Usual disclaimer: they own all, I own nothing, just borrowing them and putting them back in a slightly dishevelled condition, but they look pretty cute like that.

Planes, Trains, and Bullies

By OughtaKnowBetter

It wasn't just 'yes', it was "hell, yes!" And Colby followed it up by saying, "the 'Skins have a home game Monday night when we get into D.C.? Works for me, dude. Gonna be there for three days, right?"

And normally it shouldn't have been a big deal. Don himself had done plenty of cross country escort details, especially when he'd just rookied out of Quantico and the people around him had already demonstrated that they had a little bit more on the ball than a snot-nosed kid straight from school, no matter how promising he looked. Assigning the newest and least senior on his team to the routine mission was standard operating procedure, to be altered if and only if Don, David, or Megan wanted to see the Redskins play football and had nothing more pressing on their collective plates. And, just for the record, neither David nor Megan were rabid 'Skins fans, and neither were they particularly interested in spending a long and lonely weekend in the nation's capital which was well-known for emptying out on those afore-mentioned week ends, leaving even the hookers begging for hand outs until Monday rolled around.

Likewise, Don was not a 'Skins fan, but he would have liked to have taken the detail, except for one small item: Fat Manny's trial was in full swing, with Don's testimony scheduled for approximately one PM, Pacific Standard Time. The airline tickets that would take the escort and his charge on the flight to D.C. bore the departure time of ten twelve PM, PST, and altering those tickets would cause the charge to arrive too late for his preliminary meeting with The Powers That Be at the NSA, the agency who had very politely asked the FBI to provide the escort. Don would have put up with the boredom, the loneliness of the D.C. scene, if it were not for the directive from above forbidding him to ditch the trial. Don would stay and testify, Colby would go on escort duty. End of story.

Not fair, but, as Don reflected, nobody had promised that life would be fair. It wasn't fair that Charlie had gotten to be with their mother all through those years at Princeton, and Don had not. It wasn't fair that Don had bach'ed it with his father for those same years, and Charlie had not. It wasn't fair that Charlie had gotten all the brains and the tutors and the world bowing at the feet of his genius. It wasn't fair that Don got to gloat when a particularly scum-sucking low-life went down with Don's handcuffs snapped around his wrists, untying the grateful hostage who had just seen his or her life flash before his or her eyes, and all Charlie could do was wish that he could make a difference in some victim's life instead of saying, "I helped by adding two plus two in a back room at FBI Headquarters."

Yeah, life wasn't fair. This particular escort duty consisted of accompanying a certain well-known mathematician with the same last name as Don himself to a very hush-hush meeting with someone in Washington. Don didn't know who it was, didn't know why or what for, and—frankly—didn't care. Washington politics bored him, and the farther away from it he stayed, the happier he was. But he would have liked the opportunity to sit on a jet with his brother for several hours. Didn't have to talk—the Eppes men were not particularly big on the whole sharing-of-feelings routine—but just accompanying the man would have been a good way to bond. Charlie would have dragged out his computer once they were airborne, and Don would have alternated between scanning the passengers for terrorists that had been missed by LAX security—not likely—and pretending to do some crossword puzzle while actually looking over Charlie's shoulder and trying to figure out what the man was working on. Yeah, that would have been a good way to spend a weekend, especially since it would mean that Don would get a couple of compensatory days off for all the hard work that he put in, sitting around waiting for Charlie to be ready to go home.

Life was full of little disappointments. Fat Manny got another postponement—at two PM, when Charlie and Colby were already thirty thousand feet up in the air—and Don's father offered companionship in return for the opportunity to help the man clean out the attic. Better than nothing; Don discovered that his baseball glove, the one that took him through ninth grade, had crawled up into the rafters to disintegrate and was now ripe for the trash heap. He'd always wondered what had happened to it, and he now suspected his little brother of hiding it up there just to annoy him. Don had initially cheered, he remembered, when the decision was made for Charlie to go across the country for college. Get the kid out from under my feet and out of my way.

