Disclaimer; I own nothing connected in any way to Numb3rs and I am definitely not receiving any compensation for this work of fiction. I also claim no knowledge of the legal ramifications of the crimes committed in this story. After a period of research, I selected, what I felt was an appropriate term of imprisonment and punishment.
No warnings – no spoilers
Summary; Alan's testimony puts a criminal behind bars and unexpectedly brings a little justice to the Eppes family as well.
The Verdict, as usual, was busy this time of day. The small, overly crowded pub sat in downtown Los Angeles, a few blocks north of the Los Angeles County Courthouse. Every available bit of wall space in the tavern was decorated with framed legal notices, articles about famous and noteworthy trials, pictures of infamous criminals and outstanding lawyers and reproductions of historical judgments. It was the place to go after the last gavel ran out in the courtroom, where win or lose, you could either celebrate your victory or drown your sorrows.
The door swung open and four men walked in, obviously falling into the former category. All of them were smiling, with good-natured pats on the shoulder being passed around generously. One of them took a moment to look around the room, then placing his hand on an older companion's shoulder, guided him through the standing crowd to an open booth along the wall. The other two followed.
As they settled in their seats, Don Eppes turned to his father and smiled. "How are you doing, Dad?"
Alan Eppes could barely contain his excitement. "I can truthfully say, Donnie, that I have never felt this. . . this . . . well, empowered!" His face was flushed and his eyes snapped from his son to the other two men. "It's such a rush! Is it always this way for you guys?"
Across the table, Special Agents David Sinclair and Colby Granger laughed. "Yeah," David answered, his white teeth a deep contrast against his dark skin as he smiled. "It's a great feeling when the good guys win."
"And we won big today, thanks to you, Mr. Eppes." Colby said, rubbing his hands together, gleefully. "And, now, it's time to celebrate."
Alan smiled back, still excited, but glanced at his watch and asked Don, "What time do we have to pick Charlie up at the airport?"
"Relax, Dad," Don grinned, "we have plenty of time."
A tall mustached man, wearing a white apron around his hips, approached their table. It was apparent that he enjoyed and frequently took advantage of the burger and fry-like menu the tavern offered. The apron dipped a few inches below his waistline, to accommodate his stomach, which hung over the waistband of his jeans. He smiled in greeting and recognition, as he removed an order book from his pocket and a pen from above his ear. "Hey, it's my favorite feds! Looks like you guys had a good day in front of the bench."
"Yeah, Jake," Don answered, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, "you could say that."
David laughed heartily. "Bet Harold Stempler doesn't think so." There were chuckles from everyone around the table and Jake exclaimed, "Wow. You guys are the ones who brought Stempler down?"
Their expressions and a few nods told him it was true. "My Aunt Lou lost everything because of him." Jake's voice was tinted with anger. "When my uncle died she turned the estate over to Stempler and his law firm. By the time he was done "investing" her money, she'd lost it all. She always thought he helped himself to some of it, but she couldn't prove a thing."
Jake's announcement dimmed the good humor around the table and David said, grimly, "Yeah. That's how he started. He'd prey on the elderly, like that; wipe out their life savings, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs."
"Then he escalated to corporations." Colby continued, "He was actually on the financial board of several large companies. We're still trying to tally the amount he embezzled from some of them."
"But, just like a lot of these guys, his greed got the best of him. His decision to diversify even more was his first mistake." Don said, as he reached over and put a hand on Alan's shoulder. "The second one was hiring my Dad and his partner to build the luxury apartment building he planned."
Jake frowned, confused.
"My Dad knows his way around a set of blueprints." Don explained. "He noticed right away that the plans didn't match the building materials Stempler was using. We were able to nail him on fraud and malfeasance on that and when we did, his entire organization tumbled down, like a stack of dominoes."
Jake nodded, approvingly, his lips pressed together in satisfaction. "So, it's over, huh? What'd he get?"
Don shrugged, knowing all the details would be in tomorrow's paper, anyway. "He has to pay back all of the 4.6 million he embezzled from the companies and the individuals we could prove. Judge Wendell also imposed a fine of over a half a million in punitive damages." Don grinned and added, "The next time he'll be in court, will probably be in bankruptcy."
"Of course, he was disbarred." David said. "I don't think he will ever be able to work in California again."
Colby added with a smile, "The judge was kind of harsh on the sentencing. Gave him the max of 10 years. He'll probably spend eight of it in jail, if he's a good boy, the rest will probably be reduced to time served and community service."
Jake laughed. "Now, there is a sight I would love to see; Harold Stempler, cleaning toilets at the roadside rest."
"Yeah," Colby joined in the laughter. "I know what you mean. Creeps like him are so conceited and full of themselves, they can't believe anyone can bring them down." He turned to Don and Alan, sitting across the booth and his voice matched some of the pride in Don's face. "But, he hadn't met Alan Eppes yet."
