Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
A/N: I truly appreciate all of your reviews and I want to thank everyone that put this story on alert. I'd like to say a special thank-you to those people that have marked "Inner Peace" as a favorite.
The buzzer rang loudly, signaling the visitor at the High Desert Prison Facility to move forward. He followed closely behind the guards, his head swiveling around nervously as he made his way further into the bowels of the large gray facility. This was one aspect of his job that he could do without and more than once had thought about going into private practice.
Claude Bellis, court appointed attorney for Juan Chavez shuffled along the narrow corridors clutching his brief case in front of his chest like it was a shield. Tall and thin, he hunched his shoulders as he walked alongside of the guards trying to make himself a smaller target in the event of a prison riot.
"Here we are." Jake Latimer, the burly guard on his left, announced as they came to a standstill next to an 8 x 8 cell containing a small table and two chairs.
Bellis frowned and adjusted his glasses as he peered through the bars at the stark cell. "One of you guys will stay here, right? "
"Don't sweat it man." Brad Johnson, the African-American guard on his right commented. "We'll both be nearby if you need any help."
Bellis glanced sideways at the guard and thought bitterly. "It was easy for him to talk that way; after all he was built like an NFL linebacker." Claude jumped as the sound of a cell door opening and closing echoed eerily through the corridor.
Johnson looked over the man's head at his partner and snickered as the other man mouthed an insulting comment about the attorney.
Bellis didn't even notice the exchange because his eyes were glued to the three men approaching from the end of the corridor.
Juan Chavez, escorted by two guards, arrogantly strode toward the cell; his eyes raking the man's figure with disdain.
"Who is this gabacho? " He demanded as Johnson opened the door to the cell and nudged his arm to enter. "You said my lawyer was here man, I don't know this guy."
"Stop your jawing Chavez and get inside. "
Juan shot him a look of hatred and then stepped inside the cell.
"Sit down!" The guard ordered gruffly.
"All right….all right!" The Mexican muttered angrily and pulled out one of the chairs, deliberately trying to rattle the lawyer by letting the legs scrape against the cement floor.
Bellis glanced nervously at the guards before entering the cell and jumped when they slammed the door shut. Taking a deep breath he slowly made his way to the other side of the table and placed his brief case on top of it before sitting down.
He swallowed hard; Chavez was even more intimidating with only the small table separating them. The man's face was fixed in a scowl and he had started tapping his hand cuffs menacingly against the table top.
Trying to ignore Chavez's obvious attempts to unsettle him, Bellis opened his brief case and removed a large, thick manila folder. "Ah-hem." Claude cleared his throat. "Mr. Chavez, my name is Claude Bellis and I've been appointed to be your attorney."
Juan narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. "Where's the other guy…..Denton. What happened to him?"
"Ah….Mr. Denton has asked to be excused from this case and I have been appointed to replace him."
"Why did he do that?" he asked suspiciously.
"I..ah..am not privy to that information." He adjusted his glasses and blinked owlishly at the Mexican. "Do you have any objections to my being your attorney? You can refuse my services." he said, silently wishing that Juan would turn him down.
The Mexican exhaled a string of curses and spat on the floor but otherwise remained silent.
"After looking over the records I really think you should consider pleading guilty and going for a lesser sentence. With good behavior you could be out in twenty or thirty years."
Chavez's face reddened as he angrily slammed his hands on the table top. "I ain't staying in this stinking prison. I told Denton the truth…Rico did it all!"
"Settle down Chavez!" Latimer yelled through the bars.
Chavez gave him a dirty look before settling back down in his chair and turning his angry glare on the nervous lawyer.
"What about bail?" he growled. "How come I'm still in here?"
Belllis cleared his throat nervously. "Ah'm. The court feels that you are a flight risk and will not approve bail at this time."
The Mexican cursed again and slammed his fist on the small table causing the lawyer to fumble and drop his pen to the floor. With a nervous glance at Chavez, he hurriedly picked it up before Juan could have another outburst
Bellis really wanted to get out of there so with a glance at the guards he quickly got to the point.
"If you insist on your "not guilty" plea and the jury finds you guilty then you could good be sentenced to forty years for attempting to kill Agent Eppes and that sentence can be enhanced by Penal Code 12022.53."
Noting the Mexican's blank stare he tried to explain. "The Penal Code could add another 10 years for discharging a weapon or an additional 25 years to life for an intentional discharge which results in bodily harm…and you did shoot him twice." He paused to catch his breath. "You face the same charges for Professor Eppes."
"I explained all of that in my statement." Juan growled, waving a hand at the papers. "I didn't shoot the Professor."
"Right, but according to the law you are guilty by association. That means that you can be held accountable for any crime that Martinez may have committed while you were with him." Bellis continued to read through the charges. "And then you add the kidnapping of a child to the list and that carries a twenty year minimum sentence and you could be looking at a life sentence with a chance of parole in twenty years."
"I didn't hurt the professor or the kid, Rico did all of that." The Mexican snarled.
"Yes, well as I just stated you are guilty by association." Claude repeated impatiently since Chavez seemed to be ignoring the issue. "There also appears to be a number of inconsistencies between your report and…and those of the victims."
"Victims?" Juan scoffed. "You mean the kid? She never even saw me man. I already told you that Rico grabbed her, not me! "
Bellis eyes widened in surprise. "That isn't true Mr. Chavez. Agent Eppes and Professor Eppes were both there as well."
Juan laughed sarcastically. "Hell man, they might as well be dead or haven't you heard…they're both in comas ." He grinned wolfishly. "They ain't talking so they can't dispute my story."
The attorney licked his lips and looked down; nervously shuffling his papers around before he spoke again.