So here it was, almost one o'clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, and Colby and Charlie were due to land back in L.A. in another hour. Colby had called ahead; the meeting between Charlie and whoever in the NSA had gone like clockwork—unlike Don's meeting with Fat Manny—and the pair had gotten back onto the return flight as scheduled. Charlie hadn't even brought any work back with him, said that he'd been able to complete the task while there, and that The Powers That Be were ecstatic to have their problem solved so quickly. Score one for Mr. Mathematics, and, Charlie smirked, another fat government-issued paycheck would be clearing his account very soon. The whole trip had been uneventful, Colby had said while waiting for the plane to take off from the Reagan National. He'd still keep an eye out for anyone looking to snatch Charlie, but it seemed a bit pointless now that the job was done. Even Charlie was planning on working on Friday's Advanced Diff EQ lecture on the flight home, just to pass the time. Colby had a crossword puzzle, the one that he hadn't finished on the flight east to D.C.

"Don," Megan called from her desk, hanging up the phone with a puzzled frown on her face. "Director's looking for you. Head up to his office."

What was that all about? Don sighed. Director pissed because Fat Manny's lawyers had been able to delay the inevitable yet again? Not Don's fault, and the director knew it. Another high profile assignment, one that hadn't hit the local tabloids? More likely. Don trotted up the stairs, suspecting that he wouldn't have time for his usual work out later on this evening, using the stairs as his back-up plan to keep himself in shape.

Don knew that there was something very wrong the moment he stepped into Area Director D'Angelo's office. There was something very very wrong, and it involved Don himself. The Area Director had a poker face to bluff an opponent with a royal flush lying on the table in front of him, but Don could still read it in his eyes.

"Don, you deserve to hear about this first…"

Colby had rearranged the seating to his liking, first class all the way and Charlie away from the aisle so that no one could get to him unless they went through Colby first. The movie would have been disappointing if Colby had been allowed to watch it—some chick flick that interested him not at all—but Colby couldn't get into a movie and keep an eye on his assignment. Just because Charlie had finished his job for the NSA didn't mean that there wasn't anyone out to get him, maybe looking to weasel out what the job had been. Charlie wasn't a trained field agent, and Colby was under no illusions that Charlie would be able to stand up to an enemy agent for any length of time. Colby would be keeping the eyelids peeled, just in case there was someone out there with Charlie's name on his list of 'most wanted for personal interrogation on matters best left alone'. No, better to keep the man safe until they were back on arid California soil. Take precautions, just in case.

Colby's gun was hidden in his holster, there by special arrangement with airline security. He'd already made contact with the air marshal riding on the flight, a non-descript dude keeping a low profile in the back of the plane, well before taking off. And there was another wrinkle; there was a white collar criminal being extradited to California to stand trial for embezzlement and insider trading. Colby recognized the dude from the newspaper articles he'd been reading while waiting for Charlie to finish doing his thing: Frank Landers, ex-Chief Financial Officer for Eminex Industries, one of the that had made it big and now was taking a nose-dive because of actions by the CFO, the CEO, and a few other types with capitalized initials for jobs. Landers had his own babysitter equipped with a handgun in its holster, a babysitter that kept Landers in business class instead of First, and in a row that had only two seats to it instead of three. Landers' babysitter was a guy named Magarian, a no-nonsense cop who had confided to both Colby and the air marshal that Landers was rolling on his CEO and three board members for a substantial reduction in his sentence, hence the trip back to L.A. for an in-depth discussion with a certain federal judge.

