Disclaimer; I didn't win this week's Power Ball and I still don't own any part of Numb3rs; such is life.
Warnings; beware of one or two cliffies
Spoilers – A little bit for S4 "Primacy" but, generally, for all seasons
Takes place early season 5 – just after Charlie's security clearance was reinstated and Nikki was still wet behind the ears.
A/N; This is another attempt, from yours truly, at a small multi-chaptered adventure, this time with a little math and a bit of whumping thrown in for good measure.
I'm not a mathematician. The math used here is very basic, something Charlie might use in his Math for Non Mathematicians class. I don't think, though, he ever tires of showing Don how often we apply math in our everyday life without knowing it.
I really hope you enjoy it.
Summary: We all use math everyday; to predict weather, to tell time, to handle money and when the situation calls for it, to save a couple of friend's lives.
Just A Mathematician
Chapter One - Colby
Industrial area of east L.A.
The blast was unexpected - outside the parameters of the established pattern - an anomaly. Designed to bring the old building down, it's concussive power sent shock waves of energy throughout the vast open space with such force that the steel beams were ripped from their position of support, weakening the structural strength beyond repair. The debris and resulting firestorm swept through the building with hurricane force, destroying everything in sight and leaving a charred noxious hull of concrete in it's wake. Complete and total structural collapse would eventually ensue, leaving another blackened smoldering ruin to blot the east L.A. landscape.
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46 minutes earlier
FBI headquarters, downtown Los Angeles, California
He stood silently at the elevator, head tilted up, appearing to watch the floor indicator lights flash on and off as the car descended slowly to their level. His boss, Special Agent Don Eppes, and the new team member Nikki Betancourt stood beside him and he wondered if they were also lamenting the weekend plans that had gone awry with a single phone call early that morning. Colby Granger glanced down at his watch and one side of his mouth curled up in an expression of profound and regretful resignation. Jimmy and Glenn had probably made it to the lake by now, have the campsite set up and well on their way to being knee deep in rainbow trout and empty beer cans by nightfall. He had been looking forward to a few days of camping and fishing in the mountains with a couple of friends, but Charlie Eppes' call to his brother this morning before 7am - which had propagated Don's call to each member of his team - had put an end to those plans.
An eight o'clock briefing in the war room over pastry and coffee had sealed the deal and Colby's weekend had become just two more working days until Monday.
He really couldn't say much, though. Charlie had just given them the best lead they had had in weeks and, with luck, they would be able to catch this nut-case who liked to play with bombs and wrap up this case in a few days.
Five buildings had been destroyed in the last six weeks. The suspect had tried, as others had before him, to be unpredictable and random, but, they had been able to detect certain habits. The bomber preferred a week-day; four of the five bombings had been through the week. Two of the attacks had been mid-day, two had been early morning and one had occurred at 10pm, so time was a variable, but all of the buildings had been unoccupied or abandoned, resulting in the fact that there hadn't been any casualties. The most important commonality, at least as far as the FBI's investigation went, was the fact he always used the same type and amount of explosives. In an effort to maintain the integrity of the investigation, Don had not allowed that information to be released to the press.
They had followed several disappointing leads in the days following the first three attacks. When no witnesses or new leads surfaced Don had asked Charlie to help them determine where the next unscheduled demolition would occur. Unfortunately, three explosions did not give the consultant enough data to work with and the bomber struck again and again before Charlie was able to develop an equation using a principle components analysis he had utilized to find and profile another arsonist in a previous case. He had called Don this morning and told him he had results.
There were literally scores of abandoned or unused buildings in L.A., but Charlie had come through with three possible sites as the bomber's next target and a predictive estimate of four days before it would happen.
Colby and the rest of the team knew Don didn't want to wait until Monday to check out the sites. It would take time to coordinate surveillance for three possible targets and if Charlie's prediction was right and the bomber struck on Tuesday, well...Monday might be too late. Hence, the lost weekend.
Don told them he was dividing the team, taking Liz and Nikki with him to check out the two inner city locations that were on Charlie's list while David and Colby would check the location further out, near the eastern city limits.
