it.
A young, dark-haired woman grinned up at him, her teeth flashing whitely in her dark complexion. "I'm Amita Ramanujan."
"Are you related to Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan?"
Amita gave him an odd look and Charlie heard his father snicker behind him. He had no idea why he'd said that and he stumbled for an excuse. "What? He's a famous mathematician."
"No, I'm not related."
Charlie shook a hand at her, smiling back, recalling what Larry had told him. "But, I'm your thesis adviser, right?"
Charlie stepped back so she could come inside.
"I hope you don't mind my dropping by. I wanted to stop at the hospital earlier but I had to speak to some of your brother's agents about something."
"The student who disappeared?"
"Yes. You know about it?"
Charlie shrugged as he sat on the couch. "I was at his house when I got shot. Don and Megan have told me the basics, I don't remember much else."
"Hello, Amita. Can I interest you in some coffee and cake?"
"That would be nice, Mr. Eppes. Thank you."
"Um, no thanks. I'll skip dessert for now." His stomach, which had been happy just a moment ago, suddenly decided it didn't like his headache.
"Thanks for the octopus," Charlie said awkwardly, watching as his father brought in coffee and chocolate cake for the both of them.
"You're welcome." She smiled at him, looking a little awkward. "I've brought your bike back. I left it beside the garage, if that's all right?"
Alan took up the conversation. "Thank you for taking the trouble. I could have come myself to get it."
"It was no trouble, really."
Charlie sat listening to them, both of them at ease with one another. He wondered how much time Amita spent here, and why.
"Am I missing something or did you come and study here at the house?"
Two pairs of confused faces stared at Charlie.
"I'm sorry, you two seem to know one another pretty well. Are we dating, or something?" Charlie asked nervously.
Amita blushed and looked at her coffee cup a moment before answering. "We went on one date. It didn't work out the way we expected."
"Isn't that sort of going against the teacher/student relationship?"
Amita merely smiled. "No, I've finished my thesis on combinatorics, no thanks to you. I've started a new thesis on astrophysics."
"Of course you have." Charlie smiled, trying not to let his frustration get to him. He knew what combinatorics was, he just has no idea how to apply it. And he had been her thesis adviser on the subject?
She seemed to compose herself and smiled at Charlie again when she looked up. "Your dad knows me because I've been helping you with your consultation work for the FBI."
"I work for the FBI?"
"As a consultant." Alan put his empty coffee cup down on the coffee table. "You and Amita have helped Don out a few times."
"I didn't know... damn, that means I've lost more than just my professorial job, doesn't it?" Charlie stood, feeling anger and frustration and who knew what else. He walked away from the couch, feeling he needed to hit something.
"Lost your job? I don't understand."
"Charlie doesn't remember the numbers." Alan's voice was soft as it came across the room.
The rest of Amita's visit was a blur, with Charlie trying to hang onto his dignity as his stomach churned sickeningly. It was actually a relief when she left. As Alan cleared off the dirty dishes, Charlie hurried as quickly as he could to the bathroom. He ran the water as he vomited, trying to hide the sounds of his illness.
He left the bathroom on shaky legs. Maybe some fresh air would do his head some good. He could see the worried looks his father kept giving him so he gave his dad a smile and pointed towards the back door. "I'm just going to go explore..."
"Sure. Just be careful you don't fall into the pond. You don't want to scare the koi."
Charlie walked around the yard, feeling like he was in a daze. Alan was right, there were fish in the pond. They came near the edge of the pond, probably hoping for food. He watched them for a while then went to lean tiredly against a tree, wishing he felt better. There was a building at the far end of the house and after a moment, he pushed away and went to explore.
It was a garage. He walked toward it, ignoring the two wheel bike leaning against the building and curious if his car might be inside. Amita had mentioned she'd returned a bike... maybe a motorbike? He found a side door and entered. In the growing dusk he could see that the garage looked fairly empty, however. He found a light switch and turned the lights on.
No car. There were boxes and more piles of notes with numbers. There were a stack of blackboards in a corner, all leaning against one another against the wall. He saw a Discman and curiously he put one of the headphones to his ear and turned it on. Heavy rock blared from it and he winced. He quickly tore it off his head and turned the music machine off.
He looked around, realizing that the garage was too clean for any cars to have been housed here in years. But something didn't look right. He glanced again at the blackboards and suddenly saw a vision of them hanging from the ceiling, all of them at workable height. He saw himself working feverishly on an impossible solution, pushing his body towards an unreachable goal, trying to shut out the near-overwhelming grief as he focused solely on the numbers. They were suddenly there, in his head. The knowledge of everything Amita had talked about and understanding all of what Don and his father had said, nearly brought him to his knees.
Then the vision, or memory, was gone, leaving him gasping and shaking in its wake.
He reached a hand out to lean against the wall, trying to catch his breath. His vision swam and he closed his eyes, swallowing back the burning acid trying to creep up his throat.
Charlie turned, startled. A young girl was standing in the entrance to the garage, looking almost like a deer, ready to flee.
"Um, hi." The words came out strained and thick. Charlie cleared his throat and tried again. "Hi, can I help you?" Still leaning against the wall, he turned so that his back was flat against it. He locked his knees to try and stop their shaking.
"You have to help Nat. He made a mistake and he doesn't know how to fix it."
Oh great, Charlie thought. This was probably another of his students. He didn't think he could deal with this; right now all he wanted to do was go inside and lie down but at the moment the house seemed too far away to attempt.
"I'm sorry... I'm not sure I know what you're talking about. Who's—?"
"He's out there, alone, running scared. He doesn't know what to do and there's nobody who can help him."
"Running..." Suddenly Charlie understood. This was the boy Don was trying to find. "Do you know where he is?"
The girl... Charlie closed his eyes and tried to remember her name but had to quickly open them when he began to tilt sideways. Don and... the woman he worked with, damn, he'd forgotten her name too – both of them had made mention of Nathan.
Biting her lip, the girl shook her head, taking a step out the door. But she'd seemed to have waited just a fraction too long before denying her knowledge. Maybe it was the headache, maybe he'd been imagining it but he'd have bet just about anything that she did know the whereabouts of the missing boy.
"It was the Deviantart. They found Nat through the sketches." And with those words, the girl did flee. By the time Charlie had stumbled to the door, he could hear her footsteps running down the driveway, and there was no way, in his condition, that he could go after her.
But maybe he could do something.
Deviantart. That he knew. It wasn't numbers, he thought to himself as he tried to hurry back to the house. His balance was off and he felt like he was walking on a listing ship. He finally made it to the door and once inside, tried to remember where the office was, and the computer.
"Charlie? What's going on? What are you looking for?"
"The computer. I need to look something up." He saw the door on his right and rushed towards it.
Alan hurried to Charlie's side as he stumbled, but he pushed his father's hand aside as he lurched to the computer. He turned it on and then sat down heavily in the chair. If possible, his headache had just gone up a notch.
"Where's Don? Didn't you say he was coming home soon?"
"He should be here in a few minutes. Charlie, you look terrible. Never mind the computer and go lie down."
"No, I think I know how to help Don." Charlie forced back more bile threatening to come up and glanced at the computer, which was still booting up. He squinted as the screen lit up. He didn't think he'd be able to sit here for long; he'd need to make this quick.
"You can tell Don about it when he gets here."
Quickly getting onto the internet, he googled the word 'Deviantart'. His hand shaking visibly, he clicked on the link and brought up a forum of sorts. He tried to read the introduction but the words blurred together.
"Look at you. You're shaking and you're all sweaty. Come on, Charlie, leave this and go lie down."
"No!" Angrily brushing his father's hand away, Charlie peered closer to the monitor. "I can do this. I have to do this." Charlie tried to calm himself down; yelling was hurting him even more.
"Charlie, please. You're beginning to scare me."
Trying to take deep breaths to control his pain, Charlie forced himself to speak calmly. He had to turn away from the monitor, but the glow had moved to his father's face. "I know what this is. It has to do with art. That's what she said. He made a mistake. She's trying to help him. She came to me for help. I might not be able to do much for myself but I can hopefully help him."
"Who? Help who?"
Charlie opened his mouth, but no words came.
- - - - - -
Alan knew what this was. Abigail Reddman, who'd worked with Alan for many years, had had petit mal seizures all her life. As Charlie's face went blank and his eyelids fluttered uncontrollably, Alan realized that his son's injuries were more serious than anyone had realized. It wasn't only a simple concussion. If there were absence seizures, then there was brain damage.
The seizure seemed to last forever, but Alan knew, as he kept track of the seconds going by on his watch, that it hadn't even lasted a minute. Charlie's face stilled a moment before he smacked his lips, then blinked slowly.
"Nathan," Charlie said slowly, looking around as if he'd lost his train of thought. "The guy Don's looking for."
"Never mind that. Come on, we need to go."
"Go where?" Charlie, who had been yelling earlier while frantically searching for something on the internet, now appeared too still and quiet as he answered in a strained voice.
"The hospital. You've just had a seizure."
"I... what? No, I'm... I don't want to go back there."
"There's no ifs and buts." Alan grabbed Charlie by the arm and pulled him to his feet. To his surprise, Charlie pulled away.
