Previously, on Numb3rs – from chapter three – David.
David didn't answer, but he grinned, wryly, under the oxygen mask. Luck, he thought, had nothing to do with it.
Just A Mathematician
Chapter Four - Don
UCLA Medical Center
Don Eppes paused briefly in the hospital corridor just outside room 256 and took a deep breath. He glanced at his watch. A little past one thirty in the afternoon and he already felt like he had been dragged through the mill once or twice today.
It had been close – too damn close and Don hadn't really had time to deal with it yet. Called by the LAPD, he had made it to the scene of the explosion just as the ambulance transporting David to the hospital was leaving the site and Charlie was being loaded into another one. Colby had already been transported to the burn unit at UCLA.
He had flashed his ID to the attendant and jumped into the ambulance beside his brother before anyone could protest. He didn't know what to expect, but it had still been a shock to see Charlie, his curls limp and plastered to his head, bloody white bandages around his head, hand and stomach, his chest bare and dark with soot.
Don had bit his lip, holding in his emotion as the paramedics adjusted the IV drips and cleaned the wound in his brother's side. He had asked the attendant in a low shaky tone how bad it was and Charlie's eyes had opened quickly at the sound of his voice. They were red, puffy and watery, but Charlie smiled - a smile that was both reassuring and filled with relief, and Don had let himself relax.
He still didn't have the whole story. He had been allowed to see David for a few minutes before they took him to surgery and the agent told him that, incredibly, it had been Charlie who had gotten them all out alive.
After calling David's and Colby's families, Don had waited, anxiously, pacing, frustrated while the doctors worked on his brother. Two calls from Liz, who had stayed at the scene, and one from Nikki who had joined the LAPD arson squad in a preliminary investigation, filled in some of the missing pieces, but, he still needed to talk to Charlie.
The doctors had finally come out and discussed Charlie's injuries with him; a moderate head injury, but, luckily, no concussion, significant blood loss, 8 stitches to close the gap in his side and 4 in his hand, bruised shoulder, a cracked hip bone, numerous cuts, bruises and contusions, and, of course, smoke inhalation.
As bad as it sounded, Don knew it could have been so much worse. He had called Alan, who was visiting relatives in San Diego and Amita and Larry who were in Seattle working on the Higgs Bosen project. They all were rushing back to Los Angeles as soon as possible.
He stood, now, outside Charlie's hospital room, his hand on the knob, taking several calming breaths before opening the door.
The doctor had told Don smoke inhalation can produce severe headaches and that Charlie's eyes would be irritated for a short time yet, so they were keeping the room's lights low for Charlie's benefit. One small light was on above the bed, bathing the patient from behind in a soft glow. Charlie had his eyes closed and Don took a moment to study his brother. He looked better than he had in the ambulance. His hair was still a mess but the hospital staff had cleaned the soot and dirt from his face, leaving only stubble covering the pale skin. A small white gauze bandage covered the laceration on his forehead and Don knew a similar one covered the wound in his side beneath the standard hospital gown. The bed, slightly elevated, was surrounded by IV stands and monitors, all of which were attached to his brother. Instead of the large mask Don had last seen on him, oxygen was now being fed to him through a cannula inserted in his nose.
The doctor had also told Don that Charlie's hearing would probably return to normal over the next few hours, so he tried to enter the room quietly. If he was sleeping, he didn't want to disturb him. Before he could close the door, however, a page for Dr. Paulson to dial extension 402 blared over the intercom in the hallway and Charlie's eyes shot open. Seeing Don in the doorway, he tried to sit up straight, but the effort drew a gasp of pain which, quickly became a hoarse cough, then a low moan, and he fell back against the pillow, holding his hand against his side.
Don hurried across the room. "Whoa, whoa, hold on there, buddy. Take it easy."
Charlie held up his hand, palm out towards his brother, saying without words that he was alright. Unfortunately, it was the hand he had cut pulling the shard out of his side and the white bandage, spotted with small smears of blood, belied that particular assessment. "Don," he said in a raw scratchy voice that had Don wincing in sympathy. "David and Colby. Are they..."
Don held out his own hand, stopping Charlie's question. "They're going to be alright, Charlie," Don reassured him. "Colby's pretty banged up, but you already knew that. He's got a serious concussion, his arm's broken in two places, second and third degree burns on his back and legs. There was also some internal bleeding but they were able to control that." He paused as Charlie winced. "He's lucky to be alive, buddy," he went on, "and he's going to be out of commission for a while, but the doctors say, in time, he's going to be fine. David's leg is broken and he wrenched his back, but other than that and some minor cuts and bruises, he's okay. He's in surgery right now, but the doctor's think he'll make a full recovery."
