Disclaimer: See Prologue
Chapter 36: Epilogue:
Charlie sorted through the DVD's that Amita had stacked on the coffee table for him to choose from. They had opted for a quiet evening at her apartment on this Friday night and both were looking forward to an evening alone.
The past month had been full of follow-up visits with his doctor, physical therapist, and even a couple of visits with Dr. Bradford. His body was healing and emotionally he was beginning to put the ordeal behind him.
Unfortunately, his mind was not fully focused on choosing a movie. The events of the last few weeks kept playing through his memory. The FBI had wanted every detail of the kidnapping, beginning from his abduction at the house to the rescue on the cliffs. It had been difficult to talk about it at first, but Don had stayed with him and with his encouragement he was able to get through it and tell them everything that had happened to him. The only part of it that he couldn't recall with clarity was what had taken place after Bashere had stabbed him. Don and his team took over at that point and filled in the rest of the report.
Sighing and slightly irrated, Charlie had to start over again, telling himself to concentrate on the DVD's. But as he began to sort through them, his thoughts, once again, turned to the FBI's investigation.
The bureau had Bashere's DNA on file, taken from their first encounter with the Frenchman, and it had matched the blood spatter they found inside the cave. Three weeks after the plane crash, a badly decomposed body had been discovered in the water along the Point Mugu coastline but it was still being tagged as a John Doe. The FBI didn't have any DNA records of Alexis Krill so they were waiting to see if South Africa had obtained any from the man. Marie Bastille had closed her business and had left for Mexico on the very day of the Frenchman's burial. The FBI had no evidence linking her to Bashere's crimes so they were not actively pursuing her. It seemed that her only involvement with Bashere had been to supply him with escorts, and that of course, had been the nature of her business, "Lady Chatterley's Companions".
After the depositions were finished Don had confessed to him that he had a funny feeling about the woman and had really wanted a chance to question her when she wasn't hiding behind a veil, but she was out of his reach now. Charlie had also been disappointed to hear that she had left the country because he had some questions for her himself, like where a certain painting might be found. She had denied any knowledge of it's location at the cemetery but he had a feeling that she had been lying about that and that she knew a lot more than she had told them. The painting weighed heavily on his mind though and even his numbers couldn't help him locate it; he just didn't have enough data to come up with any viable locations.
It was finally over, so it was with a sigh of relief that Charlie stretched his legs out in front of him and leaned his head back against the sofa. Somehow he had managed to narrow his choices down to just two movies and he yawned tiredly as he set the them aside and waited for Amita to join him.
Charlie had nodded off without realizing it but Amita's gentle kisses quickly brought him to his senses. He opened his eyes and pulled Amita closer, replacing her gentle kisses with more passionate ones.
"This is better than a movie." he said huskily.
"Yes it is." she whispered back. "But your leg isn't completely healed yet, so we'll have to settle for the movie…remember?"
He groaned softly. "I can take a little pain."
"But I can't." she said pulling slightly away from him and meeting his eyes. "I'm not going to be responsible if you have a relapse. Besides, I don't like to see you in pain."
Charlie gazed into her concerned eyes and with an exaggerated sigh he released her.
"Okay, you win. I've narrowed it down to these two movies but I'm leaning toward this one." he said holding them out for her. "Which one do you want to watch?"
Amita laughed delightedly. "I love that one, excellent choice. "Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." She jumped up. "I'll pop some popcorn and you can get the movie set up."
His eyes lingered on her until she was out of the room then he sighed again and got up to start the DVD player. Charlie inserted the disk and looked around for the remote but his search failed to locate the elusive device.
"Amita." he called out. "Where's the remote?"
She popped her head back through the doorway. "Oh, sorry, look on my desk, it might be under that stack of files."
Charlie glanced at her desk and his eyebrows shot up…. and she thought he was disorganized?
The small desk top disappeared completely beneath her purse, laptop and a pile of student folders but he didn't give up and eventually found the remote behind her laptop.
"Found it." he called out again, As he turned around he accidentally brushed against her purse and it went tumbling off of the desk, spilling it's contents across the floor just as Amita returned carrying drinks and a bowl of popcorn.
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid that I bumped it when I turned around." he eased himself to the floor and sat down to pick up her things. He could bend his leg now but there was still a lot of pain if he put his weight on it while he was bending.
