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.
Sometimes a criminal isn't an enemy and cops aren't friends.
A/N: This takes place before the end of Season 4 – the last few episodes haven't been aired in Australia yet so everything is status quo as per mid-season.
Finally, after a flash of light in his skull, everything stopped; the violent jolts, the horrendous noise and all movement. The relief to his battered senses and body was overwhelming and his mind escaped to embellished memory.
In the FBI Field Office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an agent could be heard arguing into a telephone handset. "Well there has to be someone available to get this witness to LA." There was a pause. "You can't tell me that we are unable to spare just one agent. I know we have the op on tomorrow but we've arrested the witness and the judge has demanded we have him in court by morning. … I'll keep trying, perhaps we can recall someone from leave. I'll get back to you." The handset slammed down.
Frustrated the agent headed into the break room to make a much needed coffee. She sat at a table wondering who she could call that A, wouldn't bite her head off and B, would actually come in to baby sit the witness on the flight to Los Angeles. She looked up as an agent walked in dropping some folders on a table. She didn't immediately recognise him as he fixed himself a coffee. He looked over at her feeling her eyes on him and smiled. Now she recognised him, the smile that completely changed his face and lit up a room she'd seen only once before about four, no nearly five years ago. She could now put a name to the agent.
"Agent Eppes," she began, waving at him to join her. She'd heard that an agent was coming back for a court case but not who. "Sally Fletcher. You probably don't remember me, sir. I was kind of green when you left."
Don Eppes took the offered seat in the otherwise vacant room and looked the younger woman over. She was right, he didn't really recognise her directly but the name did ring a bell. He'd always made a point when he was running this office as the SAC to interview all the new agents transferred in. She had come from the academy to do her training year there. Thinking back hard on it he remembered a quick talk as he welcomed her to the office. Her report from the academy had been glowing and he'd been just as impressed with the young woman. It was only a few weeks later that he put in for the compassionate transfer back to LA so he never really got to see her in action.
"Agent Fletcher." He greeted.
"Sally." He acknowledged as he sipped at his coffee. She looked like she'd been having a hectic morning. "So you've been assigned here permanently?"
"Yes sir." She stopped as she pondered whether she should inquire after his family. She remembered he had left due to some family illness, cancer or something that was terminal, and didn't want to drag up a painful memory. Plus the man was a legend, what did she have to talk to him about? "How's the trial going?"
"All done." He was a little disappointed actually. He'd flown back in yesterday, spent some time getting the witnesses sorted out before having a few beers with some of the agents he'd known years ago. When he'd got to court this morning Hanson had changed his plea to guilty and that was that. Don had waited for the sentence to be handed down before heading back to the office to attend to all the paperwork for the witness expenses.
All done? Sally repeated to herself. Then that meant… Eagerly she leant forward. "When are you heading back to LA?"
The senior agent looked up at her with one eyebrow raised. "Tomorrow."
Now he was definitely looking at her in suspicion. He hesitated a moment before answering. "Yes. Why?"
Sally was the one who hesitated as he waited. Should she? It was a gift wrapped solution to her problem. Why she'd been saddled with this mess in the first place was a mystery which didn't change the fact that she just had to deal with it. But Agent Eppes was such a senior agent, demotion by choice notwithstanding, and this was a milk run. Then again, from what she'd heard on the grapevine he didn't mind getting in and getting on with the job. He wasn't one to sit back in an office when he had the choice. She had nothing to loose. "How would you like to avoid the hassles at the airport and take a corporate aircraft tonight instead?"
Don for his part gave it serious consideration despite knowing that there was a catch. The tightened security on all commercial aircraft made it a nightmare to carry a firearm onto a plane and even carrying it in a lockbox was not easy. That aside the check-in process was so much easier on a FBI flight anyway, easy in, easy out at the other end. No lengthy security checks that even an FBI badge couldn't get around on a commercial carrier. Flying back tonight was also a bonus, one less night in hotel room. He'd had well and truly enough of those back in his fugitive recovery days. But before he committed he had to know. "What's the catch?"
