Random Variables and Heuristic Solutions

Disclaimer - I own no fractions, atoms or particles of Numb3rs. I really wish I owned Don.

Category - A Season One story which deals with misunderstandings, both human and cosmic, and several missed telephone calls. Told mainly from a Don POV – but some other variables are factored in.

This story was posted a while ago on the Forum. It's early days - set in Season One.


Part One

Random Variable Numb3r One (FBI Offices Los Angeles, Day One 4.00pm)

Don Eppes switched off his computer and watched as the screen went black. It was still only four in the afternoon. He still had plenty of time. Plenty of time to get home and take a shower before he had to be at this thing of Charlie's. He smiled ruefully and ran his hand under his collar, across the back of his neck. To his surprise, he wasn't viewing tonight as some kind of terrible ordeal. This week, the gods had been kind to him, granting five days of relative calm. He acknowledged he'd needed it badly, had needed the respite and sleep. It was hard to keep tabs on the bad guys when your body was drained with exhaustion. Tough to maintain a competent façade when you felt slow and clumsy with fatigue.

The week had been good from a catching-up point of view, but bad on the excuses front. There was no handy hiding behind the job to get out of awkward situations. His couch and a cold beer beckoned alluringly but he was honour-bound to go out tonight. His brother, Dr Charles Eppes, the mathematics prodigy, was about to become a media star. Charlie had been invited to participate in a pre-recorded TV discussion. It would eventually be shown on the Discovery Channel. 'Yup - this sucker was gonna pull in the viewers.' Something to do with Einstein and the true geometry of space.

'A bunch of crazy mathematicians arguing about geometry.'

Or so he'd grumbled teasingly to Charlie. How the hell did he get talked into these things?

'Perhaps, because historically, he'd missed out on way too many of them.'

He'd always had a good reason not to go. A plausible excuse why he couldn't make it. Quantico, Fugitive Recovery, a heavy, case-load in Albuquerque. If he was honest, he'd been relieved. The FBI had always absolved him. Working for the Federal Government was the greatest excuse of all. There'd been another time when he'd meant to come home, but fate had decided against it. A random bullet had grazed his skull and he'd been flat on his back for a week. Too dizzy to lift his head from the pillow, let alone catch a plane to California. No one in his family had known about that one – there was no point creating unnecessary fuss – no point in stealing Charlie's thunder. He'd made some lame-sounding apologies and pretended not to hear their disappointment.

'Well, there were no more reasons and no more excuses,' a small voice whispered in his ear. He'd failed to attend most of Charlie's past triumphs. He simply hadn't been there.

'This time,' Don mused, 'it would be different.' The circumstances were different, or maybe they were different men. Things had been better between them of late. Easier. Kinder and more healing. For some weird, particular reason, this evening was mega-important to Charlie. He been pretty hyped-up about it, obsessing over the details all week. A small smile played at the corner of Don's mouth. 'Hell, he could suffer an hour of geometry.' This time, he wouldn't let his brother down.

"Hey," Terry Lake stood beside him, her soft voice breaking into his reverie. "Shouldn't you be on your way?"

"Just going." Don got to his feet and reached for his suit jacket. His smile widened good-humouredly at her. "Sure you won't come along for the ride - the chance to be on TV? You never know who might be watching, it could be your big break." He added an incentive. "Charlie made a reservation at Salvo's for eight-thirty. Larry and Amita will be there."

"I won't get my break on the Discovery Channel," Terry shook her head at him. She pretended to consider, as they finished collecting up their things. "Salvo's is tempting, especially if you're paying. But I have a date with Mister Darcy. Pride and Prejudice on DVD. Colin Firth, a pizza and an early night. I've been looking forward to it all day. Besides, I'd hate to distract you from all the crazy mathematicians."

"Nice," Don's voice was dry.

He nodded good-bye to Sinclair and followed her out of the bullpen. A pizza and DVD-fest at Terry's sounded infinitely more appealing than an hour-long Mathematics debate. Even if it meant putting up with the tangled love-lives of Jane Austen's, Nineteenth Century, English gentry. He could drink some beer and fall asleep on the sofa with no one to nag or make a fuss. For a moment, all his good intentions wavered, but then he pictured Charlie's face. They made it as far as the doorway before Merrick called out both their names.

"Agent Eppes, Agent Lake," the Assistant Director's voice was abrupt. "I hope you haven't made plans for this evening? I'm calling an emergency briefing on that missing arms shipment. We've just received some new Intel. It looks like they're bringing them in tonight. You have fifteen minutes to assemble your team. I'll see you up in the War Room."

