With an FBI agent under his control just how far is a vigilante willing to go to catch a terrorist? - NB: Pre Janus List.
Disclaimer – I don't own them, I just borrowed them. Numb3rs and its characters are the property of those that created them. No copyright infringement intended. All real organisations are used in a fictional sense. Original characters and the storyline are mine however.
A/N: This occurs quite some time before the Janus List. We haven't seen it here in Australia, in fact it will be some months yet before it's likely to air. This also means that I can't read all the post Janus List stories posted here either grumble. Anyway, on to the story…
Special Agent Don Eppes of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office did not consider shopping to be one of his favourite things. Yet here he was in the middle of one of the largest shopping centres in LA trying to find something to buy Charlie for Christmas. Though Christmas was not exactly a part of their religion it was a tradition that had been started to please their mother and they'd continued it on after her death.
What did one buy a math genius anyway? Don wandered from store to store without much success. Over the last few days during any spare hour he could snatch Don had come here searching. He'd been in the gadget stores looking at all the clever gizmos, he'd been in the puzzle shops but Charlie already had everything from those. Now he was hunting through music shops trying to find a piece of classical music his brother didn't have. May as well try to find a needle in a haystack, he thought. He smiled wryly to himself, Charlie probably used maths to do his Christmas shopping. A snappy equation on a chalk board to lead him directly to what to buy for his family.
Don finally decided that he needed a break, the cumulative effect of fighting the crowds over the last few days catching up to him. He peered through the steady stream of people, trying to find a small oasis of calm. There. He started to make his way across the crowded walkway to a spot that seemed to offer a respite from the crowd, an alcove leading to a service entrance over to his right. No seats but no crowds either. It was like swimming against a current, the crowd seeming to act with one mind to sweep him past his goal. Forced to push his way past several people laden with bags and boxes he earned a few growls and mutters from the happy Christmas shoppers.
He was jostled from behind, not for the first time, and finally his own Christmas spirit was rubbed a bit too raw. He started to turn to snap something at the person when something hard jabbed into his right side and stayed there. Scenarios flashed through his mind, everything from it being somebody's elbow to a gun. His FBI instincts kicked in to hyper-drive along with his pulse, in his experience only one thing felt just like this did and it wasn't an elbow. The next thought was automatically, why? He was just a face in the crowd, he wasn't in any sort of uniform and his long winter coat completely hid the fact that he was carrying a weapon, not that you could see much more than the head and shoulders of anybody most of the time anyway. All this in the instant of his automatic gasp for breath.
Don tried to step aside to give himself room to turn and face the threat, but a hand firmly gripped his left shoulder and he was hustled along towards the alcove. Don managed to turn his head far enough to see behind him and felt the blood drain from his face as a frisson of fear ran down his spine. His right hand which had started to pull his coat aside to clear his holster suddenly ceased its movement as it became clammy and started to shake. He knew he was in deep trouble.
Telford. Despite the hat pulled low on his head there was no mistake.
His own personal bogeyman. It had only been a couple of weeks since the notice from New York that had bought thoughts of Telford to the fore. Telford who had twice held Don's life in the palm of his hand. Literally. Don had been in numerous dangerous situations, shootouts and the like during his time in the FBI. He'd had guns pointed directly at him, even fired at him. But only with Telford had he been defenceless and helpless. No body armour, no back-up from his team, no-one even knowing where he was or what was happening to him. Just alone with a gun pointed at him by an extremist whom he'd seen kill in cold blood. Now Telford was back, fresh from executing another FBI agent.
Not even Megan realised just how shaken Don had been by the whole experience. He'd always been able to put on a good game face and mirror that through his body language, something all cops quickly learned how to do. He was better at it than most. But inside, inside he was still struggling with the loss of control.
Don no longer noticed the crowd as they made their way the short distance into the alcove. A few steps inside and Telford stopped pushing. Don tried to turn again and this time he was allowed to do so but was then shoved hard against the wall which had been to his right. As this was the side from which the crowd was moving it meant that few, if any, of those rushing by would even be aware that anyone was in the alcove, their attention directed ahead of them, not beside or behind. Telford had moved with him so that he was still standing to Don's right needlessly blocking sight of what he was doing from the crowd that continued to surge past oblivious. His gun maintained a steady pressure against Don's ribs.