"Charlie, that's okay, I can get this. Your going to hurt yourself." Amita hurriedly set the snacks down and was soon on her knees gathering up her things.
"No, I'm okay this way. I can help." Charlie protested.
A piece of paper sealed in plastic had slid under the coffee table and he picked it up to hand it to her, pausing when he recognized what it was. He stared at it in surprise, it was the note that he had put inside the box of roses, the note that Bashere had ripped to pieces. It wasn't complete though, there were a lot gaps in his message. A number of pieces were still missing, but she had tried to fit the remaining fragments together and had taped them to another sheet of paper and sealed it in plastic.
He tilted his head slightly and met Amita's eyes. "You tried to put my note back together." he said softly.
She bowed her head and when she looked up again there was moisture in the corner of her eyes. Amita reached out to take his hand as she whispered. "It was all that I had left of you after that monster took you away. I….I didn't know if I was ever going to see you again and I had to know what you wrote." She glanced sadly at the note. "But I couldn't find all of the pieces, so I couldn't figure out everything you had written."
Charlie lifted her chin and kissed her. "Why didn't your tell me? Why did you keep it a secret?"
Amita's voice was thick with emotion as she answered. "Charlie, you had been through so much and I…I just didn't want to remind you of that horrible day."
He gently cupped her cheek and said softly. "Mita, what happened is behind us now, but what I wrote in the note still holds true." Charlie gently wiped away the tears that had fallen on her cheeks.
"Come here, and I'll tell you what I meant for you to read that day."
Amita moved closer and they scooted backwards on the floor until their backs were resting against the sofa. He put his arm around her shoulders and she put an arm around his waist and laid her head upon his chest,
Charlie held the note in his free hand so that she could see it too. "Let me fill in these gaps for you."
My Dearest Amita,
I wish that I could claim the following words as my own, but in truth, I cannot . However, I do believe that they were meant for the two of us.
"From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together, and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being."
You will always have my heart and my soul.
"Oh Charlie, that is so beautiful." She ran her hand through his curls and pulled his head down so their lips could meet. After a long lingering kiss she asked. "I've never read that before, where did you find it?"
He shifted his position to get more comfortable. "Well, it was actually written by Baal Shem Tov, a Jewish mystical Rabbi who lived during the middle ages. I stumbled across some of his stories and I thought that this particular passage applied to us."
She smiled and kissed him again. "Who's says that mathematician's can't be romantic?"
Charlie laughed and pulled her closer but before he could snatch another kiss his cell phone rang. "I knew I should have turned my phone off." he grumbled as he pulled it from his pocket.
Amita giggled. "And if you had turned it off, there would probably be a team of FBI agents knocking at my door right now, lead by your brother."
Charlie snickered in agreement and quickly flipped it open to read the I,D. of the caller.
"Hey Dad, what's up? No, I didn't forget, we'll be over in tine for lunch. Let me know if you want me to pick anything up. Okay, Goodnight Dad." He closed his phone just as Amita was standing up.
Charlie looked up at her. "Dad was just making sure that we didn't forget that Don and Robin are coming over for our barbecue tomorrow. We're still on, right?"
"Right." She smiled as she held a hand out to him. "Let me help you up Charlie."
He smiled mischievously up at her and patted the floor next to him. "You could come back down here."
She laughed. "Oh, no, back on the couch professor. Our popcorn is getting cold and Indy is already on the hunt." She nodded her head at the tv and the movie that had started playing.
He grumbled good-naturedly and let her help him up. They settled on the couch and focused on the movie and the snacks but after a while they moved closer together and "Indy" was forgotten.
"Target has been acquired." David reported from his sedan as he followed the car from a safe distance. "ETA is ten minutes."
"Roger that. Eppes out." Don closed his phone and relayed the message to his team. They quickly got into their positions and prepared for the take down.
Colby was watching from the window and quickly moved from view. "They're here." he announced as he moved to another area.
"Everyone in position, no mistakes now." Don ordered. "David, where are you?"
"I'm right behind them."
The doorknob was starting to turn and everyone went silent as the door swung open and the unsuspected targets walked across the threshold of the Craftsman.
