K is for Knife

Disclaimers - All the usual and adult themes

Summary: - Just a little bit of Charlie angst and the tiniest touch of psychometry. Part of the 'Summer Alphabet Challenge' over on the Numb3rs Forum.

K is for Knife

Technically, he had no business being here. He ought to be waiting out in the office. Charlie knew he shouldn't be in this room, but he'd just finished giving his version of events, and his part in the inquest was done. He took a deep breath and stepped forward. He had to see it - had to touch it again. However much it might hurt him, it had almost become an obsession. He picked up the evidence bag from the table and found that his hand was shaking. The bloody implement was clearly visible through the sealed and labelled polythene bag.

Blood. The damned thing was covered in blood. On the handle and the wicked looking blade. It stained the serrated edges and was engrained in the light-coloured wood. Charlie studied it intently. The dried blood had done strange things to the metal, making it strangely iridescent. It had acquired a lustre all of its own, shot through with shades of magenta and green. Fascinating – he stared at it harder – and almost beautiful after a macabre fashion. The rainbow-coloured whorls and striations were reminiscent of a peacock's feather. There was even blood on the inside of the bag, forming sticky, uneven circles. Charlie lifted it higher above his head and held it up to the light. From this angle, he noted another anomaly, as he turned it this way and that. It was curious, but when viewed through the polythene, the crimson blood looked almost clear.

Of course, he contemplated it reasonably; the concept of blood was too simplistic. In reality, there was no such single substance – no one thing which made up the whole. Blood itself was a complicated fusion comprised of many vital components. Red cells, white cells, and proteins, not to mention a host of other stuff. There were electrolytes, hormones and even trace metals. Gases and enzymes – the list was endless. It was essentially only the suspensory fluid or plasma itself which was clear.

Blood. So complicated – so vital. So full of hidden, underestimated elements. Charlie considered them in detail as he broke them down, one by one. The red cells were filled with the strength of iron. They were crucial – fundamentally life-giving. The white cells were always fighting a war, working quietly away in the background, surrounding and engulfing the free radicals it was their sworn task to destroy. Charlie swallowed hard at the analogy. It always reminded him of...

Oh, God, he really didn't want to go there. He pushed at the pain crowding in on his thoughts and tried to re-focus on the blood. Blood – there was no doubt about it. You could not afford to lose it. Blood was precious and essential to well-being. It was something you took for granted. Something which worked so efficiently, you only cherished it when it was gone.

Charlie paused, as his train of thought stuttered to a halt. His mind felt numb and confused. Was he still thinking about the blood here, or had his brain moved on to something else?

It was all so dreadful, so baffling. He was no longer sure anymore.

He was no longer sure about anything. Nothing made any sense to him. He simply stood there, swaying and trance-like, as he held onto the evidence bag. Never once, at any stage in his life, had he believed in the metaphysical. There was a rational explanation for everything in the cosmos, and that explanation was math. Math as the basis of everything, whether chemical, physical or mechanical. Math as the lodestone for each un-answered question - with a good dash of logic thrown in.

And yet...and yet...

Charlie looked down at the knife in his hand and felt more than his own grief and loathing. With a strong flash of something – could it really be psychometry – he knew he was sensing Don's pain.

Routine. It was only supposed to be routine. Just a quick call on the way to Pasadena. The man's name was Andrew Telfer, he wasn't even a suspect. Just a holder of important information which might help them out with a case. This was why Don allowed him to ride shotgun. Don, usually so paranoid about safety. And afterwards, they were going to pick up dad and take him out for a bite to eat. Don's idea – it was Don's idea. There was a new Italian they hadn't tried yet. Don was such a sucker for Italian food. They had spaghetti vongole to die for...

Oh God.

A piece of steel sharpened into a blade, fixed into a wooden handle. When you put it like that, it sounded harmless enough. After all, it was only a knife. He should have known – should have seen it coming. He was a genius, a mathematician. The events all played back in slow motion in a never-ending loop inside his head. He remembered the sunlight on the arc of the blade as the man raised it high in the air - had mentally embraced the trajectory as it flashed down towards his abdomen.

This was it, then. Over and done with. Eternity – in the space of a nano-second. As long as it took for the blade to curve down and put a swift end to his life. The path of an object as it moves through space. It was a simple explanation of trajectory. It was strange that something so horrible could be defined by such a straightforward formula.

A shout of warning. The bark of Don's gun. Then he was falling, stumbling backwards. He'd ended up flat on his back on the floor, with his hands tightly clamped above his belt. He'd lain for a moment, dazed and surprised. He hadn't even felt the knife strike him. Funny, but getting stabbed didn't hurt. He'd expected some serious pain. It was only when Don bent over him that he saw the first drops of blood.

Charlie shivered, he couldn't help himself, as he lived through that evening again. The events unravelled before him in terrible, technicolour, close-up. The sun on the blade, the downward path of the knife, and then his brother moving in front of him. The acrid scent of cordite and the sound of Don's gun as Telfer sprawled dead on the floor.

Bright red blood. There was too much blood. It was splattered on everything around them. Too much bright blood everywhere – only none of it was his. He looked up and saw the truth in Don's eyes. Don – his very own random variable. The revelation was sudden and shattering. He knew in a second what had happened and the universe went plunging through space. Don was faster and stronger than he was. He had worked out his own set of calculations. His brother had seen the knife coming and managed to push him aside.

Diffusion – he was watching it in action.

Hadn't Don's shirt been white?

