Disclaimer: I do not own Numb3rs or any characters associated with it.
I also do not earn nor solicit any money or payment in connection with this story.
I do, however, own any misspelling, incorrect grammar, continuity problems or any other mistakes in this work of fiction.
Peter Shaw, Martin Olsen, four unnamed police officers, and the giant are mine.
An Eppes Family Portrait
People still want to see and to remember.
They want time to stand still in some instances or to be recalled in every detail.
They want to remember the good and the beautiful,
The charming and the delightful, the lovable and the kindly.
Loved ones grow up, leave. Parents grow old and forget.
At times all that is left is a picture and a memory.
Phillip Stewart Charis
Master Photographer, Peter Shaw, watched the two men sitting in the plush reception room of his luxurious downtown LA photography studio. Well, sitting didn't quite describe what they were doing. The younger man tapped his foot nervously in a continuous pattern on the floor and somehow managed to bite his nails and look at his watch at the same time. He glanced at the front door, his dark expressive eyes searching the street in front of the studio with such intensity, Peter felt compelled to look also. But the entrance remained empty and the young curly haired man ducked his head down and attacked his nails again.
The much older man sighed heavily for the third time in less than two minutes. He shifted in the overstuffed chair, his feet crossing and uncrossing, then crossing again in front of him. He looked up at Peter and smiled sheepishly. Peter returned his smile, honestly feeling sorry for the poor guy.
What were the odds that this could be happening again?
Peter owned and operated a highly successful studio in one of the most affluent sections of Los Angeles. His reputation as one of the best portrait photographer in the nation was due in some part, to what he did before the camera was even turned on.
He believed the portrait photographer has always been faced with the same dilemma as the Renaissance artists of centuries past. No portrait, or work of art, can show the inner soul, or true personality of the subject. There are too many facets, too many variables in every human being, that it is nearly impossible to express them all in a single photograph. But Peter also believed the public wanted, not only flattering likenesses of themselves, they wanted honest ones. So Peter talked with them about their likes and dislikes, what was important to them, what they wanted the portrait to say about them, and what they wanted people to see when they viewed the portrait above a fireplace.
He had first met Alan Eppes, the distressed older gentleman waiting impatiently in his reception room, last January, when he came into the studio to schedule an appointment for a portrait sitting with his two sons.
The conversation with the older man had been interesting. He was a retiree from city planning, but had started a second career with a friend, and was living a full active life. Widowed nearly three and a half years ago, Alan told him he still lived in the family home that now belonged to his youngest son, Charlie.
"And my oldest son, Don," Alan spoke animately, leaving no doubt talking about his sons was his favorite subject. "did I tell you he is an FBI agent? Boy, his mother and I sure didn't see that one coming. We were shocked. I worry about him a lot, of course, but he is very good at what he does."
As Alan went on, Peter had taken mental notes. "And Charlie, well Charlie is. . . well, he's a lot of things." Peter noticed Alan's eyes were softer when he spoke of his youngest. "But I think Charlie is happiest when he is just a mathematician."
He told Peter how his late wife, Margaret, had displayed family pictures everywhere she could. They were wonderful, candid shots of their family that Alan and his sons treasure. The framed images were a reminder of days and loved ones now gone.
Peter Shaw had become a good judge of character during his years as portrait photographer. This
"pre-session" with his clients allowed him to see past the outer shell most people construct around themselves. He saw that Alan Eppes was an honest, friendly, hardworking man who liked family bar-b-q's in the backyard and wanted grandchildren. He was proud of his sons and the men they had become. He wanted a special memory of them; a moment recorded in this time, before their lives went the inevitable separate ways.
Alan Eppes wanted a family portrait.
Peter Shaw had met the two Eppes' sons, last December, when they came in to buy a gift certificate for a photography sitting as a Christmas gift for Alan. They burst through the door just before closing on the Wednesday before Christmas. In fact, Peter's receptionist, Heather, had already left, and Peter
greeted them himself.
He remembered them because their easy bantering with each other had reminded Peter he had not spoken to either of his brothers for a while.
"I don't know why I had to take off work to do this." Don initiated the teasing. "We agreed on what we wanted to get for Dad. You could have taken care of it yourself."
"And if I did all the work, then it wouldn't be from both of us, would it? " Charlie shot back.
"Yea, Chuck, but I was busy. I have important stuff to do." Don's eyes had twinkled as he baited his younger brother.
Charlie, filling out the paperwork for the gift, looked up, glared at Don, and stuck his tongue out.