"I'm not going back to the—"
"Hey, what's going on?"
Alan hadn't heard Don come in but he was very relieved to have him here. Charlie's voice had risen again and Alan could see the pain in his son's face.
"We need to get Charlie to the hospital. He's just had a seizure."
"No, I didn't. I'd know if I—"
"Those little seizures like Abigail Reddman used to get. Remember those?"
"Oh yeah, she'd just blank out and... Charlie had one?"
"Hospital. Right now."
"Charlie, dad's right. If you've had a seizure, then that means something's going wrong with your brain."
Charlie stared at them both defiantly, then his expression seemed to crumple. He wrapped his hands around his neck, pulling his head down. "It hurts. Please make it go away," he begged in a small voice.
- - - - - -
"Mr. Eppes, please come with me." The nurse stood in the front of the Emergency Room waiting area, a clipboard in her hands.
"It's about time," Alan grumbled softly as Don stood to acknowledge they'd heard her. "Come on, Charlie, it's your turn."
He shook Charlie's arm, trying to ease him away from where he'd had been leaning heavily against Alan for the past hour. Alan pulled away, hoping Charlie would straighten up in the chair but when Charlie's body followed along with Alan's, he realized Charlie was dead weight.
"I need some help here." Alan waved hurriedly to the nurse, who quickly approached and lifted Charlie's head. Charlie moaned softly and pulled away, burying his face against Alan's shoulder.
"I'll get a wheelchair."
"Charlie?" Alan reached a hand and rubbed Charlie's sweat-dampened back, trying to bite back the fear that was escalating rapidly. "You awake, son?"
"Hold on, it won't be long." Alan moved his hand to Charlie's sweaty nape, feeing the wet strands of hair between his fingers.
When the nurse returned with the wheelchair, Don pulled Charlie so that he was sitting by himself in his hard, plastic chair. Together Alan and Don pulled Charlie to his feet and eased him into the larger chair. That got a bit of a reaction from Charlie, who opened his eyes in fright.
"It's okay, we're just going to see the doctor now." Alan kept a hand on Charlie's shoulder as the nurse pushed Charlie into one of the rooms behind the waiting area.
"Okay, Charlie, can you get up onto this bed?"
Charlie squinted at the bed, then tried to get up out of the chair. It took both Alan and Don to get him up onto the bed.
"The doctor will be here in a couple of minutes. In the meantime, I'll have a look at... Charlie, is it?"
Alan and Don stepped back as the nurse began to take Charlie's vitals.
"His blood pressure is pretty high," she said after a moment. "Has he been under any strain lately?"
"He got shot yesterday, the bullet gave him a concussion and he has amnesia. Don't you think that's enough to give him stress?" Don had taken a few steps closer to the bed as he spoke, his voice rising with the anger and worry that Alan was feeling just as heavily.
"Don." Alan put a hand on his older son's shoulder and pulled him back as the nurse gave him a worried look. She glanced at the chart and her eyes widened when she read Charlie's background.
"Wouldn't you think she'd check his history before looking at him?" Don mumbled under his breath.
"I see he was released this morning. Has he taken his medication for the headaches?"
"Yes. With supper."
"Has he been experiencing nausea? Dizziness?"
Charlie shivered and Alan realized the room was chilly. Chillier than the waiting room which had been warm and stuffy. As Charlie's clothes were damp with sweat, he'd be feeling the chill even more.
"I don't know, I don't think so." Alan looked at Don, shrugging his shoulders. "He ate supper; he seemed fine."
"You've experienced a worsening of those symptoms?" The nurse had turned from Alan to Charlie.
"You didn't... why didn't you mention... he didn't tell me," Alan stuttered. When Charlie closed his eyes, Alan took up the list of events again. "He went outside for a little while, then came back in. He looked tired, though." Alan snapped his fingers. "He was excited over something. We were arguing and that's when he had the seizure."
"What makes you think it was a seizure?"
Alan turned to look at the middle-aged man standing by the entrance, who apparently was the doctor they'd been waiting for.
"For 26 years I've worked with a woman who was epileptic and had absence seizures on a daily basis. I just saw my son, who is not epileptic, experience one of those. That's what makes me think it was a seizure."
The doctor stared at Alan but didn't respond. Wordlessly he took the chart from the nurse and perused through the information on it. "It's possible that his blood pressure is causing the increase in pain, but it normally wouldn't be the cause of a seizure." He flipped the page over, reading some more. "Tests show that he had a subdural hematoma... that means he's bleeding inside his brain—"
"I know what it means. I also know we were told that the bleeding was minor and shouldn't be a worry."
"If there's a continuous, slow bleed, then the pressure could be accumulating until it caused the seizure. We'll need to take another scan and compare it to the previous one." The doctor put the chart aside and began to examine Charlie himself. "It's also possible that the seizure was a one time event; it's not uncommon for these to occur with concussions. The worsening of symptoms could also be due to the increase of his blood pressure, or from the bleed. I won't know for certain until we run tests."
Don moved closer to Alan. "And if it's from the hematoma?" Don asked.
"Then we have to go in and relieve the pressure."
"You mean drill a hole in his head?" Alan had watched the hospital shows; he'd seen the actors go through the fake surgeries and then wake up the next day with their heads all nicely bandaged up. But this was his son they were talking about – his son who might have to have his brain exposed to let the blood have a place to escape to.
"Let's not jump to conclusions, Mr. Eppes. We'll try and stabilize your son's blood pressure, see how that goes first."
Alan passed a hand over his face and looked for a place to sit. His legs were shaking; he felt the same way as when the doctors had told him that Margaret had cancer. There was no place to sit so he opted to lean against a metal table. When the doctor finished the neurological tests, he gave the nurse a few orders and told Alan he'd be back in a short while once he'd scheduled the test.
"Dad, are you okay?"
Alan nodded, trying not to show his fear. The nurse was setting up an IV; Charlie's hands were going to be full of pinpricks and bruises if this kept up much longer. When she was done, she injected something into the IV, explaining it was medicine to try and lower his pressure.
"If the blood pressure is the cause of his worsening symptoms, he should be feeling better soon."
"Can't you give him something for the pain?" Don moved to the bed and, staying out of the nurse's way, took Charlie's free hand and held it. Again fear squeezed at his heart; Don had sat like that for hours holding his mother's hand as she lay dying in a hospital bed.
"I am, just enough to take the edge off so we'll know if he's reacting favourably to the medication." She measured off another dose from a different bottle and added that to the mixture flowing into Charlie's veins.
The last thing she did was place a blanket over Charlie's shivering form. "Let him sleep if he wants to," she said softly. "I'll be back in twenty minutes to check on him."
"Don?" Charlie turned heavy eyes towards his brother.
"Help him... the art... it's the key."
"What?" Don leaned closer to Charlie so he wouldn't have to exert himself in answering. "What are you talking about?"
"A girl came to see me... she said the guy... the one you're looking for..."
"Mmmm. He needs help. Sketches. Deviantart. They found him through the website."
"Cindy Craig came to see you?"
"Dunno her name." Charlie licked his lips and made a face.
"How's the headache? Better?"
"Then go to sleep."
Don waited a few minutes and when it was apparent that Charlie was asleep, he moved away from the bed and indicated he wanted to talk. Alan joined him in a corner of the small room.
"I think Charlie's onto something here. Nathan, in his previous life before he went into the Witness Protection Program, was very much into art. One of the things he had to give up was sketches. He was posting them on the internet; it's very possible he disregarded our restrictions and went ahead and continued sketching."
"At home... Charlie looked something up, that art site he mentioned."
"Deviantart. In any case, it's a start. Dad..." Don ducked his head, looking torn.
"Go. Go." Alan waved Don away as he moved to take his place beside Charlie. "I'll call if there are any changes."
With a final glance at Charlie, Don hurried out of the room.
- - - - - -
"David? Don't tell me you're still at the office." Don unlocked his truck, slid in, then changed his phone to his other ear.
//"Yeah. Just finishing up the paperwork on another dead end."//
"Well, I need you to get some more paperwork done. I need a warrant to search Cindy Craig's home, and I need you to meet me there with it."
//"Don, do you know what time it is? The judge is probably locking up..."//
"Then you'd better hurry."
Don smiled as he dialed Megan's number.
//"Don? Yeah, I just got here. Why, did you find something?"//
"Yeah. I need you to go to the Walker residence and look for anything that looks like art. Sketches, paintings... and check the computer."
//"Oh."// Don imagined he could actually hear the proverbial light bulb go on in Megan's head. //"You think he continued dabbling with his art?"//
"We got a tip – Cindy Craig showed up at our house and told Charlie that there was a connection. He might have put his sketches up on an internet site called Deviantart. I'm meeting David at the Craig household and we're going to see if she might have had a hand in that."
//"How is Charlie, Don?"//
Don bit his lips a moment, hating having to pass on bad news. "He had a seizure. We brought him back to the hospital."
//"Oh no. Oh Don, I'm sorry."//
"Yeah. He was in a lot of pain but he seemed a little better when I left. Look, I'm going to put a tail on Cindy Craig. She might know where Nathan is."