"Ah…Mr. Chavez, both Agent Eppes and his brother came out of their comas three days ago." He said hesitantly. "They have given the FBI a full report and all of the evidence seems to back their side of the story."
The Mexican's face turned purple with rage and he jumped to his feet upending the table in the process; tossing the files on the floor and sending the lawyer scrambling for safety.
"No!" he shouted and lunged for Bellis but the guards were faster and rushed into the cell in time to restrain the enraged man. After a short struggle the guards pushed his hands between the bars and handcuffed him to the cell wall.
Johnson turned to the lawyer with concern. "You okay Mr. Bellis?"
"Yes…yes I'm fine." The nervous man replied as he picked up his scattered papers and quickly shuffled out of the small cell. As soon as he was safely in the corridor he faced Chavez.
"I think you should find another attorney….I…I don't believe that I can represent you."
"Good!" Chavez yelled, spittle sliding down the side of his mouth; still enraged about the news of the Eppes's recovery. "I'll get my own lawyer…I have friends….they'll get me out of here!"
"It's settled then." Bellis confirmed nervously and turned to leave but his feet faltered and he glanced back at the prisoner. "You really should work on that temper." Ignoring the sudden burst of curses from Chavez, he pivoted around and followed the guards to the entrance.
Jake snickered as he watched Bellis scurry through the gate. "I believe you owe me twenty Brad."
Grumbling, Brad removed his wallet and withdrew a twenty dollar bill. Disgustedly, he slapped it into Jake's open palm. "How many does that make?"
Latimer scratched his chin. "I think that he was number three."
"At this rate Chavez is going to go through every attorney in LA County."
They turned and headed back down the corridor and as Brad held the door open for his partner he grumbled good-naturedly. "I'm not betting with you anymore. You're gonna have to find some other patsy."
Latimer chuckled as he stepped through the doorway. "That's what you said the last time."
The heavy doors of the facility slammed shut behind them as they headed deeper into the desert prison.
Bellis sighed with relief when he heard the door slam shut behind him but his heart didn't stop pounding until he was in his car and moving away from the prison facility. With a trembling hand he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and began to wipe the sweat from his face and neck and as he pulled onto the interstate he had come to a decision; he was definitely going to open his own office and maybe limit his cases to divorces.
Dishtowel in hand, Alan pushed through the swinging door from the kitchen into the dining room. A quick glance around the room failed to find his sons so he continued on to the living room; spying his quarry he stood just out of sight and studied them thoughtfully.
Don was lying on the sofa reading a magazine and Charlie was reclining in one of their lounge chairs with a stack of papers on the table next to him. Six weeks after their rescue life was beginning to get back to normal; their wounds had almost completely healed and Don was returning to work full time in another week. Charlie's full leg cast had been replaced by a boot which he would have to wear for another two weeks but even so; he had started working half days and was already embroiled in his teaching responsibilities.
Both of them were off of all medications which prompted the get-together they were having later in the evening. Amita, Robin, Larry and Don's team were coming over to officially celebrate their recovery. He took a step forward but paused when his oldest broke the silence.
"Huh." Don huffed in surprise.
It was barely more than a grunt but it was enough to break Charlie's concentration. He raised his head and arched an eyebrow in his brother's direction while he waited for him to continue; the red marker in his hand hovering dangerously close to the paper that he was grading.
Don looked up from the article and caught Charlie's questioning gaze; feeling the sudden need to explain he tilted the magazine so that his brother could see the cover clearly.
"You're taking up bird watching?"
"No." His brother quickly denied. "This is an article on birds of prey and there is a section on our friend, the red-tail hawk…remember him? "
Charlie's eyes drifted down to his papers. "He would be hard to forget."
"'I'll say." Don quickly agreed. "Listen to this. A Red-tail hawk with its superb vision will fold its wings against its body and power dive at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour to catch a variety of lizards and snakes. " he paused and peered at Charlie over the top of the magazine. "Including rattlesnakes."
The young professor squirmed uncomfortably. "Lucky for us."
"That's an understatement Charlie." Don said darkly.
Deciding not to dwell on the incident he quickly scanned the next paragraph of the article. "This is interesting." he said but continued to read a little more before speaking again. Finally he raised his head; his eyebrows drawn together in puzzlement.
"You know, I thought that it was really odd that the bird came after the snake with us so close to it but according to this article, when a hawk focuses on a target he doesn't see anything else. I guess it's sort of like "tunnel vision",
"Yeah, the article goes on to say that the reason so many of them get hit by cars along the interstate is because they go into those dives, focusing only on their targets and don't even see the cars coming toward them."
"How close were you?" Alan asked grimly as he stepped forward
Two heads suddenly whipped around wearing expressions that Alan could only describe as "the deer caught in the headlight" look.
"You were listening?" Don squeaked.
"Yeah, I was listening." Alan admitted and crossed his arms determined to get an answer. "Now what about a snake?'
"I didn't say anything about a snake." Charlie muttered, scratching the back of his head and looking away.
With a raised eyebrow, Alan's gaze drifted to his eldest.
Don spared a glare for his brother before answering. "Ah…we….ah…saw a hawk snatch up a rattlesnake while we were….you know…in the desert." He scrubbed a hand through his hair and added. "It was really quite impressive."
"Really?" Alan responded, clearly unimpressed. "And how close were the two of you to said rattlesnake?"
The doorbell rang before his sons could respond and Alan would have laughed at the relieved expressions on their faces if he didn't know them so well; it must have been a pretty close call for them not to mention it to him in the first place. He stretched out the hand holding the dishtowel and shook it at them.