Peter had photographed many of the celebrities and wealthy inhabitants of the LA region, and in an effort to maintain a certain clientèle, he kept abreast of who was the current "famous and almost famous". He knew who Charles Eppes was. Not just a mathematician, but a genius, a child prodigy, the youngest tenured professor in the state, and one of the top names of desired guests at fund raisers. But, standing there nine months ago in his studio, Peter had also seen, that sometimes Charlie Eppes was just a little brother.
At 44 years old, and having two younger brothers himself, Peter could identify more easily with Don.
He had noticed the older brother was easy going, more private and understated than his sibling. He also had control issues; an often necessary trait for an older brother's survival.
After squabbling a little over how to pay the $500 sitting fee, Charlie wrote a check for his half and Don put his $250 on his credit card. They both shook hands with Peter, wishing him a Merry Christmas and left.
As Peter closed the studio up for the evening, he thought maybe he would go home, fix a little something to eat, and call his brothers. Maybe they could get together for a round of golf tomorrow.
Alan had been absolutely delighted with the gift. Shaw's was one of the most prestigious studios on the west coast. He scolded his sons for spending that much on him, but was secretly pleased that they had picked up on all the hints he had been leaving. He had gone in himself, one day early in January, to schedule an appointment. After a pleasant conversation with Peter Shaw himself, and checking both their schedules, they decided on the afternoon of January 24th.
He had badgered Don and Charlie to mark and remember the date. They endured an unbelievable session at Charlie's house the weekend before the 24th when Alan made them coordinate their clothing.
He wanted everything to be perfect. Don had grumbled loudly as his father made him try four different neckties before he was finally satisfied that the blue stripes on one were the exact same shade as Charlie's solid blue tie. Despite the ordeal, Don left later for his apartment with a twinkle in his eyes, smiling and shooting an amused glance to his brother.
At noon on the 24th, Don had called Alan and told him he wouldn't be able to make it. A six year old girl had been kidnapped that morning. As in all child abductions, time was of the essence. Don and his team would not leave until she was found. "Of course, Donnie. Of course. I'll just call and reschedule. No problem. Good luck, son."
Shaw's calendar was full for the rest of the month. They agreed on February 9th, a late Friday afternoon appointment. Don actually arrived early, Alan a few minutes later. Charlie never showed up. They couldn't reach him at his office at CalSci or on his cell phone. Later, at home that night, he tried to explain to a very peeved Alan, and a slightly amused Don, that a vising lecturer from Oxford had invited him to participate in a discussion on the Millennium Problems and the worldwide catastrophic repercussions of a solution. He had been so excited and had gotten so involved, he had totally lost track of time. When he finally checked his voice messages and returned their frantic calls, it was too late.
Alan grumbled something about responsibilities and rescheduled for March 21st.
On Tuesday, March 19th, Don and his team finally caught a break in a series of robber/homicides they had been working on for two weeks. They got a tip that their suspect was hiding out in a small house east of the city. The raid was a success, but the suspect did not go down easily. In fact, he went down swinging and managed to land a solid punch to Don's face, sending the senior agent crashing to the floor.
Don felt badly about it, but Alan really didn't want his eldest son smiling from the background of a family portrait with a swollen, black eye.
Alan rescheduled for April 12th.
On April 11th Alan received a mysterious phone call from Charlie. He would be out of town for a few days. Don't worry. It was important- but he couldn't say anything else. It was classified. Sorry about the photography thing. Maybe we can reschedule again. When Alan told Don about the call, the agent sighed and mumbled something very unflattering about the damn NSA.
Alan was embarrassed, but called Shaw's and rescheduled for May 8th.
Special Agent Don Eppes of the FBI visibly cringed, and his team members, who all knew Alan Eppes, looked at him with sympathy, when he had to tell his father that Homeland Security had arranged for a week of tactical training on preparedness in terrorists attacks the entire second week of May.
Alan said nothing and rescheduled for June 21st.
When Charlie came home from CalSci on Monday, June 18th, he was complaining of a headache and mild sore throat. By Wed, it had escalated into a full fledge case of the flu. The morning of the 21st, Alan barely had time to call the studio between his son's bouts of vomiting.
He grabbed the bucket and rescheduled for July 16th.
During the first two weeks of July, a serial bomber had detonated three bombs in Los Angeles county. Five people had been killed and dozens injured. Don called Charlie in, hoping he could pinpoint the next likely target. Hating himself for it, Don pressured his brother for fast results. Charlie worked day and night, creating an algorithm using data from the three previous bombings. At 2:30pm, on the afternoon of July 16th, when they were scheduled to be at Shaw's studio, Charlie was feeding information to Don via his cell phone from the safety of the FBI bullpen, as the agent and his team rushed to the site Charlie predicted would be the next bombing; Franklin Elementary School. The school was evacuated, the bomb diffused, and the suspect captured.