//Good idea. I'll call as soon as I find something."//
Don hung up and dialed yet another number. By the time he disconnected, he knew Colby would be watching the Craig house within the hour.
- - - - - -
Don sighed as he looked up from the computer monitor and glanced at the multitudes of sketches and drawings hanging from every available wall surface. There were thousands of such sketches posted on the Deviantart forum and so far none of them were a match to what he and Megan had picked up from the Craig home.
The mother had confirmed that both Cindy and Nathan had made the sketches; unfortunately she had no idea what nics they had registered under in the forum so she couldn't help them with that aspect of the search.
As to Cindy herself, she was supposedly spending the night with some friends to work on a project for school. Except that the names she'd given her mother hadn't panned out so they were stuck with maintaining the vigil until she came home.
"Got one," David called excitedly from his computer monitor. Don and Megan stood up simultaneously and hurried over to David's computer. On the screen was a sketch of a doe-eyed young girl wearing a strapless top and jeans. The eyes, hair and the cleavage were the main features of the sketch but Don had to admit it had an intensity to it that was almost attractive.
"I'm betting this is Nathan's work," Don said as Megan walked over and picked up the original sketch from the wall.
"It's not bad," David said as Megan held the sketch beside the monitor. They were a perfect match.
"If you're into that kind of stuff, I guess," Megan said in a haughty voice. She winked at them to show she was kidding.
"The author's name is Steps4wrd." David used the nickname as a search criterion.
"If that's Nathan, the choice of name was pretty careless of him." Don whistled as David's search revealed thumbnails of close to half the sketches in the room. "Bingo," Don said as his cell phone rang.
He walked back to his desk and reached in his jacket pocket for the phone. "Eppes," he said distractedly, still watching David from where he stood as his colleague began skimming through the various comments from other users with regard to each picture Steps4wrd had posted.
"Dad." With a pang Don had realized he'd immersed himself so fully in his work that he'd forgotten about Charlie. "How's Charlie?"
As his father answered, Don was aware of David stopping his search and both he and Megan turning to look at him. //"Better. He's sleeping. The doctors managed to lower his blood pressure and his headache's just a headache."//
"That's great news." Don made a thumb's up sign and David and Megan both gave him relieved smiles.
"What about the seizure?"
//"They took one of those scans and the doctor said everything looked good. He's keeping Charlie overnight again for observations because of the seizure, but he thinks that was brought on because of Charlie's blood pressure. The way he explained it, the increase in stress increased the blood pressure, which caused more pain, which caused more stress."//
"And with the blood pressure regulated..."
"Headaches aren't quite as bad and hopefully no more seizures." His dad's voice softened slightly. "Of course the doctor said there was always a chance of more with a concussion... we'll just have to wait and see."
"Are you ready to go home?" Don looked at his watch and was surprised to see it was nearly midnight.
//"I am home, Donnie. I took a cab from the hospital."//
"I'm sorry, Dad. I should have—"
//"Don't. I just wanted you to know I'm home, Charlie's doing good, and whether or not you'll be spending the night here."
Don thrust a hand through his hair, thinking he'd be here at least another hour or two. "I'll sleep at my place, Dad. Do you want me to pick you up tomorrow morning?"
//"Nah. Meet me at the hospital instead. Visiting hours are at ten. I'll meet you then?"//
"That's fine. Night."
"Got her." David sat back in his chair and allowed Don a look at the monitor. The sketch was that of four characters on a popular SciFi show, complete with dialogue. Its match was on the wall directly before Don.
Don squinted at the name of the user. "Tinseltoon? Where the heck do these kids come up with these names?"
"You said Cindy Craig told Charlie that this is where Bosco's guys tracked down Nathan?" Megan pointed to the lines of text posted beneath the picture. "I guess we need to start skimming the comments to see if there's anything that could connect him to his previous life."
"How about we each grab a timeframe and start working from there?" Don resumed his seat and pulled up Nathan's page. But before he could even begin to look at the amount of work this would entail, David spoke up.
"I think I found it. Wait, let me send you the URL."
A moment later Don and Megan's computers beeped, indicating they'd received the email. Don clicked on the post and quickly read what was there. "It's dated the same day Ray Walker got shot," David added. "Actually it's dated an hour past the time of death."
"Steps4wrd equals Nreverse. Found you. Tag, you're next."
"Looks like it could be a threat, all right." Don rubbed at eyes that were beginning to burn.
"Nreverse. Do you think that Nathan posted his sketches before as Stuart Williams?" Megan's keyboard clicked as she entered the information, looking for evidence of Nathan's original birth name. "Don, David, take a look at these."
A moment later another URL was received through his email. Don clicked on it. What he found there were about thirty more sketches, all of which were by Nreverse and all very similar to the ones done by Steps4wrd.
"David, I want you to see if you can trace that message. If we're lucky it could lead us to the killer. Megan—"
"I'll go through the rest of the messages and see if there's anything else that could be useful."
"You take Steps4wrd, I'll take Nreverse."
"I'll get the coffee," David added with a heavy sigh.
- - - - - -
Don yawned widely, then drained the last of his Starbucks coffee. With only two hours' sleep under his belt, the last place he wanted to be was at the hospital. This place was hard enough to deal with when one was rested.
As his father pulled into the parking lot, Don placed the now empty coffee container in the holder between the seats of his truck and opened the door. He slowly walked towards his dad's car, then gave him a tired smile as Alan got out.
"You look like shit. You get any sleep last night?" Alan gave Don an assessing look as they walked towards the hospital's entrance.
"A little. But the good news is that Charlie's tip panned out. If we get lucky, we might have a lead on the killer."
"That's great news. Any idea what's happened to the kid?"
"Not yet. I'm just hoping he's hiding and that they haven't found him yet." Don pulled his sunglasses off in the hospital's foyer and stuck them into a pocket. He followed Alan to the elevators, covering yet another yawn with his hand.
"How about you? Get any sleep last night?" Don asked Alan. His dad looked tired, but nowhere near the exhaustion he'd sported when Don's mom had been dying.
"I got some. I think Charlie's going to be okay. I called the hospital before leaving and the nurse said he'd had a good night. That probably means he didn't have those killer headaches."
"It could mean they've been giving him the good drugs." Don didn't want to rain on his dad's parade but he didn't want to him to get his hopes up only to have them dashed if the doctor told them they had to operate. "Then he wouldn't be hurting as much."
"But his blood pressure's better. That's a good sign."
"Yeah, it is. But let's just wait and see what..." Don grinned as he saw a familiar figure being wheeled towards them. "Hey, you."
Charlie's head jerked in his direction. His face lit up with a smile as he recognized them. The orderly pushing Charlie's wheelchair stopped before them and waited patiently.
Charlie looked alert and cheerful. He looked twice as better as he had yesterday when he'd been released, and ten times better than when they'd brought him back last night. He was still tethered to an IV but appeared to have very little sign of significant pain. Of course there could have been a pain killer cocktail to go with the fluids.
"Look, I got wheels. Probably a grade below what I normally drive but I have to admit it's a smooth ride."
The joke sounded so Charlie-like that for a moment Don didn't truly hear the words, thinking that Charlie had remembered.
"Well, you have to admit it's a step above a bike," Alan said.
"Bike? I drive a motorcycle?" Don noted the hopeful note in Charlie's voice and winced at the hurt in his face when their dad told him it was a two wheeler.
"You don't have a license," Alan added.
"I don't drive?" There was a plaintive note that matched the confusion in Charlie's voice.
"It's a long story." Don nodded to the orderly and he continued pushing Charlie's chair down the hallway. Don stepped to Charlie's left.
"You're looking pretty good this morning. Are you feeling better?" Alan took Charlie's right.
Charlie flashed Alan a quick smile. "Yes, actually I am." He looked at the bag in Alan's hand. "I hope that's for me."
Alan raised the duffel bag and smiled. "Change of clothes and some PJs."
"Thank you," Charlie said in an overly exaggerated voice.
Smiling, Don and Alan walked in silence the rest of the way, their footsteps echoing along the tiled corridor. Then Charlie was wheeled before his bed and with a grunt, stood and shifted onto the bed. Don and Alan stood back while the nurse, who'd suddenly appeared in the room, moved the IV from the chair to the IV pole beside the bed and made sure that Charlie was comfortable while the orderly left with the wheelchair.
"I didn't get a chance to thank you for last night." Charlie ducked his head, fiddling with the blanket that was draped across his bare legs. "But, it meant a lot to me having you with me."
"I'm your father, Charlie. I wouldn't have been anywhere else."
"I know you're my father. It's just a little difficult for me to feel that you're my father. I don't know if that makes any sense but..."
"Actually I know exactly how you feel, buddy." Don placed a hand on Charlie's shoulder and squeezed. "Trust me, you'll remember soon."
"I hope so." Charlie looked up at Don, then frowned. "What the hell happened to you?"
"Worked late." Don bit back another yawn as he sat on the bed beside Charlie while Alan took one of the plastic chairs.
"Geez, you look like you should be the one in bed. I don't look that bad, do I?" He glanced at Alan, who was watching with a bemused expression.
