Set the Fire

Set the Fire

Author: Lisa Paris

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

Part One

'I'm miles from where you are,

I'm laying down on the cold ground,

And I – I pray that something picks me up,

And sets me down in your warm arms . . .'

'Set the Fire to the Third Bar' Snow Patrol with Martha Wainwright


Carmine Redondo picked up the file and leafed through the snapshots again. His anger was almost palpable to anyone who knew him well. He'd spent a lot of time on this particular predicament and had come to a final decision. He stared with hard eyes at the man in the photograph. The man who was going to pay. No one crossed him and got away with it. No one hurt him like this man had. There was a price to be forfeited - a reckoning. Eppes would soon realise this to his cost.

"My father always told me to keep things simple. There's no need to complicate matters. There's only one problem here, gentlemen, I want you to fix it for me."

The two men sitting opposite glanced at each other. The taller of them spoke. "It would be easier to take out the brother – or even the old man. Neither of them will be on the look-out. Neither of them will be armed."

For a moment, there was silence. You could have cut the air with a knife. The tall man, Miller, knew he'd made a mistake before Redondo exploded in anger. "What the fuck do I pay you for? Haven't you learned anything?" He threw one of the black and white photo's across the desk at them, and the others scattered like leaves over the floor. "All these months you been watching Eppes and you ain't worked out the obvious thing?"

"He's good." Miller hastily agreed with him. "Sharp - at the top of his game. He's gonna be on the lookout for trouble, especially considering the timing. That's why I thought baby brother would be easier to use as leverage. He ain't gonna put up much of a fight and the two of them are pretty damned close."

"Exactly." Redondo reached for the tumbler of scotch at his side. He spoke patiently, as if explaining something to a child. "Right now, Eppes is gonna give evidence against me because it's his duty. His job as a good little suit. I know what kind of man he is. I've seen his type before. He's a by the book, straight-laced, straight-shooting Fed, but that changes, if we target his family. You hurt the old man or the math professor, and it makes things personal then." He took a large swallow of the scotch and scowled. "You think Eppes won't get even? I don't want him on some kind of vendetta. He'll still testify against me. He'd make it his life's work to bury me."

"We'd never get him off our backs, no matter what the jury decide. The Feds'll put the heat on us and choke-up our operation." The third man spoke for the first time, nodding his head in agreement. "Carmine's right about this one. We do it the old fashioned way. A simple hit. No witnesses. Let him vanish off the earth without a trace."

"Hire some outsiders to do it. Lomax, I'll leave that up to you. Careful who you choose to pull the trigger, I don't want them linked back to us. Take him out to the usual place and put a bullet in his head. You'll need to contact the works guy in order to get rid of the evidence. " Redondo looked at his partners with satisfaction. "The Feds and the DA can think what they like – they can't touch us without any proof. If Eppes doesn't testify, they got nothing, even with his deposition. Gentlemen, we'll be home free. The DA'll be forced to drop the charges and the case will be thrown outta court."

"It's good as done." Lomax got to his feet. "I already got someone in mind for the job - two small-timers, they done stuff for me before. Once it's over and done with, they're expendable. I'll need to give them his picture. I'll get onto it right away."

Redondo picked the photograph and stared at it again. A small frown puckered his forehead as he studied the celluloid image. He didn't much like being duped, but this man had managed to fool him. Usually, he could smell an undercover Fed a mile away – but Eppes still pulled the wool over his eyes. Well, it was time to face the reckoning.

The bastard was so gonna pay.

He knew a lot about the man in the photograph now. He had made it his personal mission. His life, his family, his favourite bottled beer – the brand of aftershave he wore. Even the research had been hard for him. Talk about rubbing salt in a wound. If ever a man was his nemesis - it was Special Agent Don Eppes. It wasn't just about ability, although Eppes had been clever enough. To gain access to their operation spoke volumes, it was more a question of trust.

Oh, yeah, Eppes had impressed him in lots of ways.

In too many personal ways.

The insolence, the focus, the hard, determined streak. Oh, yeah, Eppes had impressed him all right. In retrospect, he should have suspected something - should have known Eppes was working the inside. But by then, he had already fallen for the man. Fallen. Hook, line and sinker.

Redondo exhaled, slowly. His hand trembled against the glass of the tumbler. It was a crying shame he couldn't take care of this one himself. Too bad he couldn't pull the trigger. Nothing would give him greater pleasure than to personally teach Eppes a lesson. It was tempting, so tempting to take the risk, to do it for self-gratification. He closed his eyes for a second and pictured the gun in his hand.

"There's one more thing I want you to do for me," his voice was cold and dry like winter leaves. "Whoever you get to do it - I want them to tell Eppes why. The bullet comes courtesy of Carmine Redondo. I want the bastard to die knowing that."

Present Time . . .

First of all, he was conscious of the quiet. Of the cold, and the unearthly silence. He lay still for a few minutes longer, too weak and confused to move. 'Where was he? What the fuck had happened to him?' He wasn't clearly aware of anything.

Something was sticking his eyes together – something hard and encrusted. He forced himself to rub at them shakily and smelled the coppery tang of blood. Blood. It was on his hands and in his eyes; his hair was spiky and stiff with it. His skin felt taut and cracked with the stuff when he tried to move his head.

There was sky above him – which explained the cold – a wide, expanse of black sky. It was studded and pin-pricked with millions of stars which winked impassively down at him. For a while, he must have drifted off again, back into a world of shadowy dreams. There was something . . . someplace he had to go.

Someone was waiting for him.

He levered a hand beneath his body and tried to push himself up. The stars swung around him like a fairground ride as he fell back in blinding agony.

'Not good. This was so not good. What the hell was going on?'

He lay there and tried to remember, but the throb in his head was overpowering. It rose and fell like the swell of the tide and encompassed every fibre of his being. He was shivering uncontrollably now.

'Cold – so cold - and in pain.'

It felt like someone had driven a red-hot spike down through the top of his skull. Movement was so not a good idea, but he really didn't want to stay here. He was obviously somewhere out in the open. Dumped in the desert, perhaps?

There was gravel and sand beneath his cheek, and a rock in the small of his back. He supposed he should roll away from it, but there was no energy left in his limbs. He must have hazed in and out for a while, floating in-between pain and awareness. But slowly - infinitely slowly - a kind of clarity returned. A thread of memory and recollection . . . it didn't make him feel any better . . .