Don looked around the back yard and couldn't suppress a smile. Alan had outdone himself. Of course, he could not have accomplished this feat without the assistance of four hardened FBI agents and one CalSci professor. Together, they had successfully pulled off a surprise engagement party for Charlie and Amita. There were festive balloons and colorful flowers decorating a long rectangle table set up in the middle of the yard. It was covered with a white tablecloth and filled with dishes, champagne glasses and several bottles of champagne. Another table had been set up to hold a cake and various other food dishes.
His smile faded a little as he watched his brother rise from his chair and limp toward him. It had only been a month after the incident but he had come along way in his recovery and with hard work he no longer needed the use of the cane The limp itself would disappear as his leg grew stronger but other scars not so visible would take longer to fade away. Charlie wasn't the only one left with invisible scars, he and his Dad were suffering from them too, but Don was sure that the three of them would pull together and eventually heal those scars as well.
"Earth to Don." his younger brother grinned up at him.
Don returned his smile. "What? Sorry I was just thinking about something."
"I can't believe that you guys managed to keep this a secret from us." He waved his hand around the yard. "This is just perfect, thanks.
"Yeah, well you know Dad." he bent his head closer to his brother and lowered his voice. "Actually, Dad wanted to invite the whole neighborhood, all of Calsi and the entire FBI office, so you owe me one bro."
Charlie scoffed and looked around for his father. Alan was in charge of the barbecue and was explaining to David and Colby the correct way to grill a rib-eye steak and with beer in hand the younger agents appeared to be fully engrossed in his instructions. His eyes drifted to Amita who was surrounded by Megan, Robin and David and Colby's dates. They were admiring her engagement ring and, as he watched, she looked up and met his eyes, giving him a bright smile. A moment later she quickly looked away, blushing from a comment that Megan had just made, and had all of the ladies glancing at Charlie and giggling. He blushed and turned his attention to the other professor's from Calsci. Ray Galinski and Larry were sitting at the table deep in a conversation about the best way to green-up the craftsman.
Larry had once told him that while he had been up in space he had come to realize how fragile life on earth really was. The recent events had certainly clarified that for the young professor and as he looked around the yard at his family and friends he was reminded of how close he had come to losing his life.
"Hey, Charlie." Don put a hand around his brother's neck. "You okay?"
Startled, Charlie looked up into the concerned eyes of his brother. "Yeah, I'm fine. I was just thinking about how ….you know….how close it was." and he ducked his head and looked away.
Don's hand tightened on his shoulder. "Yeah." he said, his voice thick with emotion. "So was I."
"Hey, Donnie!" Alan called out from across the yard. "Would you mind getting the rest of the barbecue sauce? I have another bottle in the refrigerator."
Don patted Charlie on the shoulder and broke away. "Sure thing Dad" he turned back to his brother. " I'll be right back."
"I'll come with you. I need to walk a little anyway, my leg is starting to get a little stiff." Charlie said as he moved to follow him inside.
As soon as they were inside, Charlie grabbed a chair and sat down, stretching out his leg and absently rubbing it with his hand. Don had just opened the refrigerator and taken out the barbecue sauce when there was knock at the front door. The agent quickly set the sauce on the table.
"Stay where you are Charlie, I'll see who it is." and he was at the door before his brother could say a word in protest.
Don opened the door and his face broke into a smile. "High Jeff, I'm glad you could make it." he extended his hand as he called over his shoulder. "Charlie, come here, I want you to meet someone."
Charlie soon joined him and smiled as Don made the introductions. "Ranger Jeff Cromwell, meet my younger brother, Dr Charles Eppes."
Charlie shook his hand. "You've made quite impression on my brother, it's nice to finally meet you."
"You might say that Don has made one on me too. It's a pleasure to finally get to me you Dr. Eppes. I don't normally attend these kind of functions, but he talked me into it." he tilted is head and scratched at his temple. "I have to tell you though, with all of the bragging that he was doing, I though you would be a lot older."
Charlie's eyebrows shot up and he looked in amazement at his brother. "Don….bragging about me. Are you sure were talking about the same Don Eppes?"
Don playfully nudged his brother aside as he made room for the ranger to enter. "Ha, ha, very funny Charlie."
Charlie grinned and turned to Cromwell. "All of my friends call me Charlie, and I hope that you will also."
"Charlie it is then."