And Alan, smiling with pride, rescheduled for August 27th.
This afternoon at 4pm.
Charlie sat next to him now, in the studio's reception room, dressed smartly in the navy suit Alan had selected for him. He had even talked his son, who was feeling very guilty about February's, March's and June's appointments, into going to the barbers with him, and allowing ½ inch of his hair to be trimmed.
But the family Eppes was still missing one member.
Donnie would not do this to me again. Alan sighed deeply, once more.
Charlie looked at his father, and for just an instant, Peter recognized the little brother, afraid his big brother was in trouble again. "He'll be here, Dad." Charlie murmured, his eyes cast downward. "It's only a quarter after 4. Give him a few more minutes."
Peter Shaw spoke up."I'm free for the rest of the day, Alan. I, uh, didn't schedule anything after your appointment. We're going to get this done for you today."
Alan smiled at him gratefully.
Just then, the front door opened and Don rushed in, a bit disheveled, but wearing his coordinating suit and tie, smiling easily at his father and brother.
"Hey, Dad. Sorry I'm late."
Quickly, Alan stood. He smiled as he reached out and touched his son's arm. "That's okay, Donnie. I'm just glad you're here."
Charlie grinned, relieved, and joined Alan and Don. He looked to Peter. "Okay, let's do this."
Peter Shaw had selected an Old Masters canvas background of dark browns and blues, something he felt was dignified enough for Alan and informal enough for Don. The colors swirled together in what looked like random brush strokes, but Peter could see immediately that Charlie appreciated the actual complex pattern that had been utilized.
He wanted to keep it simple, to let the three men, each with strong, vibrant characters dominate the portrait, so the only prop he used was a high back brown leather chair, where he placed Alan. He turned Alan slightly to the left, then motioned to Don that he should step in behind his father, on his right, with just a small part of his body actually behind the chair. He turned the agents shoulders slightly towards the center of the background. As he helped Don adjust the lapels on his jacket, his hand suddenly brushed against the leather holster underneath. The agent usually wore his gun on his hip, but thought it would be less conspicuous beneath his jacket for the portrait. Peter paused, and Don looked directly at him, raising one eyebrow in challenge.
Don Eppes wasn't the first armed subject Peter Shaw had photographed. Sometimes, his wealthy and anomalous clients even wanted to pose holding their weapons in front of them, in clear view. He knew Don was a federal agent and he had no problem with him wearing a concealed weapon. Peter was a professional. He could handle it.
"What?"Alan had noticed that Peter was still and he turned in his chair to see the two men facing off. He saw the photographer's hand on Don's jacket and knew immediately what had transpired.
"Donnie! Take the gun off, for heaven sake. This is not the place for it."
Don shook his head. "No can do, Pop. I'm still on duty."
Peter Shaw gave one last brush to the jacket lapel and stepped back. "Don't worry, Alan. I'll turn him so it won't show. No one will every know it's there."
"I will." Alan grumbled under his breath, then decided it wasn't worth the fight. He was just happy all three of them were there. He turned around again, corrected his posture, and tried to relax.
Peter had Don place his right hand on Alan's shoulder, with his left hand resting casually on the back of the chair. The position of Don's hand on the high chair-back effectively hid the bulge in his jacket.
Charlie stood on Alan's left, with his hands placed similarly to his brothers, contemplating the imagery of the inverted triangle their three heads created. It would look nice in the portrait, he thought.
Peter performed a light meter reading, then double checked his lights. As he adjusted the shutter speed on his Nikon camera, he heard Don speak, quietly, from behind his father.
"Hey, Chuck, make sure your hair doesn't get in your eyes." He started the fun.
"What are you talking about? I got it cut."
"Yeah, I can tell."
"Hey," Charlie retorted. "At least I have hair."
"Boys." Alan said sharply. "Outside manners. Behave yourselves."
Peter smiled at the banter, again, and Don chucked, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
His camera ready, Peter stepped back, looking at the Eppes. He eyed them with a critical, professional gaze, checking height ratios, posture and details. Ready to begin, he reached for the small camera remote.
Not all photographers used a remote. Some of them prefer the control of hand holding the camera and pushing the shutter button themselves. Peter enjoyed the flexibility the remote offered. With the camera secured on a tripod, he could move away from it, drawing his subject's eyes where he wanted them without giving too many directions, something he tried to avoid with more than one subject in the picture.
