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 places and organisations are used in a fictional sense. Original characters and the storyline are mine however.
Spoilers: In Security (vaguely)
A/N: Written for Clue Challenge #1, July 2009, at hurt_don on LiveJournal. Prompts: Who? – Don. What? – firework. Where? - park.
FBI Special Agent Don Eppes was forced to drive the heavy suburban slowly down the congested streets surrounding Macarthur Park. Breaking heavily a couple of times he managed to avoid the pedestrians that simply stepped out in front of him, too excited about the coming fireworks to watch for something as mundane as passing traffic. Another near miss and his frustration bubbled over as the heavy vehicle screeched to a stop, his fist pressing firmly on the modified horn. The man holding the hands of two young children stared back like a startled rabbit before continuing on his way with a glare that suggested it was all Don's fault. Robin's hand on his arm had him easing off after a second or so before he drove on, completely unrepentant about the stares his action had drawn. Eventually he found the section he was looking for, a taped off area reserved for emergency services vehicles. As he was still on call, even after his long day, he pulled up to the officer on the temporary gate across the entrance. Flashing his badge got them through and into one of the few remaining spots near some ambulances and several LAPD black & whites.
Shutting the rumbling vehicle down Don simply sat for a few moments, head back and eyes closed as he tried to relax. The day had started off perfectly but had rapidly gone downhill from there due to forces completely out of his control.
He didn't immediately react to the gentle hand on his right arm. The drive from the office had been conducted in silence as his mood deteriorated. It was a few more seconds before he replied somewhat gruffly. "Yeah?"
"There was nothing you could do."
"We got the bastard!"
Robin winced at the forceful tone. No less frustrated herself she was able to keep her voice calm. The day had been ruined, no need for the night to go the same way. "You got him, sealed and delivered. There was no way of knowing that he was in the system."
"Another one. They should change their motto, 'come to WitSec and get a free pass on anything you do'."
"Come on, Don. You know it's not like that."
"Do I? They've done it before. I'm letting them do it again."
"You hardly let them." Robin reminded him. His angry phone call an hour after his exultant one had her scouring through the various pieces of legislation looking for some crucial piece of law that would enable them to keep Victor Rodan off the street and in custody. She'd failed.
"Doesn't matter. He's getting away with everything." Don argued back. "Months of investigation and the moment we nail him they step in. Where were they when he killed that kid? Where were they when he was pushing his drugs in the neighbourhood, to the kids in the schools? Where were they when he started up his protection racket? No, they don't care about that but when we take him into custody we're 'interfering with a federally protected witness'."
Robin jumped as his hand slammed into the steering wheel. Despite the blow-up this was one of the things she loved about him, he cared deeply about his work. She'd been in the office during the course of this investigation, even when it had been running parallel to a current hot case there were always pictures and files relating to Rodan on display. The investigation had taken a lot out of him and his team, Rodan had been a difficult offender to get evidence on. Now it became clear, he'd had years of experience hiding from the law under his still unknown real identity. Upon being moved to LA six months ago he'd rapidly set himself up as a player and was steadily increasing his prominence in the underworld even as he maintained a veneer of innocence that had been difficult to penetrate despite all their suspicions. Eventually Don had turned over a small piece of evidence that had snowballed into a sudden avalanche of material that had culminated in the arrest early this morning. It was immediately after Rodan's name had gone through the booking computer system that it all fell apart. WitSec stepped in and demanded the return of their witness. There had been nothing they could do to prevent it and three hours ago both she and Don had watched the WitSec agents escort a smug Rodan from the bullpen. It had taken those three hours for Don to calm down enough to contemplate joining his family at the park. The congested traffic and oblivious pedestrians had undone much of what she'd already achieved.
"Come on, Don." Robin started, using her best soothing tone. "It's done. You've built a case and it can be activated the moment Rodan leaves the program. He's giving his evidence soon and once he's done that they won't be quite as protective. He'll slip up again and they'll wash their hands of him."
"Yeah, I guess." Don allowed. But until then Rodan, or whatever his new name was going to be, would have free rein to resume his activities in some other city.
"Come on," she repeated, this time changing the subject. "They'll be waiting. It won't be long now before the show starts."
Running his hand down his face he turned to see Robin staring back at him. The wash of the streetlights showed her concern and he abruptly felt guilty. He'd already dumped all of this on her back at the office, she'd even cleaned up the file he'd thrown at the glass wall after Rodan's back without complaint or comment. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax.
"You're right. I'm sorry." He reached over and gave her hand an apologetic squeeze before opening his door and climbing out.