Before Cromwell entered though he looked from brother to brother and asked. "I hope you don't mind but I brought a friend along with me today. I just didn't have the heart to leave him alone."
Don's face lit up as he looked around the ranger and Charlie watched in surprise as his brother suddenly knelt to his knees and called out. "Hey, Riggs, come here boy."
The little dog trotted through the doorway with his nose in the air, sniffing at all of the new smells. He tilted is head upwards, making eye contact with his owner, as if he was asking for permission to proceed.
The ranger gave a nod of his head and the dog looked back at Don and sat down on his haunches, lifting his paw to shake hands with the agent.
Don grinned up at Charlie as he took the little dog's paw and gently shook it. It returned it's paw to the floor and sat there waiting for his treat. Don looked up as the ranger handed him a small dog biscuit which he placed in the palm of his hand and lowered it to the dog's mouth. Riggs gently took it from his hand and ate the treat.
Charlie was grinning like an eight year old and asked excitedly. "Can I try it?"
He grimaced a little as he knelt down, trying to keep most of the pressure on his good leg and Don placed a hand under his elbow to steady him.
"Riggs, say hello to Charlie."
The little dog sat down once again and extended his paw. Charlie grinned as he gently shook the little paw. Afterwards, the little dog sat back and waited for another treat. The ranger handed him a treat but Don grabbed it before Charlie could get it.
"Hey." Charlie said surprised. "It's my turn."
"I know." Don said soothingly. "I just want to show you how to hold it ."
Charlie looked at Don like he had lost his mind. "Hold it? I think I know how to hold a dog biscuit Don."
"No, no. You have to do it this way." He took his brother's hand and turned it palm up. "Look, place it in the palm of your hand and then slowly lower it to his mouth." Don was grinning like a little kid himself. "Go ahead, now try it."
Charlie rolled his eyes at is brother but did as he was told. "Wow, he took the biscuit without even touching my hand."
"Riggs can be very gentle when he wants to be." Jeff said proudly.
"Boys, I thought you were going to bring out the barbecue sauce." Alan bellowed out before he saw the ranger. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you standing there." his eyes drifted downward. "Don, Charlie, what are you doing on the floor?" he couldn't see the dog because his son's were blocking him from view.
Don and Charlie stood up as Alan came over and his eyebrows rose in surprise at their smallest guest.
"Dad, this is Ranger Cromwell. Jeff, this is our father, Alan Eppes. Oh, and this is Riggs."
Don watched as Alan smiled and shook hands with the ranger. Alan had become withdrawn around strangers ever since he had learned the real identity of Fitzgerald. He blamed himself for letting the man enter their home and now he shied away from strangers. That was one of the reasons that Don had invited Jeff, he thought that the two of them would hit if off and he was hoping to draw the old Alan back out of his shell.
Alan looked skeptically at the little dog. "This is the dog that saved your life?"
"Yep." Don said as he closed the door behind the ranger. "And Jeff can tell you all about it during dinner. We better get back outside."
They all headed out the back door and Don grabbed the barbecue sauce on his way out. It was no surprise that the smallest guest ended up getting a lot of attention. Everyone loved the little dog and by the time they were all seated for dinner, the Sheltie was stuffed with doggie biscuits. He curled up beside the ranger's feet and promptly went to sleep.
Dinner was a fun affair between the Eppes family and their good friends and as the evening wore on everyone had heard the story of the lion and how Riggs had gotten his name. No one believed that the little dog ever misbehaved despite the ranger's protest that it was true.
Don changed the subject and to Colby's chagrin, he told everyone about the engagement pool that the agent had arranged and how he had accused Charlie of cheating.
Alan's eyes widened in surprise. "So, what happened next?" He turned to his youngest son. "Charlie, what did you do?" But before Charlie could answer Don finished his story.
"It's okay Dad, Charlie wasn't upset at all. He merely informed my agents that gambling was illegal after all, and he just wanted to protect them so he was donating the winnings to charity."
"I was just teasing him, I didn't really mean it." Colby called out in his own defense which caused David to laugh out loud and choke on his beer. "You know that, right Charlie?"
"I know Colby. It's okay."
Grinning from ear to ear, Don leaned across the table and shook his finger at his agents. "I told you so, I told you Charlie would get even with you guys."
Megan grinned back at him and slapped her hands on the table. "I bet you've been waiting all day just to say that."