"I have a witness in custody. He has to be in court in LA tomorrow. I've got the plane, I've got the body but I don't have an escort because everyone is committed to the op we have running first thing."
He frowned as he picked out the important information. "In custody?"
"A reluctant witness." Sally clarified.
She figured the next likely question and answered it before it was asked. "He's non-violent. Scott Nelson, a low level felon who was given immunity on known offences if he testified at this trial. He then failed to show up for a meeting with the prosecutor a day before the trial so the judge issued a warrant. We picked him up this morning and contacted the court. The judge wants him in his court by 9am tomorrow morning. The matter has been held over until then."
"And without him they are going to dismiss the charges." Don filled in. The younger agent's expression showed he was correct. "What is the trial?"
"It's a corruption and murder trial. The defendant is a Los Angeles police detective, a Sergeant Samuel Waters."
Don grimaced. Matters involving crooked cops were always messy. He ran the name though his mind. "Don't know him. I guess that also explains why we got the detail."
He'd hit the nail on the head. Normally such an extradition would be carried out by police from the jurisdiction that issued the warrant. However, as this was a trial of a corrupt and murderous LA cop it was not prudent to have LA police escort the witness. The FBI was a safe alternative. Her boss had authorised the use of an FBI aircraft, probably in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation, which now gave her a carrot to dangle in front of Agent Eppes. "Can you do it?"
"When do you need him to leave by?"
"If you get off the ground by 5pm you will be landing at around 7pm Los Angeles time. I've already got someone from your office ready to meet the plane and take custody of Nelson for the night."
Don glanced over at the pile of paperwork waiting for him. A few swift calculations, factoring in time to pack up his stuff at the hotel and check out, brought him to the conclusion that the timing was perfect. He would be at home in LA tonight. "Agent Fletcher, you got yourself a babysitter."
"Great." Sally felt a weight lift off her shoulders. "I'll get things organised."
Don watched as the young agent headed off obviously relieved. He downed the last of his coffee, wishing he'd bought a real one at the coffee shop at the corner on his way in. Collecting his files he went in search of a vacant computer terminal.
Right on 5pm he followed the witness, Scott Nelson onto the small plane waiting at the side of the terminal at Albuquerque's airport. They had the eight seat aircraft all to themselves, not counting the pilot. For a reluctant witness Nelson was remarkably compliant, obeying every instruction alleviating the need for handcuffs. The man appeared to be uneasy but failed to set off any of Don's internal alarms.
The pilot introduced himself as Andrew as Don directed Nelson to a seat and to buckle up. Andrew gave a quick safety briefing after securing the door with its integral fold out ladder. The pilot went into the cockpit and Don couldn't help but watch what the fifty-plus year old man was doing. When he drove somewhere his life was in his own hands, in an aircraft he had to rely on someone else to get him from point A to point B in safety.
"I would never have suspected you to be a nervous flier." Nelson said affably.
The agent glanced back at the witness. "Not so much nervous as would prefer to be the one driving." He admitted honestly after a moment.
The witness was a pleasant man in his mid-forties but with an athletic build reminding Don of an older Colby, more like King from the FBI SWAT team. If Nelson hadn't been a felon he would have quite liked the man. Though they hadn't had much time on the drive from the FBI building to the airport for conversation he'd already formed that impression.
"You want to be in control of your own destiny."
There were two meanings behind that statement, coming as it did from an unwilling passenger. Don was not going to discuss the case, not that he knew anything about it anyway. The plane started taxiing. "I see what you're getting at. But look at it from my angle, I'm from LA and have to head back for work, you are required in LA by the court. So here we are, both heading to LA with our destinies controlled by outside forces."
Nelson tipped his head. "A philosopher. I never expected that in a fed either."