And there was something going on, something that was putting an itch right between Colby's shoulder blades, right where he couldn't scratch it in the proverbial sense. He hadn't figured out what it was—and to be honest, it might just be an over-active imagination honed to a fine point by too much spare time after the 'Skins game which they lost, Colby groaned—but there had been a couple of times when that little spidey sense had saved his hide. It was like that time in Afghanistan, on the trail with his squad, thought that they had a hot lead on Bin Laden and it turned out to be an invitation to an ambush with the Americans on the wrong end of the 'bush. There'd been little twitches in his tailbone then, too, and he'd mentioned it to his captain, who'd sent out another scout, and Colby could continue this run-on sentence for another few phrases but the point was that the Americans went home without a scratch and the rebels couldn't say the same. Didn't get Bin Laden—missed him, they thought, by a couple of hours—but nobody went home in a body bag. That was a plus, in Colby's estimation, and a procedure that he'd like to continue well into his nineties and certainly into retirement.

Three guns on this flight. Colby didn't like it, but there wasn't anything that he could do about it, not thirty thousand feet in the air. And Charlie's job was over, and it wasn't really likely that anyone would be after Don's little brother; not now. With any luck, they'd arrive at LAX without anyone knowing about the hidden hardware, and Colby could drop Charlie off at his house, call in to Don—who'd have his hide if he didn't call to confirm a safe arrival—and then head home for a real shower instead of one of those little lukewarm jobs in that ever-so-quaint place they'd put him up at—


It felt like an air pocket, but it didn't sound like one. Colby'd been in plenty of aircraft over Afghanistan when he'd been stationed there, and had the greatest admiration for how the pilots in his unit had dodged a hell of a lot of rocket launchers to keep his hide and theirs intact. Of all the things to happen, the one thing he hadn't expected was for that to happen here in the good ole U.S. of A. They were over the Rockies, for cripes' sake. Those old mountain men might be a little bit on the crazy side with a major helping of ornery, but rocket launchers tended to be a mite expensive for their pocketbooks, not to mention too high-tech. Those mountain geezers tended to look toward buckshot at close range, not rocket launchers for 747's. But the sound, to Colby, was unmistakable.

Several things happened at once. The sixteen screams, mostly but not completely from the various ladies on the flight, were entirely understandable. So was Charlie's frantic scrabbling to protect his computer, to shut it down before losing whatever data he was working on. Gotta expect that from a math dude like Charlie. Most alarming was the sudden and dramatic tilt that threw everything not tied down toward the opposite side of the cabin. Colby took an inane moment to be grateful; that over-priced water could have landed on him instead of the man across the aisle. Colby reached out to steady the flight attendant, watching to see if anyone was taking advantage of the situation. This could be planned, guy…

Yeah, planned. But not by anyone on the flight that Colby could see. Every face that he scanned showed the same terror, the same what the hell is going on? and we're gonna die! Several were scrambling to turn on their cells, hoping to get out one last message before the end.

Colby swallowed hard, felt his ears pop. They were losing altitude fast, and the mountain that he could see through Charlie's window was looming larger and larger. "Buckle in!" he commanded, suiting actions to words by yanking Charlie's loosened belt tight. Charlie yelped, more surprised than anything else.

The laptop. For Colby, the machine morphed into a potential missile ready to go into action upon impact. Mindful of the mathematician, he helped Charlie to finish slipping the thing into its protective case, shoving it firmly under the seat ahead of them, hoping that it wouldn't slip out from underneath to whack someone—with his luck, it would be Colby himself—across the skull.

"Cover your head," he ordered. There was little enough that he could do now, no other measures that he could take to protect his assignment from impending disaster. "Protect your face." Flapping my arms like a bird probably isn't gonna be all that useful. And neither is screaming like a little girl, like the one fifteen rows back.

Crap, the ground is getting closer and closer, and it looks like we're gonna end up on a mountain top.

Don set his jaw. "I don't care. I'm going."

