Disclaimer – I don't own them, I just borrowed them. Numb3rs and its characters are the property of those that created them. No copyright infringement intended. No financial reward gained. All real organisations are used in a fictional sense. Original characters and the storyline are mine however.
Having someone else discover a phobia you didn't even know you had and then use it against you on the same day, is just not fair.
Standing on the bridge of the warship Special Agent Don Eppes looked at the smiling faces of his team amongst the other FBI agents and thought that this was well worth the hour and a half drive.
The USS Paul Hamilton, an Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer was docked at Port Hueneme Naval Base outside LA. Normally the two branches of the government, defence and justice were kept apart but the FBI based in LA had just helped solve a jewellery smuggling ring involving the ship. The land based FBI had detected the offences and subsequent investigations implicated sailors onboard the naval ship. Some inter-agency cooperation followed with the result that the sailers were arrested and charged by the navy and the jewellery was recovered and returned to the rightful owners by the FBI. The navy had been happy with the way the operation had run and had invited the FBI team involved to visit for a private tour of the ship. The FBI, like any police or military department, had a more than efficient internal information system. The navy would call it scuttlebutt. It wasn't long before the team of three were supplemented by a cross section of agents. Don and his team were some of the tag-alongs.
It was strange to have this many agents together, all wearing official FBI windbreakers, in one place and not be involved in a raid. The windbreakers were essential as most of the agents were still on duty or on call and were still armed. Without a uniform the windbreaker and visible ID tags were necessary to show that they were authorised visitors and be allowed to board the warship whilst bearing arms.
The ship's officer taking the tour started moving off and the group followed. So far they'd been on the aft deck looking at the missile hatches and torpedo launchers before visiting the foredeck and then the bridge. They'd taken two different routes internally through the ship to move between the stern and the bow after coming aboard at the quarterdeck. The positive flow air pressure maintained inside the ship had been unexpected but totally understandable.
They were now heading for the star attraction, the CIC. The bridge had been cool with a great view from that altitude over the harbour. Not to mention all the screens that would feed the crew information from all the electronics onboard. Naturally the officer was a little reticent on providing too much information but had answered as many questions as he could. Don still thought it was odd that with all that technology there were some large glass boards, similar to those back in the FBI office used by Charlie, hung above some of the workstations and filled in by hand.
On his way across the rear of the bridge Don again saw the clinometer, the slowly setting sun making the red fluid level glow with a life of its own. His attention was drawn again to a handwritten mark showing the maximum experienced heel of the ship, '35 degrees, 16 May 2005, 1530'. He shook his head in amazement, he doubted that the steel cables strung overhead as handholds across the bridge would have been much good at that angle of heel. It would have been one wild ride.
Looking away from the note on the face of the instrument he realised that he had fallen way behind, he was alone on the bridge. He couldn't resist another glance at the setting sun, dropping behind the hills in the distance. It was rare that he would have the opportunity to see it. Don turned away and hurried to catch up, heading out the hatchway and down the companionway some distance behind everyone else.
Two full flights below him Don could see the group leave the companionway and head off down a short corridor. He continued down and was about to follow when he saw furtive movement out of the corner of his eye. A figure had started into an adjacent corridor before catching sight of him. The sailor appeared startled, froze then ducked back the way he had come clutching a bag close to his side. Don's finely honed instinct told him something was very wrong about the man's behaviour. Without a second thought he turned aside and headed in the man's direction.
He took the turn and saw the man's heel as his quarry took another passage at the end of the corridor. Don hurried to catch up. The man seemed to be in a hurry to disappear. He heard a clatter of footfalls and reasoned that his quarry had gone down the companionway ahead of him. He followed, his haste making it impossible to be silent. As they progressed deeper into the ship he was a little surprised not to pass anyone else, even with a lot of the crew on shore leave. That was nothing compared to the surprise around the next bulkhead.
