A is for Appreciation
D is for Disclaimer: Not mine
T is for rating due to language
A companion story to "H is for Hesternopothia" and "J is for Janus"
Dr. William Bradford knew that a lot of law enforcement agents did not trust psychologists. Most believed that psychologists didn't really know what it was like on the street. This was one of the reasons Bradford had chosen this for his second career. So there would be at least one psychologist with street cred.
When Special Agent Don Eppes had first come in, under orders, he'd had a very large chip on his shoulder. Partly due to his belief that Bradford was all theory and no experience.
Bradford thought they had made good progress with Eppes' trust issues. Colby Granger's arrest was looking like a major set back.
"Coffee for your thoughts?" Bradford offered.
Eppes shook his head and prowled around the office as if he'd never seen it before.
Bradford wasn't surprised at Eppes' restlessness.
"Granger's arrest must be very tough on you and your team," he said sympathetically.
Eppes snorted. "You don't know the half of it," he said.
"Then do tell," Bradford invited. "I am paid to listen, you know."
Eppes made a muffled sound that could have indicated amusement. Intelligent brown eyes met Bradford's. The psychologist tried to project an air of calm sympathy.
"Colby Granger was a friend of yours, not just an agent?" Bradford encouraged.
Don shook his head and turned away. "I don't want to talk about him yet," he said. He stuck his hands in his pockets and studied the spines of Bradford's books.
Bradford frowned, but didn't push. Eppes had said "yet." He glanced at the clock. They had most of the hour; he could afford to let Eppes take his time. He'd read somewhere that 'Cats make their point by walking around it.' Eppes was much the same way sometimes.
"Did you have a specific topic in mind?" he asked.
Eppes half looked at him, a pensive frown on his face. "You know, we've discussed the issues I have with my brother, but I'm not sure if I ever actually said this out loud to you…" he paused. "I love the guy."
"Does Charlie know this?"
Eppes shrugged. "I dunno. It's hard to know what somebody else knows." He apparently heard the repetition in his sentence and grin flashed across his face. "But Charlie seems to know everything, y'know?"
Bradford permitted himself a small laugh. "You have called him a know-it-all in the past," he admitted.
Don grinned again before he resumed his pacing. "I've been thinking about Charlie a lot. I mean, I seem to have spent a lot of my life mad at him, but there's so much I love about the guy. His enthusiasm, his good nature..." Eppes shook his head. "The way he laughs, even. He's got a great laugh."
"I'll take your word for that," Bradford said with a nod. He wondered about the near eulogy feel of Eppes comments. "Do you think your brother loves you?" he asked.
Eppes managed a half smile. "Yeah. Charlie's face is pretty much an open book when it comes to emotions." He fingered one of Bradford's chess books. "Well, pretty much an open book on everything, it's just that I don't understand the math parts."
Bradford let his amusement show. "So, you feel you understand him pretty well, outside of the math?"
Eppes shrugged. "As well as anybody knows anyone else, I guess. There are parts of him I understand, parts I don't… and parts I tell myself I don't understand because I don't want to."
Bradford sensed the topic coming up; he glanced at the clock while Eppes stopped next to the coffee pot. Fifty-two minutes left in the session. "The offer of coffee still stands," he said quietly.
"Ah, thanks," Eppes said. "I think I will." The younger man poured himself a cup and added sugar. "There's one time in particular that I was thinking of," he said, after taking a sip.
Bradford inclined his head to show that he was listening.
"You remember reading about the Charm School Bank Robbers?"
Bradford's eyebrow went up as he searched his memory. "Yes, I remember. They were called that because they didn't use violence… at first."
Don nodded. "Yeah, exactly. Until they were confronted by us, then suddenly the big guns came out of nowhere."
"An FBI agent was killed… one of your men?"
Don nodded again. "Matthew McKnight," he replied. Sorrow washed across his mobile features. The open book face was obviously a family trait. "He was a good man."
The agent took a few moments to compose himself.
Bradford checked the clock. Still plenty of time left. This was a good detour, though, as obviously McKnight's death was something Eppes needed to talk about.
"Anyway, the case had been a real bitch from the start," Eppes said. "We couldn't get a lead to…" Eppes obviously shied away from the phrase 'to save our lives' and Bradford didn't push.
"Well, we couldn't get a lead through our usual methods, so I asked Charlie if there was something he could do. Y'know, figure out a pattern that might give us a hint about where these Charm School Boys would hit next."
"You weren't sure that Charlie could help, then."
Don poured some creamer into his coffee then walked over to a chair. "We'd only used Charlie once or twice before. The whole using math to solve crimes was still a novelty."
Bradford nodded. "I see. I'm going to guess that Charlie was able to help this time."
Eppes nodded. "He came up with two possible locations and the approximate time of the next hit." He sighed. "Sure enough, the Charm School Boys hit one of the banks he picked."
"And McKnight died."
"I got shot," Eppes said. He looked towards the window, but wasn't seeing the view.
Bradford sat forward, intrigued. "You did?"
"Yeah, Skidmore had me on the ropes, he pointed his handgun at my head and pulled the trigger."