Area Director D'Angelo shook his head just as firmly. "No, you're not, Eppes. There's nothing you can do out there except get in the way. Our people from the Denver office are all over the mountain, looking for the wreck, and FAA and Mountain Rescue are already in action. We have people scanning satellite photos. If anyone can find them—"

"I'm an experienced tracker." Don had to work to keep from yelling. He'd had plenty of practice in keeping his cool, and he was using every ounce of it now. "I've hunted down people in the backwoods over and over—"

"Right. In New Mexico." D'Angelo was sympathetic, but unyielding. "These are the mountains of Colorado, and it would take several hours to get you out there, hours that you can use to hunt down who did this. You're not going to do your brother or Colby any good by going where you won't be effective. You're going to stay in your office and monitor the situation from there. Is that clear, Don?" D'Angelo too was keeping his cool, feeling for his man and knowing that he had to keep the older Eppes brother under control.


"We need to know why that plane went down," D'Angelo interrupted. "That will help us to pull out the survivors safely. Check out the passenger list, figure out who else might be a target. Identify any groups that have motive and opportunity to do this. There's a very good chance that this is simply a horrible accident, but we don't take chances. We check out every angle, rule out every possibility. You know the drill, Eppes. And what about your father? Are you going to let some stranger tell him about this?"


D'Angelo picked up the phone on his desk, dialed in a short four digit extension. "Reeves? D'Angelo here. As of right now, you and Sinclair are on a twenty four/seven detail with Eppes. Make sure that one or both of you are with him at all times. Yes, that's right. He's chomping at the bit. I want him where he'll do some good, not out in the field like a loose cannon." The next words were spoken into the handset but aimed at Don Eppes. "Two of our own are on that plane, and I want to know everything about how and why this occurred. Make it happen."

The calm after the storm. That's what it sounded like to Colby, when his thoughts were clear enough to pay attention to. Most of his mind was taken up by one concept: crap, that hurts!

But—got a job to do. Got a man to protect. That was his assignment, and the fact that it was Charlie made it all the more important. Gotta protect your buddies, watch their backs so that they could watch yours. Charlie's watching was the cerebral type, but that didn't make it any less important. Man had proven his worth a whole bunch of times.

Got a job to do. Colby levered his eyes open, immediately wished that he hadn't. Immediately wished that he didn't have to again. There wasn't a lot of light, not with all the trees on the mountainside filtering it out, but what photons there were was enough to send stabs of pain washing through his skull.

"Colby!" It was Charlie. "Colby, are you all right?"

Stupid question, dude. Not gonna tell you that. Colby tried to move, and that sent a wave of nausea-inducing agony streaking through his shoulder. He choked back a groan, resenting the small pieces that escaped from his lips.

"Don't move, Colby. I'll get help."

From where, dude? "Charlie," he croaked. He grabbed onto the mathematician's arm. "Status?"

"We're on some mountain," Charlie told him uncertainly, unsure of what Colby was asking. "We're trying to get out of the plane, in case it blows up."

Right. Just like the civilian he was. Plane wasn't likely to blow up, not unless someone stuck a bomb next to the fuel tank. That sort of stuff only happened in action flicks with more imagination than sense. But there was someone on this plane that someone else didn't want to see living, and Colby needed to make sure that the first someone wasn't Charlie. It could be the CFO dude, it could be someone else, but it could be Charlie. And Charlie was Colby's assignment. And his friend.

Charlie kept on. "Can you move?" he asked worriedly. "We have to get out of here."

Yeah, we do. But not for the reasons you think, Charlie. That little itch between my shoulder blades? It's turned into a hell of a big bull's eye, with your picture on it, guy. Or do you know of any other time when an American jumbo jet got shot out of the sky for carrying a bunch of families toward Disneyland?

Colby gritted his teeth. "Give me a hand," he requested.

Charlie slipped his arm underneath Colby's good one, hoisting away, needing to re-position his feet to get enough leverage.

Blackness. Crap. The blood tried to drain out of Colby's face and out of his brain. Colby swallowed hard, commanding consciousness to remain for another few minutes. There was a bruise on his ribcage, a holster-sized bruise that suggested that his gun was still intact, and that was before he considered the small inferno that his arm had become. He hung onto Charlie, trying to remain upright for the few minutes that he needed to get Charlie out of the plane and closer toward safety. Nice to know that the gun was there, but Colby didn't trust himself with the thing in his hand. Too much chance of it going off in the wrong direction.