"Yeah well, takes all sorts to be a fed."
The smile disappeared from Nelson's face as he turned toward the window watching the tarmac roll by. "As long as you're straight I don't care."
"I get that you are worried," Don started, feeling that something was needed to allay the other man's concerns. "The LAPD are not going to have access to you, we've been assigned to protect you and ensure your appearance in court tomorrow."
"Yeah, but you just said you were from LA." Nelson turned back to face the agent. He looked him over appraisingly for a moment. "How do I know you aren't on that cop's side?"
"I don't know anything about the case, or about him. I've never even met the man that I know of." He had to add the rider, there were so many LAPD officers he'd met over the years that he didn't know the names of that Waters could easily be one of them.
Nelson gave him another penetrating look before sitting back. "I'm sorry. I've not heard anything to suggest that he has made any deals with the feds but you've got to admit the coincidence is strong."
"What coincidence? That I'm from LA and I happen to be heading back home just when they arrest you?" Don thought it a bit of stretch but then Nelson probably had reason to be a little paranoid when the man was involved with crooked cops. "You think this detective has the pull to make someone plead guilty in court here in Albuquerque just so I can get on a plane with you?"
A wan smile. "Put like that it does seem a bit farfetched. No offence, Agent Eppes."
"None taken." Don settled back as the plane started its run down the airstrip.
The takeoff was smooth and the climb reasonably steep. Don felt the wheels retract with gentle thuds beneath him. The plane banked to the north slightly before it levelled out and the climb eased. To distract himself Don peered out the window at the desert rolling by below; it had taken only a minute or two to leave Albuquerque behind. The flight was slower than he was used to, not being a larger and faster commercial aircraft, which gave him more time to appreciate the vista. Normally he would read a book or more often a case file but he couldn't afford to become absorbed as he had to keep an eye on his charge, there was no barrier between the cockpit and the cabin.
Suddenly there was a change, the plane started to descend and banked sharply to the right. It corrected violently but continued descending. Don and Nelson looked at each other in alarm. The agent held up his hand ordering the witness to stay put as he struggled with his seatbelt. Freeing himself Don moved forwards to the narrow entrance to the cockpit. He braced himself and leant forward into the small space.
Andrew was slumped forwards over the controls, his face screwed up in agony. The pilot abruptly straightened and forced himself back, taking hold of the yoke and trying to pull the plane up. Beads of sweat stood out on his deathly pale face. Don noted a bluish tinge to the man's lips and fingernails. Heart attack, the signs were classic. The pilot's lips moved and Don barely made out the word 'Mayday', the pilot was trying to call it in. A shaking hand released the yoke to push a button on the instrument panel before returning to the controls.
"Andrew." There was no response. Don reached out a hand and took the pilots shoulder. "Andrew."
The stricken man turned his head briefly.
"Can I help?" Don asked.
"Sit. … Brace. … Trying to land. … Nothing you can do." Andrew gasped out. He fought the controls and himself. "Sorry."
He had to trust that the pilot would do his best as there was simply nothing else he could do. He staggered back to his seat and did the seatbelt up as tightly as he could. Don explained the situation to Nelson and they both leant forwards over their knees to brace for impact. Don briefly considered whether or not to use his cell to call in that they were in trouble but decided against it, there was no time for his phone to be turned on and acquire a network. The mountainous ground he'd seen through the windscreen was too close already. Besides this was probably not the best time to risk the radiation from his phone interfering with the plane's controls. Hopefully the button he'd seen the pilot press was the transponder alert, the pilot's gasped out distress call may not have been received.
He wanted to take a look out the window to see how much time they had left but knew it was more sensible if he stayed down. The plane's nose suddenly rose and the aircraft shuddered violently a moment later as it almost stalled. The pilot tried to correct, lowering the nose again but a wing dipped and they were falling. Don automatically reached out downwards with his right hand just as they hit.