David had left as soon as the briefing was over, shooting his partner a look that said he would meet him in the parking lot. He had been dialing his cellphone as he walked out of the war room. Another weekend plan canceled, Colby thought grimly.
Special Agent Liz Warner joined them now at the elevator just as the doors opened and the four of them entered. Colby reached forward and pushed the button for the parking garage.
"So," Nikki's east L.A. twang rang out as they started to descend. "let me get this straight. I gave up my first weekend off since I've been here to sit through a math lesson where I didn't understand one word and you people honestly think that math guy can tell us where the bomber will hit next?"
Colby and Liz Warner shared an incredulous look at the new agent's brashness. Oh, David will be sorry he missed this one. Colby held his breath as Don turned and gave the rookie a slow withering look over the rim of his sunglasses.
After Megan's unexpected departure they had seen Don study the personnel files looking for a replacement. When Nikki appeared on her first day, David, Colby and Liz had not been surprised at Don's selection. "Post therapy Don", as they called him in private, would see the benefit of having someone with a solid background in law and law enforcement. Her brass-knuckles approach would be good for them, if they could tame her impulsive streak that, too often, sent her charging into danger without regard for her safety. They all knew she had a huge pair of shoes to fill with Megan's absence and that Don was trying to give her every opportunity to prove herself. It had been a daunting task and Colby had seen Don run his hands through his hair in frustration a few times when dealing with the strong-minded agent.
Colby had watched her during Charlie's briefing this morning – the eye rolls, fidgeting, mouth agape expression during his analogy of the mating selection of the African tree frog (how can this possibly have anything to do with a serial bomber?) and given her tendency for bold and brazen attitude towards just about everything, he wasn't surprised that she had a strong opinion about the consultant's methodology and presentation. Still...Charlie was part of the team and they all knew Don, as both team leader and Charlie's brother – would not tolerate the disrespect in her tone. They had a serial bomber to find and every member of the team needed to be working together.
Don sighed dramatically. "Look, I know Charlie can be hard to take sometimes, believe me, I know. But, if his equations says one of these three buildings will be next, you can believe it. It would be in your best interest, Betancourt, if you stopped talking so much and listen to what he says. You'll find he's right most of the time."
"Hey, I didn't mean anything by it, boss." she said, her full, heavily painted lips quirking up on one side in that sardonic way they were all getting use to. "I know he's your kid brother and all, but I'm just use to following police procedure – you know, investigation, stakeouts, interrogations – that kind of thing; not some weird math stuff that no one can relate to."
Colby choked back a knowing chuckle as Don shot her another piercing look. "That weird math stuff Charlie used today was just predictive analysis and you were trained in it at Quantico," he said, sharply.
"Yeah, that part I got. But, he takes it to a whole new level of weirdness."
The elevator stopped at the lower parking garage level. The doors opened and they all stepped out, heading to the twin SUV's along the far wall.
Colby chanced a small wink in Liz's direction as Don changed position just enough that Betancourt ended up beside him. The team leader's voice took on a stern, patient tone, echoing slightly in the cavernous parking area, and Colby couldn't help put picture Don trying to explain to a head-strong 15 year old girl why she couldn't date until she was 16.
"Charlie told me it's a combination of probability modeling and statistical analysis, and he used it once to help us nail some bank robbers. Every branch of law enforcement uses it in one form or another – even the LAPD."
Her reply was quick and sharp and stopped Don in his tracks. "That stuff I heard this morning isn't in any training book I've ever read."
Colby was amazed at his boss's restraint as he took two steps towards the new agent, deliberately invading her personal space.
"No?" He raised his eyebrows above the rim of his sunglasses, once again on the offensive."You don't follow patterns, watch for similar MO's, then try to guess what their next move might be?"
She swallowed under his intense scrutiny, a little less sure of herself, a little less "east L.A." in her voice. "Yeah, sure, but..."