Who was getting who out of the plane? Colby was just around for the ride; Charlie was doing all the work and doing a surprisingly good job of it, keeping Colby's feet underneath him.

Then he was lowering Colby to the ground. The cold earth felt good beneath him, and Colby allowed everything except his brain to collapse in exhaustion.

"You're bleeding," Charlie said worriedly. "Let me get some bandages."

Yeah, that was right. Something airborne inside the cabin had stabbed him through the shoulder. Colby was lucky that it hadn't been through his head, or there'd be a dead FBI agent on board that downed jet.

Crap, Charlie had left his side! Colby cursed the blood loss that kept him from thinking clearly. Then Charlie was back, wrapping something white and tight around his shoulder. It hurt, but it was better. More than that: having Charlie where Colby could watch him was better yet. Not that the FBI agent could do anything, but it was the thought that counted.

Colby mustered all his brainpower. "Charlie, talk to me. Who's living, and who's dead?"


Colby swallowed hard. "Charlie, listen to me. We may be in whole boat load of crap. Did you see who died in the crash?"

Charlie still didn't understand, but he did his best to follow orders. "There were a lot of people who died. There's a lot of blood."

Not good enough. Colby closed his eyes, tried to figure out what to say. "Charlie, look for a big guy, no beard, sitting next to a business suit. They had a small black laptop case with them—looks like yours, kind of—and the suit had a blue handkerchief sticking out of his coat pocket. Where are they? You see 'em?"

"I'll see." Charlie was gone before Colby could tell him to be careful. Dammit, he'd wanted Charlie to stay where he could watch him. Some bodyguard he was turning out to be. His charge was running around in a place with wild animals, guns, and possible terrorists—or who else could have had an interest in shooting down a jet in a company trying its best not to go bankrupt with these gas prices?—and here Colby was, flat on his back on the cold, hard ground. And his shoulder was killing him. He tried to crane his neck around to see what it was that had impaled him, but the pain was too great. Spots swam blackly before his eyes, and he sank back down.

Charlie was back. "Colby? Colby?"

"I'm awake," Colby muttered, trying to convince himself. "What did you find out? And stay with me, from now on," he ordered before he could forget once again.


"What did you find out?" Colby ignored the question. He needed answers, not more questions. "What about the Wall Street dude?"

Charlie lowered his voice. There were people around, most of them crying though the hysteria was dying down, some wandering aimlessly and looking for something—anything—to make this disaster a little bit better to bear and others simply flopped onto the forest floor, unable to believe that this had happened, in shock. "Colby, they're dead. Both of them. How did you know?"

Colby frowned. Charlie sounded as though he thought that Colby knew something. People die in a plane crash, dude. Why the question? "Know what?"

Colby could barely hear Charlie's answer. "Colby, those two were shot! Through the back of the neck—execution style, you guys call it. That's what the other passengers are saying. I didn't see them, but that's what the others are saying. Colby, how did you know?"

Crap. This was so not looking good. All this, on top of the Redskins losing while Colby was visiting D.C. Colby was strongly wishing that he could have testified at Fat Manny's trial and let Don take this detail like he'd wanted to.

Too many things were adding up. But Colby needed one more detail: "Did you see the guy's laptop?"

Charlie frowned. "No. No, I didn't, although I wasn't really looking for it. It wasn't anywhere near them, not under the seat and not across the aisle, if it got flung there."

"It was missing?"

"I didn't see it," Charlie confirmed. "At least, I didn't see it anywhere close by. Someone else could have picked it up. Lots of people on this flight have laptops. Colby, why the interest in the laptop? Who were those two guys?" Another thought hit him. "Colby, how did they get shot? Wouldn't someone have heard the sound of gunfire?"

