NUMB3RS: An Unexpected Meeting
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 is the final chapter. I hope you all enjoyed the tale. Thanks especially to all those who reviewed.
It had been just over a week since Megan had dropped him at Charlie's house after the arrest of Deputy Assistant Director Ryder and Telson. A week during which he'd recovered physically but had not made too much headway with clearing his thoughts. He had a lot to come to terms with. Mostly he'd put it out of his mind, a well honed skill, concentrating firstly on some well earned rest and then on getting the full events on paper. But it was all still there, simmering away and needing release.
Don was on his way home to his apartment from the field office when his cell rang. It was his brother Charlie, his car broken down at CalSci and needing a lift home. Don took the next offramp and headed back the way he'd just come.
Although traffic was definitely better now that it had been during the two days before Christmas it still took some time before he finally pulled into the CalSci campus. He drove to the parking lot out the front of the maths building and pulled up next to the curb. There were only a couple of cars in the lot so he figured it didn't really matter where he stopped. After waiting a few minutes he pulled his cell off his belt and dialled his younger brother's number knowing that he was probably engrossed in a problem on one the whiteboards in his office.
"Hey, Don." Charlie answered. "I'm with someone, but I'll be right down."
Don snapped his phone closed and sat back as he waited. He'd just spent the day at the field office finalising his statement. It had taken days to type on one of Charlie's old laptops at home and had still needed work once he got into the office and the familiar setting jogged his memory for more details. Finally it had been done and he'd handed it personally to Merrick. The ADIC was drowning under the load of paperwork and constant messages from on high over what had happened. It was no small thing, the unmasking of Deputy Assistant Director Ryder as a terrorist and murderer.
Don had walked into the MIR looking for Merrick and for the first time had seen a fuzzy image of the terrorist blamed for the attack, Zuheen. The photo had obviously been taken at an extreme distance but the features were recognisable enough. The JTTF firmly believed, as he did, that the terrorist had fled LA after all the publicity. When Don finally left the FBI Field Office he'd headed to his own apartment, planning to spend his first night in his own home since Telford's capture. Merrick had extended his leave another week and he needed his own space to get some serious thinking done. He felt he was over the danger of being alone, the lack of distractions now would be to his advantage.
He looked around as he waited for his brother to drag himself out of his office. The university was very quite, being the day after New Years. Charlie wouldn't normally have gone into his office but he'd said that he'd received a phone call and wanted to talk to someone about the lecture he'd been giving before he'd been dragged off by the NSA. Don noticed a few young men wandering across the manicured lawn, two sitting on a bench seat and another leaning against a tree. There was a shadow of something leaning against the tree behind the man. All were mid-eastern in appearance with the exception of a caucasian male who was walking away.
Don shook his head, gotta learn to switch off, he thought to himself. His casual glance had started to turn into a threat assessment. It was one thing to have an idea who was around but another when he started measuring up those he'd seen, cataloguing their locations and demeanours. He'd said many times that he was always on duty but he was starting to realise that he needed on occasion to allow himself to be just Don Eppes, not FBI Special Agent Eppes. He determinedly looked away, watching the passing flow of traffic on the main road a short distance away.
Despite himself he had started another visual sweep of the area to his left, seeing the same men in mostly the same positions just as the doors to the building opened and he saw Charlie emerge. The young math professor was not alone, walking down the stairs deep in conversation with a student his age. Don sighed, remembering that Charlie had said he was with someone. There would be a longer delay now as Charlie often found it had to break off a conversation about math, especially with an eager student. He had so been looking forward to relaxing at home.
Eventually the two men were standing, still deep in conversation, a few feet from the side of Don's SUV. Charlie turned when he felt his brother's gaze. "Hey, Don."
"Hey yourself." Don answered. "What's up?"
Charlie glanced over at his car parked in its space all alone, the nearest car several spaces away. "It just wouldn't start. The auto club was snowed under so it will have to wait until tomorrow. Thanks for coming."
"No problem." His tone was light but Don started to frown.
Charlie carried on. "This is Iyaz. He's a student from Turkey, he has to fly home tomorrow and wanted to catch up. . ."
Don's attention had been drawn to the student whilst Charlie spoke. The student was in his late twenties or early thirties, slender like Charlie and the hair was longish and jet black. The tanned skin and largish nose completed the picture. Charlie's voice faded from his awareness as Don stiffened, realising where he'd seen the face before.
The other man noticed Don's reaction and shook his head in warning. Then, in a gesture unseen by the still chatting math professor, he raised his fingers to point at his eyes and then circled one finger around pointing vertically. It was a signal that Don himself had often used meaning: 'look around'. Don flicked his gaze around the immediate area, again seeing the group of mid-eastern men. He bitterly recalled his earlier thought about conducting a threat assessment. His instincts had been dead on and he'd ignored them.