Don's voice was hard. "Well, with Charlie's equations, there's no guessing and he can do it faster and much more efficiently than we can. Our high solve rate is due partially to Charlie and his work. He's done a great job for us, and now that all this nonsense about his clearance is over, he'll be helping us out again." He paused, pulling his sunglasses off and fixing her with a dark-eyed, challenging look. "You going to have a problem with that, Betancourt?"
Nikki's previous supervisor at the LAPD swore the strong-minded female officer had given him more than one gray hair, and while he admired her conviction, he also admired the fact that she knew when to back down and regroup. Standing here in the FBI parking garage was one of those times. She shook her head. "No. No problem, boss."
Colby and Liz had remained silent through the tense conversation, but, now, as Don nodded curtly and they continued towards the vehicles again, Liz turned to the rookie. "I remember the first briefing I sat through with Charlie. I felt like I had fallen into an alternate universe. After a while I just started nodding my head along with Granger. But, once I got past the heavy duty math terms, I realized a lot of what Charlie applies is based on principles we already use, just at a much higher level."
Colby couldn't remain quiet. "No sweat, you'll get use to Charlie. It took us a while but we've finally reached the point where we don't waste time doubting what he tells us. If he says X marks the spot, you can pretty much be sure you'll find the treasure there. Besides, he's fun to watch when he gets going."
Nikki's mouth curled into a whatever expression, but she remained quiet in the face of the triple team effort and Don took it as a sign the junior agent might have some common sense, after all.
"Charlie works in applied mathematics." Don continued, patiently, as they reached the two government issued Suburbans. "He's always telling me that everything is numbers, and after you sit through of few more of his briefings, and hear some of his analogies, you'll see how he likes to point out how often we use math in our everyday lives without knowing it."
Don and Liz slid into the front seat of one of the vehicles. With David already behind the wheel of the other one, Colby headed for the passenger side. At the last minute, he saw Nikki shrug as she opened the back door of Don's SUV. "Maybe," she yielded, with a slight shrug that said she was anything but convinced, "but I try not to use math at all. It gives me a headache."
Colby was still laughing when he settled into the front seat and fastened his seatbelt. David shot him an inquiring look and Granger said, "You missed it, man. The "new guy" was challenging Don's decision making. It was a thing to behold."
Chuckling, David backed the vehicle out of it's parking space and followed Don's towards the exit. When Don stopped just before pulling out into traffic and sat idling, David swung his vehicle around and pulled up beside him. Don rolled his window down and Colby did the same.
A look passed between the three men, dark and intense and filled with understanding. Don nodded his head once and without hesitation, David and Colby returned the nod. It was a pact, a bond of trust, an unspoken promise that had nothing to do with the case and everything to do with the curly-haired consultant sitting in the backseat behind Colby.
A consultant in the field is never a good idea – whether it's an actual crime scene or a potential crime scene. They are not trained for all the myriad of things that could go wrong and they all usually tried to adhere to those rules concerning consultants – especially with Charlie. Colby had heard about Banetek Towers and the LA sniper. No one wanted a repeat of that.
Occasionally though, the nature of the crime or key piece of evidence made it necessary for Charlie to be there and Don would escort his brother to the scene, keeping him close until he could obtain the information he needed, then, either escort him out again or assign an agent to take him home.
No one had been surprised when Charlie had suggested that morning that an on-site observation would provide valuable data he couldn't get anywhere else. Given Charlie's prediction that the next explosion was at least four days away, and the fact that Charlie's track record was damn near perfect, Don had been inclined to allow his brother to accompany him to the two locations.
Don was unsure, though, if he could keep an eye on both Charlie and his rookie at the same time so, by mutual consent, it was decided Charlie would accompany David and Colby this morning and Don would look for the data points at the other sites that Charlie needed to predict the next target.
Charlie sat now, in the back seat, completely unaware of the silent promise the two agents were making to his brother – to keep him safe and out of harm's way.
Don pulled his vehicle out of the parking garage and headed west towards the first location. David followed him out of the government lot and turned east, towards the city's eastern limits.