During the last few minutes, as Peter had been working, a sound outside the studio had increased in volume and as he reached for the remote, the four of them recognized the discernible sound of police sirens. They sounded like they were right outside the studio. Peter paused and glanced apprehensively in the direction of the reception room and front door.
Alan tensed slightly, but Don squeezed his shoulder. "It's alright, Dad. LAPD. They got it." Don was still, as he had said, on duty, and knew he would have been called if this was an FBI pursuit. Since his cell phone hadn't gone off, he felt safe in assuming it remained a police matter. There were protocols he had to follow. The bureau couldn't work on a case until the local authorities asked them to. The sirens outside could be for anything from a traffic stop to a homicide. But, for the time being, it was still a police matter.
The sudden sound of angry shouts, then gunfire, changed all that, as a huge man burst into the studio area, brandishing a large revolver. Everyone froze. The man was a giant, easily 6 ½ to 7 feet tall, but it wasn't his height that gave people that impression. It was the immense bulk of his shoulders, chest and arms that literally dwarfed anyone close to him.
Don Eppes took one look at the gunman and knew it wasn't just the size of the man, or the weapon he held, that posed the danger to the studio's occupants. His eyes were nearly black, the pupils dilated, and they flicked around the room with frenzied glances. The man was clearly under the influence of some kind of drug or narcotic. He was breathing heavily, as though he had been running, and the gun in his hand moved around in an erratic, dangerous manner.
Don moved quickly, jumping toward his father, and pushed Alan forward, out of the chair and onto the floor. "Dad, get down!" he yelled. His gun already out of his holster, Don stood up, pointing the weapon at the behemoth and shouted; "FBI! FREEZE!"
Charlie had also moved out from behind the chair, reacting instinctively, and stood between Alan and the gunman. Even as he heard his brother's voice, Charlie heard more shouts from the doorway, and two LAPD officers charged into the room, weapons drawn. Everyone was shouting at once; Don repeating his orders; the LAPD officers demanding the giant drop his weapon; and the gunman, himself, yelling at everyone to back off.
The assailant's face was masked in fear and confusion. The last thing he had expected when he ran into the photography studio was to be challenged by a federal agent. He had only run in here because the police were closing in on him. His hopes for a quick escape out the back door had been dashed by the presence of the agent, and he looked around the room for another avenue of escape. He saw his opportunity when Charlie moved toward Alan. The giant reached out swiftly with one powerful arm and pulled Charlie towards him. He drew the startled professor forward, but Charlie reacted instinctively again and resisted. His struggles were futile against the size of his attacker, and he quickly decided his only recourse was to inflict as much damage as he could. Grabbing the man's beefy, bare arm, he sank his teeth into the skin as hard as he could. The gunman howled with fury, sounding like a wounded grizzly bear. He wrapped his muscled and now bloody arm quickly around Charlie and lifted the struggling, smaller man completely off his feet and pulled him in tight against his massive chest. With a loud curse, he slammed the butt of his gun into Charlie's head. The mathematician immediately went limp, dazed, his head drooping forward.
Peter jumped back in alarm, watching in horrified fascination. A strangled cry of anguish from the floor drew his attention away. Alan Eppes was also looking at the two figures, his eyes wide with terror at the sight of his youngest son and what had just happened.
Don Eppes, however, stood firm and resolute, his gun hand steady, the weapon still trained on the giant. The agent's lips became a hard thin line as he watched his brother being assaulted and he fought to control his breathing. He knew none of them stood a chance if he couldn't remain calm. He was unable to get a clear shot with Charlie in the way, and he moved around Alan now, standing between his father and the gunman.
When he had announced himself as a federal agent the two police officers held back, holding their positions but keeping the crazed attacker in their sights. Now, they too, tried to move slowly into the room, looking for a better position.
The man saw them moving and backed away, pointing his weapon alternately at the police, then at Don again. "STAY BACK!" he screamed, an edge of panic in his voice.
Don noticed Charlie was slowly regaining his senses, moving slightly in the gunman's hold. The younger man raised his head against the chest behind him and Don's eyes narrowed in anger at the sight of the open gash on his brother's forehead. It was bleeding and several long paths of the bright red liquid had already covered the right side of his face in a gruesome pattern. Charlie looked around, shaking off the haze.
The gunman felt his movements, and in a move that drew another gasp from Alan, brought the gun around and shoved it roughly into Charlie's ribcage.
At the painful jab to his side, Charlie stiffened and winced, still struggling to collect his thoughts. As the situation became clear, his eyes widened, and instinctively he looked for Don. When he saw his brother standing firm, his gun aimed at the giant behind him, Charlie relaxed. He had seen Don work hostage situations before. He knew Don would get him out of this.