Robin linked her arm through his and they moved off, heading towards the closed off section of Wilshire Boulevard where it passed through the park. The road had been turned into a temporary mall for the coming fireworks. The show was actually being put on over at the Dodger's stadium but getting a parking space or a seat there would be impossible so they'd decided they would watch this year from MacArthur Park. Actually it had been Charlie's suggestion, he'd known his older brother had to work today and MacArthur Park was close to the field office. Going by the hundreds of other people doing the same thing the park was a popular choice. Pushing their way through the growing crowds they made it to a spot about halfway along Wilshire Boulevard and found the others waiting. Spying a relatively quite spot nearby the group moved off.
"Hey, Bro'." Charlie started once they could hear themselves think over the crowd noise. "I didn't think you were going to make it."
"You and me both." Don said as he nodded his greetings to his father, Amita and Larry. They all knew what had happened, Charlie had been at the office when it had all fallen apart. It had been the math professor's algorithms that had sealed the case once they'd gathered the data for him.
"Well, I'm glad you could make it." Alan stepped in, clapping a sympathetic, fatherly hand on Don's shoulder. "You did your best Donny, that's all you can do."
In keeping with trying to improve his mood he clamped down on the first reply that came to mind. He nodded at his father before catching the CalSci professors' eyes in turn. "Yeah, we did. So did you guys. Thanks for your help on this."
Larry and Amita simply nodded. They'd had some input helping Charlie and knew how hard the FBI team had worked to take Rodan down only to loose him.
"So, I found us a spot with the optimum viewing angle." Charlie started as he waved at them to follow him.
That brought a smile to Don's lips as he shook his head. Trust Charlie to apply math to watching a fireworks display. It had been the same ever since they were little, Charlie would figure out the best spot to watch from then spend the whole display calculating trajectories and angles and whatever else from each individual explosion. They reached the spot and Don helped with spreading out the blankets and setting their site up. Alan had brought along some food but Don had a sudden desire for the all American hotdog and said as much.
Charlie looked at the prepared food and then back up at his older brother. "Don, I-"
"Alright, Charlie. I'll get you one too. Anyone else?"
Alan shook his head. "I don't know why you'd want hotdogs when we brought all this."
"Aw, Dad. It's the Fourth of July. Hotdogs go with the Fourth of July." Don stated. "Counsellor?"
Robin had already started picking at the food, they'd missed lunch and she was starving. She wasn't sure if he was asking for her professional constitutional position or if she wanted one of the unhealthy hotdogs instead of the salad and sandwiches Alan had prepared. She answered the first then moved onto the second. "You've got a point, but no hotdog for me. You better be quick though, it's about to start."
"Right. Two hot-dogs." Don repeated the order as turned and headed back to the stalls set up on the closed off street. He'd seen several hotdog vendors on the way in and was aiming for the one that had looked the most promising.
Avoiding the crowds around all the stalls he made his way along parallel to the road through the park, here there were still groups of people but not as many. He had reached a small clump of trees and started to move around them when he received a hard shove from behind. Caught completely off balance he stumbled forward, striking his forehead on a tree before bouncing off and falling to the ground temporarily stunned. For a moment he couldn't see around the stars in his eyes or the around his hand on his injured forehead so he had no warning before the foot collected his ribs, flipping him over.
Half winded Don now realised what was happening and tried desperately to climb to his feet and orient himself. A hand grabbed at his collar when he was halfway up and propelled him forward, deeper into the clump of trees and out of casual sight. Tripping over a patch of uneven ground he went down again. Rolling he forced himself up only to have his feet tripped out from under him. His left ankle sent a spike of pain up his leg and he figured he'd sprained it. The shadowing figure of his attacker moved back and started speaking.
"What? No gun?" The man seemed surprised. "Didn't think I'd come looking for you, did you?"
Recognising the voice Don got his feet back under him and stood with the assistance of a small tree. Testing his foot he found that though painful he could put weight on it. Reminded of his weapon he started to sweep his hand towards the holster hidden under his jacket as he sought out his attacker but he froze before his hand had moved more than a few inches.
Standing in front of him was Rodan, the extra illumination from the lights of the stalls shining through the trees gave him enough light to confirm the identification of both the man and the weapon that he held. The black semi-automatic was pointed right at the agent's midsection.
"I thought you were smarter than this." Don started as he brought his hands up. He flicked his gaze around and confirmed what he'd first thought, the man was alone.
"Sometimes you have to take risks, especially if the reward is worth it." Rodan stated reasonably.