"I have to admit that you're right; you're looking a whole lot better than your brother."
"Hey, enough already. You two are gonna give me a complex."
"I just wish I knew what was going on." Charlie waved at the duffel bag that Alan had placed on foot of the bed. "I don't even know if I should change into pajamas or get dressed."
"How about you just stay there and relax for now?"
"Come on, Da—" Charlie suddenly went pale and looked away from Alan. "You know, I don't even know what to call you."
"You used to call me Dad."
"I know, but I feel like I'm usurping the title."
"Then call me Alan if you're not comfortable with Dad."
"I... for a second, it felt... I don't know, natural. But it's... just... not."
"Look, call me 'hey you' if that's what you're comfortable with. Whatever works for you, Charlie."
"This is so stupid." Charlie raised a hand and rubbed at the area near the bruised skin around the bandage on his temple. "I've gone for all kinds of tests, that's where I was when you guys got here. I just wish they'd tell us the results so we'd know what's going on." Charlie broke off when his breakfast tray was brought into the room.
"Yum." Don glanced at the food and his stomach rumbled. He decided to take his leave now; he'd stop and pick up something to eat from one of the drive thru's with a double order of coffee.
"Look, I need to go. By the way, Charlie, that tip you gave Dad, about the Deviantart? It panned out." He smiled as he stood. "So thanks for that."
"Tip? Oh, what that girl told me?"
"Yep. We're pretty sure that's how the mob found Nathan Walker's family, through his sketches. He continued putting them there under a new identity, and some Deviant members commented how much the new guy's work looked like this other guy who'd stopped posting a few years back. I guess the mob had people keeping an eye out for comments like that and tracked Nathan down."
"The poor kid. He must feel awful knowing... that girl, she said Nathan had made a mistake and didn't know how to fix it. I guess that's what she was talking about."
"We have someone following her and hopefully she'll lead us to Nathan... actually that's where I'm going. I have to relieve the agents on duty and do my own stint there."
"A stakeout?" Charlie stopped chewing his toast and stared at Don unbelievingly.
Don laughed and squeezed Charlie's shoulder. "Yep, a very real, very boring, run of the mill stakeout."
"With Megan?" Charlie grinned up at him and Don did a double-take as Charlie wiggled his eyebrows.
"Don't you try and play matchmaker." Don tried to sound stern, but broke up laughing. "What the heck did they give you as a painkiller?"
"Tylenol," Charlie replied, also laughing.
"Tylenol and what else?"
Charlie shrugged. "The same stuff I was taking at... home. With the Codeine?"
Don noticed the pause before the word 'home', but at least Charlie was thinking of the old place as home. Hopefully soon it would feel like home when he remembered.
"I really think he is feeling better. He keeps this up, you'll have to sit on him to keep him in bed." Don winked at his dad, waved at Charlie, and headed out to work.
- - - - - -
Don drove slowly, looking for a parking spot where he could easily keep an eye on the pet shop where Cindy Craig worked part time. He saw a spot and pulled in, turned off the ignition, and reached for the coffee in the holder.
"You keep drinking coffee like that and you'll have to go look for the little boy's room pretty soon."
Don ignored Megan, who was sipping at her own oversized cup of coffee, and scanned the vehicles parked along the street. "Think there's a coffee shop in the area?" he commented once he'd swallowed. He put his cup down reflexively and then froze. There, across the street parked nearly in front of the pet shop, were two men in a car. One of them looked familiar.
"I think we have a problem."
"I can't see them clearly to make them – is that Rinaldo Giordano?"
"It could be. Damn, if we stay here they'll start getting suspicious. I can't believe Dawson and Hicks didn't spot them."
"Maybe it's not them. Only one way to find out." Before Don could say anything, Megan had unbuckled her seatbelt, grabbed her purse and slid out of the car. She crossed the street and stepped to the curb, walking right in front of the parked car. She entered the pet shop and disappeared into the back of the store. Five seconds later his cell rang.
"It's them. Positive ID on Rinaldo and his pet gorilla Alberto Mancini."
Don glanced at the pet store window. He could see Cindy Craig at the cash register, talking on a cell phone with someone. There was another female customer who appeared to be waiting to pay. Cindy seemed to be upset and Don had the sneaking suspicion she was talking to Nathan. Rinaldo and Alberto seemed to pick up on it, too, both of them staring at her through the clear glass.
"Let me get Dawson and Hicks back here, then we'll take those two goons down. You stay put."
Don quickly disconnected and called the office. Within sixty seconds, the agents he and Megan had just replaced were on their way as backup.
When Don spotted their green sedan in his side view mirror coming down the street, he stepped out of the car and quickly crossed the street. By the time he and Megan were ordering the two mob members out of their car at gunpoint, Dawson and Hicks had pulled up and were able to handcuff them. He caught a glimpse of Cindy Craig's shocked face as she stared at them through the window.
The arrest went by the book, but by the time Don looked up again, the area behind the cash register was empty and Don was pretty sure the girl had run.
- - - - - -
"This is almost déjà vu." Charlie stepped into the house once again, this time accompanied only by his father. The difference was that he felt slightly better; the sky was cloudy so the sun's glare hadn't accentuated his headache on the way home.
Home. Charlie stopped in the middle of the dining room and looked around. Physically he was still dizzy, slightly off balance, his vision fuzzy, but emotionally he felt like he belonged somewhere. Like he belonged here. Alan came up beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Are you okay?"
Charlie nodded. "Yeah." He stopped his perusal of the dining room and looked at his father and smiled. "Yeah, I am." He waved at the room in general. "Do you mind if I take a look around?"
"Of course not. You sure you don't want to lie down instead? Rest?"
"No, I'm okay. Really."
"I'm going to make some tea. Want some?"
Alan disappeared into the kitchen while Charlie began looking at the various pictures strewn across the house. He had to smile when he came across pictures of himself and Don as kids. There was one that caught Charlie's attention – the two of them, Don as a young teenager with an obvious growth spurt and Charlie not quite there yet. Don had his arm wrapped around Charlie, pulling his younger brother towards him and Charlie had his eyes turned towards Don in an exasperated expression. He couldn't help but laugh at his expression in the photo.
He moved on, looking at all the unfamiliar faces in the photographs. The dark-haired woman in many of the pictures had to be his mother.
"The tea will be ready in a minute," Alan called out. Charlie could hear cupboard doors opening and closing, the clink of china. He continued his rounds of the pictures, squinting as he spotted a photograph of himself in a suit dancing with an elderly lady.
"Your aunt Irene, at her seventy fifth." Alan had come out of the kitchen and joined Charlie beside the spread of pictures.
"I don't look like I'm enjoying myself very much." The older woman, whose hand appeared to be reaching suspiciously low behind Charlie, had a look of bliss on her face.
"Trust me, that's one memory you might not want to remember all too soon."
Charlie rolled his eyes towards Alan, then regretted the movement as his vision danced.
"Hey, are you okay?" Alan had grabbed Charlie's shoulder and was holding him as the room continued to sway.
"Yeah. Maybe I'll sit down now." He walked the few steps to the dining room table and pulled out a chair, the living room and sofa just a little too far to reach at the moment.
"How about some photo albums? You think you'd like to look at those?"
"Yeah." Charlie laid his hands flat on the gleaming table. Now that he was off his feet and able to hold onto something solid, he felt better.
"Here, you can start with these." Alan placed two albums before him. "I'll just go check on the tea. You need something hot inside of you."
Charlie slid the top album towards him and began flipping through it. It felt odd, looking at the pictures. He could recognize himself, Don and Alan as younger images of their current selves, but they were still strangers. There were baby pictures, family portraits, school pictures. Several pages were of a children's baseball team, many of which portrayed one young boy who was either standing at bat or running around the bases.
As Alan came back into the dining room with their tea, Charlie leaned closer to the picture, trying to make out if the baseball player was himself or Don. The photo was blurry, taken too far away. He turned the page, and the answer was evident. Someone had obviously taken a picture of Charlie and Alan sitting on the benches. Alan was leaning forward, avidly interested in the game, his mouth open as he yelled encouragement. A very young Charlie, on the other hand, was slouched back on the wooden bench, his interest in paper and pencil on his lap.
"Don's team lost that game by one run. Everyone had expected them win. They were even leading in the last inning until a player on the opposing team hit a two run homer." Alan placed a cup of steaming liquid before him and Charlie reached for it and took a sip. It was sweet, and he grimaced at the taste as his father sat beside him.
A rush of emotions ran through Charlie as he looked at the picture again. He could feel his father's warm hand as he held Charlie's much smaller one. Don was walking in front of him with his mother, his body one of total dejection. Charlie's whole body was awash with excitement – he knew Don was disappointed but he knew how Don could improve his game. The numbers were on the paper crushed in his other hand. He couldn't wait to get home and show Don. He just needed to check his calculations first.
Then the exhilaration was replaced with embarrassment as Don screamed at him to leave him alone. He couldn't remember the exact words, but the hurt was very vivid as his older brother accused him of being a freak.
Still feeling the hurt of the memory of Don's words, he turned towards Alan.