Charlie's eyes were still a little red and weepy looking and Don thought he was the perfect picture of misery as he managed to croak out, "My calculations ... I was wrong. I've been ... trying to determine what ... ."
Don shook his head, quickly stepping closer and laying a gentle hand on his brother's shoulder. "No, Charlie, you weren't wrong. Nikki called. She went with the LAPD arson squad. The bomb wasn't the same as the others and when they interviewed the owner of the building, she was suspicious enough to look around. They found pieces of the bomb right there in the guy's trash. He made it himself. Guess he was going after the insurance money and figured another bombing would just be blamed on the serial bomber."
"A ... a copycat." Charlie murmured, dully, slowly digesting the information.
Don nodded and Charlie gave his brother a quick and unexpected lop-sided smile. "But no one knew about the type of explosives the bomber used. You fooled him."
Don grinned, glad to see the guilt lift from his brother's face.
"It's ironic, though." Charlie said.
"The joke's on him, more ways than one. I think...no, I'm sure the serial bomber would have struck there next."
"Well," Don drawled, thoughtfully, "he's not the first criminal I've seen whose greed got the best of him."
Charlie coughed, raw and hoarse, and Don winced again. "Hey, buddy, it's probably better if you don't talk too much. Give your throat a break, huh." He patted his brother's arm, gentle and awkward. He knew Charlie needed to rest but he was reluctant to leave just yet. "I heard some firefighters talking in the lobby." he said. "You realize what you did today? They're calling you a hero."
"That's ridiculous," Charlie said wearily, disregarding Don's advice. He settled his head back on the pillow and cleared his throat. "If anyone's the hero, it's Colby. He's the one who noticed the bomb. He warned David in time. He...he threw me into that metal contraption on wheels."
Don was silent, knowing everything Charlie said was true. Colby's actions had certainly played a part in all three of them surviving the explosion. The truth remained, though, that Charlie should have never been there in the first place. As senior agent, Don would probably be unofficially reprimanded for allowing it. He had to admit that the near-tragedy this morning was a strong affirmation that consultant's don't belong in the field and Don intended to have this conversation with his team and most assuredly, his brother – later, when Charlie didn't look so...broken.
Looking at Charlie now, Don frowned at the sudden look of anguish and embarrassment and self-condemnation in his brother's eyes. Charlie coughed, once, raspy and frog-like, which only added to the misery in his voice as he said, "I...I was standing right next to the bomb, Don. I didn't ... I wasn't paying attention."
Don shuddered at his brother's admission and, with considerable effort, shook off the image that it produced. He kept his voice steady and focused on the pride he felt, instead."Not to take anything away from Granger, because, seriously Charlie, we owe him big time, but he's trained to pay attention and to think fast and react faster. You aren't and the fact that you were able to get yourself and both of them out safely, well ..."
"I didn't do anything special." Charlie protested again, frowning now with the displeased look he adapted when he didn't think anyone was listening to him.
Immune to that look since he was thirteen, Don continued. "Nothing special, huh? To start with, you all could have died of smoke inhalation today, buddy, if you hadn't covered your mouths with the wet cloth."
"It was logical to keep the smoke we inhaled to a minimum." Charlie argued. "It just made sense. It's like I always tell you, math is logic – rationality."
"Oh, so you're saying you used math to save David and Colby."
Don's voice was skeptical, but his eyes twinkled as Charlie rose to the bait and answered, a little defensively, "Yeah, I am. I used some very basic mathematical applications. Anyone could have done the same thing."
"What," Don teased, "you have a mathematical equation to save people from a burning building, cause I think the fire department might be interested if you do."
"Nothing that structured or finite." Charlie scowled at his brother. "But, it's not so obscure that we don't apply it everyday."
At Don's confused expression, Charlie sat up a little straighter. "Alright, consider Sir Isaac Newton's three laws of motion."
An easy slow smile spread across Don's features as Charlie talked. Even though the effects of the mornings disaster were evident in his watery eyes and raw throat and numerous bandages, the mathematician rallied momentarily in his enthusiastic explanation and Don was nearly overcome with relief.