He stepped over the combing of a watertight door, straight into a well aimed fist. His trailing foot hooked on the lip and down he went. The punch had partially stunned him, enough that his hands wouldn't obey his command to break his fall. The hard deck completed the process the punch had started and the world went away for a while.
There were hands tugging at him before the brief sensation of falling. The next thing he noticed were two, clearly unhappy, voices.
"You idiot! You led him right to us."
"He was chasing me."
There was the sound of a slap. "So you don't lead him here!"
"What are we going to do now?"
"I have no idea. How about you think of something? This is your mess."
"No one asked you to flatten him." The voice sounded a little petulant.
"What was I supposed to do, let him arrest us?"
Don finally worked up the energy to shake his head trying to clear out the fuzz. Owww! Not a good idea, someone started pounding away with a hammer inside his skull. He lifted his right hand up to the side of his head which seemed to be the main area of hammering and wondered why his left moved as well.
"Hey, the fed's awake."
Hands grabbed at his arms and he was hauled up to a seated position. He was released and started to fall back until he was stopped by a wall. Don blinked and managed to open his eyes, recovering rapidly. At least the little man with the hammer was starting to tire, his head wasn't hurting as much. And that was saying something, it still hurt far more than he would like. He squinted against the light that seemed a little too bright and saw two sailors standing over him. One was in naval issue overalls and the other was in civilian clothing. Both looked young, neither of the two could have been over twenty-five years old.
The first thing he looked for were weapons and it came as no surprise to him that yes, one man was armed. Don glanced at his own waist, the windbreaker was partially covering his holster but he could see enough to tell that it was empty. That explained why the sailor in the overalls was pointing a Glock just like his straight at him, it was his. The other man had no visible weapons.
Looking down had also answered his other question, why his left hand had mirrored his right, he was bound. The cord was firmly wrapped around his wrists, tight but not cutting off the circulation. The knot work was impressive, reminding him of the fancy knot work on the ship's bell, the rope worked to look like an Admiralty anchor. These knots, though somewhat less fancy, would take some working on to pull loose. He wasn't getting his hands untied any time soon. For a moment he was confused as to why they hadn't used his handcuffs on him, they were much more secure than a bit of cord. Then again, he took another glance at the knots, maybe not. He came to the conclusion that the sailors probably preferred to stick to what they knew. He noticed that he could still feel the weight of his cuffs hanging off the back of his belt indicating that perhaps he hadn't been searched yet. Don guessed he hadn't been unconscious for long but obviously long enough for them to bind and move him.
The two men continued staring at him so he took the moment and glanced around the room. It was small and filled with all manner of dials, taps and pipe work. A nice big, not so friendly, red sign warned of the asphyxiation risk from Halon. He figured he was in a Halon control room; they'd passed one or two on their tour. He knew that the gas was extremely efficient at putting out fires and for that reason was still used by the military. But he also knew that it was equally efficient at killing anyone trying to breathe it. A gun going off in here with the two airtight doors closed as they were could be deadly even if the bullet missed a living target, a Halon filled pipe would do the trick. Don looked back up at the two men.
"Hi guys." He tried for cheerful. "Is this part of the tour?"
"Tour? What tour?"
"Idiot." 'Overalls' said again as he used his spare hand to smack the other one none too gently on the back of the head. He didn't look too happy. "He was with the group of feds getting that tour. You could have walked right past him and he wouldn't have even noticed you."
"What tour?" The other man repeated, looking confused.
"You didn't read this morning's briefing report?"
"I didn't bother, I have the day off. Besides I was getting the stuff." The man glanced at a sailor's sea bag sitting on the floor in the corner.
"So because you 'couldn't be bothered' we're in this mess."
"Uh, guys? I could go elsewhere if you would like some privacy." Don offered as the argument looked likely to ramp up. It worked, the argument stopped but on the downside Don got a nice close-up view of the business end of his own gun. He sighed, sometimes you just couldn't win.
"You're not going anywhere, Fed."