"This isn't over. I'll expect to hear a full explanation after our guests leave tonight." he glanced at his watch. "Speaking of guests, someone's early."
With the dishtowel still in his hand Alan flung open the door expecting to see one of their friends but instead he was greeted by a stranger.
"Alan Eppes?" the man inquired.
"Yes." Alan answered, waiting expectantly.
"We met a long time ago so I doubt if you'll remember me." The stranger offered his hand. "Walter Simmons is my name."
Alan shook his hand and stared at the man while he was trying to recall where they might have met. There was something familiar about him but he couldn't quite put his finger on it…and yet …there was something about his eyes.
"I'm sorry but you have me at a disadvantage." Alan shook his head. "I'm afraid that my memory is not as good as it used….." and then it clicked into place as he stared at the man's startling blue eyes. With a quick intake of his breath Alan whispered. "It's really you."
Walt smiled. "It's been so long that I was afraid that you wouldn't remember me."
"It's been twenty-five years but even so how could I possibly forget you after what you did for us? You've aged a bit but your eyes still look the same." Alan smiled sheepishly. "Listen to me…it's not like I haven't grown older myself. Please come in."
A thump thump was heard and both men turned to see Charlie approaching them on his crutches with Don following closely behind him.
"Officer Simmons." Don acknowledged with a puzzled frown. "What brings you here?"
Alan's eyebrows rose up in surprise "Donnie do you remember him?"
"What are you talking about Dad?" Don asked, clearly puzzled by his question. "Of course I remember him; he was our eye witness when Samantha was kidnapped."
"Really?" Alan asked. "Isn't that amazing? Imagine meeting like that after all of these years."
Charlie's forehead wrinkled. "Dad what are you talking about?"
Alan waved his hand. "You were too young to remember Charlie but I thought that Donnie might recognize him."
Don scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration. "Well I wish one of you would tell us what is going on because I sure don't know what you're talking about."
The sound of voices and laughter suddenly erupted from the front porch as their friends arrived with arms full of pizza and beer.
"It looks like we all got here at the same time." Robin's voice floated in through the open doorway.
"Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?" Granger's voice followed Robins.
"Hey." David's voice exclaimed. "The doors already open."
A few seconds later he led the group across the threshold but pulled up short when he saw the four men standing in the foyer. Sounds of "oomphs" and "what the" followed as the people behind David ran into one another. Finally, Nikki called out from the rear of the group. "Hey the pizza is getting cold. What's going on up there?"
David frowned but stood his ground. "Everything okay in here?"
"Everything is great!" Alan beamed at him as he took the pizza from the agent's hands and carried it to the table.
Suddenly embarrassed, Walt started for the door. "I'm sorry I should have called first. I just wanted to see how the boys were doing. "
Alan rushed forward and grabbed his arm. "Please stay and join us."
"Besides." Don grinned. "You can't leave until you tell us how we know each other."
"I have to admit that pepperoni pizza does smell pretty good." Walt conceded with a smile.
"Good, let's eat." Nikki said, making her way to the front of the group. "I'm seriously starving here."
"They'll be no starving in this house." Alan harrumphed. "Everyone to the table."
The pizzas were consumed with gusto and a short while later with beers in hand, the group of friends trooped into the living room. Charlie and Amita sat at one end of the couch while Robin and Don took the other side. Alan, Nikki, Walt and Liz settled down in the other chairs scattered about the room leaving David and Colby to bring in a couple of chairs from the dining room. That only left Larry and he managed to squeeze in between Don and Amita on the couch. Everyone was relaxed and shifted around to get more comfortable while they waited for Alan to fill them in on the mystery.
"I remember how excited the boys were about getting the Koi." he glanced fondly at his sons and then smiled at his guests. "Donnie helped dig the hole for the pond and even though Charlie was only five, he made certain that the dimensions and the depth of the pond were accurate. "
Soft laughter and teasing comments filtered around the room until Alan started up again.
The light from the fire place cast a warm glow around them and a hush fell over the room as Alan began to speak. His eyes took on a distant look as the long ago memory re-surfaced and it was as if he was living in that moment once again; every detail was recalled with absolute clarity and as he began to speak his audience became totally immersed in his tale…transported to another place and time.
"Charlie was up early that morning….."
Five year old Charlie Eppes snuggled deeper into his pillow as daylight started to filter through his bedroom window. His eyelids fluttered half way open only to begin closing almost immediately.
Suddenly big brown eyes popped open in an excited little face surrounded by curly brown hair. He swung his legs over the bed and held on to the mattress until his toes touched the floor and then he was off, padding barefoot across the floor as fast as his little legs could carry him.
He stretched his small arms up to reach the doorknob of his parent's room and was soon standing in front of his father's side of the bed. Alan was lying on his side and snoring slightly as Charlie touched his face and exclaimed excitedly.
"Daddy, it's time…..come on….let's go." he said urgently as he pulled on Alan's arm.
"Not now Charlie, go back to sleep." Alan mumbled in his sleep and turned over on his other side.
Not to be deterred, the little boy ran around to the other side of the bed where his mother was sleeping.
"Mommy, wake up, it's time to go."
Margaret opened her eyes and looked into the animated face of her baby boy and couldn't suppress a smile.
"Charlie what are you doing up so early?" She said with a yawn and stretched out a hand to caress his cheek.
"Time to go and get the fishies." he responded excitedly.
She pulled the covers back and lifted him up, tucking the small body beside of her as she cuddled him tightly in her arms. She quickly pulled the comforter back over them both and snuggled deeper under the covers.
"But Mom…..don't wana go sleep." the little boy cried out as he struggled against her embrace.
