"I hope it's healthy pizza," Alan Eppes observed wryly, welcoming Megan and David in with arms bearing large and flat boxes with steam rising from them. "Colby, how are you feeling?"
"Much better, thanks," Colby grinned, his arm in a sling and the rest of him dressed in off-duty comfortable clothing. "Not up to driving yet, not according to the docs, but these two hijacked me and here I am."
"Come in, come in," Alan invited. "Don, they're here," he called to the interior.
"Hey, man, don't get up," David protested, leading the way.
"Wasn't planning on it." Don didn't move from the sofa, didn't even try to close up the half open robe loosely belted across his waist. The dark fabric tried valiantly to cover the white bandage at his waist, failing to do more than a quarter of the job. Don didn't mind. In fact, shaving had also not been on today's agenda, with dark stubble making it clear that five o'clock had come and gone yesterday as well as today. There was a tall glass of something liquid sitting on the coffee table in front of him with a small vial of white pills that would, Colby had no doubt, fetch a hefty price on the black market. Colby didn't mind; there was a similar small vial riding in his pocket that ensured that Colby too wouldn't be driving a car or operating heavy machinery for the next several days.
Don waved an arm. "Take a load off." He almost leaned forward to sniff the pizzas, then thought better of it. "I hope somebody brought onions. None of that pepperoni crap. I've got my health to consider."
"Hey, I like pepperoni crap," Colby objected, easing himself into the second most comfortable chair he could find with one hand, since his team leader already occupied the first. He re-adjusted the sling on the other arm. "And sausage, and hamburg, and—"
"Your arteries are going to be clogged within three years," Megan told him unsympathetically.
Don changed the subject to what he was really interested in. "You guys get the reports finished up?"
"Almost," David said. He grinned, white teeth splitting his face. "All except for yours, Don."
"Yeah, well, you're gonna have to wait for that," Don grinned. "The docs won't sign my release until Monday. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."
"No fair," Colby grumbled. "They gave me desk duty." He took a ferocious bite of pizza. "I hate riding a desk."
"Next time, get shot in the gut instead of the shoulder," Don told him with a total lack of sympathy.
"Thanks. I'll be sure to remind the next sniper I see."
"So fill me in on the details," Don requested. "I knew one of the DEA guys was dirty, but I was thinking that it was Bausch."
"Nope. Lomb," Megan said cheerfully. "Agent Bausch was obnoxious—and he's going back for a 'refresher course' on witness interrogation techniques as well as a few sessions with the DEA's psychotherapy department—but he wasn't dirty. It was all Lomb. The DEA cameras that never caught anything? Lomb would notify Bartholomew Gideon of when they were going up. Gideon would slip a heavy duty magnet into Reuben Magenbrot's tool case so that the digital picture would get erased whenever Magenbrot was near."
"So this whole thing was never about drugs," Don realized. "It was always about stealing national secrets."
David nodded. "It started with Bartholomew Gideon. He realized right away that he wasn't going to able to keep up with the lifestyle he'd chosen, not when the company was trying to foot the bill for some high end real estate for all of the employees. Department accountants are delving through the Make A Better Day books right now. The company is broke, and may even take some of their creditors with them."
"So Gideon comes up with this way to steal the formula from Lavozzi Industries."
"It was really a brilliant plan, Don," Megan put in. "Gideon realizes that he looks fairly similar to Magenbrot; both medium height and weight, both blond. So Gideon forges a second Lavozzi ID for Magenbrot, only this one has Gideon's picture on it. Gideon goes in through the back door which doesn't require swiping the ID with a bar code, only a signature which nobody looks very carefully at. With so many people going through, the guards—mostly part-timers and a variety of others working the back door—never learn to recognize most of the contract Better Day workers. Gideon slips through and plants cocaine into the desks of people who have paid for it through their contracts with Better Day providing residential service."
"Of course," Don acknowledged. "And that's where Lomb came in, I'm assuming. He would ensure an adequate supply of coke."
"Right." David took over the story. "One of them—both Lomb and Gideon are accusing the other—one of them realizes that they can 'persuade' some of the Lavozzi employees to put a piece of the formula into a drawer in their desks. None of the Lavozzi people realize what's happening; a small piece is worthless without the rest. They're over a barrel, and they cave. They don't realize that others are providing other pieces to make up the whole."
"Which is how Gideon and Lomb acquire the entire formula. Lomb contacts Krikov and says, 'make me an offer.'"
"Exactly." Megan smiled grimly. "Lomb had the black market connections that Gideon lacked. When Lomb thinks, courtesy of your little 'meeting' the other day, that Gideon is close to being identified as the person entering Lavozzi under a false ID, he calls him and tells him to cut and run. Lomb, of course, didn't realize that we already knew that Gideon was guilty and had him under surveillance. Gideon calls Krikov and arranges for a meet, planning to get the money and flee the country. Krikov, by the way, was Colby's sniper. Damn good shot with a rifle. You know the rest from there."