Another sigh, these people just had to stop watching TV. Too many clichés. "Happy to sit right here, guys. No problem."
The two sailors looked a little surprised at the agent's flippancy. "You don't think we're serious do you?" Overalls commented.
"Oh, I think you're serious alright." Don admitted. His voice took on a firmer tone. "In serious trouble if this goes on any longer."
"Well unfortunately," the sailor turned and laid a glare on his companion. "What's done is done and we have to play this out."
"Okay. So aside from assaulting a federal agent and kidnapping what else are you guys into?" There had to be a reason why the first man had rabbited the way he did. What was in the bag? There were indications that it contained more than just personal effects.
Overalls followed his gaze before turning back. "What we are into is none of your concern. What is your concern is what is going to happen to you."
"Fair enough, I'll run with that." The man had a very valid point.
"Good." Overalls leant down and read the ID tag hanging from Don's windbreaker. "So shut up Special Agent Don Eppes and let me think."
"Hey, if we are making introductions how about you tell me your names?" Real names would be good, much better than calling this one 'Overalls' and the other 'Civvies'.
"You can call me 'Sir'."
"Sir?" Don queried with more than a little degree of scorn, it seemed that Overalls was taking a power trip. "You don't look like an officer; it looks like you work for a living."
"Wise ass, hey?"
"That's why they gave me this windbreaker."
"I'd take this gun over your windbreaker any day. Got it?"
Another view down the barrel. "Got it." The sailor backed off. Don peered more closely at the armed man's overalls, reading off the name that was embroidered on the patch over the breast pocket. "Okay then. I'll call you Martin and in lieu of anything better I'll call your friend here 'Idiot'."
The man dressed in civvies flared up, stepping forward with a fist raised.
"Don't let him rile you." Martin directed before turning back to the agent. His voice took on a warning note. "No one else calls him 'idiot'. His name is Tod."
Don saw the widening of the eyes and the jaw drop, the sailor had given the other man's real name. The agent looked a little closer and came to a startling conclusion. The men were related, possibly even brothers. He let that go, for now he had some names, the rest would come later.
"So, as you pointed out earlier, my concern is what you intend to do with me. You haven't shot me yet, so either you are worried about breaching a Halon pipe or you want me alive for something." He hoped. The joking around was a front, this was no laughing matter and it was obvious he was in some strife. How much was what he was trying to figure. His snarky attitude had already gained him some information and he was hoping it would get him some more. That he was still alive was a big plus. The fact that they hadn't used the gun was a minor point, unless they were worried about the noise. There were plenty of ways to kill a man without making any noise, especially if he were unconscious.
"That's the part we were working on when you came to." Martin admitted. Despite seeming reasonably confident and in charge he did seem to be at a loss for what to do next.
"I could offer some suggestions."
"I'm sure you could." Martin scoffed. "No offence, but I think we'll come up with something."
"No offence taken." The more he chatted to them like old pals the less likely they were to shoot him out of hand. Or so the theory went.
"Now this is what I call a war-room." Megan said turning to the shadowy figure beside her.
Megan peered at the man's face, not Don. "Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else."
It was hard to see in the matt black painted CIC, the few overhead lights seemed to make the room dimmer rather than provide actual illumination. She finally recognised the man, an agent from the fraud section. No wonder he was a little off put by her comment, they hardly needed a war-room, unlike the violent crimes squad. The other agent moved off as she started to look for her boss. She saw Colby and David eyeing off some of the equipment, even with all the screens darkened they were enthusing over the capabilities of the room. Another minute and she was sure, no Don.
"Hey guys, you see where Don went?"
Colby and David tore their attention away from the equipment and each flicked their eyes around the room.
"I haven't seen him since we were on the bridge." David finally said.
"Nah, me either." Colby added. "C'mon Megan, he's probably ducked off to the head or something."
"Uh, yeah. I guess." It was reasonable, she supposed.