The men were now watching his SUV with interest. Don saw that the one who'd been leaning next to a tree a short distance away was moving into position crouched at the rear side of Charlie's car, pulling a dark object out of a long bag. Don recognised the unmistakeable shape of a shoulder mounted rocket launcher. His SUV, with him in it, would make a ridiculously easy target from such a short distance. The resultant explosion would also kill Charlie and the 'student'. Not the first time someone had martyred themselves for their cause. The gun riding on Don's hip didn't even factor into the equation. Don sat perfectly still in his seat, only turning his head as he returned his gaze to the man's eyes. Charlie was still speaking but Don hadn't heard a word.
"Professor?" The man interrupted, his accented voice soft. "I think you left your cell phone upstairs in your office."
"Huh?" Charlie started patting at his pockets. When he was deep in math world he became an almost classic absent minded professor, never as bad as Larry though. "Oh, yeah. Hang on Don." Charlie turned and headed back to his building oblivious to his brother's frozen posture.
Don opened his mouth to say something but the other man shook his head and Don remained silent, watching his younger brother walk off.
"So, FBI Special Agent Eppes. You recognise me." The man said once Charlie was out of earshot.
"Yes." Don agreed. "Whatever you want with me is between us. Leave my brother out of this."
"He is safe."
Don watched a little longer as Charlie went inside the building, followed a few moments later by the two men who'd been waiting on the bench seat.
"They will not harm him." Zuheen insisted.
"What do you want?" Don noticed movement to his right as another man moved in to stand near the passenger side of his SUV.
"I wish to speak with you."
"About?" Don asked coldly. This was the man who had murdered hundreds of people around the world. Who had tried to murder him.
Zuheen turned to look back at the doors to the math building. "Your brother, he is a good man."
"Yes, he is."
"I am a fan of his, you know."
Don was confused. "What?"
"I was in his lecture the other day when the government men took him away. It was fascinating and I wanted to hear more about it before I left." The terrorist turned back.
"You've been in his lectures?"
"Unfortunately I have only caught the one."
"What do you want with me?" Charlie's car breaking down was obviously no accident. This meeting had been planned.
"You were targeted in my name. Your brother was part of that. I was distressed when I realised who you were."
"You shot at me."
"We had no choice."
"There is always a choice." Funny how some phrases repeated themselves.
"Perhaps." The terrorist admitted. "I am relieved that we missed."
"Why?" Don asked. "How many have you killed, that one more would cause you any concern?"
"An unpleasant side effect of my work."
"That is the intent of your 'work'." Don argued back, what terrorist didn't aim to kill?
Zuheen looked around at his men, the closest a few yards away on the opposite side of the SUV. His voice became quieter, private. "The intent of my work is the explosions. I like explosions. I like the challenge of getting around all the security precautions. The rest is up to them." He sounded like a kid discussing a hobby.
"Huh?" Why was the man explaining himself? To him?
"Explosives cost money, I need backers." Zuheen shrugged. "They pay, I deliver."
Don stared at the man. Was he saying he didn't believe in his own rhetoric? That he was using the other terrorists so that he could play with explosives? He then saw the gleam of madness in the terrorist's eyes. He had a sudden flash of insight, the man was clearly very intelligent and had to be deeply interested in math otherwise he wouldn't be a fan of Charlie's. Perhaps he really was a student somewhere. But he was also certifiably mad, getting off on blowing things up. Intelligence and mania, a very dangerous combination.
"Okay." Don said slowly as one would to a crazy man.
Zuheen cocked his head and smiled as he looked at the FBI agent. "You understand now."
"Yes." No, not really.
"I am pleased. Here." Zuheen pulled something from his pocket and Don couldn't help but flinch. The man shook his head and smiled. "Just your brother's phone." He held the device out.
The terrorist had obviously lifted the phone from Charlie to set up this little private tête-à-tête. Don didn't make any move to take it. It wasn't that he didn't trust Zuheen, he did. He trusted that the phone was now most probably a bomb.
"I have not tampered with it, your brother will need it back." The terrorist explained. "He'll be in the car with you and I don't want to harm him. As I said, I admire his work. Take it."
Don slowly raised his left hand and gingerly took the phone. "You are letting us go?" It seemed as though he might survive this, that Charlie might survive this.
"I only wanted to talk."
"What about what your 'backers' want?" Don jerked his chin at the man beside Charlie's car.
"What do they care about one FBI agent and a math professor?" The man reasoned. "Besides, I ask for a favour and they grant me one. I wanted to meet you both."
Definitely insane. Certifiably, absolutely, straight jacket and rubber-room insane.
"What now?" Don asked. He again looked around to see the terrorist's men holding in the same positions. Zuheen held up his hand, 'wait'. He pulled a second cell phone from his pocket and again Don couldn't help but tense up. Even Ryder had used a cell phone as a detonator.