"You got that right." he retorted, laughing out loud.
Charlie laughed too. "Hey, I wasn't getting even, I was just protecting them."
"Yeah, right." Don snorted., which prompted more laughter around the table.
"Amita, have you and Charles set a date yet?" Larry asked, bringing the conversation back to the young couple.
Blushing the young woman turned to the professor. "No, not yet Larry, we're still working on that."
"I'm already planning the bachelor party, but of course, I still need the wedding date. After all, the party is always the night before the wedding." Don said with a wink at Charlie.
Charlie laughed out loud and put an arm around Amita. "I think I've created a monster."
"Do you really think that it is wise to partake of this event on the night before the ceremonial gathering?" Larry posed the question.
"Hey, this is a tried and true tradition." Don retorted. "As the "best man" it is my responsibility to make sure that my little brother celebrates it in the way it is supposed to be embraced." Smiling till his eyes crinkled at the corners, he leaned back and exchanged a knowing glance with his father.
"I think that is what Larry is afraid of, Don." Megan laughed as she put an arm around the professor, prompting a burst of laughter from everyone.
Alan leaned over to give his oldest a nudge. "Just what exactly do you have planned for your brother?"
The smile never left Don's face as he answered. "Sorry, Dad, I'm afraid that is top secret information and you just don't have the clearance."
His father snorted and commented. "All right, Donnie, just don't forget that he has to be conscious on his wedding day." He grinned and winked at his future daughter-in-law. "Isn't that right Amita?"
Amita just blushed and laughed at his comment.
The afternoon turned into evening as the laughter continued to echo around the yard. The little dog began to stir at the ranger's feet and he sat up yawning widely as he looked around the area. The spirited conversation continued above him as he stood up and stretched unnoticed by the ranger. Jeff had removed the leash and so it was with delight that the little dog realized that he was free to move around the yard. A bowl of water had been placed by the ranger's chair and he bent his head to lap it up. His thirst quenched, he was now ready to explore. He wondered between the feet under the table and then froze as something caught his eye. His head tilted sideways and he froze, suddenly focused on the pond at the end of the yard. " Was that a bubble?" He narrowed his focus, and sure enough several more bubbles of water could be seen erupting and bursting into the air. " H"mm, this could be worth exploring."
The little dog glanced back at the ranger and was delighted to see that he was still involved in a conversation, making it that much easier for him to drift over to the pond and investigate the mysterious bubbles. Unnoticed, he made his way from the table and approached the pond. Finally, he was close enough to look down into the water and his eyes widened with surprise and excitement. Suddenly, like a super hero, the little dog transformed when the "wild man" streak in him burst forth.
"Fish….a whole bunch of them and their so big!" He was so excited that his tail had started swishing back and forth at an incredible speed. He could herd them around just like sheep, after all, that's what Shetland sheepdogs were supposed to do. Besides, there wasn't any rule that said he couldn't herd fish instead of sheep.
His liquid brown eyes lit up with excitement and the "wild man" took control of him. Putting caution to the wind, he immediately began to bark furiously at the koi while he ran in circles around the pond.
Surprised by the sudden barking, everyone at the table turned to see what had excited the little dog. Their startled expressions lasted only a moment before they all scrambled up and ran toward the pond, frantically calling out the little dog's name.
"Riggs, no!" Jeff called out as he ran toward the excited little dog.
But Riggs was in his element, and with an expression on his face that could only be described as a grin, he ran to the edge of the pond. With a triumphant glance at the ranger and the people running behind him, the happy little dog took a running leap and….. SPLASH!
Charlie held the door open for Alan as they came out on the front porch of the Craftsman. It was a warm Saturday afternoon and the two of them had decided to take advantage of it and relax a while on the front porch.
Alan set his glass of iced tea down on a small patio table before turning around to step off of the porch.
"Have a seat Dad, I'll get the mail." Charlie said after setting his own glass down.
Alan shrugged and sat down in a chair. He sipped on his tea and watched as Charlie walked to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. It had been two months since the engagement party and Charlie's leg had healed completely, he had even lost the limp. Outwardly he looked normal again and had even managed to put on a few pounds but sometimes Alan would find him lost in thought and he could tell from the expression on his face that he wasn't thinking about any equations. Some things were just going to take a little longer to heal.