Jake nodded his acknowledgment towards the older man, then asked Don, "Doesn't your brother usually work with you?"
"Yeah, well, Charlie has been gone a couple of weeks at a math convention in Quebec." He glanced back at Alan and smiled. "But, we didn't really need him, this time. We had Dad."
"A regular crime fighting family, huh?" Jake teased, then announced, boldly, pocketing his order book and pen again, "Well, as far as I am concerned, your money is no good here today. Anything you want, it's on the house. In fact, I have something special in mind that fits the occasion. Check out the menu, guys, I'll be right back."
Jake walked away and Don reached towards the bowl of pretzels sitting in the center of the table.
"Donnie, you saying I'm responsible for bringing Stempler to justice is ridiculous. You and your team spent weeks compiling all that evidence. Not to mention the other witnesses and victims that testified."
"That's all true, Dad, but it was you that took the risk of wearing a wire and getting him to incriminate himself trying to bribe you."
Alan opened his mouth, obviously wanting to protest again, but Don held up his hand. "It was your testimony that did it, Dad. All the evidence in the world is not as effective as one dead-on reliable witness. And that was you today. You said all the right things, just the right way and the jury believed you."
David nodded in agreement. "I never saw a jury come in so quickly before, Mr. Eppes. After you took the stand there was no doubt about his guilt."
"You were a prosecutor's wet dream." Colby added. Don cleared his throat, but the junior agent just grinned and reached for the bowl of pretzels.
Alan gave in graciously, smiling a little self-consciously. "Well, then, I guess we were just lucky Stempler chose Stan and I to work with him on his new project."
Jake returned carrying a bottle and five glasses. Don raised his eyebrows in appreciation when he saw the blue and gold label and noticed David and Colby were impressed, as well. Jake poured the Johnnie Walker Blue into the glasses, careful not to slosh any of the thirty dollar a shot liquid onto the table. "If you guys don't mind, I'd like to make a toast." He picked up one of the glasses and held it out. "To Team Eppes," he announced, "You guys did a lot of good today for a lot of people."
Don and the others each raised their glasses to his, enjoying the rare personal acknowledgment of their work. There were a few muted moans as they swallowed the rich, smooth, 20 year old blend.
Called to another table, Jake smiled again and pushed the bottle across towards Don and Alan. Nodding his head towards the older man, once more, Jake winked and left.
Still uncomfortable with the praise, Alan looked at his watch. "We really should go, Don, Charlie's plane could land early, you know."
"Just a minute, Dad. There's something I need to tell you." He glanced across the table to David and Colby. "You two should hear this, too."
"Well," Alan snorted with a wry grin, "it's about time."
Instantly, Don's head fell, hanging between his shoulders, and he shook it slowly. His father never ceased to amaze him. He raised his head, acknowledging Alan's all knowing gaze. "You've been wanting to say something for weeks now," the elder Eppes remarked. " all through this trial. You may as well get it off your chest."
David and Colby laughed at their boss's expense, then David said, "My Dad was the same way. Could always tell when I was hiding something." Colby nodded. "Yeah, I swear my parents both had eyes in the back of their heads. "
"It's standard equipment." Alan quipped. "It comes home with you and the baby from the hospital. All parents have a sixth sense when something is going on with their child," He turned to Don and shot him a pointed look. "no matter how old they are."
Don held a hand up in surrender and grinned. "Alright, alright." He took a deep breath, then leaned in a little closer to his father. "Dad," he began, "do you remember the summer just before Charlie turned eight? You and Mom sent him to a summer camp."
Alan blinked, surprised that the topic of discussion had turned to his youngest. He shook off his confusion and nodded, "Of course I do." He looked, then, at his son's team mates - family friends - and offered a brief explanation to those at the table who had not grown up with Charlie.
"His abilities with math was escalating so quickly, he could hardly keep up with it. The numbers were overwhelming - all consuming." He sighed, his eyes turning sad. "He was only seven and facing a burn out already. We wanted him to have fun, play with kids his own age."
Don interrupted. "The tutors were practically lining up at the door to work with him. He had no time for anything else but studies." He grimaced and added, "And, I have to admit, I wasn't always there for him that summer."
Alan's laugh was instant and filled with humor. "No, you weren't." Again, he turned to David and Colby. "That was the summer Don discovered Pamela Winebarger."
Colby stuttered. "Wait, Don, you were, what, twelve?"
"Thirteen, but get your head out of the gutter, Granger. Nothing happened. I just decided that if girls really did have cooties, it would be worth the risk in her case." There were chuckles and knowing smiles all around the table as Don continued. "Anyway, Charlie went off to camp and was there, what, three weeks, and came home early, saying he was sick."