The terrorist saw Don's expression. "I'm calling my friends to bring your brother back down." There followed some quiet Arabic as he made his call.
A couple of minutes later a puzzled Charlie came back out from the building, speaking with one man as the other followed. The two men held back as Charlie reached Zuheen.
"I am sorry professor, I think I picked up your phone by mistake." Zuheen said. "I've given it to your brother here."
"Get in the car, Charlie." Don instructed, his voice sharp.
Don repeated himself as Zuheen nodded assent. Charlie did as he was told, a confused look on his face. "We're done?" Don said to the terrorist as Charlie pulled his door closed.
"It was my honour to have met you Professor Eppes." Zuheen said ignoring Don and leaning partway into the driver's window. "Perhaps we will meet again."
Don held back his growl, now was not the time to antagonise him. The man with the rocket launcher was still in place, but had ducked back slightly so Charlie probably hadn't realised he was there. The other man that had been at the passenger side of his SUV had moved away to stand a short distance behind them but was still visible in the rearview mirror. They were not safe yet.
"I would like that, Iyaz. Next time you are in the US, look me up." Charlie said pleasantly, not understanding why his brother was suddenly being so rude.
Zuheen stepped away, moving his hand in a dismissive gesture visible only to Don. They could go. Don started up the SUV and drove away cautiously, not too fast, not too slow either, his attention engaged in watching as many of the terrorists as he could see. As they neared the main road Don realised that he was still holding Charlie's cell phone. He tossed it out the window onto the grass verge.
"Hey!" Charlie protested. "My cell!"
"That was Zuheen." Don told his younger brother bluntly. At Charlie's shocked expression he added: "Your phone was probably a bomb."
"Iyaz? You mean he was-?"
Don nodded sharply as he peeled out into the traffic, speed was now of the essence. He pulled his cell off his belt and dialled in to control.
"But he knew math!" Charlie insisted after Don had called it in. "He was interested in Loop Quantum Gravity Theory."
"So?" Don said, not having a clue what that might be. But that was hardly the point. "Charlie, have you ever thought what you might be capable of doing if you weren't on the side of the angels?"
Charlie still stared at him, unconvinced, as Don continued accelerating weaving through the slower moving traffic. Don finally saw what he was looking for, the sports field near CalSci, often used by CalSci students. He pulled off the road and crashed through the light chain across the vehicle entrance. He stopped in the middle of the field, away from all the structures. He left the keys in the ignition and the engine running, he was taking no chances that the SUV had been interfered with whilst his attention was distracted with Zuheen.
"Charlie, get out."
"What are you doing?" Charlie clearly thought his brother was a few propositions short of a theorem.
"Come on Charlie!" Don raced around the passenger side and all but hauled his younger brother out of the vehicle and started dragging him away. "There might be a bomb on the car."
Half an hour later the brothers were sitting in the bottom row of a grandstand watching as the LAPD bomb squad finished going over the SUV. They'd found nothing as the sergeant just reported. "Your brother's cell is also clear. The team are going over his office now."
"Thanks, Sergeant." Don told the man.
"Man, you do lead an exciting life." Colby said by way of greeting as he arrived, tailed by David and Megan.
"I could do with a break." Don said ruefully. He was supposed to be on leave as it was.
"Sorry, but Merrick and Barnathan want your report. Charlie too." Megan passed on. "We're to make sure you get back safely."
"Yeah." Don stood noting that his team had arrived in one of the armoured SUV's. They were probably loaded for bear. There was no need, the terrorist was gone. He turned towards his own SUV, still sitting in the middle of the field and saw another agent get into it. "C'mon Chuck, let's get this done."
Although Charlie obediently rose and followed him to the armoured SUV Don saw that he was too deep in thought to react to the name 'Chuck'. He figured that even after three years of exposure to his work Charlie still had a naiveté where it came to people. As Charlie had said back in the car, the terrorist was into math therefore he couldn't be a terrorist.
But Don had to agree to a certain extent. It was like the terrorist was two men, the extremist and the mild mannered math student. The extremist Zuheen was a fiction made up by his backers, the rhetoric written for him. Iyaz was just a brilliant lunatic, happy blowing things up. The insight was critical, the profilers were going to have some very busy days ahead as they tried to come to terms with the new intel.
Don sat in the back seat with Charlie and David as Megan drove them out of the sports field with Colby in the front passenger seat. Another few hours at the office and then he was getting the hell out of Dodge. The lid was still on his simmering thoughts, but only just. He decided he was going to spend the week somewhere else, alone on a mountain sounded good, winter or no winter. He would leave tonight, leaving behind the FBI special agent persona and become Don Eppes, hiker. He was going to switch his cell phone off as well. The decision made a weight lifted from him and he already felt better.
A/N: Finally, it is over. I really enjoyed writing this story and, from the reviews, you have enjoyed reading it. Thank-you.
Next story coming up very soon…