Don's hands had automatically risen to prevent his face from hitting the wall. Now they rested on the wall just below shoulder height as Telford expertly and efficiently patted Don down recovering his Glock and cell phone. Only a few moments had passed but Don was breathing hard, like he'd just run a few miles. He struggled to bring himself back under control, to regain his game face. Along with his fear of losing of control he also feared letting others know how he felt. Especially someone like Telford. In situations like this letting the offender have not only the physical upper hand but the emotional one as well would be disastrous.
"Telford." Don responded in kind, pleased that his voice at least was under control.
"You remember me." Telford was not surprised, just stating a fact. "Look to your right."
Don obediently turned his head and saw a man leaning casually against the corner at the entrance to the alcove. He had a bag at his feet and looked for all the world like a weary shopper. Except for his eyes, boring into Don's.
The man's right hand was in his pocket. When he saw he had Don's attention he partially pulled his hand out of his pocket to show what he held. A grenade. Don's breath caught and his body stiffened under Telford's left hand that was now resting on his back. The death toll if the grenade went off on the crowded concourse would be horrendous. He glanced downwards at the largish shopping bag wondering how many more grenades were in it. He looked back up in time to see the man flash him a knowing smile.
"Turn around." Telford instructed softly, satisfied that Don knew the stakes.
The restraining hand lifted off his back and the pressure from Telford's gun disappeared. Don turned, slowly and carefully, desperate to appear non-threatening. He allowed his trembling hands to drop to his sides, carefully keeping them in full view despite the fact that he'd been disarmed. Don saw that Telford's gun was no longer in evidence, hidden somewhere under the man's coat. It was after all, quite superfluous.
"I have your attention?" Telford asked.
"What do you want?" Don demanded. "Why are you back from New York?" He couldn't help adding. Always the FBI agent, always trying to gain information and confirm suspicions.
"Very good." Telford smiled slightly. "You've been keeping up."
"You've killed another agent."
"She was dirty, just like the others."
Don unfortunately believed him. The last time they had met Telford had given him two envelopes relating to the agents executed in LA over the last four or so years. As much as he had hated the idea of dragging the dead agents names through the mud on Telford's word he had followed up on the information. To his surprise and disappointment he had been able to confirm what Telford had told him. Those agents had been on the take. Law enforcement officers who went bad were generally very good at covering their tracks so the evidence had been subtle, but it was there when you knew to look. The investigations were concluded and he'd compiled solid briefs of evidence against the two agents. As they were both dead however, there was nothing further that could be done. The information was simply filed and not disclosed to their families. No need to destroy their lives further.
"You know about the file I sent New York." A simple statement of fact. Telford would know. He always knew.
"So now you're here to kill me." Don surmised. He thought back to the warnings he'd received telling him to stop investigating Telford. He frowned as his mind suddenly came to a conclusion. This was all wrong. Based on the way Telford operated, the first Don should have known about this was when he was killed. Somewhere quiet and private, in his own SUV most likely. Not ambushed in a crowded shopping mall. "No, you're not." He said slowly, showing the change in his thoughts.
The slight tilt to Telford's head indicated that he was pleased at Don's analysis. "That is yet to be decided." Telford then said in his infuriatingly polite tone.
"Dependant upon what?"
"Upon whether you help me or not."
Don's hands clenched into fists. "Then you are here to kill me, because I'm not helping you with anything!"
"Easy agent." Telford glanced at his man before focusing his attention back on Don. "Hear me out before making rash decisions."
"I'm not going to help you kill someone else." Don insisted, his bodyweight shifting as he unconsciously prepared to take a step forward. His fists, no longer trembling, started to rise.
Telford's left hand came up to rest flat against Don's chest. The man at the end of the alcove tensed and pulled his hand from his pocket, left hand reaching across with his index finger going through the loop on the grenade pin. All still out of sight of the crowds.