Maybe it had been, once upon a time, but Charlie had no use for what might have been. There was only one white thing in the whole of the world. His eyes locked on his brother's chalky face.

"Charlie – I think I'm falling - "

Charlie caught him just as he buckled and lowered Don gently to the ground. There was something... his hand brushed against it. Something rigid and strangely immutable. Charlie looked and inhaled sharply when he saw it was the knife. Instead of his gut, it was stuck in Don's chest, buried up to the wooden hilt.

He tried to stay calm. He thought he stayed calm. Or at least, he stayed calm on the outside. He called it in, and sat there with Don, when all he wanted was to run away and hide. If he left, there would be no hiding anywhere again. No retreat from the pain in his head. As of now, there was no safety anywhere – not even in the conceptual world of numbers. If he left now, pure and simple, he knew his brother would die. Don was bleeding – still bleeding everywhere. Semi-conscious and going into shock. Worse than that, even worse than anything, was the excrutiating pain he was in.

Charlie ran through all the first aid he remembered, and left the knife where it was. If he pulled it out, Don would lose even more blood. He might damage some vital organs. The blade was lodged on the right side of Don's body, stuck slightly at an angle in his ribcage.

Liver – pancreas – kidney - lung. A litany of vital organs. Charlie tried not to think too hard about them, but they sang round and round in his head.

Blood on his hands and blood on his clothes. There was too much of the damned stuff everywhere. The deadly, wooden hilt of the knife, poking out of his brother's chest. Charlie carefully padded around it and tried to put pressure on the wound. He sat there and prayed – not to any god – just that this ordeal would soon be over. He tried to be clinical about it, and work through the math in his head.

Maybe this could have been avoided.

If he had only calculated the parabola.

He should have worked out the trajectory and side-stepped the arc of the knife.

Could have and should have. The words haunted him and Don was growing paler by the second. There was nothing the much vaunted genius could do. He prayed again for his brother's life.

Charlie jolted back to the present with a bump. It had all happened more than three months ago. There was no point in going over it again. It was too late for self-recrimination. What's done was irrevocably done. Why the hell had he come into this room?

"Charlie," A quiet voice spoke behind him. "I was starting to get a little worried. Technically, this place is out of bounds – you shouldn't have come in here alone."

Charlie knew he'd been busted. Bang to rights and red-handed. Caught with the evidence in the evidence room, if he hadn't felt so sick he might have laughed.

"Is the inquest over?" He choked out the words, still holding on tightly to the bag. The thing inside it – the knife itself – still stained with his brother's blood. In a strange way, it was like a connection. A grisly link to Don and the past.

"Done and dusted. There'll be no blow-back. Your statement, as well as the forensics evidence, clearly shows it was a righteous shooting. Turns out Telfer was a paranoid schizophrenic who hadn't been taking his meds. It was one of those crazy random things. No one could of seen it coming."

Charlie exhaled slowly, and nodded. He felt curiously sorry for Telfer. The man had been sick, not evil, and his illness had cost him his life. Just another of those random variables that no one could have predicted. A terrible, bloody outcome to an arbitrary series of events. Charlie looked down at the knife again. It no longer seemed quite so wicked. For some reason, over the last few months, he had instilled it with a life all of its own. It had changed from an inanimate object to an instrument of malign intent. More – much more than an ordinary knife – after what it had done to Don.

He was back to that word psychometry again. One of the words he didn't believe in. Like ghost, and astrology, and clairvoyant. He was a sceptic in every sense of the word. A sudden shiver ran down his spine. Must be a cold draught from the corridor. He had an odd, preternatural feeling, as he remembered the last time Don was hurt. His dreams then had been more like visions - heart-breaking conversations with mom. They had been comforting but oddly disturbing. And then something bad had happened to Don.

A psychic would have called them premonitions. Not likely, Charlie scoffed at himself. It was about time he got out of here, the lack of air must be going to his head. Dreams were purely physiological, the end result of neural synapse firing. There was nothing supernatural about them, and of course, he knew that. Didn't he? He'd been dreaming – that's all it was – dreaming. Nothing ghostly, no links to the spiritual. No Charles Eppes, the psychic phenomena, with a sneak preview into the future. Just a natural occurrence during REM sleep as the unconscious brain re-stabilised itself.

"Hey, Charlie, you're starting to give me the creeps." There was a supportive hand on his shoulder. "Come on, let's get the hell outta here. It's finished with – over and done."

Over and done. It was over and done. It had all ended here with the inquest. One other thing had so nearly ended, and that was his brother's life. He stared hard at the man in front of him as though searching for something in particular. It wasn't there... he looked again, just to be sure, and almost cried out in relief. For the very first time since the stabbing, he could look at Don and not see the blood.

Blood – the blood had been everywhere.

He wasn't able to stop the bleeding. The more he had pressed, the more Don bled out.

He wasn't able to save Don's life.

In the end, the EMT's had come. In the end, a miracle had happened. Don was still pale and a little too thin, but the shirt he wore was definitely white.

"Come on, buddy, you can put it down. It's over. Over and done with. Leave it here for the evidence boys. It doesn't matter, it's only a knife." Don's voice was firm and gentle, the touch of his hand strong and warm.

Charlie took one last look at the knife as he laid it back down on the table. Amazing how something so innocuous could have such a major impact on your life. Six inches worth of tempered steel set in a wooden handle.

A cutting tool, a culinary implement. It was merely an inanimate object. In the end, it was unimportant.

In the end, it was only a knife.

The End

Lisa Paris – 2007