"Not with silencers, not through the seat cushions, and especially not while going down. Too much screaming." Colby thought hard, and he didn't like where his thoughts were going. "Charlie, listen closely. Those two were a Federal witness and a cop, heading to testify at an embezzlement trial."

Charlie sucked in his breath. "You think someone murdered them to keep that guy from testifying?"

Leap of faith, here. "No, Charlie. I think someone mistook them for you and me." Colby took a deep breath. This wasn't easy, lying flat on the cold ground and looking up at his charge. No less than three sharps rocks were digging into his spine, and he couldn't do anything about it. "Answer me straight, Charlie. Do you have anything on your laptop that could be considered national security stuff?"

Charlie's eyes narrowed. "Colby—"

"No time for beating around the bush, Charlie. Yes or no?"

Charlie bit his lip, and there was a haunted look to the mathematician that Colby didn't like. "Yes."


"Very big. Hostile nation type big."

"All right." Yeah, Colby was right. He and Charlie were hip deep in trouble. "Listen to me, Charlie, and don't interrupt. Somebody shot down this plane, and it wasn't angry stockholders annoyed over losing their life savings in a debacle. There aren't too many board members who can get hold of a ground to air missile launcher. Besides, why shell out for a couple of hit men on a plane if you're going to knock the bird out of the sky? No, this sounds like your basic 'hostile nation' stuff. With me so far?"

"Yeah." Charlie's eyes were large and round, and he wasn't saying much. But he was listening with both ears.

"Which means that someone is going to nosing around, looking for you and your laptop, Charlie. They're gonna want to make sure that you and me died in the crash." Colby took a deep breath, commanded the nerves in his injured arm to go off duty. "Listen, dude: I don't know who to trust here. Stick close to me for now. There'll be rescuers coming real soon; they must have seen us going off of the radar. They'll come and get us."

"And then I can call Don, and the local FBI'll come and get us," Charlie nodded.

Colby shook his head, wished he hadn't. It made him dizzy. Must be losing more blood than I thought. "We don't know who to trust," he repeated, "and we don't know if they slipped anyone into any of the local offices. There must be a reason that they chose here to take down the plane. These guys are terrorists: always planning, down to the last detail. Charlie, if they get you alone, they'll kill you and take your laptop. We can't let that happen."

Charlie sat back on his heels beside Colby. "Okay, no local FBI help," he said, taking Colby's analysis at face value. "What do we do?"

As if I could do anything right now. His helplessness hurt more than his arm. Colby cast around for a plan. "You still have your laptop?"

"I can get it." Charlie started to get up.

Colby grabbed him. "Where is it, Charlie? Don't leave my side, dude. You're more important than that hunk of wiring. Get someone else to get it for you."

"I can do that." Charlie motioned to someone outside of Colby's range, sent the young man off. "What next?"

"Call Don." There was no doubt in Colby's mind. "Let him know what's going on. He's the one person we can trust. He'll make things happen."

"Got it." Charlie pulled out his cell, turned it on and made a face. "Battery's getting low, but it should be okay." He flipped the small silver case open, tabbed in the sequence. "Don?"

"Charlie? You're alive! Are you all right? Where are you? What about Colby?"

"We're okay," Charlie started to say, when Colby gestured for the phone.

"Don? We may have a situation here." Colby filled his team leader in with a minimum of quiet words, ending with, "we're safe for the moment, Don, but I'm not liking this."

"Neither am I. Listen, the two of you keep a low profile. I'm going to commandeer a fast transport out there as soon as I can figure out the closest city to land in. You cooperate with the locals, try not to let them know who you are until you have to. Got it?"

"I'm with you, Don."

"Good. Give me back to Charlie."

"He wants to talk to you," Colby said, handing the cell phone back to its owner. Enough, for the moment. Colby closed his eyes, wishing that he wouldn't be called upon for any heroics, knowing that there was a strong possibility that his wish wouldn't come true. Always liked the concept of the tooth fairy, too…

Charlie accepted it, held it to his ear. "Don?"