The abandoned factory they drove to was situated in a commercially zoned, industrial section on the south-eastern edge of Los Angeles. Several of the businesses in the area had tried to implement landscaping in an effort to soften the harsh lines of the buildings and improve the appearance wherever possible. It was painfully obvious they didn't waste much time or money on the endeavor and the dry arid conditions won the battle, leaving the shrubs and plants thin and brittle with only a few scattered cacti maintaining their tenuous hold. Several of the smaller businesses had shriveled up, as well, their doors and windows boarded up. A few still struggled to survive, but they were closed today, giving the entire area a desolate and barren feel to it.
The three men approached the building and Colby grinned as he watched David grimaced when a large lizard scurried across his path. They stopped several feet back from the entrance and took a moment to scan the building.
Colby turned to the smaller man beside him. "What do you think, Charlie?"
The mathematician was absently nodding his head, one hand shading his eyes from the glaring sunlight as his eyes moved rapidly over the exterior of the building. "It fits all the parameters of the bomber's targets." he said, "but, I can't be sure until I inspect some of the interior foundations and support."
Both agents nodded agreeably and started for the entrance.
"Uh, just...just a second." Charlie shrugged a large backpack off his shoulders. Holding it with one hand, he tried to unzip it with the other. Amused, David and Colby watched as he struggled with the stubborn zipper. Perseverance finally won and the zipper flew open with an angry hiss, allowing Charlie to pull out a clipboard with several sheets of wrinkled paper attached. Grumbling to himself and smiling sheepishly to David and Colby, Charlie had to set the backpack on the ground to rummage through it's contents until he located a pen, then with a triumphant grin he zipped it back again and slung the pack on his back.
The over-sized pack on his small frame made him look more like a student than a professor and Colby just barely held back a chuckle. "Maybe you ought to leave the pack in the car, Charlie. It looks heavy." He suggested.
Charlie shook his head, "It's okay, I took the laptop out. It's not that heavy. It has... I might need..." he shrugged and flashed a smile that was equal parts apologetic, embarrassment and completely disarming.
Sharing a grin and an eye-roll the two special agents led the way into the building.
The air inside was heavy with heat and dust and dirt. It was obvious no one had been in the building for a while and there was a stagnant unused quality about it that the three men found disturbing.
Charlie immediately began scribbling, his eyes taking in structural supports, the number of load bearing walls, any and all latent defects or deterioration. He nodded absently at David's "Stay close, Charlie" as he wandered away into the vast open space of the warehouse. Lost in his calculations as he was, he missed the amused look between the two agents and Colby's resigned smirk as he nodded once to David and took up a position behind the professor. The agent followed the mathematician through the cluttered area, stepping over or around discarded chairs, garbage bags, old dented metal buckets, a few plastic tarps and several small tables with inches of dirt layered on top. There were several areas where boxes had been stacked haphazardly. A few of them showed signs of mice or rat infestation, with shredded ringlets of cardboard scattered on the floor in front of the boxes. Obviously, the previous owners either left in a hurry or abandoned the building with an apathetic indifference.
As Charlie's eyes searched for commonalities with the previous bombings, Colby's experienced ones looked for anything suspicious or areas that might be used to conceal a bomb.
His eyes were drawn upward to an open loft area where several stacks of boxes remained. A large hoist chain hung from the rafters and he saw a few discarded wooden pallets along one wall. It didn't seem a likely spot for a bomb and he turned away.
Studying the vast open interior of the factory again, Colby wondered what it had been used for. He noticed David, nearly 30 feet away, inspecting one of several large open-topped containers that were sitting in different areas around the room, abandoned, as the rest of the building was. They were large, made of some type of heavy gauge steel and reinforced at the corners with thick bands of iron. Colby guessed them to be nearly five foot high from the floor and three, maybe four foot wide. They were long, probably six feet or so. They were obviously custom made. They moved on cast iron wheels, fully mobile on the concrete floors and Colby could only imagine they were used to transport heavy machine parts from one end of the building to the other.