"Damn," Don looked at Terry, ruefully. "Guess the crazy mathematicians will have to wait."


Random Variable Numb3r two (Federal Armoured Vehicle, Day One 6.30pm)

"No luck?"

Terry tightened the waist-straps on Don's body armour and watched as he tried his phone again. She pulled the Velcro as tight as it would go, so no bullet could rip through his chest. She'd once seen an agent get shot beneath the armpit, a random, unlucky strike. His vest had been thrown on loosely and too carelessly in the heat of an anticipated raid. The bullet had ricocheted its way to his heart, skating patterns off his ribs like a dancer. The memory would never leave her. She had been the one assigned to tell his wife.

"Thanks. No." He nodded as she finished, a slight frown edging his voice. "I'm guessing he left his cell at home in case it rang in the studio. Not that its much use when he does bother to carry it - he either puts it down someplace or forgets to turn the damn thing on."

"Your dad?"

He raised an eyebrow at her, a small smile relaxing his face. "You think?"

She grinned back and adjusted her ear-piece. "Point taken. All you can do is leave them a message, and send your apologies. They both know the nature of your job, Don. I'm sure Charlie will understand."

"Yeah, right. Right." Don popped a piece of cinnamon gum and put it into his mouth. His fingers crumpled the empty packet into a tight little ball. The gum was a ritual born of long years of habit, as routine as checking his gun. The Don Eppes, patent stress reliever - even if it made his dental bills soar.

"Charlie'll understand." He sighed, and flipped the phone again. "Guess there's one more place to try. Yeah, hello, Salvo's? Good evening. I'd like to leave a message. Eppes party – table booked for 8.30 . . ."


Random Variable Numb3r Three (Salvo's Italian Restaurant Day One, 6.45pm)

Even though it was relatively early, the restaurant was fully booked. Friday night in downtown LA and everybody ate out. The telephone rang constantly as latecomers tried to reserve tables. Soon the note-pad was filled with memos, names and numbers to call. The receptionist took down a hurried message for a booking, name of Eppes. One of their party was not going to make it - working late - he sent his apologies. She ran her finger over the page until she found the name.

Table 7, reserved for 8.30 pm. They had obviously not arrived yet. She put the piece of paper in her pocket and made a mental note not to forget it.

Already the phone was ringing again and her migraine was getting worse. She'd taken two tablets an hour ago, but they didn't seem to be having much effect. Twenty minutes later, and she knew the game was up. The smell of food was making her sick. She couldn't see to write or make reservations. The glitter curtain had started to fall. It was time to risk the wrath of her boss and call a cab to take her home. Friday night and they were fully booked . . . the manager was going to be pissed . . . but her head was really banging. There was no way she'd last the shift.

'Hell, all she really wanted to do, was crawl into bed and die.'

By the time she left the restaurant, the piece of paper was still in her pocket. She leant her head back in the taxi, and closed her eyes in relief. She had forgotten all about table 7 - Don Eppes - or passing-on any message. At long last, her tablets were having an effect, and numbing her poor aching head.


Random Variable Numb3r Four (Freight and Shipping Warehouse, Dry Bulk Terminal, Port of Los Angeles Day One, 8.30pm)

The Intel had been good for once. This time, there was no mistake. The arms had been unloaded in shipping containers, brought into the country on a Panamanian Freighter for buyers with terrorist links. It could have gone down one of several ways, but Don wanted the man in charge of the sale. The bastard pocketing the money, here in the USA. There was the usual rush of adrenalin as he watched the negotiations taking place, all of his nerve-endings on hyper-charge whilst his face remained calm and set in stone. Only the ubiquitous gum betrayed he was on alert.

There were two heavily armed goons with the seller, plus a couple of swarthy sailors. Don wouldn't mind betting they were packing as well, although there was no visual sign of weapons. A truck backed into the open warehouse and four more men arrived. There was no question of doubt they were carrying, the deal was going down. His players were all in position – the entrances and exits covered. SWAT teams and tacticals all in place, with his own team taking point. There was only two ways his targets were leaving tonight - a body bag or a prisoner transport vehicle.

"All right," Don placed a hand up to his ear piece and nodded briefly at Terry. He watched as the seller used an iron crowbar to open up one of the crates. Training his night-vision binoculars onto the sample contents, Don surveyed the deadly wares with a quick, assessing sweep.

RPG's and automatic weapons. A veritable candy-store for terrorists.