"What reward would that be?"
"And I thought you were smarter than that." Rodan taunted. Glancing ever so briefly upwards as the first explosion reached them he lowered his pistol and pulled the trigger.
Don saw the flash just as he felt the pain in his left leg, the sound of the gunshot almost lost in the first of the fireworks. His leg buckled and he went down on one knee as he drew in a hissing breath. The round had gone through the side of his lower leg just below his knee, his probing hand determined that the bone was unbroken, it had been the shock to his system that had caused his leg to collapse. He didn't waste any thought on wondering why the shot had seemingly been deliberately placed where it had, he was still alive and that was all that mattered. Gritting his teeth he pushed himself back up, watching as Rodan's weapon carefully tracked his movement.
He had to keep the criminal talking in the hope that someone knew he'd made his escape and was hunting him. "So what, WitSec let you out to watch the fireworks?"
Rodan laughed without amusement. "Hardly. Idiots, the lot of them. Not like you."
Don's eyes narrowed at the backhanded compliment as he indicated the weapon held on him. "Not that it has done me any good."
Rodan lifted the gun slightly and Don tensed but there was no second shot, not yet. "This? You made it easy for me, arguing with that hot prosecutor back at the FBI." His voice rose, taking on a falsetto pitch as he twisted Robin's words. "Oh, Donny, lets go watch the pretty fireworks, you'll feel better."
"Leave her out of this!" Don growled. The fact that she and everyone else he cared about were only a short distance away fired up his protective instincts. Rodan must have followed them here to have found him so quickly, the criminal would know who he was with and where they were.
"Ooh. Got a thing for her have you?" The twisted grin on his face showed that Rodan had already come to that conclusion.
"You're here for me, not her." Desperate to get the criminal thinking about him rather than Robin, Don managed to take half a step forward. He kept his hands up and away from the holster hidden under his light jacket in the hope that Rodan would continue to act under his assumption that the agent was unarmed. Rodan had seemingly come to that conclusion when Don hadn't immediately produced a weapon earlier, apparently not seeing the agent's aborted attempt for it due to the darkness. He had to wait for his chance, as things stood now he knew he didn't have time to draw before Rodan could take him out. "What are you waiting for?"
"I need to set an example. The next one is going to go into your right knee. Call it a trademark if you will. I won't miss this time."
"'Set an example'?" He repeated as he tried to ignore the chill that ran down his spine at the trademark comment. That explained why the last shot had been intended to wound, to kneecap him but not kill. Rodan had done the same with the kid he'd killed recently, maiming him first by starting with the kneecaps and some more carefully placed shots before finishing him off. He thanked whoever was listening that the last shot had missed the intended target. He wouldn't be standing now, albeit with the support of a tree, if the criminal's aim had been better. "Just killing a fed not enough for you?"
"Not hardly. You've shut down my whole operation. I had such a sweet deal running."
"Still do." Don couldn't help the bitterness that crept into his voice.
"You have any idea how hard it is to set everything up?" Rodan complained, completely ignoring the comment. "I have to start over again."
"You expect sympathy? Poor little criminal, shut down by the feds?" Don was trying to provoke a reaction, an angry response that would hopefully give him an opening. "I'm going to track you and shut you down again." The threat was a hollow one, WitSec would never allow him to become aware of where their precious witness had gone. Assuming he survived this encounter to do any tracking, that was.
"Yeah, right." Rodan responded contemptuously. He knew as well as the agent did just how weak that threat really was. He added his own threat, one he had every intention of completing and the ability to carry out whenever he wanted. "You gonna haunt me?"
"If that's what it takes." Don snapped back. Wondering at the delay before the next shot he realised that the first stage of the fireworks was over, the noise of the gunshot would not be masked if he fired just yet. Rodan was taking a huge risk by coming after the agent but he was still being careful and obviously planned on walking away when he was done.
"Tough guy. I was warned about you when you started sniffing around. I was going to take you out but figured I didn't need the heat. If I'd known about your friends then,' Rodan trailed off wistfully with a faint shrug.
Don swallowed as he realised Rodan had been tracking him just as he'd been tracking the criminal. His brother, Amita, Larry and even probably his father had all been identified but fortunately, from the sounds of things, by the time he'd figured out their roles it had been too late for the criminal to try anything.
Rodan suddenly adjusted his aim, lowering the muzzle in preparation for the next shot, the second stage of the fireworks wouldn't be far away now. He grinned. "Once I've finished with you maybe I'll finish them as well."
A/N: Final chapter up tomorrow.