"Are you okay? You didn't just have..."
"A seizure? No, I'm sorry, I... I think I remembered something."
"You did?" Alan leaned forward expectantly.
"I think Don and I fought after that game."
Alan nodded. "You never did tell us what Don said but you came into the house crying. Don slunk around the house for a couple of days, ignoring all of us as much as possible. I think your mother finally talked to him, because one day the two of you were buddies again."
Charlie rubbed at his face and continued looking through the album. Nothing else seemed to trigger any emotions or memories. He tried concentrating on the woman who was his and Don's mother. Alan had said something about her dying but try as he might, he couldn't seem to garner any emotion about her at all.
He finished with the album and started the other. He realized Alan had put cookies on the table so he reached for one, and sipped some more tea. These photographs were of an older Don and Charlie. There were a few graduation pictures; Don first in his robes and then Charlie, who was standing with fellow students a foot or more taller than him. He looked up at his dad in confusion.
You and Don graduated high school together."
"I don't look much older than twelve," Charlie said unbelievingly.
"Okay, this is freaking me out." Charlie shut the photo album and shoved it away. His head was starting to ache again and he knew it from was staring at the pictures. "I think I should lie down." At the look of worry on Alan's face, he quickly added, "I think either I need glasses or I shouldn't try to look at pictures for so long a time." He pushed away from the table, feeling steadier despite his growing headache.
He headed for the couch in the living room. "You don't mind if I lie down here?"
Larry frowned. "You'd be more comfortable in your bed."
Charlie realized at that moment he didn't want to be alone. He sat on the couch and eased his aching head onto the bolster. "No, this is fine." He closed his eyes and tried to relax and immediately felt some of the strain in his body ease.
He heard Alan walking around and then a moment something warm and heavy was spread over his body. He snuggled under the blanket and smiled. "Thanks," he murmured, already feeling sleep beckoning.
"Sleep well." He felt Alan's hand on his head, and then was surprised at the light kiss he dropped on his forehead. Feelings of warmth and safety went through him, a woman's voice murmuring in his head, interchanged at times with Alan's. His father removed his hand and Charlie smiled to himself at the memory.
- - - - - -
"Anything?" Don paced up and down the sidewalk beside the car, glaring at any passersby who even looked his way.
Megan shook her head, cell phone held to her ear as she leaned against the car. Suddenly she straightened. "Okay, thanks." She disconnected and looked at don. "The call to Cindy's cell phone came from a public phone at Exposition Park."
"Think she's on her way there?" Don hurried behind the car and got into the driver's seat. "Call Colby and David, have them get agents out there looking for Nathan. Any idea where in the park?"
"Somewhere near the entrance to the Rose Garden."
Don took the most direct route to the park, knowing that Cindy Craig didn't have a car so was relegated to taking public transportation. Either way, he'd be there long before her, as would the agents. The problem was, would they find Nathan there? Also, there was no guarantee that the two goons he'd arrested following Cindy Craig were the only ones on her tail.
Thirty minute later at least two dozen agents were scouring the grounds. Colby was watching the main entrance for Cindy Craig while everyone else was either looking for Nathan or anyone suspicious. But the place was enormous and just because the call had been made from here didn't mean Nathan had stuck around.
//"Don, I have a visual on Cindy Craig. She's heading towards the gardens."//
Don acknowledged Colby's message and then made a general announcement over his radio. "Everyone, we have target in sight."
Within minutes, Cindy Craig appeared as she hurried down the path towards where Don and Megan waited and watched.
//"Agent Eppes, possible suspect located."//
"Do you have a visual?"
//"Yes, but the angle is... confirmed. Suspect is Nathan Walker. Suspect is approximately a quarter mile from the park's entrance on the main path."//
Cindy was obviously meeting Nathan; at the speed she was walking, she'd be there in ten minutes. Don left his spot and began walking ahead of her, hoping to get to Nathan before she got there and convince the teenager to come with him before any more of the mob's goons came after him.
//"Don, we have a problem. Two of Bosco's men just showed up. The DiPalma brothers. Looks like Rinaldo and Mancini weren't the only two following Cindy Craig."//
"David, get a team and move in on the DiPalma brothers. Colby, I want you to escort Ms. Craig to safety. Megan, you're with me."
//"I don't believe this. Agent Eppes, it looks like the big man himself is making an appearance."//
"Guiseppe Bosco?" Don looked at Megan in surprise.
//"Yeah. He's got some lady with him, the DiPalma brothers seem to be riding shotgun."//
"David, hold off and follow them. This could be our chance to nail them right in the act." He began jogging, frantically searching for Nathan.
"Over there." Megan slowed down and pointed to her right with her chin when the path turned.
Don spotted Nathan immediately. The boy looked tired and unkempt, his hair long and shaggy, and for a moment Don was shocked at how much he resembled Charlie. A much younger Charlie. But the shadows beneath Nathan's eyes and the sprinkle of stubble on his chin made him look older, whereas with Charlie's injury and weakness had made his brother look younger.
Nathan was half hiding behind a large tree, leaning against it and keeping watch down the path.
Don took Megan's hand, making it look like they were a couple out for a walk. They stopped a couple of feet from Nathan, who ignored them, looking past Megan and Don. Megan leaned close to Don and whispered in his ear. "The kid looks like he's had a couple of rough days."
"He must be terrified," Don whispered back, looking in the same direction as Nathan.
//"Suspects are approaching your position."//
Don tensed when one of the well known names in the mafia appeared, his entourage following behind him. Don eased his gun out and leaned into Megan, hiding her movements as she took her own weapon and readied it. He kept close watch on Bosco, and the moment he reached inside for a gun, Don and his people were on him. Within seconds, all four of them, the woman included, were disarmed and were lying on the ground, being handcuffed.
The moment Don saw the agents had everything under control, he turned to see Nathan Walker. As expected, the boy was off and running.
Don took after him, peripherally aware of Megan right behind him. The boy was younger but Don was in better physical shape. He caught up after a minute, grabbed Nathan's arm and pulled him to a stop.
"Nathan, my name is Don Eppes. I'm with the FBI." He stopped a moment to catch his breath. In shape or not, he still needed to breathe. "You need to come with me so we can get you to safety."
Nathan was panting, his eyes wild with fear.
"It's okay, we have Bosco and his men. But we need to get you out of here, just in case."
"She's fine, but extremely worried about you. Will you come?"
Nathan shook his head. "I... he died... because of me."
"Look, you've had a rough time of it. Let's just get you to safety and we can talk there, okay?"
"I didn't mean for any of this to happen."
"I know." Don put a hand on the teen's shoulder, feeling the muscles trembling beneath his fingers.
Nathan finally nodded wearily, then straightened. "A friend was supposed to meet me. Can we... is she okay?"
"My people have intercepted her, Nathan. She's safe. Let's get you out of here."
Don placed a hand on Nathan's arm and began leading the teen towards the park's exit. Immediately Megan and two more of Don's men surrounded them. Together, they escorted the young man to safety.
- - - - - -
Charlie stepped out of the truck and glanced at his clipboard. He had surveyed the apartment complex on their approach and he knew that this had been a good idea; he could get a much better perception on his probabilities being right while standing on the spot of the next probably target.
He was peripherally aware of David behind him but didn't see Don anywhere. No matter, his brother was doing his job, Charlie would do his.
He glanced at the various windows, the angles coming to him immediately and he jotted the numbers down as he walked around, taking in all sides. He moved beside a parked black and white when there was a slight popping sound.
"Charlie, get down!"
He looked up at Don's scream, confused at the sound of terror in his brother's voice. "What?" He and Terry were running towards him at full speed, and all he could do was stare at them in bewilderment. He wasn't in any danger, he'd just passed David two seconds ago, standing and talking on his cell phone.
Then the words were repeated by David. There were running footsteps behind him then suddenly he was flying through the air, a heavy weight hitting his lower back. He was keenly aware of glass shattering to his right as he landed painfully on the cement parking lot.
"Charlie, stay down!"
He couldn't breathe. The breath had been knocked out of him when he'd landed and he struggled to inhale.
Don's voice was strained, but suddenly as Charlie gasped painfully, he understood why. Repeated gunshots echoed in the air, bullets ricocheting all around him. Immediately he felt helpless and vulnerable where he lay. He could see his clipboard inches from his out flung arms. He reached for it. For a moment the numbers he had written on that little sheet of paper were of the utmost importance, needing to confirm whether the sniper was where he'd predicted he'd be.
Then he realized how stupid that rationalization was. The sniper was here, now, and not shooting at a random victim. Charlie wasn't random, he was here, and somehow the killer had been watching and had realized he wasn't one of the agents swarming the immediate area. He'd gone after Charlie like a white elephant in a herd of mammoths.
After Charlie. Someone was shooting after him, and here he was, lying between several parked cars, and all he could do was pray that the sniper didn't have a clear shot at him.
He was shaking, there was nowhere for him to go, no place he could turn to for cover.
"Charlie, wake up."
From his vantage point, he could see beneath the cars and there two pairs of running feet coming straight for him.
Don and Terry.