"That's it. We have them." It was a wrap. "Confirm the deal is going down - arms deal going down. Nine targets on visual, I repeat, at least nine targets. Assume all heavily armed. I want the seller alive, if possible. Let's get this over and done."

Another nod of affirmation at Terry as Don slipped the safety catch off his gun. He used her clear gaze to anchor him, as he mentally prepared for what was coming. The adrenalin rush was like ice in his veins, his mind cool, and remarkably detached. There it was, that word again. Detached . . . detached . . . detached. Charlie had flung it at him once. 'His own brother thought he was detached.' It had made him immeasurably angry, and more than a little bit hurt. He'd been described as a hard-assed, bastard, on more than one occasion. Hard–assed, stubborn and uncompromising. Words which were not all that complimentary, but somehow, they were better than detached.

This was not the time to ponder his choices or relationships. Not the time to deal with his pain. There would be sufficient opportunities later on, in the darkness of his apartment. Plenty of nightmares and unwanted thoughts. Don knew of old, they always came.

"Okay," he focused sharply on the targets in front of him. Pin-pointed his mind on the raid. "Everyone ready, on my order. Counting down - three - two - one!"

He moved out, around the SUV, already up and running. His gun held forward in both his hands as the bust got underway.


Random Variable Numb3r Five (Freight and Shipping Warehouse, Dry Bulk Terminal, Port of Los Angeles Day One, 8.45pm)

Don knew he'd fucked-up big time when he skidded around the corner. He was too far ahead of Terry and temporarily alone. Intent on taking out the seller, he'd compromised his own safety. There was no sign of the target he'd been chasing, but no-where left for the middle man to go. He took another, cautionary step, before he realised he'd made a mistake. A flicker on the periphery of his vision, and the iron bar struck him hard across his back.

White stars exploded in front of his eyes as he fell to his knees on the ground. He barely had time to roll out of the way before the middle man aimed for his head.

"No!"

Don raised an arm and ducked to one side as the crowbar crashed down on his shoulder. His weapon went skittering across the ground, useless and out of reach. There was a horrible, ominous cracking of bone, as his gun-arm was rendered useless. He was face-down on the concrete, and cursing his arrant stupidity. Trying to fight off the waves of pain as the middle man raised the iron bar again.

"Freeze – do not move!" It was Terry's voice, strident and taut with control. "Do not move. Step right away from the agent, and place your weapon down slowly!"

Don sensed his attacker's indecision, the hesitation rolling off him in waves. If the iron bar came down on his head, he didn't give a rat's ass for his chances. He rolled onto his back and looked up at the man – at the desperate intent in his eyes. "There's two ways you're leaving this crime scene, pal. In cuffs or a body bag. Put down the bar or she'll blow you away. Your choice, it's up to you."

"Drop the bar carefully. Get down on the ground. On your face – down on the ground!" Terry stepped in a little closer, her grip on the gun unwavering. "Do it now!"

Don felt the shift in the middle man's stance, and knew he was in big trouble. Terry shouted out a warning before the bar swung down towards his skull. Don pushed himself sideways, despite the pain in his shoulder, and felt it graze the side of his ear. He heard the bark of Terry's gun, three shots in immediate succession, and then the heavy clank of the crowbar as it clattered onto the concrete. The man's body fell across him, cumbersome and already slumped in death. For a second, Don lay there and closed his eyes before finally taking a deep breath.

"You all right?" It was Terry, on her knees beside him. Her fingers had already reached for his throat and the reassurance of a pulse. She tracked the blood running down the side of his neck. "Don, did he hit you with that?"

Don heaved himself up and away from the corpse, pulling back from her hand. "It's okay. I'm fine – just a nick on my ear. He got me across the shoulder." He flexed his arm and swallowed hard. "I think I heard my collarbone crack."

She continued to look at him, steadily, her face a little pale. "I lost you for a couple of seconds. You left yourself wide open to attack. First rule of any pursuit, Don, always cover your partner's back." She gestured over towards the middle-man's body. "I had no option. It was him or you."

"Yeah," he shifted up, carefully, onto his knees and ignored the protesting bones and muscles. "Damn it, I wanted him, Terry. I'm sorry. This was my fault."

Don closed his eyes briefly in anger and frustration. He was furious with himself. It was due to his own stupid error the seller was lying here dead. His fault, they'd lost an opportunity to question him and break the arms ring wide open. Don ran his good hand over his face. He cursed himself for such a rookie blunder. In his eagerness to take this slime-ball down, a solid chance had been squandered.

TBC