"Sweetie, it's too early to go to the nursery to get the fish. Ooh, your legs and feet are so cold; I need to get you warm."
"Shh…shh…you'll wake up Daddy. Now go to sleep sweetie." She yawned again and snuggled against him as her eyes closed and she drifted off to sleep.
"Go to sleep Charlie." Alan's muffled voice called from the other side of the bed.
Charlie tried to go to sleep, he really did, but after a few seconds his eyes popped wide open once again and he began to wriggle out of Margaret's grasp. After several minutes of twisting first one way and then the other he was finally able to maneuver out of her arms and once again he slid backwards off a bed until the tips of his toes touched the floor. Very quietly he headed for the door and escaped into the hallway.
The little boy stood sadly outside their door trying to decide what he wanted to do and then his face brightened as he thought of his big brother.
"Donnie... Donnie will get up." he thought and once again he padded down the hallway. He reached up and turned the door knob on his brother's door and hurried into the room.
Charlie clamored up the side of the bed and crawled over to his brother's side. He knew from experience that Donnie didn't like it when he woke him up so he stretched out beside of him and tried to wait for his brother to wake up on his own. But it didn't take Charlie long to get bored so he started counting how many breaths Donnie was taking and soon he became cold so he crawled beneath the covers and waited.
A few hours later his parents were quietly searching the house for him when they woke up and realized that he had left their room.
"He's in here Margaret." Alan called quietly over his shoulder.
Margaret came up behind him and peeked into the room. "Oh, isn't that sweet. They're both sound asleep."
Alan huffed. "Sweet, huh, well we better get him out of there before Donnie wakes up."
"I guess your right." she sighed. "But they look so cute together. " She crossed the room and scooped her youngest son from under the covers and turned back toward the door with his curly head resting on her shoulder.
"Hey, what's going on?" A sleepy voice asked from the bed.
Margaret turned and smiled as her ten year old raised up and leaned back on his elbows. He yawned and blinked sleepily at them as he looked around the room.
She shared a smile with her husband as he answered. "Time to get up Donnie. We want to get to the nursery early."
Donnie's eyes widened suddenly at the reminder and he quickly jumped out of bed. "Yay, we get the Koi today."
Margaret grinned and gently shook the little body that she was holding. "Charlie, wake up now. It's time to go and get the fish."
The little boy raised his head and pulled back to look up at his mother. His eyelids fluttered open momentarily and then closed again as his head fell back against her shoulder.
She laughed and kissed the top of his head and headed down the hallway to get him cleaned up.
After a hearty breakfast of pancakes they all climbed into the car. It didn't take long for Alan to reach the interstate and after a forty-five minute ride they exited the highway and pulled onto a two lane road.
They arrived at the Asahi Koi Nursery shortly after it opened and were surprised to see a large crowd of people milling around the grounds. "It looks like everyone had the same idea this morning. " Alan chuckled.
Most of the close parking spaces were already taken but he managed to find one that wasn't too far away from the front of the nursery. He parked the car and soon the small family was entering the main showroom.
Inside the building the owners had set up several different displays to showcase the optimal advantages of having a Koi pond. Each one was set up to mimic a backyard pond, complete with artificial shrubbery, grass and surrounded by a miniaturized picket fence. They even had live Koi swimming around in the ponds to bring realism to the displays.
Rows of shelves were scattered around the large showroom containing different styles of the pre-molded ponds as well as supplies of fish food and chemicals that would be needed to maintain the fish and the ponds.
The showroom was busy with people milling all around either speaking with a salesperson or waiting in line for their turn. Employees of the nursery darted in and out answering questions from the patrons or replenishing supplies on the shelves.
It was feeding time for the fish so while Margaret and Alan spoke with a salesperson, the boys flocked to one of the ponds to watch the hungry fish race to the surface for the food.
"Donnie." Alan warned. "Watch your brother, don't let him climb over the fence. "
"Sure Dad." the ten year old glumly promised as he took his brother by the hand.
Seth Hendrickson, a new employee of the Ashai Nursery, picked up the box of fish food and brushed passed the young boys as he made his way back to one of the shelves and set the box down. He glanced sideways at the boys near the pond and scratched absently at the needle marks on his arms as he studied them.
The two boys stood near one of the ponds gazing at the fish. Charlie's eyes followed their movements and moved closer to get a clearer view.
"Donnie." he said excitedly. "Look at that yellow one. It keeps swimming the same way."
"Of course it keeps swimming the same way Charlie." the older boy rolled his eyes. "That's what they do."
"No." the smaller boy tried to explain, moving closer so he could trace its movements better. "He goes a different way than the othews."
"You heard what Dad said Charlie." Don said impatiently as he pulled his brother back from the fence rail.
But Charlie wasn't listening and had started counting the fish. "Mommy…Daddy…." he called out with delight. "Thewe are nine fish in the watew. I counted them."
Margaret smiled proudly at her youngest. "That's good Charlie."
"Knock it off Chuckie." Don growled.
Charlie scowled at his brother. "Don't call me Chuckie!"
Charlie turned his head and followed the sound of the voice to a man standing in the shadows of one of the shelves.
"You like the fish?" Seth whispered. "There's a bigger pond over here." he stretched out his hand. "Come on, I'll show you."
Suddenly afraid, Charlie backed up against his brother but Don hadn't seen the man and was still looking at the fish in the pond.
"Watch it Charlie." Don said irritably, pushing him away.
"Charlie." The stranger whispered with more self assurance now that he had the kid's name. "Come on let me show you the other fish. There are a lot more for you to count."