"Not really," Don contradicted. "What about the cabin in the country? How did Charlie get up there? Why didn't we know about it?"
"The cabin was in Nancy's name, which is why it didn't show up when we ran the first search for properties," David informed him. "That's how Gideon was hiding both money and debt. Most of the people in the L.A. house that Colby and I went to are the legal owners of Better Day properties and never even knew it." He grinned. "I understand that our accountants are working with the D.A.'s office to regularize some of the ownership issues. Nancy and Darren may turn out to own some very valuable property with no way for Gideon to get it back."
Don grinned. That was good news. "Okay, but why did they take Charlie there? Walk me through that."
"Magenbrot again," David said. "He realized that Gideon was there, and somehow found out that Gideon was using his name. He got hold of the formula somehow—that part wasn't clear, but we think he may have sneaked it from Gideon's own bag when he saw the boss there—and stashed it in the cabin in the hills. He told Nancy and Darren that if anything ever happened to him, that they should look in the cabin, and talk to Charlie. Magenbrot always thought of Charlie as a genius who could figure anything out. In Magenbrot's mind, if you believe Nancy and I do, Charlie would know everything." He shrugged. "I talked to the D.A. The kidnapping thing? She's going to let Nancy and Darren off with a slap on the wrist. According to Charlie, they hadn't a clue as to what they were really doing. They just wanted to clear Magenbrot's name. Charlie's good with that."
"Meredith Aarons, the woman at the house," Colby put in, "she's clean. She's good. She didn't know what was going on, didn't know that her own name was on the deed to the house here in L.A. She's going to keep on in her role as 'den mother' for a while, at least until things are straightened out. Gideon really did have the right idea for people helping people, just didn't know when to stop."
"Gideon broke, once we pulled him in," Megan continued. She grinned. "We just gave Agent Trainee Rod D'Armante his first major bust, and Gideon's been talking non-stop. Gideon was there the night of Magenbrot's death, and he was responsible. Magenbrot had seen him once before, possibly twice, and Gideon was able to cover up, but the last time Magenbrot apparently confronted Gideon. They argued, Gideon threatened him, and Magenbrot ran. Gideon chased him, and Reuben Magenbrot slipped and fell down the stairs. At least, that's Gideon's story. Forensics wants to do more investigation, make sure that Gideon didn't help Magenbrot to fall with a push." Megan lifted her shoulders. "Gideon couldn't afford to let Reuben Magenbrot tell his story. It would have ruined him."
"It would have exposed treason," Colby put in. "A capital offense. Good reason to kill a witness." He looked around. "Where's Charlie? Doesn't the dude want to hear this?"
Don got a cat-eating-canary expression on his face. "He's teaching."
"Is not. I saw his car outside. He's here at the house, man."
"He's in the garage." Don's face didn't change, though the smile got broader.
"All right, I'll bite." David offered a hand to Colby to help the man out of the comfortable chair. "You coming?"
"I suppose." Colby took the hand, tried not to groan while getting up.
Don too gingerly stood up, allowing both his father and Megan to keep him upright. Only the thought of the impending scene made him keep going, hand clutched to his side. "Keep it down, guys. You know how Charlie hates to have class interrupted."
They trooped out to the garage, going at Don's and Colby's slow pace. Megan opened the door.
Charlie was there, a white bandage covering the healing slice on his neck, in front of his beloved white board. The board was covered with several different colors, and a marker was in Charlie's hand adding to the equations already in existence. Light streamed in through the window, casting a triangle of white onto one corner of the white board. Charlie himself was dancing back and forth along the board, explaining the details of the equations to his students.
Those 'students' were seated around the edge of the room, most sitting on crates but one or two were lucky enough to have scored a folding chair. Every one of them held a pad of paper with some sort of writing implement: a pencil here, one with a pen with a feather floating out of the top, one even struggling to make a purple crayon write clearly. Two of the students were well-known to the FBI agents: Nancy and Darren.
"So this is what a fraction is," Charlie was saying. "We break the big number up into the number of pieces that this lower number tells us to. Here we have the fraction one-fourth. The bottom number under the line is four, so we break this big number on this side of the equation into four parts. The big number here is eight. How many do we have in each part of the eight if we have four parts? Nancy?"
"Two," she said proudly.
"Very good," Charlie complimented her. Nancy beamed. Charlie looked up, saw the visitors to his 'class.' "Hi, guys. Want to join in?"
"'Mr. Math Professor' is teaching us math," Darren informed the FBI agents solemnly.
"Ben wanted to learn math," Nancy added. "Ben wanted to get smart."
"We all want to get smart," another one chimed in. "We all want to learn math."
Charlie shrugged, trying to hide a pleased smile. He spread his hands wide. "What can I say? I'm a sucker for anyone who loves numbers."