They hadn't taken cover. They were running to him, coming to save him. He had blundered into a dangerous situation and had endangered his brother, his coworkers, his friends.
"C'mon, Charlie, wake up." A hand gripped his shoulder and shook him not so gently.
Charlie surged upwards, straight into his father's arms.
"Oh God, oh God," Charlie gasped as he hugged himself closer to Alan.
- - - - - -
Don paced the room of the safe house, waiting for Nathan to finish with his shower. The water had cut off several minutes ago, the kid should be just about ready to eat. Colby put two plates of steaming pasta on the table, one in front of Irene Walker and the other before an empty chair.
"Nate, your supper's ready," Irene Walker called out.
Immediately the door opened and Nathan entered the room. He sat at the table, slouching slightly, and reached for a fork.
"There any cheese?" He twirled a large amount of spaghetti on his fork and shoveled it all into his mouth.
Don glanced at Colby, who shrugged, and went back into the kitchen, presumably to look for some cheese.
"So." Don pulled out a chair opposite Nathan and sat down. "Tell me how you managed to figure out Bosco was after you. We saw the message in the Deviantart forum..."
Nathan swallowed, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and nodded. "When I saw the message, I figured it might be from him. I called my dad, but he wasn't answering his cell. I..." Nathan swallowed heavily and lowered his head. "I guess that's when they'd found dad?"
Don nodded. "The timestamp on the post wasn't long after the shooting."
"I tried calling mom but," he looked at Irene, "your phone was busy so I decided I was going to go find mom, and we'd go hide somewhere together and wait for dad. First, though, I got dad's gun from the closet and—"
"I knew they'd be coming, mom. I wasn't going to run without having something to protect you with."
"You should have called the authorities. You know we'd discussed that when—"
"I know that. But I wanted to make sure you and dad were all right first." Nathan looked down into his plate of food, picked up his fork, and began shifting the pasta around on the plate.
"Here." Colby plunked down a jar of grated cheese and Nathan opened it and began to sprinkle some on the sauce.
He began eating again and Don waited till he'd taken a few more bites before starting again.
"So you left the house by the back door?"
Nathan nodded, his mouth full. He swallowed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, looked at the streak of sauce on his hand and wiped it with the napkin. "I hadn't made it to the gate when I heard someone inside the house. I hid behind a tree and waited. I knew if I ran then, they'd see me. Then someone came outside and came right for me. I knew I had no choice so I took the safety off the gun, took one step away from the tree, aimed and pulled the trigger."
Tears suddenly appeared in Nathan's eyes.
"I didn't mean to kill him," he said in a small voice. "I thought he was one of Bosco's men. I never expected to see him—"
"You shot Charlie?" Don exclaimed. "You shot Charles Eppes?"
Nathan nodded as sobs overtook him. His mother hurried to him and pulled him close to her.
"Nathan. Charlie isn't dead. The bullet grazed his temple, gave him a concussion, but he's very much alive."
Nathan pulled away from his mother to look at Don. "How do you..."
Don laughed. "Because Charlie Eppes is my brother, Nathan. And he's at home right now recuperating." And Don wasn't about to mention the amnesia, at least not now.
"Nathan, how far away from Charlie were you when you shot at him?" Megan came to stand beside Don at the table.
"About five feet."
"And you missed?"
"I realized at the last second, I tried to pull the gun aside but it was too late."
Don cleared his throat. "You might have just saved Charlie's life by doing that."
- - - - - -
Charlie sat on an old wicker sofa in the solarium, a piece of padding thrown against the back for comfort. Dust motes danced in the late afternoon sunshine as Charlie stared out the windows and watched the sun slowly set.
He'd taken refuge here once he'd calmed down. Once he'd been able get the words past the fear of the dream, which he'd discovered wasn't a dream but an actual memory. He was still cold, remnants of the remembered nightmare, he supposed. He raised a hand to his forehead and his fingers felt chilly against the heat of his face. He danced his fingertips around the injured area, wondering how he'd gotten shot. It wasn't from the incident of his dream, that much he was certain because the end of the story had come to him as his father had comforted him.
He remembered realizing after the fact, his error of going to a potential crime scene and endangering everyone else along with himself. He'd apologized to Don, feeling idiotic and totally out of his league, and with good reason.
He closed his eyes, feeling the heat of the sun on his face. There was something about this room, something that called to him. There should be music playing, soft rock, disco, love songs. A woman's voice would sing along as Charlie's pencil scratched on pads of paper or chalk scritched on a blackboard.
Charlie opened his eyes, remembering that there was one placed against one of the windows in the room. He stood slowly, the movement escalating his headache slightly. He walked to the blackboard, noting the chalk dust everywhere around it. It was obviously well-used.
He looked down at his hands and noted they were clean, not covered with white dust. Somehow the smell of the chalk was familiar. He picked one up from the ledge on the blackboard and sniffed. Yes, very familiar.
The board had been erased but he could make out faint numbers here and there. With the chalk he traced them, trying to figure out what had been written beforehand. For a moment he thought he understood, but then the proverbial light bulb in his head fizzled and he was left with random numbers and symbols.
"Charlie, supper's ready."
With a last, sad look at the blackboard, Charlie put the chalk down, wiped his hands and went down to join his father.
He noted the two table settings on the dining table. "Don's not coming for supper?"
"He'll probably show up later... there's plenty of food if he decides to drop by."
Charlie sat, his shoulders hunched up as his headache worsened, sending tendrils of pain down the side of his neck.
Charlie looked at the pill Alan had placed in front of Charlie, along with a glass of water.
"You look like you need it."
Wordlessly Charlie took the pill and swallowed it.
"Did mo... did my mother spend time up in the solarium?" Charlie fiddled with the remaining water in the glass, tilting it from side to side to watch the small waves that formed.
"It was her favourite room in the house. When you were young, you used to sit up there with her all the time."
He felt himself flush; he was pretty sure the voice he'd heard in his head had been his mom's.
The water in the glass suddenly felt frigid to his chilled fingers. He shivered and put the glass down. He didn't know where to start asking questions. About himself? About his dead mother? Don? Alan? Other family members? Friends?
He'd remembered Terry and David, knew they worked with Don. Then why couldn't he remember anything about his brother or parents? There were so many things he didn't know, so many tidbits that were coming back to him, that the urge he felt was to try and drown himself with memories.
He helped his father put the food on the table and they sat, the two of them at the huge dining room table. He couldn't help but wonder what this room had been like during suppertime when he and Don had been kids. Had they gotten along? Had they fought?
His father talked about this and that while they ate. Charlie listened, sometimes a face or a place popped into his head when Alan mentioned it, but it was frustrating. He had no idea if they were important to him or not.
When Alan stopped talking, Charlie looked away from his food and at his father.
Charlie shrugged. "Just trying to put some kind of sense to what I'm remembering."
"And what is it that you remember?"
Charlie couldn't help but notice the enthusiasm behind his father's question. "That's just it, I don't know." He put his fork down in frustration.
"Try the rolls." Alan handed the bread basket to Charlie. "They're from the new bakery that just opened up on Fifth."
Charlie grabbed a piece of bread and broke it open. He buttered it by rote, then put it down without tasting it.
"What about the numbers, is any of that coming to you?"
Again Charlie shrugged. "Sometimes. Just sort of a feeling that I should know what I'm seeing in my mind. But it's very elusive."
"I wish I could help you there, son, but the only time I understand what you're talking about is when you give one of those 'math for dummies' courses."
Charlie laughed. "I don't." At his father's nod, he added, "I do?"
"You're an incredible teacher, Charlie. You blew me away last year when you explained how I could win a car on a game show."
Charlie laughed again. "Okay, you've got my attention. How do you win a car on a game show."
"Your course had to do with how instincts aren't always right..."
Charlie listened carefully as Alan recounted what Charlie had explained to him. "Of course, changing your card again increases your chances of winning," Charlie confirmed, understanding exactly what Alan was saying. He leaned forward enthusiastically. "It's because—" He broke off as the front door opened and Don stepped in.
"Hey everyone. Mmm, something smells good."
"There's plenty more in the kitchen. Help yourself."
Don took his jacket off, draped it on the back of a chair and loosened his tie as he walked into the kitchen. Charlie could hear him whistling as the utensils scraped along the insides of pots and pans. A moment later, Don returned to the table, a plate in hand.
"Charlie's remembered a couple of things."
Don paused, halfway to his seat. He beamed at Charlie. "That's great. What did you remember?" He followed the motion through, put the plate on the table and took a bite of mashed potatoes.
"Nothing important, I think. Except..." The shame of his faux pas swept over Charlie as if the incident had occurred just a short while ago. "David saving my life when I stupidly went and wandered into a—" Another memory flashed through Charlie's mind. "Hey, you taught me how to shoot a gun."
"Has he been like this all day?" Don pointed at Charlie with his fork.
"No, just the past couple of hours."
"What else did you remember?"
"Just flashes, faces, names, places. It's really sort of confusing because I can't seem to put it all together in the right context."
"That'll come with time. Trust me."
Charlie nodded and took a few more bites, then pushed his plate aside. He was tired, he was still on edge and his head ached from trying to make sense of things.