But even as he thought that, Charlie felt the body behind him tremble with fury, and he knew if something didn't happen soon, this situation would not end peacefully.
Don was thinking the same thing. His options, however, had been drastically reduced when the huge coward decided to use his little brother as a human shield. Anytime a civilian is used as a hostage, extreme tactics are required. The safety of the hostage is the primary concern, of course, and this case was no different. Except the hostage was Charlie. And that made it personal as well. If this giant somehow managed to escape with Charlie in tow, Don knew the best he and Alan could hope for would be the recovery of his brother's body. It was a closure too many victims' families would never have.
There was no way this dirt ball was leaving this building with Charlie.
But Don also had Alan and Peter Shaw to consider. A desperate last minute gun battle, or even a precisely aimed head shot at the suspect, causing muscle spasms and an unintended discharge of the gun, could send a stray bullet their way.
Don had to think of something fast.
He needed a distraction.
Charlie's mind, sluggish and not completely fog free yet, was nevertheless racing. He knew Don needed something to distract the gunman's attention, and give him a chance to disarm him. His thoughts naturally went to numbers and equations first. Then, as the fog lifted, he focused on what they needed. His frenzied thoughts filled his head and he fought to get them inside.
Research was being conducted regarding specific methods of distraction and Dr. Roy Baumeister, a sociologist, had tested subject's willpower against various forms of distractions and temptations. Distraction itself was simply the diverting of the attention of an individual from the chosen object of attention (in this case, me) onto the source of distraction. It could be achieved by any number of methods wherein the distraction, because of it's value or importance, is greater than the object of attention (again, that would be me). Divided attention could also be defined as distraction in situations requiring full attention on a single subject; such as sports, academic test, performances, or in this case, a jumbo sized gun-wielding maniac trying to escape authorities.
Don and Charlie both knew what was needed. It was Charlie, who, because of his position, saw the obvious source of distraction they needed. And there was only one person who could provide them with it.
Peter Shaw had never been so scared in his life.
He knew what was taking place in the middle of his studio was an extremely volatile situation that could erupt at any second.
The emotion in the room had become a living entity. It engulfed them like a menacing fog bank, covering the six men like a heavy blanket. The tension was as tight as the proverbial rubber band and it seemed everyone was waiting for someone else to make the first move.
As insane as it sounded, Peter looked first to Don Eppes, then the LAPD officers, watching for one of them to signal the other, to let them know what they planned to do. That was how it happened in the movies, wasn't it? "Cover me, I'm going in." or "I'll take the big guy, you get the hostage out of here."
When it happened, when Peter saw the signal, he was dumbfounded. Because it was the last thing he expected. With all the trained professionals in the room, the signal came from the least likely source; one terrified, bloody math professor. And it was aimed directly at him.
As he locked gazes with Charlie Eppes, Peter felt his stomach lurch at the amount of pain and fear he saw in the mathematician's eyes. But there was something else there, too. Trust. Confidence. Faith.
Peter was sure of it. He had seen the way Charlie had looked at his brother. The conviction of the faith he had in his brother's ability emanated from the younger man so strongly, Peter perceived it as a shield, an armor no single bullet could penetrate.
Charlie looked pointedly at the camera remote in Peter's hand, then flicked his eyes quickly to the powerful light attached to a light stand, aimed directly at the background; and now at him and Jumbo, as well.
Peter's own eyes widened as he understood what Charlie was telling him. He nodded, an imperceptible movement, and Charlie blinked his eyes in acknowledgment.
Don never took his eyes from the gunman, but his finely honed senses were tingling, and he tensed, ready for anything. He and the policemen all knew one wrong move could be disastrous. Years of experience had taught Don he had to take control of the situation. He had to be the one calling the shots.
But, it didn't help that his brother was looking at him with those damn eyes filled with trust. What if he did something wrong? What if he wasn't quick enough or smart enough? Don never second guessed himself, and he knew he didn't have that luxury now. Just stop looking at me like that, Charlie.
The giant, clearly agitated, began to move away from the door and the two policemen, his eyes on a door on the other side of the room. It was Peter's office. No exit. But the man was too far gone for rational thought. All he saw was a way out.
The gun was still pressed into Charlie's ribs as they began to move in between the leather chair and the backdrop. Don couldn't let him get behind the chair. He couldn't let the gunman put any barriers between them. He took a step forward aggressively; waving his weapon slightly, to be sure Jumbo hadn't forgotten it was there. It worked. The giant stopped, uncertainty etched visibly on his face. He was breathing heavily and was clearly confused. Whatever he was on was wearing off quickly.