Seth had moved a little closer and was now within a few feet of the child but was still hidden from view by the shelves. He peered around the corner, keeping an eye on the kid's parents and the other people in the vicinity. The closest adults were the boy's parents and they were on the other side of the display. He glanced behind him and studied the path to the front door; he could grab the kid and be outside before anyone even noticed.
"Hey Dad. " Donnie asked excitedly, pointing at one of the fish. "Can we get this big one?"
The man narrowed his eyes as the older boy called out to his Dad. If the boys father came over it would ruin his plans.
"No Donnie." Alan answered turning from the sales person. "The big ones are too expensive. We're just buying the little ones today." He checked to make sure his sons were safe before resuming his conversation.
Relieved, the man in the shadows became more insistent and once again the small boy moved closer to his brother.
"Stop it Charlie." Don grumbled and started to push him away again when he noticed that he was trembling. "What's the matter with you anyway?" When his brother didn't answer he raised his head to see what Charlie was looking at.
There was something about the stranger that Don disliked immediately and he glanced over at his parents hoping to get their attention but they were still deep in a conversation with the salesperson. He swallowed nervously and looked back just as the man lunged forward and grabbed his brother.
Seth jerked the boy forward and quickly picked him up; slinging an arm around his waist and pinning the boy's arms to his sides. He pulled the boy back until his back rested tightly against his chest and clapped a hand over the child's mouth before turning to run but to his surprise the other boy screamed his brother's name and made a grab for him.
Seth let go of Charlie's mouth and backhanded Donnie, sending him staggering against one of the shelves. However, to his dismay, it soon became apparent that the small boy had an excellent pair of lungs because as soon as he moved his hand a series of high-pitch wails suddenly shattered the peaceful showroom.
He became aware of the parents screams as they rounded the pond and at the same time the older boy grabbed his brother legs and tried to pull him free.
"Let h'm go!" The ten year old boy screamed, kicking at the man while he struggled to get his brother loose.
Seeing no way out, Seth shoved Charlie into Don's arms then grabbed him by the back of his tee shirt and pulled him against his chest. He gripped the shirt tightly in his fist keeping the boy close to him as he pulled a six-inch switch blade from his other pocket and flicked it open.
"Stand back or I'll kill'em both!" he shouted, holding the blade within inches of Charlie's neck.
Don's eyes widened fearfully as he looked down at the knife and his arms tightened protectively around his brother's chest. Charlie had stopped screaming as soon as Don's arms were wrapped around him but he was becoming uncomfortable dangling from his arms and was starting to squirm around.
"Stay still Charlie! " Donnie hissed. "Don't move!"
Alan and Margaret slid to a sudden halt a few feet away at the sight of the knife.
"Noooooo….don't hurt my babies!" Margaret screamed. "Please don't hurt them!" She tried to push past her husband but he held her protectively behind him.
Desperately Alan stretched out his hand toward the boys. "Please…mister…don't hurt our sons." he tried to lick his lips but his mouth had suddenly gone dry. "Please let our kids go and we won't follow you….I promise."
His jaw tightened at the sight of Donnie's bruised cheek and watched as blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. Alan seethed with anger; he was not a violent man but if he could just get close enough to grab the man's hand he knew without a doubt that he would make him pay for what he had done to his sons. Donnie's face was pale and his eyes were wide with fear and all Alan could do was try to control his erratically beating heart.
"It'll be okay Donnie….just don't move." He tried to sound positive; tried to give his son a little hope but he was just as terrified as they were.
"Mommy….Daddy." Charlie cried out with tears falling from his lashes.
Margaret sobbed; stretching her own arms toward her sons. "Stay still baby…don't move."
Other patrons and employees of the nursery had gathered behind the parents and Seth's eyes began to flicker crazily from person to person.
"Stay back or I'll kill them both!" He shouted, pulling Donnie backwards towards the door.
The owner of the nursery pushed his way through the crowd and stopped just behind Alan. "Seth what are you doing?" he demanded. "Put down that knife and let those boys go!"
But Hendrickson was beyond reason and he continued to back his way toward the door; dragging the boys along with him. He was starting to panic; he knew he couldn't risk getting caught again. Having already violated his parole by not telling his employer about his record and by getting a job where children could be present he would be sent straight back to prison….and he really didn't want to go back there.
"Mister....let them go... Please!" Alan begged, following as closely as he dared with Margaret clinging to his side.
Seth continued to move back and exhaled a nervous breath when he heard the automatic door open behind him. He continued to back up; his hand still gripping tightly to the boy's shirt. Just a few more feet and he would be outside in the open and then he would get rid of the older kid and use the smaller one for a hostage. But as the heel of his shoe made contact with the sidewalk he felt a presence behind him and suddenly a cold metallic object was pressed against the back of his head. Hendrickson stiffened up and moved the knife closer to the smaller boy's throat.
"I…I swear man." he said harshly. "I'll kill them."
"Put down the knife." A deep and commanding voice ordered. "Let the boys go."
Seth's face paled and his eyes widened with fear and although visibly shaken, he still wasn't ready to give up.
Breathlessly he demanded. "Get out of my way or I'll cut the kid's throat. I mean it man."
The man behind him released the safety on his gun and the unmistakable sound echoed loudly through the open doorway. Another police officer suddenly appeared to his left, gun drawn and ready to fire if it became necessary.
"Let the boys go! " The officer shouted.
Stubbornly, Seth pulled the boys even closer to him and with more bravado than he felt he gave them an ultimatum.
"When I 'm away from here I'll let the kids go! " he shouted angrily. "Move out of my way or I'll kill them both right now!" The blade shook in his hand as he pressed it against the little boy's throat.