"Oh, we found Nathan Walker. Stroke of lucky, really. We managed to arrest the guy behind the deal in the first place so we killed two birds with one stone." Don licked a smear of mashed potatoes from the side of his mouth, then turned to Charlie. "We also found out who shot you, Charlie."
"You did?" Suddenly the adrenaline was back, his heart thumping wildly in his chest.
"It was Nathan. He admitted to it, said it was a mistake. He thought you were one of the mob coming after him. He also said he recognized you at the last second and tried to jerk the gun aside. If he hadn't, he could have shot you through the heart."
- - - - - -
It wasn't the sound of faint snoring coming down the hall that was keeping him awake. It wasn't the fact that his head was beginning to hurt again or the fact that he couldn't find a decent, comfortable position in his bed and hold it for more than two minutes at a time.
It was the fact that he just wasn't sleepy.
Of course he'd slept a good portion of the day away; that might have something to do with Charlie's current insomnia.
He was pretty sure when he took a pain pill, he'd sleep once more. But he'd taken one before going to bed and that had only been four hours ago. The instructions on the pill bottle said take every five or six hours when needed, so he had at least one more to go.
To be honest his head didn't hurt that bad right now. The pain was there, just enough to remind him not to move too fast or to bend over too far, but not enough to prevent him from sleeping.
He thought a hot bath might help relax him and make him sleepy but he was afraid that running the water into the tub might wake his father or brother up. So instead he put on his black robe and a pair of slippers and slipped out of the bedroom. He made his way to the stairs by the faint light streaming out of his bedroom. It was only when he was almost at the bottom of the stairs when he realized he'd subconsciously placed his weight on the far edge of the fourth step instead of treading in the center. Its loud creak had never failed to wake Don. Or his mother.
He smiled to himself at the memory. He realized he often did this; when his brain was too caught up on some math problem he sneaked out to the garage where he could work without disturbing anyone.
Charlie pushed the garage door open, wincing at the loud squeak it made, and flicked on the light. There was an orderly chaos here that appealed to him; papers and books that yesterday had felt strange and out of place were now welcome tools of the trade. He walked over to the large board and perused some of the sheets tacked up on it. He smiled when he realized he understood just about everything there.
Don had been right; his memory wasn't necessarily going to come with a bang like the nightmare he'd had, but it was all right there, waiting beneath the surface. He just had to wait for the cloud cover to clear, allowing him access to what was in his mind.
He walked to an old table sitting in the center of the garage and sat his butt on it. He rested his slippered feet on a small footrest and leaned his elbows onto his thighs, then closed his eyes. He'd spent many an hour in here, working feverishly to meet a deadline. He smiled as he realized he enjoyed chasing down the problem, reducing everything to mathematical models. And that working with Don for the past year had actually brought the two of them closer together. And he had to admit to himself that he'd enjoyed showing off a little in front of his older brother.
Charlie turned to look at the board behind him. The sky lit up outside, the small glass window in the side door flashing eerily as thunder grumbled softly. The air was warm and moist, the lure of the lit bulb overhead had attracted several bugs outside, their flapping wings batting against the window. Yeah, there it was. A picture his dad had taken a few months ago of him and Don wrestling near the koi pond. He slid off the desk to go and peer at the photo. The two of them were laughing and it looked like Charlie was getting the best of Don.
Until Don had tripped Charlie and he'd ended in the pond alongside the koi. Charlie pushed aside one of the papers tacked onto the board and found the second photograph of the unexpected dunking. He smiled at the look of amusement on Don's face and his own woe begotten expression.
Charlie's teen years had been the hardest, especially when he and Don had attended high school together. Charlie knew now that Don had been pressured by his friends to ignore his geeky kid brother and at the same time had felt compelled to protect him, but still those years had been some of the loneliest of his life.
Don had never understood Charlie's obsession with numbers. Neither had his dad. His mom had been the one who'd encouraged and nurtured his skill from the time he could remember. He knew his father was proud of what he could do but his mom had somehow instinctively known how to deal with his near-obsessive qualities when he'd been growing up.
Another flash of lightning, another rumble of thunder. Charlie smiled as he remembered being terrified of storms even though statistics said they were safest in their beds during a thunderstorm. He remembered running to his parents' bedroom and his mom letting him curl up under the blankets beside her and—
Suddenly Charlie realized he remembered everything about his mom. No longer that dark-haired stranger in the photos, she was someone who had meant the world to him. He remembered how she understood him in a way nobody else had. How she had encouraged him when everyone else, including his family, had tried to ignore his obsession with numbers and had often spoken over and around him. How his mom had put her life on hold while he'd attended Princeton University in New Jersey. If it hadn't been for her, those years would have been just as lonely as his high school ones.
And then he remembered the anguish he'd felt when she and dad had informed him about her illness. The months he'd holed himself in here, how he'd come to hate this small room but unable to face the world while his mother slowly lost her life to illness. The memory was so sudden and painful that Charlie's legs buckled and he slid to his knees.
He'd never gone to visit his mother in the hospital, not once. Three months of enforced solitude, three months of shrugging off hurt looks and pleas from his father and constant pressure from his brother. The brother who had made a life for himself in Albuquerque but had returned to the fold when mom had gotten sick.
Charlie gasped as the remembered pain hit him as if it had happened yesterday. He fought for breath, wrapping his arms around himself to try and hold in the emotional grief.
Three months of refusing to accept what was happening and even his attempt at losing himself in the P versus NP enigma had never really helped; it had simply masked the knowledge that his mother was slowly losing her battle with cancer. Inside, Charlie had slowly closed himself off until the day Don and his dad came home and had both stepped into the garage where Charlie had been feverishly working.
How could he have forgotten his mother? How could he have forgotten her touch, her smell, the sound of her voice? Charlie sobbed a breath, his body so rigid in misery his ribs would hardly expand. His throat was tight with unshed tears, and he moaned as he remembered how devastated he'd felt when he'd looked up from his work that fateful night, music blaring loudly in his headphones, and had seen both Don and dad's faces.
He'd known. Just from their expressions, he'd known mom was gone. He hadn't acknowledged them, he'd simply notched the music up louder and had gone back to his work, pushing back the sorrow that kept threatening to bubble out. That night, alone in his room, he'd taken out a sheet of rose-coloured paper and with shaking hands, had made an origami rose in memory of his mom. He still had it, safely packed in a small box he'd found, tucked away in the top of his closet.
Charlie thought he was going to explode with the surcease of memories assaulting him. The cement floor was cold on his lower legs. Somehow his bathrobe had fallen open and his shoulders and back erupted in goose bumps. He tried to push the sleeves back up but he was shaking so hard as he knelt there, sobbing.
There was a scuffle of material against cement and then suddenly Don was kneeling in front of him. "Charlie, what's wrong? Are you sick?"
"Nnn...no," Charlie stammered, feeling hot tears burn down his cheeks. "I... Mmm...mom. I rrr...remem..." The gasps suddenly turned to helpless sobs and Charlie couldn't even finish the sentence.
He felt himself pulled against his brother's shoulder, Don's arms coming around to wrap Charlie tight. A hand brushed up and down against his back as Charlie finally released his grief over losing his mother.
"It's okay, it's all right." Don's voice was right beside his ear. Charlie buried his face against Don's chest, remembering all the times as a child when Don would be there to comfort a skinned knee, a lost pet, and later when Charlie had tried to act as if being different didn't matter, Don somehow always knew when Charlie would bury his head beneath his pillow and silently give vent to his frustrations. It had been years since Don had been there for Charlie, but hearing Don's voice was as if it had been yesterday.
Too miserable to feel shame at his loss of control, Charlie simply sagged against Don until the sobs eased and he could draw a ragged, hiccupping breath. He thrust a hand into his robe's pocket, grateful to have found a tissue there. He wiped his nose and sniffed uselessly, his sinuses now too clogged to breathe through.
The crying jag had left him feeling shaky and spent, his clogged sinuses now threatening to notch his headache into a full bloom migraine. Still he nodded, his breathing too uneven to attempt to speak.
The storm outside had moved quickly; lightning flashed, followed shortly by thunder.
"Let's go somewhere a little more comfortable. Think you can make it."
"Yeah." The word came out thick and phlegmy. He stood shakily, his legs stiff. He let Don pull his robe up and adjust it around his neck. Then Don turned the light off and they entered the house. His robe flapped against his legs and he tugged it shut, then pulled the belt tightly around his waist.
His chest was thick and heavy, his throat still feeling like it was swollen with unshed tears. His eyes were swollen and hot, and his head pounded with every step he took. The storm outside ended with the closing of the door behind them, but the tempest inside Charlie still churned with vestiges of emotions.
Without a word Don entered the living room, turned on a table lamp and ordered Charlie to sit. He did, taking the corner edge of the sofa and pulling his feet up onto the cushions. Don went into the kitchen and Charlie could hear running water. When Don returned, he had a glass of water and the bottle of Charlie's pain killers.
He gave Charlie the water, then opened the pill bottle and tipped one into Charlie's outstretched hand. He swallowed it, feeling the water help clear some of the congestion in his throat.
After a long moment he cleared his throat. "Thanks."