Bradford's eyes went wide. "What happened?" His sat back and eyed Eppes suspiciously. "And if you say that you got killed, I'm going to have you riding a desk for the rest of the decade."
Eppes blinked back into reality. Then he laughed. Obviously the great laugh ran in the family, too. "No, this isn't a set up for a punch line, not really. Skidmore's gun jammed."
Bradford let his breath out through with a slight whoosh. "I'm glad of that," he said sincerely.
Eppes looked surprised. "Thank you," he said.
"How did Charlie take this?" Bradford asked.
Eppes shook his head. "He had a meltdown," Eppes said. "He wanted to withdraw from consulting. Heck, he withdrew from reality. I mean, I hadn't seen him go off like that since our mom was dying."
"He didn't handle your mother's death very well?"
Eppes shook his head. "He spent the last couple months of her life hiding in the garage, working on some famous, insolvable problem."
He ran his hands through his close cropped hair. "I told him that I understood. That I appreciated his concern for me." He shook his head. "I didn't appreciate his feelings. I didn't understand why he wanted to hide when I needed his help."
"Did he help on that case again?" Bradford asked.
Eppes nodded. He took a seat and stared into his coffee cup.
"Do you know what a Janus list is?" he asked abruptly.
Bradford was almost taken aback. He fiddled with his pen and managed a quick look at the clock. Over half the session remained. Good, this is what he wanted to talk to Eppes about. He shrugged. "Not exactly, but the name gives me a pretty good idea."
Eppes nodded. "Janus, the two faced god of Rome," he said. "Ironically enough, the guy was supposed to be a guardian. One face watched inside, the other watched outside."
"Unfortunately, the guy who created the list, Taylor Ashby, didn't watch his back well enough," Eppes said. "Someone poisoned him."
"So that business on the bridge was because he didn't have anything to lose," Bradford guessed.
"Yeah," Eppes said with a nod. "He didn't expect to get off that bridge alive, and he wanted to give his life's project to someone who would appreciate it."
"And Charlie," Eppes said. "He specifically asked for us." He took a deep breath. "In fact, he wanted to talk to Charlie face to face."
"You couldn't have sent out a ringer?" Bradford asked.
Eppes smiled tightly. "The first thing he asked after I identified myself was what my junior year batting average was."
"Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction," Eppes said.
"Charlie knew," Bradford said, realizing where that was going.
Eppes nodded. "Ashby had a bunch of other questions, too."
"To what purpose?"
"To point us to the Janus list," Eppes said with a snort. "Charlie got so wrapped up in solving the riddle that he was at hospital long after visiting hours." Pain flickered across his face. "Which is why he was there when the assassin went after Ashby."
Bradford's eyes went wide. "Even though Ashby was dying?"
Eppes nodded. "Charlie told me over the phone that the security guards had left to deal with a fight on another floor." He stared into his coffee.
Bradford drew his breath in with a hiss.
"I knew the assassin was after Ashby," Eppes said. "And that… that's when I really appreciated what my brother had felt when I got shot… When our mother died." Eppes closed his eyes. "It wasn't fear. It wasn't even terror."
He looked Bradford in the eye. "It was despair. the kind that prevents you from taking action, because there is nothing you can do."
He dropped his eyes to his coffee cup. "I knew I wouldn't get to Charlie in time. I knew I had lost him. That he was gone and was never coming back."
The silence dragged on while Bradford wracked his memory. They would have told him if Charles had died, wouldn't they?
Don looked at him again. "That's what you wanted to know, isn't it? How I feel about Granger?"
Bradford stared, then he got it. "Granger's gone."
"Yes," Eppes said. "The man I knew and … and trusted is gone. And he's never coming back."
"I understand… intellectually," Bradford said. "I've never been through it, though."
"I hope you never do," Eppes said soberly.
"How is your brother?" Bradford asked. "He's not… not coming back." That was ungrammatical, but Eppes understood.
"Charlie came back," he said softly. "And I'll always appreciate that."
"Maybe you should bring him in next time," Bradford said. "He probably has a lot to deal with, too."
Eppes nodded. "I'll see if I can sell him on it," he said.
"At the very least, you should make him understand that he had no way of stopping that assassin from killing Ashby."
Eppes looked at him straight-faced, but Bradford sensed a sudden change in mood. "Well, yeah," Eppes said, standing up. "I would do that." A suspicion of a smile tugged at the corners of Eppes' eyes. "If Charlie hadn't totally kicked ass…assin."
Eppes looked at his watch. "Oh, my, looks like we're out of time for this session," he said. "Guess that will have to wait until next time." He headed for the door.
"Wait.. hey, Eppes." Bradford looked at his clock. He didn't have another appointment until one thirty. "Tell you what, why don't you let me buy you lunch?"
Eppes looked over his shoulder and grinned. "Are you trying to bribe a federal agent?" he asked.
"Oh, don't make me put you on desk duty, Eppes," Bradford warned.
Eppes laughed. "How about this? There's a place near CalSci that serves killer pie and burgers. We can tell you the whole story."
"I'm buying," Bradford said firmly as he turned off the lights in his office.
"I'm sure. Call it a gesture of appreciation."