Alan nodded, once again, his dark eyes saddened in memory. "Yes, but he wasn't; sick that is. Your mother and I just figured the other kids were making fun of him again. We really felt sorry for the poor little guy. We knew he was looking forward to being there with other kids. We hoped it would work out, but . . . ."
"He was looking forward to it, Dad. He was so excited the night before he left, he hardly slept at all. He told me this was his first chance to just be a normal kid, with no tutors, no cognitive tests or theories about his genius."
"What happened?" Alan's voice was curious and desperate. "Did he ever tell you?"
Don shook his head. "Nope. Not a word. Just said it wasn't what he expected and that he didn't want to go back again."
"So, Don," David asked, puzzled, "why are you bringing this up today?"
Don shifted in his seat, biting his lower lip and leaned into his father a little more. Tentatively, he asked, "Do you remember the head counselor at the camp?"
Alan frowned, then nodded quickly. "Harvey, or Harry maybe. Tall, good looking young man. Early twenties, I think. I don't know for sure. I was busy unpacking Charlie's books and luggage. Your mother spoke with him." He paused, remembering, and gave his son an amused look. "She didn't like him, Donnie. In fact, she called him a pompous ass. It was all Charlie and I could do to convince her to let Charlie stay there."
Don sat back in the booth, taking a deep breath before saying anything else, knowing what he was going to tell his father would be upsetting; both in it's actual content, and the fact that he had been keeping it hidden from him. His dark eyes locked with his father's and he started.
"His name was Harry. His parents owned the camp and forced him to work there that summer. He was in his last year of law school and his parents threatened to cut him off financially unless he helped them at the camp. His grades weren't good enough for a scholarship, so he was left with no choice."
As Don spoke an increasingly uncomfortable feeling began in the pit of Alan's stomach that had nothing to do with the shot of scotch before dinner. How did Don know these things? Why was he telling him this now?
"Charlie didn't enjoy himself those three weeks, Dad, because while the other kids were swimming and hiking and playing games, Charlie was locked in Harry's cabin."
Alan gasped and instantly turned pale and Don noticed both David and Colby tensed, their backs going rigid, their eyes turning dark. He put a hand up quickly, in a universal sign of calmness, cursing himself for scaring his father like that and explained, "No, God no, Dad, not that. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." When the moment of panic subsided, he continued, "He had found out about Charlie and what he could do with numbers and he was selling completed homework assignments in advanced trigonometry and calculus to other college students. He was making Charlie do the work."
Alan's eyes showed an instant of relief, then clouded over in dark anger. "How did you find this out? Did Charlie tell you?"
Don shook his head. "No, but parents don't have the corner on the sixth sense thing. Big brothers with good memories who grow up to work in the FBI and know how to hunt down old college roommates can be pretty effective. The fact that, Brian Davidson, Harry's roommate, is up for parole in six months and might need a good word, made him very talkative."
Don let the three men adjust to the disturbing bit of information, then spoke again, "Davidson said Harry made quite a bit of money that summer from Charlie's work." He reached over then, and touched Alan's arm. "Charlie was never mistreated or hurt in any way, Dad. I guess Harry just kept promising he'd let him outside to play with the other kids, but, obviously never had any intention of letting him."
"But, he did. I mean, you said Charlie came home early, right?" Colby asked.
"Well," Don smiled and turned to Alan again, "we actually have Mom to thank for that." At the shocked expression on his father's face, Don laughed a little. "And from what you just told me about Mom not liking Harry from the beginning, it's make sense. It seems she called the campground and talked to Harry's mother, you know, woman to woman, or, mother to mother, and told her it was Charlie's first time away from home and she missed him and she was worried about him and how was he really doing? Harry's mother promised she'd check on him personally. But when they couldn't find him with the other campers, they went to Harry's cabin to ask him and found Charlie there. Davidson said, and I quote, the kid put on quite a show, pretending to be sick." He told me Charlie even saved Harry's ass by telling his parents that their son let him stay there that day because he was not feeling well. I guess Harry's mom melted – he probably used those puppy dog eyes on her – and she took him to the camp nurse and fed him chicken soup and ice cream until you and Mom could get there to pick him up."
Don saw the hurt in his father's eyes. "Your mother never told me she called; just that Charlie was sick and we had to pick him up. I guess I assumed someone from the campground had called her." The hurt was replaced by guilt and Alan hung his head slightly as he admitted, "I might have given her a hard time about being too overly protective with Charlie and worrying about him. But, Donnie," he asked, bewildered and confused, "why didn't he tell us?
Don shrugged. "He was seven. He probably knew it was wrong, but, you know Charlie, he didn't want to get anyone in trouble."