"Nooo….nooo" Margaret wailed sinking to her knees as a wave of grief washed over her. Tears streaming down her cheeks she lifted her arms toward her sons. "Don't hurt them….please…please."
"Get that knife away from my sons!" Alan roared helplessly as he watched the knife shake in the man's trembling hand.
But their pleas fell on deaf ears as Seth moved the sharp blade back and forth between Donnie and Charlie. The muzzle jammed harder against his skull and he swallowed hard in an attempt to control his fear but the officer's words resonated loudly in his ears.
"We both know that if I let you leave with those kids they will both be dead by nightfall."
"No…that's not true." Seth hastily denied. "I will let them go if you let me leave."
"You're lying!" The officer hissed in his ear. "I will pull this trigger if you so much as prick one of those boys with that knife…..and that's no lie!" he paused to let him consider his words. "So the real question is do you want to live or are you ready to die?"
Seth's hands were sweating so much that the knife almost slipped from his fingers but he caught it before it came into contact with the older boy's neck. The officer's words echoed in his mind and he had no doubt that the man would pull the trigger. He shuddered as a shiver of fear ran down his spine and he took a steadying breath as he came to a decision. Slowly the hand holding the knife moved away from the boys and he dropped the knife to the floor. Seth released his hold on Don's tee shirt and let his arm fall to his side. Immediately, he was seized from behind and his arms were forced behind his back; he swallowed hard as the cuffs were placed on his wrists.
Alan and Margaret hurried forward and pulled their son's away from the now subdued man. Margaret grabbed Charlie with one arm and wrapped her other arm around Don, pulling them down with her as she sank to the floor once again. Alternating kisses and hugs between the two of them, the distraught mother held them close; rocking them back and forth in her arms.
Alan knelt down next to them and with tears sliding down his cheeks he wrapped his arms around his family and pulled them close; his forehead touching Margaret's. They sat that way for a while and then Alan pulled back with Donnie held tightly in his arms. The ten year old was crying and had his arms wrapped around his fathers neck. Alan rubbed small circles on his back and whispered that he was safe now, that everything was going to be all right.
Charlie was still sobbing, his little arms firmly planted around his mother's neck and his face pressed against her shoulder. Margaret was rocking him back and forth and gently stroking his hair as she attempted to silence her own cries.
One of the police officers joined them and quietly stood nearby; giving them a few more minutes before he spoke.
"Mr. Eppes." he said somberly. "Mrs. Eppes."
Alan felt a hand on his shoulder and he raised his head, tears glistening in his eyes.
"Yes. "He replied in a voice thick with emotion.
"I'm Officer Simmons, Mr. Eppes." He knelt down beside of Alan. "Are the boys okay?"
"I…ah…think so." Alan said clearing his throat. "Although they're both pretty scared."
Margaret looked up, twin trails of black mascara running down her cheeks.
"How is the little guy doing?" The officer asked, stretching out his hand to pat Charlie gently on the back.
"S…scared." She mumbled and then she recognized the man. He had been the officer who had forced the stranger to drop the knife. "Thank you…..thank you so much." she added fervently.
Walt ducked his head. "I'm glad I could help ma'mm."
"Yes." Alan joined in. "Thank you."
"That was certainly a scary situation." The officer replied. "The owner's security camera caught everything on tape so I won't have to get a statement from you right now. You and your family can come down to the station tomorrow and give your statements."
Donnie pulled back from Alan; wiping away tears with the back of his hand and looked up into the startling blue eyes of the officer.
"That was a very brave thing you did son." Simmons said, patting him on the arm. "It took a lot of courage to go after that man the way you did. "
"He was…he was." Donnie gulped and looked down at his jeans. "going to hurt Charlie."
"Yes he was, but your actions prevented that from happening."
"That…that…. man….he'll…. go to jail…right?" Donnie asked tentatively and then his voice hardened and his eyes flashed angrily. "I want him to stay in jail….all people like him should stay in jail. If…if I was a grown up, I'd make sure that all people like him stayed in jail so they couldn't hurt other people."
"You're absolutely right son." The officer said solemnly and met the little boy's eyes. "Maybe when you grow up you'll consider going into law enforcement. We could use someone like you. But right now I think we need to have that bruise on your cheek checked out." He patted Don on the shoulder and then turned to Alan.
"An ambulance has just arrived and you should let the attendants take a look at the kids." Simmons said as he rose to his feet.
Alan stood up and Donnie followed, clinging to his side. Keeping one arm around his son he offered his other hand to the officer.
"I can never repay you for saving my boys." Alan's voice broke and he hugged Donnie tighter. "We could have lost them both today."
"I could say that I was just doing my job Mr. Eppes but I'll be honest with you, it's days like today that make my job worthwhile." he glanced at the two boys and smiled. "Today was a good day." He turned and pointed at the ambulance in the parking lot. "Come on; let's get the boys checked out."
Alan nodded in agreement and gave Margaret a helping hand as she rose unsteadily to her feet; still holding Charlie tightly in her arms.
Simmons left them at the ambulance and rejoined the other officers clustered around Seth Hendrickson.
"The last thing I remember is watching you pull out of the parking lot." Alan said, turning to face Walt; breaking the spell of the story.
"Funny you should say that." Walt said, lost in the memory too. "I remember the four of you standing in front of the nursery. You and your wife were standing behind Don, each of you with a hand resting on his shoulders and Don had an arm looped protectively over Charlie's shoulder." He shook his head and smiled. "It was that memory that brought it all back to me."
Colby leaned forward. "What do you mean?"