He watched Charlie studying a steel support beam, the mathematician following it's path to the ceiling with bright intense eyes and wondered what the smaller man saw in his head that made him return to the paper and scribble furiously, humming to himself as he did.
David called out that he was going to check out the four offices that lined the wall directly underneath the open loft. Colby acknowledged his partner with a wave of his hand. He noticed Charlie never moved. Probably didn't even hear David, he thought. What would it be like, he wondered, to be into something so deeply you weren't aware of your surroundings? And, how, he chuckled to himself, could it possibly be math?
He had not been a slouch when it came to math in college – in fact, there had been a girl once who...well, he had fond memories of helping her with her advanced calculus late one night, but nothing like the stuff Charlie gives them. He couldn't touch that stuff with the ten foot pole he used once in high school pole vaulting. That was more his strong suit.
Charlie had moved to another beam and as he watched the mathematician study it, Colby was suddenly filled with a sense of dread. Something wasn't right. He had learned to respect that feeling – that eerie sensation when, for no apparent reason, his breath quickened and his heart rate increased and his spine tingled. He had experienced it before, both in Afghanistan and in the field with the FBI, and he knew not to ignore it.
He moved quickly towards Charlie, the hair on the back of his neck raising with each step. "Charlie." he called. He wasn't surprised to see the consultant continue to take notes, completely oblivious to him and the danger. He hurried forward. "Charlie, come on, man, something's wrong. Let's get out."
He reached out, taking Charlie's arm and the smaller man finally looked up, startled. Starting to pull Charlie away, Colby's feeling of dread intensified, his breath hitching when something caught his eye. He took a cautious step around the back side of the beam Charlie had been studying and saw a strange box-like device attached to the support about two feet off the floor. A red flashing digital readout on the front of the box nearly brought him to his knees -- 9...8... .
Colby moved – fast.
Still holding Charlie's arm, he turned his head and yelled, "DAVID! BOMB!"
He glanced at the way they came in - saw the door, open and taunting, but too far away. There was no way they would make it that far. He bent forward in front of Charlie suddenly and wrapped his arms around the back of Charlie's legs, lifting him off his feet and slinging him over his shoulder. He ran, his strong legs closing the space quickly between them and one of the large metal containers. Sliding to a halt in front of one, he hefted the smaller man up and over the side, dropping him into it. "Cover your head, Charlie! Stay down!"
He crouched beside the container, breathing heavily, a sense of doom knotting in his stomach. He didn't think there was room for both of them inside the container and he knew there wasn't time to run to another one. He had continued the countdown in his head as he had run with Charlie and he had already reached one. He had time to turn his head, looking to the last place he saw David, whispering zero as he bent forward and covered his head.
He didn't hear the explosion – he felt it. The air in his lungs was suddenly, forcibly gone. He felt an incredible pressure in his head, his arms, his legs, his stomach, his groin, his chest as the shock wave hit him and his feet left the floor. The energy caused by the explosives ripped through the building like a tsunami, sweeping everything out of it's path - including him. He was flung backwards with such force and speed he instantly became nauseous. Pummeled by debris, disoriented and dizzy he could do nothing to stop his uncontrolled flight across the room while his body was twisted around like a rag doll in the wind. The tremendous heat he felt behind him suddenly manifested into a giant ball of orange flame and it raced towards him, slender fingers of fire reaching ahead of the mass and tickling his back and legs with sharp painful touches. An instant later, facing forward again, he saw the concrete wall directly in his path.
There was no time for last minute reflections on his life – no slide show of memorable moments in the life and times of Colby Granger. There was nothing but a breathless instant when he saw the wall rushing closer as he flew towards it. He saw the shelves that lined the wall, filled with rusted machine parts, and experienced an perfect moment of both clarity and doom. "Aw, shit," he thought. "this is gonna hurt."
A/N: Don't say I didn't warn you. I told you there would be a cliffie or two.
Coming soon to a computer near you; Chapter Two - Charlie
I know I usually update everyday, but I would really like to double check chapter two. It should be up early Tuesday. Thanks for reading.