Charlie grabbed the mail from the box and slowly made his way back toward the porch. He was halfway up the sidewalk when the sound of a car horn drew his attention and he changed direction to greet his brother.
"What's happening Chuck?" Don greeted his brother teasingly as he grabbed a small shopping bag from his car before closing the door. Before Charlie could respond to his use of the dreaded nickname his father called out from the porch.
"Donnie, I didn't expect to see you today."
"I thought I would check in and see what you guys were up too."
The boys climbed the steps together and then sat down to get more comfortable.
"I thought you and Robin had the afternoon all planned out?" Alan asked.
Don shrugged his shoulders. "We did, but she had to go to Seattle on a case. I just dropped her off at the airport so I thought I 'd come over here and see what was going on." he glanced at his brother. "Where's Amita?"
Charlie looked up from the mail in his hand and grinned. "She'll be over later tonight. She kicked me out, said she had to clean up her apartment and that I was too much of a distraction."
"I bet you were." Don chortled.
Blushing, Charlie decided to change the subject and handed some of the mail to his brother. "Don, could you pass these over to Dad?"
His brother took the letters and gave them to Alan, but Don knew his little brother's tactics and he had every intention of continuing his harassment. He changed his mind though, when he glanced at Charlie. His brows were knitted together in puzzlement as he read the letter that he had just opened.
"What have you got there buddy?" Don asked, suddenly very curious. His tone of voice prompted Alan to gaze in his son's direction. "Charlie?"
"What?" Startled, Charlie looked up and exchanged glances with both his brother and father, not sure which one of them had called him.
"Is everything okay?" Alan asked, his own mail forgotten.
"Oh, yeah, sure. It's just that this letter has to be a mistake, that's all." he said, holding up the letter. "Check this out." Charlie added , handing the letter to his brother.
Don's eyebrows shot up and he looked up in surprise. "Did you know this guy, this…." he paused as he rapidly read over the letter. "this Reginald Phillips?"
"Never heard of him." Charlie said.
"Are either of you going to tell me what's in the letter?" Alan asked impatiently.
Embarrassed, Don quickly passed the letter to his father.
"Oh, sorry, Dad." Charlie apologized. "It's a letter from a law firm in Albania. It says that I've inherited an estate from one Reginald Phillips and that I need to come there immediately to settle the inheritance."
Don pulled off his sunglasses. "Where is Albania anyway?"
Charlie shrugged. "Don't look at me, geography wasn't my thing, remember?"
"Somewhere in South East Europe I think, maybe near Greece." Alan said absently as he read the letter. He pulled off his glasses and raised his head. "Charlie what are you going to do about this? This letter says that legal action will be taken against you if you don't pay the taxes and settle all accounts, whatever that may be."
"Obviously, they've contacted the wrong Charles Eppes." The young man said. "I'll just let them know that they've made a mistake."
"There's another one?" Don asked grinning from ear to ear. "I don't think the world is big enough to handle two of you Charlie."
"Ha, ha, brother." Charlie rolled his eyes at him. "I'll take it to my attorney on Monday and let him deal with it. He'll be able to straighten it out for me."
"I could find out who this guy was." Don offered, more than a little curious about the mysterious Phillips.
Charlie shook his head. "No, let's just let my lawyer take care of it, okay?"
"It's your call bro." Don responded. "Oh, by the way, I brought you something." He handed him a small shopping bag.
Charlie started to reach for the bag but suddenly experienced an overwhelming sense of de-ja-vu. "Thanks, but no thanks, bro." Don's surprised expression prompted him to quickly explain. "No offense man, but your tee shirts bring me bad luck so if it's all the same to you, I think I'll pass this time."
Don 's face broke into a grin as he realized the reason for his brother's reluctance in taking the bag. "Yeah, I came to that same conclusion myself, so go ahead and take this."
Really curious now, Charlie took the bag, and was surprised by how heavy it was. It definitely wasn't a tee shirt. Cautiously, he peaked inside and then laughed out loud. He pulled out a coffee mug with the math symbol for Pi on one side and E equals Eppes written on the other side. Grinning, he held it up so that Alan could see it.
"Thanks, man, this is really cool."
"Your welcome, now don't break it." Don grinned and then turned to look at his dad.