"On the day of the Wilkins kidnapping I was sitting in the ambulance when Don and Charlie arrived at the scene." his eyes flickered between the brothers. "You both got out of the car and spread a map out on the hood of the vehicle and then Charlie started to walk away but Don looped an arm around his neck and called over a police officer to go with him." His face broke into a smile. "For a moment the two of you were standing in exactly the same position that you were standing in the last time that I saw you….twenty-five years ago."
David whistled through his teeth. "Wow."
"How is that even possible?" Nikki sputtered. "I mean….there have to be over three million people in LA."
"3,844,829 to be exact." Charlie quoted absently, still trying to absorb this new revelation.
"Exactly!" she exclaimed. "So how could something like this happen?"
"Charlie what are the odds?" Liz asked and all eyes turned to the mathematician.
The young professor shrugged helplessly. "There's not enough data on something like this to be able to arrive at any plausible solution."
"Well now." Larry said tapping his forefinger against his lip, "Cosmologically speaking, everything that happens has happened before."
The physicist's comments caused more than one eyebrow to rise slightly as blank stares were exchanged among the friendly group.
Charlie blinked and then turned to his brother. "I have no memory of being snatched up by anyone. Do you remember the incident?"
"No. " Don said his forehead wrinkling as he thought it over. He raised his head and met Walt's eyes. "But I remember your eyes and the feeling of looking up at you."
"Charlie was way too young to remember the incident" Alan said turning to his oldest. "But I'm surprised that you don't."
"Children are very resilient." Simmons spoke up. "Over time they are able to put the bad things behind them and only remember the good things, especially if it only happens once."
"Is that why Sammy only remembers our desert trek as a happy adventure?" Charlie asked.
"Probably but I'm no psychologist." Alan said speaking up. "Angela said the child therapist told her that you guys must have made Sammy feel safe because in every picture that she draws of the three of you, you are always smiling so she only has memories of the good times that you shared."
"We tried to keep the fact that we were being chased from her." Charlie admitted, ducking his head and looking away as the horrors of those desperate days returned with a sudden jolt. Amita felt him tense next to her and squeezed his hand to let him know that he wasn't alone.
"Yeah." Don confirmed, getting caught up in the moment himself. "We didn't want her to be scared so we tried to make her feel safe." His voice choked up; his feelings resurfacing and he smiled gratefully at Robin when she put an arm around his waist and snuggled closer.
"You did an amazing job of it." David said in a soft voice and then raised his beer bottle in the air. "A toast to Don and Charlie, true heroes in every sense of the word."
Enthusiastic cheers erupted around the room as the brother's locked eyes and then tapped their beer bottles together.
A strange but oddly familiar ring tone suddenly echoed around the room and Alan hastily fumbled for the cell phone in his pocket. After a few moments of conversation he closed the phone and set it on the table next to him.
Charlie's brows knitted together in disbelief. "Dad was that tune…?"
Don finished for him. "Put one step in front of the other?"
"Yeah. It's appropriate don't you think?." Alan asked, his face breaking into a grin. "That's Sammy's ring tone." He glanced around the room as he proudly explained. "She calls me "Pop Pop Alan. Angela's parents are back east and her husband's parents have passed on so she doesn't have any grandparents in the area." He smiled smugly, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms across his chest. "If you can be her uncles then I can certainly be her grandfather. Besides," he added, leaning forward with a twinkle in his eye as he looked pointedly at his sons. "I'll have lots of practice at being a grandparent until you two come up with the rest of my grandchildren."
Don and Charlie simultaneously rolled their eyes and with a hopeless shake of their heads looked away as laughter echoed around the room; it was no secret to the friends gathered there that Alan desired grandchildren.
"Oh, by the way." Alan added, wearing a puzzled expression as he looked over his glasses at his sons. "Angela and Sammy are coming over tomorrow afternoon and I told them that you both would be here. For some reason Sammy seems to think that you guys don't know how to make a… pie?"
Charlie was just taking a swallow of his beer and began to sputter, suddenly choking on his drink.
"Now that, " Don replied grinning broadly, his eyes crinkling at the corners, "is another story."
Three weeks later Walt stepped back and admired his yacht; it's new name glistening brightly in the morning sunlight. The boat was complete now and he was ready to set sail and really begin to enjoy his retirement. His final destination was Port Arthur, Texas where his ex-wife and his children resided. Although they had been divorced for many years neither one of them had ever remarried. It had been an amicable divorce and they remained friends over the years and he had kept in touch with his children. Now they were both grown with children of their own and he was looking forward to spending quality time with his grandchildren.
The only thing that had been holding him back was the naming of his boat and the courage to go through with his dream. The last case before his retirement had been a failure; he had been unable to prevent the death of a young woman and although they had caught the person responsible it did little to ease the guilt that he had felt because they had been too late to save her life. He had left the force feeling as if all of the sacrifices that he had made to fulfill his life's work had been for nothing and it had taken the events of the past few months to resolve both issues for him.
Walt took a deep breath and smiled; he had discovered a new purpose in life and was ready to embrace it.
He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to get a clearer view. Three men were walking down the dock toward him and he raised his hand in greeting.
"Glad to see that you could make it." He called out cheerfully.
"It's not everyday that I get to watch my sons christen a boat. " Alan Eppes laughingly replied.
"I'm curious how you plan to have two people christen your boat with only one bottle of champagne." Charlie snickered. "The math just doesn't add up." The boot had been removed from his leg and the only reminder of his injury was a slight limp as he walked.
Don playfully shoved his brother aside and rolled his eyes. "Just ignore him Walt." he glanced at his father. "I knew we should have left him at home."
"Hey." Charlie retorted, pretending to be offended. "I think we should have left you at home."
"All right boys, that'll be enough." Alan interceded good-naturedly. "So, what did you finally name her?"