Don spoke in the soft, non threatening voice he used when dealing with irrational suspects.
"Calm down, now. Let's all just calm down. We can all walk out of here today, man. No one else needs to get hurt."
Jumbo shook his head and snarled, "'s too late for that, fed."
Shit. It occurred to Don he didn't know why LAPD was after this guy in the first place. His gut was telling him it wasn't good. He still had to try. Straining to keep his voice soft, he repeated."Just put your weapon down. We can still work this out. You need to let him go and put your weapon down."
The only response Don received was a gasp from his brother as Jumbo tightened his vise-like grip around Charlie's chest.
Okay, cute and cuddly wasn't going to work with this creep. Time to get serious.
"Drop. Your. Weapon." Don's voice had changed; had become hard, more forceful. "Drop it now, man. The only way your leaving this room is in cuffs or a body bag. It's your choice, freak."
The effects of whatever choice of drugs he was on had diminished enough that he knew Don meant what he said. The agent's eyes were cold, determined. He had been unmovable from the moment this started and he was giving no indication that he would yield now.
Faced with the truth of what his choices were, the gunman made his decision. Slowly, with great purpose, he raised the gun again and rested it lightly against the back of his captive's head, the barrel disappearing under the dark curls. The look of absolute resignation on his face turned Don's blood cold.
Dammit, Charlie, stop looking at me like that.
For just an instant, before he moved, Don allowed his thoughts to turn to Alan, and how whatever was going to happen in the next few seconds would affect him.
Then, in a sudden flash of light, Special Agent Don Eppes moved in.
Peter Shaw pressed the remote and the full power of the two studio lights illuminated the macabre scene taking place six feet in front of him.
The gunman, momentarily blinded by the unexpected flash, grunted in surprise. He raised his hand to cover his eyes against another attack. It was the hand holding the gun and with the immediate danger removed from Charlie, Don rushed in.
He leaped forward with all the strength he had, propelled by his well toned and muscled legs. He hit the assailant as high as he could, away from his center of gravity, knowing the best scenario was to knock him off balance and to the floor. Charlie was flung aside and hit the light stand with his arm, sending it to the floor with a loud sudden pop, as the bulb inside shattered.
Don and Jumbo landed hard, both of them losing their guns as they hit the floor. Don scrambled quickly for his, but the giant grabbed him, pinning his arms to his side and hurled the agent up, away from him, into the backdrop. The impact bent the metal rod holding it in place and 10 feet of painted canvas fell to the floor, completely covering them both.
The LAPD officers rushed in, trying to discern which moving lump was the federal agent and which one was their suspect. As they struggled with the mass of material, they heard unmistakable sounds of the violent conflict underneath. They finally found the edge and pulled the canvas off the two men. Two more policemen appeared in time to help pull the cursing, spitting gunman to his feet. It took all four officers to hold him still while Don fastened the handcuffs in place. One of them began reading him his Miranda rights as they dragged him out the door.
Don turned quickly to find his father and Peter Shaw helping Charlie sit up. As soon as he had hit the floor, Alan had crawled over to him, and was now holding him against his chest, pressing a handkerchief over the wound. Don knelt beside them.
"I'm alright, Dad" Charlie said in a small, shaky voice.
"Yes, well, you could convince me of that a little easier, my son, if you weren't bleeding all over your good suit." Alan quipped, his voice shaky as well.
Charlie looked down quickly and groaned. Don wasn't sure whether it was because of the blood stains on his jacket or that he had moved his head too fast. The agent reached out with a trembling hand and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "You okay, buddy?"
Charlie turned those luminous brown eyes to him and gave Don a small lopsided smile. "Yeah, Don. I'll be fine. Head wounds bleed a lot, you know. It's probably not as bad as it looks." Don smiled at Charlie's attempt to calm Alan. He peered into his brother's eyes and was happy to see the pupils did indeed appear normal.
He let out a loud sigh of relief. He didn't want to think about how close it had been.
Alan scrutinized his eldest son. His jacket sleeve was ripped at the shoulder seam and a small trickle of blood ran from his lower lip. One cheek was already starting to bruise. Alan shuddered at what could have happened under that canvas.
A member of the LAPD approached them and held out his hand to Don. He stood and shook the officer's hand.
"OIC Martin Olsen. Thanks for your help, agent. We have paramedics and an ambulance two minutes out." he said, nodding his head towards Charlie.
"Special Agent Don Eppes. Good. I think he's going to be alright, but we need to get him looked at. After we are done at the hospital, we'll come down to the station and give you our statements."