Once the initial shock of what Don had just told him had dissipated, Alan was overwhelmed with regret. How could he have missed that? Obviously, Margaret had seen through Harry's facade of friendly camp counselor. Why didn't he? He felt ridiculous now, after the comment about having a sixth sense when it came to his sons. How did he not see that Charlie was hiding something? More importantly, why didn't Charlie say something? Don was right, Charlie never liked getting anyone in trouble, but if he had known . . . .
"Dammit, Don!" Alan exploded. "If I had known . . . if he . . . I would . . ." Alan took a steadying breath. "I would have had that weasel's job and I would have made sure everyone knew what he had done and he would never be able to get a decent job the rest of his life."
"I know, Dad." Don's eyes were moist and filled with love and his voice was full of pride. "And that is just what you did today."
Alan didn't think he could be more shocked or angry than he already was. He was wrong. Harold Stempler, the dishonest and scheming lawyer, and Harry, the unscrupulous camp counselor, were one and the same. His mind raced with images of Harry's arrogant attitude during the trial;his insolent and callous remarks to the judge as he was sentenced; his malevolent expression as his former associates turned state's evidence and testified against him; and his total disregard and lack of remorse as the victims of his greed told their stories.
Alan could barely contain his anger. His hands trembled with it, his throat becoming dry as he took deep breaths in an effort to calm himself. But, dammit, he didn't want to be calm! He wanted to . . . .
It was David Sinclair's quiet voice that brought him back. "How long have you known this, Don?"
Alan turned dark eyes to his son, pleading with him to say something to make it right. In an irritatingly calm voice, Don said, "Early in the investigation, the name of the campground came up in his family's holdings. I noticed his direct involvement in the actual running of the camp corresponded with the year Charlie was there. I played a hunch." His dark eyes showed no sign of guilt or apology when he turned to look at this father. "I've known for several weeks now." he said.
Alan's fury knew no bounds. He was consumed by it; by what he deemed a betrayal by his own son. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" he demanded.
Don never flinched, returning his father's livid, red faced expression with a steady gaze and answered in a firm, unwavering voice, "I needed your testimony. I needed you focused on what you had witnessed, what you had actually seen him say and do – not what he did to Charlie 24 years ago."
Instead of pacifying him, it fueled the flames of his rage and he turned once again on his son. "You didn't think I could be objective? You didn't think I could separate my personal feelings from the case, that I would jeopardize . . ."
"Dad." Don's gentle hands on his arm stopped his tirade and he sat back against the seat, breathing heavily. Don struggled briefly, searching for the right words to help Alan understand why he had maintained his silence, why he couldn't tell him until now. In the end, he said simply, "It was Charlie."
Alan's anger deflated like a burst balloon and he slumped forward, weakened by the assault on his emotions. He knew Don was right. No matter what Harold Stempler was guilty of, or what Alan had heard and seen him do, or the horrifying stories from his other victims, he knew with the same certainty his son had, that he would not have been able to erase the image of his little boy, sitting inside, alone and friendless at summer camp.
Alan sighed deeply and reached for the bottle of scotch. Carefully, because his hands were trembling, he filled the four empty glasses, then raised his up. Solemnly, Don, David and Colby joined him in the toast. "Alright, then," he said quietly, swallowing down the lump in his throat, "this one is for Charlie."
"For Charlie," they echoed.
The four men clinked their glasses together. They tossed down their shots in unison, slamming the empty glasses on the table in front of them when they were done.
Professor Larry Fleinhardt would say it was a cosmic occurrence; that all the stars were aligned perfectly and the heavens were generous with fate. Charlie, himself, would say that the sheer volume of cases Don and his team handle every year just indicated the probabilities were high that every so often the eventual judgment would be proportional to the criminal's body of crime.
Don had been here before, however, and he knew sometimes it just happened; when everything fell into place the way it should; the witness statements, the arrest, the trial, and the appropriate and sometimes, long overdue, punishment.
Justice is not always swift, but often sure and exact. Retribution can be sweet, Don mused. Like the Splenda he put in his coffee every morning, it can cover the bitterness of life's unfair and unjust moments. In the grand scheme of things, Harold Stempler was guilty of more atrocities against mankind that exploiting a 7 year old genius, and he would be paying the price for that. While Charlie's house would be filled tonight with the love of family and friends, celebrating the mathematician's safe return and the end of the trial, Stempler would be sitting in jail, a lonely, broken man; a man whose associates had turned their backs on; a man whose family had long since given up on.
They say Justice can be blind, but tonight, Don had a feeling the scales she held in her hand were evenly balanced and she was smiling behind her blindfold.
Personal Note! Help!
If any of you reviewed my last story, "Unrequited", posted last Monday, (Aug. 4th) would you please take a moment to make sure your review is there, and if it is not, please leave another one? I had trouble posting the story and eventually had to repost it, losing a few reviews in the process. I treasure each and every review, and I would hate to miss even one. Thank you so much.