"Easy." Telford repeated with a hardening edge to his voice. He applied pressure with his hand to pin Don against the wall.
Don let himself be pushed back, horrified at how willing Telford's man was to use the grenade. He closed his eyes and rested his head back against the wall. He knew he was as good as dead but didn't want any innocents to die with him. His shoulders slumped slightly in defeat as he opened his eyes again to face Telford.
Telford saw the change and glancing at his man he nodded. The man relaxed, releasing the pin and putting his hand back into his pocket. Telford kept up the pressure on Don's chest however.
"Get it over with. I won't resist." Don said softly. He looked out at the passing crowd, unknowingly hostages to his cooperation. "Just don't hurt anyone else."
Don focused his gaze back at Telford to find the other looking at him appraisingly. There was a sudden 'click' followed by a sharp stinging sensation under his ribs causing him to inhale sharply. Don looked down and saw the blade of a wicked looking spring-blade knife. The tip was out of sight, pressing into his bare flesh having already sliced cleanly through his sweater and shirt. The blade was long enough and angled the right way to reach his heart. He'd automatically tensed but immediately forced himself to relax. He had meant what he said, he would not resist. He waited for Telford to press the blade home.
"You truly would let me kill you, agent?"
Don didn't answer, he couldn't. Suddenly he was back at the warehouse, hearing the safety on Boots's gun clicking off behind his head. He was back in his SUV, the chloroform pad over his face, consciousness fading. Both times he had known he was going to die. His breathing became ragged as he stared at the blade, fighting against his survival instincts. Would it hurt? He wondered as his hands clenched and unclenched. It took all of his control but Don didn't move.
"I think you would. I have you agent." Telford decided, satisfied. He withdrew the knife, folding it away but not before Don noted the smear of blood on its tip. The appraising look was back. "But I think for only here and now. I want you for a bit longer than that."
"I'm not helping you." Don repeated. He was amazed at his ability to sound calm. "Kill me or walk away."
"I plan to walk away, but you are coming with me."
Don's eyes narrowed slightly as he stared at Telford's face trying to figure out what was going on. He felt anger rising to replace his fear. Yes, he thought savagely, let's get out of here. Away from the civilians, away to where the grenade was no longer a threat to others and he could take Telford on.
"Just as I thought." Telford read the clues in Don's face. "You will come with me agent and you will do as I say. Have a look in that bag at John's feet."
"What?" Don looked over to see Telford's man, John, push the bag gently with his foot in Don's direction.
Telford stepped back, his hands again empty. "I suggest you do so carefully, you don't want John to think you're up to something."
John's hand came back out of his pocket, his left swiftly pulling the pin from the grenade. He gently twisted his right hand to show that he was holding the lever in place with just one finger. Any attempt by Don to grab at the grenade or attack John would lead to him dropping it. Don knew what would happen a few seconds after that.
After a deep breath Don took a hesitant step towards the bag but when neither Telford nor John reacted he took another and then a third. He crouched then carefully pulled aside the top of the bag revealing a woman's silk scarf. With infinite care he lifted a corner of the scarf to see what lay beneath. He just as gently set the scarf back into place before standing and walking back to Telford.
"Remote?" Don asked.
"Yes. There are already four of them in this mall and that one makes five."
Don didn't doubt him for a moment. "You would threaten all these people to make me cooperate with you?"
"It's not all about you, Eppes. There is more going on, but yes I will threaten all these people."
Don knew that the mall would be open for the next twenty-eight hours or so. It was just after 11:00am now and the mall had advertised it would remain open all night and through until at least 5:00pm the next day for last minute shopping. From past years Don knew that the crowds would most likely remain at current levels for the whole time. That meant thousands of people in the building at any one moment in time.
"Do as I say and I'll let you call it in." Telford offered.
"I won't kill for you." Don finally said. "I won't make it possible for you to kill anyone else." It was surrender. He was making terms, but it was still surrender.
"I am quite capable of killing without your help." Telford said truthfully. He pointed towards the service doors at the end of the alcove. "Time's wasting. Let's go."