"What did you get Dad? He asked as he pointed to the mail that lay forgotten in Alan's lap.
"Oh, Jeff sent me a few brochures of the park. We decided to go hiking next weekend and he wanted me to look over a few of the trails." Alan said as he put his glasses back on and opened the envelope.
Alan had reverted back to his old self and he and Ranger Cromwell had become fast friends. Jeff had been over for dinner on a number of occasions since the party and he was always accompanied by Riggs. None of the koi had been hurt by Riggs's plunge into the pond but now he wasn't allowed to roam around the backyard unleashed but the little dog would still sit at the window and stare longingly at the pond. As it turned out Jeff was quite an entertaining storyteller and both Don and Charlie enjoyed his visits as well as their Dad. Many times the man had them laughing from the funny experiences that he had encountered during his many years of being a park ranger.
Don and Charlie shared an amused smile as Alan continued to talk about the upcoming hiking trip.
"Well, I hope you'll have….." Charlie's voice trailed off as he stared toward the front of the porch.
Puzzled, Don turned to see what had caught his brother's eye and found himself staring into the eyes of a large, yellow cat.
Still mesmerized by the cat's eyes, Charlie said softly. "Did you ever notice how much a cat's eyes are ……"
"Like a mountain lion's." Don finished the sentence for him as he continued to stare at the cat too.
"You know, I never noticed how feral a cat's eyes are." Charlie said, still maintaining eye contact with the cat.
"It's like they are measuring you or sizing you up for a snack or something." Don readily agreed with his brother.
'Did you ever think of getting a dog, Dad?" Charlie asked, continuing his stare-a-thon with the cat.
"Yeah, maybe one like Riggs." Don added, watching the cat warily.
"Boys." Alan huffed. "It's just Rambo, the Bailey's cat….you know… from up the street. It's not a mountain lion." he waved a hand at the cat. "Go on now, shoo."
The cat ignored him of course, and sat down to clean it's paws. Refusing to be outdone by a cat, Alan leaned forward and said. "If you go near my koi pond again, I just might get a dog."
The cat looked up and rose to his feet looking very much like he had just been insulted and with a flick of it's tail it bounded down the steps and out of sight.
Satisfied with his victory, Alan grinned broadly at his sons. "You see that, all I had to do was reason with him."
Don snorted. "Yeah, right, he's probably sitting beside the koi pond right now."
"It looked like he was heading in that direction." Charlie snickered.
"He was not." Alan scoffed. "The cat went up the street."
Don's phone rang and he quickly flipped it open. "Eppes. Okay, I'll be right there. Sorry guys." he said as he stood up and closed his phone.
Charlie's smile faded as he looked up at his brother. "But you just got here."
Don shrugged his shoulders. "Duty calls." he mumbled as he headed for the steps. Don stopped at the top step and turned around . "Do you want to come? I might need a consultant."
Charlie beamed at him and stood up immediately. "Awesome." He said excitedly and then a guilty look crossed his face as he glanced at his father. "Ah, sorry Dad."
Alan waved them off. "Go ….go solve some crimes. Just be home in time for dinner." His glasses had slid down to the bridge of his nose and he looked over them pointedly at Don. "That means you too."
"See you later." Don said as he put on his sunglasses and headed down the stairs with his brother in tow.
"Catch you later, Pop" Charlie called over his shoulder.
Alan watched as Don hooked an arm around his brother's neck. They were apparently discussing the phone call and Charlie was shaking his head animatedly, rapidly moving his hands up and down while he tried to explain some mathematical theory that he could use to help with the investigation.
Whether it was a trick of the mind or of the heart, Alan would never know, because as he watched his grown sons walk away they changed form and were replaced by a ten year old Donnie and a five year old Charlie. Don was carrying a baseball glove in his right hand and had his other arm hooked around his brother's neck as he leaned in to say something to him. Charlie was grinning, listening intently to his older brother, while he clutched a large piece of sidewalk chalk in his chubby little hand.
A smile crossed Alan's face and he wiped at some moisture in the corner of his eye, thankful that some things never changed.
A/N: Thank you for reading this story and if you liked it, please let me know. I would like to say a "special thank-you" to everyone who took the time to review and supported me through the telling of this long "tale."
(A special note to twintrekkers: I hope Charlie's note met your expectations.)