Olsen nodded. "I'd appreciate that." He turned to Peter, then. "We'll need your statement as well, Mr.
"I don't need an ambulance, Don." Charlie mumbled. "Can't you just take me to the emergency room?"
He sat up straighter, pulling away from Alan. He would have tried the "puppy dog look" but moving his eyebrows hurt.
Don shook his head, vehemently, and Alan's mouth opened, both of them ready to argue with him, but Peter Shaw beat them to it.
"I'm afraid I must insist, Charlie. Insurance adjusters can be ruthless, you know."
Satisfied that that settled everything, Don turned back to Olsen.
"What did LAPD want with that slime ball, anyway?"
"He's a bad one. Name's Big John Devlin. Robbed the First Federal Bank, five blocks down. Killed two tellers and a customer."
Don closed his eyes as a surge of thick emotion washed over him. He would have killed Charlie. He would have shot him in the head without a second thought. He had nothing left to lose.
When he opened his eyes again he noticed Alan's face had gone pale, and Charlie had settled back quietly into his father's embrace. Don knelt beside them again and put his hand on his brother's shoulder once more. With his other hand, he touched his father's arm. They remained joined that way, the three of them giving and receiving comfort from each other, until the paramedics arrived.
Peter Shaw left the three men alone to deal with their emotional aftermath in privacy. He tried to set the light stand up again, but a policeman stopped him. "It's part of the crime scene, sir." Feeling a little bit of that emotional aftermath himself, he wandered away and was not surprised to find himself standing in front of his camera. He felt safe here. It was where he belonged.
With movements that had become second nature to him, he checked his camera. Remembering that an image would be in the camera as a result of him pushing the remote, he pressed the viewing button, and the picture filled the large viewfinder.
What he saw took his breath away.
The very essence of raw human emotion was so palpable in the photograph that Peter felt as though he had been punched in the stomach.
He knew he was looking at the most honest picture he had ever taken.
Peter studied the image of father and sons as the life and death drama took a terrifying turn for the worse. Their individual reactions to the very instant Devlin sealed all their fates and raised the gun to Charlie's head were as different and strong as the men themselves.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Alan Eppes, proud, dignified patriarch of the Eppes family, knelt on the floor, in front of the leather chair. His usually kind and friendly face has transformed into one of horror. One hand was held over his mouth in dismay, the other reaching out to his sons. His eyes were wide with panic, and the paralyzing fear of losing another loved one was painfully etched across his features.
The hard protective outer shell that Don Eppes kept around him had disintegrated completely when he saw the look of defeatism on Devlin's face and he knew the madman meant to take Charlie with him.
The image Peter's camera had captured showed the older brother's sudden vulnerability, his uncertainty and absolute fear; something very few people ever saw in him. In that instant, Don's mask had been ripped away like a bandage and the emotions he kept hidden beneath it had bled out, leaving him raw and open. The agent knew he had lost control of the situation and the implications of that slammed into him with a force he was unprepared for. No mask, no barriers, no hidden emotions existed then. Only honesty, unbridled love and absolute terror.
Charlie Eppes had never been able to hide his feelings. His large expressive eyes always gave him away. From the moment Devlin had grabbed him, and throughout the entire ordeal, Charlie's eyes had shown a range of emotion; fear, pain, intense thought, and incredibly, once when he looked at Alan, sadness and apology, that their father was witness to this horrific experience. But, above all, those who looked at the mathematician that day had seen trust. Absolute, unconditional, unwavering trust that Don would save the day. In that instant, as the gun touched the back of his head, and Peter Shaw pressed the remote, Charlie had turned his eyes to his brother. The faith in them glowed aura-like in the image, and Peter, seeing it, trembled with emotion, and closed his eyes silently.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Peter lifted his head and looked at the Eppes family in real time, as the paramedics worked on Charlie. Alan and Don were standing to the side, watching as the wound was cleaned and a white gauze pad was placed over it.
Peter studied them. Even though they were not touching now, he knew they were still connected. Joined again by what was so evident in the picture. Love, honesty and trust. It made them a family. It made them strong. Peter's desire to capture that essence in a portrait of these three men became a tangible emotion and he swallowed hard, overcome by it.
He looked down at the viewfinder again, at the image that already bared this family's soul to the observer. Peter knew of the physicist Werner Heisenberg's theory that declared whatever is observed is effectively altered by the very act of observation. The same could be said, Peter always thought, about portraiture. No photographer can possibly observe a subject and capture the inner person, the real soul, because the subject is posing in front of the camera, sitting under brilliant light, and told to smile. A portrait can only show what the outer man reveals, the inner man is seldom revealed to anyone, sometimes, not even to the subject themselves. This image, that rested in Peter's camera, had stripped away all outer surfaces of the Eppes men and laid their inner characters open to observation. It came closer to the perfect portrait than anything he had ever seen, and Peter knew what he had to do. Slowly, with solid resolution, he reached forward and pressed the delete button – and the picture vanished.