Walt smiled and said. "Follow me."
He quickly walked to the edge of the pier and with a flourish of his hand and a quick bow he said. "Gentlemen I present to you the "Inner Peace."
The tranquil sound of the water gently lapping against the sides of the yacht seemed to emphasize the meaning of the boat's name.
"Very nice." Alan commented. "The last time that we talked you said that you were having trouble deciding on the name of your boat. What made you decide on "Inner Peace"? "
"When I joined the force years ago and I took the oath "to protect and serve" and I meant it with all my heart." Walt said, his eyes taking on a distant look as he spoke. "And in all of my years as a police officer I tried to keep that oath in my heart." He paused and made eye contact with Don. "Just like you Don, but it gets harder after you've seen the horrors that people can inflict upon one another…especially to the children."
Don nodded and looked away. He knew all too well the truth behind Walt's statement and lately, it had become a heavy burden for him to bear. The agent had been questioning his own resolve, feeling lost and doubting his own reasons for joining the FBI. He had been feeling as if his efforts were no longer making a difference and he had grown tired of getting to a crime scene too late.
The retired officer smiled knowingly at the agent. "After my last case, all of the ribbons and commendations that I had earned over the years didn't seem to be important anymore. The only thing that seemed to matter to me were the cases that I had lost, the ones where I was too late to save the victim, or the criminal got away." He shrugged his shoulders and glanced at the boat. "It was like I was in limbo or something, unable to move forward and unable to go back and change what had already happened."
"So what changed?" Alan asked. "A few weeks ago you seemed despondent but now you appear happy and excited."
"What changed?" Walt grinned broadly at him. "My faith has been restored. I realized that I have made a difference and that I have fulfilled my oath." He met Don's eye again. "We can't save everyone Don, no matter what we do or how hard we try. I know that now but we can rejoice in the one's that we do save."
Alan tilted his head to the side. "What restored your faith?"
Walt stepped closer and put one hand on Charlie's shoulder and the other on Don's. "In my case, it was meeting your sons again. "
"How so?" Don asked.
"Simple. Twenty-five years ago I answered a call for help from a fish nursery and arrived just as a man was dragging two small boys out of the door. My intervention saved their lives and they grew up to save more lives." He smiled warmly at Don and Charlie as he stepped back. "One grew up to become an FBI agent and the other a genius mathematician that helps his brother solve crimes. Quite an extraordinary team, wouldn't you say?"
Alan proudly clapped both sons on the back. "They do make one hell of a team."
"Yes they do." Walt agreed and bent over to pick up two bottles of champagne. He offered one to Charlie and one to Don. "I would be honored if the two of you would christen my boat."
Charlie and Don both smiled and took the bottles from him. They walked over to the yacht and got into position to hit the bottles against the side of the boat.
Charlie looked at Don. "Shall we do it together?"
Don grinned. "Why not? Teamwork seems to be our forte."
The sound of breaking glass and laughter erupted on the dock and then Walt took them on board and showed them around. He produced another bottle of champagne and filled four champagne glasses. "This is the good stuff." He said with a wink and offered each of them a glass.
They raised their glasses and tapped them together.
"To finding your dream." Alan said.
"May you have smooth sailing." Charlie offered
"To finding your inner peace." Don added softly.
After the toast they talked for a while and Walt informed him of his plans and just before noon Alan, Don and Charlie prepared to leave.
"Why don't you join us for lunch?" Alan asked before they disembarked.
"I appreciate the offer but I'm ready to set sail."
"Then we won't hold you up any longer." Don said extending his hand.
"If you come back to LA be sure to stop in and see us." Charlie said as he warmly shook his hand and disembarked.
Alan met his eyes and said softly. "I meant what I said all of those years ago Walt. You'll always have a special place with us and I will never be able to thank you enough."
"I'm just glad that I was there Alan." he answered, his voice thick with emotion.
"Yes…well, smooth sailing." Alan said, his own voice choking up. His shook his hand warmly and without another word he followed his sons to the dock below.
Don and Charlie were discussing where to go for lunch when Alan joined them and quickly tossed out a suggestion of his own.
"I could go for a good burger." he said.
"I'm good with that." Don agreed.
"Sounds good to me." Charlie said. "Any suggestion on where to go?"
Walt overheard them and leaned over the side of his yacht. "Have you guys ever tried O"Reilly's Bar and Grill…..it's at the corner of 4th & Alameda?"
"I've heard a few guys talk about it at work." Don said with a shrug of his shoulders. "They seemed to like it."
"Best burgers in the city." Walt assured them.
"I vote we try O'Reilly's." Alan said. Don and Charlie agreed and turned to make their way back to the car.
"Hey Don. Could you release the mooring rope for me?" Walt called as he prepared to sail.
"Sure thing." Don said and tossed the rope up to him. "Smooth sailing my friend."
Walt gave them a final wave and started the engine. Slowly he backed out of the slip into the bay, guiding the boat toward the open waters. The black SUV caught his eye as it pulled out of the parking lot and as a thought suddenly occurred to him he couldn't stifle a grin. He probably should have warned Don and Charlie that Patrick O'Reilly had added their pictures to his "Wall of Heroes" and that Pat would no doubt pay special attention to them if they went to his restaurant. He hoped that they were going there because he couldn't think of two people that deserved to be honored more than them. In his opinion the extraordinary efforts that the brother's had taken to save the little girl's life was something that should never be forgotten.
The gentle breeze lifted his hair and he raised his face toward the sun. A new life was beckoning to him ….and he owed it all to two brothers from Pasadena.
Thank you for reading my story. See you next time.