"How bad off is Colby?"

Charlie flicked his gaze over his traveling companion. "Not good."

"How did it happen?"

"Don, we were in a plane crash—"

"I know that, Charlie. What did the wound look like? Jagged, or a small and neat little hole? Like from a gun with a silencer on it?" Don's voice was harsh with a ragged edge.

Another glance, this one almost furtive. "Um, I don't really know. I didn't look that closely. The sight of blood…"

Sigh. "Not important at the moment, Charlie. Listen, stay put until I come for you. Cooperate with the rescuers, but don't tell anyone who you are, what you were doing, and don't let that damn laptop out of your sight. Don't trust anyone, hear me? And that includes the local officials. And the FAA guys."

Charlie swallowed hard. "I hear you, Don."

"Good. I'm heading out right now. I'll see you as soon as I can. Keep me posted on developments; okay, buddy?"

"Right." Charlie slowly closed the cell, ignoring the warning beep that signaled the nearing end of useful battery life.

"Charlie?" Colby's eyes flickered over the mathematician's face, trying to read the emotions flitting across.

"I think I hear the rescuers," Charlie said woodenly, unable to keep from looking at the white bandage that he'd tacked across Colby's shoulder. What was underneath there? This was a plane crash; blood was to be expected, wasn't it? Why hadn't he tried to clean away some of it, see what was underneath? Had Colby been shot through the seat cushion, the noise swallowed up by the diving plane, like the other two in the back seats?

Had they tried to do the same thing to Charlie himself?

Charlie wasn't certain that he wanted to go back to look at the seat where he had been just minutes ago.

"They're alive. Both of them." It was the first words out of Don's mouth, and the first thing that Megan and David wanted to hear. "Colby's banged up, but Charlie's okay. It was a bad one; Colby said there are dead bodies all around."

"There's more." They both had been listening to one half of the conversation.

"There's more," Don agreed. "You heard about Landers, the CFO who's rolling on his friends? Dead, with his guard. And not from the crash, either. It sounds like someone on the plane seized the moment and took them both out permanently. There's not going to be any testimony for the prosecution on the Eminex trial."

"So how does that affect Charlie and Colby?" Megan asked. "They should be safe, right?"

Don shook his head. "Colby thinks that it wasn't just a few bad gusts of wind that took the plane down. Said it sounded like a missile; not that the FAA is talking about that. They'll be keeping that from the media until they have everyone safe—or so they think. I don't even know if a missile showed up on anyone's radar." He looked grim. "Megan, you're on that. Find out what the local radar showed. Talk to both the FAA and the military."

"You're thinking that maybe someone was out to get Charlie, too." That only barely qualified as guesswork on Megan's part.

"I'm thinking that we'd better use that as our working premise," Don said. "Listen, I want to get out there ASAP. Megan, can you handle D'Angelo—"

"No need, Eppes. I heard." No one had heard or seen the Area Director approach. Don started, but D'Angelo wasn't finished. "Head out to the landing pad. I'll clear it for one of the choppers to take you and Sinclair to where ever you need to go. Reeves, you stay here and monitor the operation from this end. I want twice daily updates. What's the surprise, Eppes?" he added, noting Don's astonishment. "You thought I wasn't going to let you go?"

"Well, sir, earlier—"

"Earlier—" D'Angelo stressed the word just enough, "—earlier we didn't have any reason to send you out there. Earlier there wasn't any reason to believe that this was anything more than a horrible accident. Earlier, there was a certain father who needed to learn of this from his son, not some media reporter. That was before we discovered that the Eminex people were on the passenger list. That was before we learned that the plane may have—may have, I said—been taken down by a weapon of war, here on our own turf, stateside. And that was before we learned that our agent and our consultant are still alive." He paused. "What are you waiting for, Eppes? Formal, written orders on an engraved silver platter?"

"No, sir." Don fled, David in his wake.