Alan had sensed Peter's eyes on them. He looked at the photographer, then glanced around the room.
"Oh, Peter, your studio. . ."
Peter Shaw shook his head. "No, Alan, it's okay. That's why I have insurance. At least, I hope I am covered for a drugged up bank robber's berserk rampage." Then, seriously, he asked. "Is Charlie going to be alright?"
At a nod from one of the paramedics, Don answered. "Yeah. He's going to be fine. We always knew his hard head would come in handy someday."
Peter smiled in response as Alan snickered and Charlie grunted in playful protest.
Don left his brother's side and approached Peter. "That little thing you did with the lights was great. I want to thank you. I don't know if I . . . if he would have . . ."
"Actually, Don." Peter interrupted when the older brother found it hard to continue. "It was Charlie's idea. He signaled me earlier. I just waited until. . . you know."
In control again, Don smiled, as if he had done this before."Yeah, well, they tell me he is a genius." And then he said more solemnly, "Your timing was perfect. Dad and I owe you. Thank you."
Alan was still surveying the damage. He shook his head in despair and after glancing briefly at Charlie, he turned to Don. "All I wanted was a picture of the three of us. Just one nice portrait. A single moment when all of our lives touched; that was recorded for posterity. We know all too well that nothing is certain about tomorrow. I wanted something that reflected who and what we are today. Was that too much to ask?"
Don put his arm around his father affectionately and smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Nah. Come on, Dad. We'll have our pictures done." he said, trying to sound reassuring. "We've just had a few setbacks. Give Chuck here some time to heal and we'll try again. Right, Peter? I mean, all we have to
do is . . ."
"I know, I know," Alan groaned, "reschedule."
The paramedics announced they were ready to transport Charlie to the hospital. While Alan, Don and Peter had been talking, the youngest Eppes had won a partial victory and was being allowed to walk to the ambulance instead of being pushed on a gurney.
He stood up slowly, one of the paramedics holding his arm, and Don quickly took the other. "Come on, Dad." Don turned back to Alan and said, "You can ride with me. We'll follow the ambulance to the hospital. I'll ask David to pick your car up later. Oh, and Peter, if you have any trouble with the insurance company, call me. A few words from the FBI might help."
As they walked through the doorway, Alan stopped and turned one last time. "Thank you, Mr. Shaw." he said formally, sincerely. He paused, as if measuring his next words. He turned again toward his sons, as they made their way slowly to the waiting ambulance. Don had put his hand on the back of Charlie's neck and leaned into him tenderly, saying something low in his ear. Charlie nodded and grinned, a lopsided, innocent little smile that Alan recognized. It was the smile his youngest had always reserved for his big brother. Alan suddenly found himself too overcome to finish what he wanted to say.
Peter spoke quietly. "Alan, I don't know if you have ever heard of Phillip Stewart Charis. He's an icon of LA studio portraiture. He once said, "The key to a great portrait is the creation of a mood within which a man recognizes himself and through which he may speak quietly about his success." The last word was said with emphasizes and a meaningful glance at Don and Charlie.
"Call me, Alan. We'll reschedule."
Alan smiled, his eyes bright and glistening. "Thank you for everything."
Peter Shaw walked slowly around his studio. The crime scene unit had arrived and taped most of it off. After he had given his statement to Olsen, he was permitted access to his office, since it wasn't part of the actual crime scene. He needed his laptop with his appointments for the week. He would have to make different arrangements for some of his clients over the next few days.
He had a family sitting scheduled tomorrow that might cause some concerns. The son of an oil baron from the Middle East was visiting the Los Angeles area and wanted a portrait of his family. Without access to the studio, Peter would have to improvise another location. Perhaps they could use the opulent penthouse suite they were staying in, or maybe the luxurious yacht they owned and had harbored in the Santa Monica Bay could be utilized.
It was going be a challenge. But Peter liked challenges. And after today he didn't think an heir to an oil kingdom, his three wives, 11 children and 5 Great Danes could possibly be more of a challenge than a kind old man from Pasadena, one federal agent and a curly haired genius.
That would become his own personal photographic quest.
The elusive Eppes family portrait.
A/N; Thank you for reading my story. If you liked it, or have any comments, please let me know. Any constructive criticism would be welcomed and appreciated.