Don took a seat beside Charlie and turned to look at him intently. Charlie met his gaze evenly.
"You said you remembered?"
"I do. I remember everything, Don. I just... I... when I remembered mom dying and how I never..." Charlie swallowed, trying to control the resurgence of emotions.
"Sorry about going all girlie on you out there." Charlie pulled his gaze away, playing with the edge of the belt.
"That's not exactly how I would have described what just happened."
"Oh, that bad, huh?" Charlie attempted a weak smile.
"No. It was awful, seeing my kid brother undergo a traumatic experience."
Leaning his head against the back of the couch to ease his stiffening neck, Charlie turned sideways to look at Don. "There is one good thing, your kid brother is back."
"You really remember everything?"
"I think so. I don't feel like there are any holes in my memory anywhere. I remember the last class I gave. The last time I had lunch with Larry. The seminar I'm going to... oh shit."
"What?" Don leaned forward in alarm.
"The seminar I was supposed to speak at yesterday. I forgot about it."
Charlie smiled and Don laughed out loud. "I think you had a good reason for missing out on that. What about the day you got shot?"
"I remember going to get some information from the office and... you were there. You told me Mrs. Walker's husband had been killed and... I went with Megan. I remember that, Don." Charlie raised his head off the couch and turned excitedly towards Don. "We went out to their house but there was nobody home. I remember looking around the kitchen and..." And then there was nothing. "I... I think that's when... where did it happen?"
"In the backyard. You startled Nathan, he shot you and you fell into their pool."
"A pool, yeah, I remember seeing that from the kitchen window." Charlie just realized what Don had said. "I fell into the pool?"
"Megan pulled you out. You were damn lucky."
"Yeah, that's true. She mentioned that. I'm just sort of happy I don't remember any of that." Unlike his near miss with the sniper, which had left Charlie shaken for days. "But why can't I remember going into the yard and seeing Nathan?"
"You're lucky you remember even that much, Charlie. Lots of times people with concussions lose more than a minute or two of their memory."
"Hey, if this is a party, why wasn't I invited?"
Both Charlie and Don turned as their father entered the living room. Charlie hadn't heard dad come downstairs over the sound of the rain hitting the windows behind him.
"The party's wrapping up, Dad," Don said as he got up from the couch and stretched.
"Charlie, you okay?" Alan peered closely at Charlie, making him feel self-conscious. He raised a hand and wiped at his still sensitive and swollen eyelids.
"I'm fine. Actually, a funny thing happened to me during my short bout of insomnia." Charlie stood slowly in deference to his still aching head.
"He got his memory back."
Alan whipped around to look at Don, then turned quickly to look back at his youngest son. Charlie smiled and nodded. Alan smiled broadly and grabbed him in a hug.
"That's wonderful news."
Charlie leaned against his dad, relishing the closeness, remembering times he'd been comforted by his dad. He felt the emotions begin to build up again and he forced them down; he had a feeling Don could handle seeing Charlie breaking down but thought his dad might have a harder time seeing his grown son cry. Anyways, he figured he'd put enough stress on his father the past two days.
When Alan loosened his hold, Charlie reluctantly stepped back. Don walked past with Charlie's empty glass and patted his shoulder.
"You really remember everything? Me? Don? Your job?"
"I remember, Dad." Charlie smiled and blinked back tears at the sight of relief on his dad's face. "I'm okay. Really. I'm fine now." Charlie's voice was nasal and thick and he had a feeling his sinuses wouldn't clear up until the morning.
"What about your headache? And you don't look fine, if you ask me."
"That's because my head's pounding and yes, before you ask, I took something for it."
"Maybe you better go back up to bed. Get off your feet, rest, let the pills do their work."
Charlie met Don's questioning glance as he came out of the kitchen. Charlie nodded, answering his dad's statement and Don's unspoken question. "Yeah, I think I can sleep now." He began to shuffle towards the stairs, still feeling a little shaky. He felt Don's arm around his shoulders and didn't complain when Don walked up the stairs beside him. Alan followed them, then leaned against the doorjamb as Charlie dropped the robe and sat tiredly on the bed.
To his surprise, Don reached for the blankets as Charlie slid beneath them. He tucked them around Charlie's shoulders once he was lying on his side and then eased a hand around Charlie's nape. "Welcome back," he said softly. He stood up before Charlie could respond and Alan took Don's place, not sitting but leaning over the bed.
"You need anything?"
"No. Would you mind turning off the light for me?"
"Sure." Alan bent over a little more and kissed the top of Charlie's head. As he pulled away, Charlie thrust a hand from beneath the blankets and caught his dad's arm. "Dad... Don... thank you for making me feel like you cared when I..." Charlie coughed to clear his throat, feeling awkward. "It helped a lot knowing I meant something to someone even if I couldn't remember."
"I know, Charlie." Don smiled at him from across the room.
"Go to sleep." Alan lightly patted the spot he'd kissed just a few seconds ago and Charlie obediently closed his eyes. He heard his family leave his bedroom and was asleep before they reached their own beds.
- - - - - -
Charlie looked up at the expanse of the hospital wing as they pulled up before it. "I thought my checkup wasn't until Tuesday. And I thought we were going out for lunch—"
"It's not, and we are. I just wanted to make a quick stop." Don stopped the engine and opened the door. "We won't be long. I promise."
"I don't like hospitals," Charlie said, sliding out of the truck and shutting the door. He hated the smell and the sounds, his own recovery still too fresh in his mind. But it was good to get out of the house; he'd been cooped up there for the past two days and today had actually felt like doing something. Still wearing Don's sunglasses against the glare because he'd forgotten his own, he followed Don with a resigned slump to his shoulders.
Don, apparently, knew the hospital way too well. He led Charlie unerringly to the elevators, up several flights and then flashed his badge at the FBI agents on duty as they entered a hallway. They'd only gone a few steps towards the room where another agent was stationed when a familiar voice called out.
"Nathan?" Charlie stopped and stared at the young man who was walking towards them. For a moment the hospital corridor disappeared and Charlie saw leaves and branches with his own face staring back at him. Then something silver flashed in the sunlight and there was pain and—
Don was holding Charlie's arm and looking at him with worry. Charlie nodded at Don to indicate he was fine and turned to the teenager and smiled. So much for Don's theory he wouldn't remember anything about the shooting. The sudden memory was still unclear, but the horrified look on Nathan's face would probably haunt Charlie for the rest of his life.
"It's good to see you. I'm glad you're safe." He held his hand out to the man who shot him and Don looked at Charlie proudly.
Nathan nervously shook Charlie's hand. "I'm really sorry about what happened. It all happened so fast. I was so scared and—"
"Nathan, it's all right." He let go of the man's hand and stood there, feeling about as awkward as Nathan must.
"How's he doing?" Don cocked his head towards the half-closed door.
Nathan grinned. "Better."
"Good." Don indicated with a crooked finger that Charlie should follow. Together, they peered into the hospital room. A man lay there, connected to a slew of machinery. But it was the woman sitting beside the man who drew Charlie's attention. Irene Walker.
"Ray Walker didn't die like we reported it, Charlie," Don whispered close to Charlie's ear. "Oh, don't get me wrong, he nearly died. Actually I think his heart stopped on the operating table. But we let everyone thing he didn't survive the shooting to make sure none of Bosco's goons went after him.
"And the best part is, he identified Giordano and Mancini as his assailants. We've picked those two up overnight and with a bit of luck, we'll put Bosco and all his goons away for a nice, long time."
"Nathan's father is alive?" Charlie couldn't seem to get that small detail around his head. "You didn't tell me that..."
"Need to know, Charlie. In any case, you have to admit the information wouldn't have meant much to you at the time."
Charlie pulled away from the entrance and leaned against the wall. He rolled his eyes towards his brother. "You're right, but..." He grinned suddenly. "This is great, Don. Thank you for telling me."
"Officially I haven't told you anything." Don grinned back as Charlie straightened and they began walking back down the corridor. "Nathan wanted to apologize and you just happened to spot his father in the room."
"That's what I like about you, the FBI at its finest."
"Hey." There was a gentle swat to the back of Charlie's head. "Bite your tongue. Our finest still signs your paycheque."
Charlie grinned all the way back to Don's Suburban. Before Don could open the door on the driver's side, Charlie put a hand on Don's arm to stop him.
"I do have my learner's permit, you know."
"I've driven with you. It's not gonna happen."
"You have?" Charlie smiled innocently. "I'm sorry, I don't remember ever..."
"Not gonna work, Charlie." Don lowered his head and Charlie could see him hiding his smile.
"Well, you know, I do remember dad saying something once to the effect that hell would freeze over before you got behind the wheel of his car again. Wasn't it like a month later that you got your license and was driving dad's car?"
"I was sixteen. And the dent in dad's car wasn't my fault." Don's eyes, already squinting due to the strong sunshine, got even smaller as he held up his car keys, far out of Charlie's reach. "Tell me something, how many keys am I holding?"
"And your point is?"
"Two. There's two keys and my vision is fine."
"What the hell." Don threw the keys at Charlie, who caught them one-handed. "We only live once."