"Newton's first law of motion," Charlie began, "'A body at rest or uniform motion remains at rest or uniform motion until it is acted upon by an external unbalanced force.' I think Colby demonstrated that very effectively when he hit the wall." Both brothers winced, with sincere empathy, at the image those words conjured. "It holds true at the other end of the spectrum, as well, when he was unconscious." Charlie continued. "A force of significant strength was needed to put him in motion. I simply applied a basic law of physics that all firefighters and rescue workers utilize; don't lift anything you can drag, don't drag anything you can roll, don't roll anything you can leave."
A brief coughing spell interrupted Charlie's mini math lesson and Don quickly filled a glass with water and handed it to his brother. As Charlie gratefully drank the water, Don took over the narrative, as much to show Charlie he understood as to keep his brother from taxing his throat or strength.
"So you rolled Colby onto the tarp and dragged him out. Still, you were injured yourself and Colby's no light weight - dragging him couldn't have been easy."
Recovered, Charlie offered an explanation. "Newton's second law, F=m x a; force equals mass times acceleration. And, yeah, Don, I admit, even overdosing on adrenaline, I had trouble dragging him. So, once again, I applied logic and used the piece of wood as a handle to increase the force, compensating for the friction created by the tarp's resistance and Colby's weight being dragged across concrete floor."
Before Don could comment, the door opened and a middle age nurse with a mega-watt smile and a name tag introducing her as Molly bustled in. "Well, hello, there, bright eyes. You've had quite a morning, haven't you?"
Her enthusiasm was contagious and neither brother could stop the grim smile at the obvious understatement.
She produced a syringe from the pocket of her Winnie The Pooh smock and approached the bed. "Dr. Winstead wants you to have another dose of morphine."
Don stepped away to give her access to his brother and watched silently as she administered the pain medication with practiced ease. After a quick look at the dressings and IV drip, she checked the monitors that were beeping rhythmically, broadcasting his blood pressure and heart rate. Seemingly satisfied with the results, she jotted the numbers down on the chart at the foot of Charlie's bed. With another sunny smile at both brothers and an unexpected wink in Don's direction she left the room.
Don approached the bed once more. Charlie didn't look as pale as he had earlier, Don noticed with relief, and it was obvious his hearing was nearly back to normal. He was still very weak and needed to rest – something the morphine will help with, Don thought – but the younger Eppes had other ideas.
"So, I applied Newton's third law to get David out from under the beam." Charlie began again, but Don jumped in.
"Wait, I think I know that one. Isn't that For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction?"
Ignoring Don's attempt to keep him from talking, Charlie nodded and forged ahead, a little slower than before. "All forces are interactions, Don. If body A exerts a force on body B, simultaneously, body B exerts a force of the same magnitude on body A, both forces acting along the same line. I pushed downward on the lever and the lever applied the same amount of force upward. The concrete fragment acted as fulcrum and by placing it correctly, approximately one point eight feet from David's left hip, and increasing the force exponentially with the weight of the backpack, I was able ..."
"Ah, wait, I see," Don tried again when Charlie's voice became raspy. "You used the old Archimedes Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I can move the world thing, right?"
Charlie smiled, drowsily, at his brother's understanding. The morphine was doing it's job.
Don stepped close to the bed again and his hands found the railing.
"Hey," he said softly and Charlie's eyes blinked once and focused on him. "I see what you are saying buddy, but from where I stand, what you did today took more than just math - it took guts and strength - strength I didn't even know you had."
"My strength has always been numbers, Don." His words were slurring. "You and David and Colby have the superhero thing going. I'm just a mathematician." The last words tapered off to a whisper and his eyes flickered a few times.
"Well... you rest now," Don said, patting Charlie's shoulder. "Dad and Amita and Larry will be here soon."
Charlie closed his eyes and Don stood beside the bed for a few minutes, watching until his brother's breaths became even and steady. He walked away from the bed, shaking his head slightly, his lips pursed in an incredulous smirk. My genius brother, he thought. Couldn't be more wrong. You're so much more than just a mathematician.
He stepped into the corridor, closing the door quietly behind him. A small commotion at the nurses station drew his attention and he nearly groaned out loud when he saw them.
He didn't need to know their names to know who they were. Reporters. Three men and a woman were talking to one of the nurses and a real groan did escape him when the he saw the nurse turn and point towards him. More specifically, he thought with alarm, to Charlie's room behind him.
They turned their heads, saw him standing there and started his way.
Two of the men were middle-aged; one was shorter than the other by 6 inches or so – the other one heavier by 50 pounds or more.
Tall and Heavy reminded Don of the father of a girl he dated a few times in high school. Candy's old man had been bullish and obdurate when it came to his daughter's after school activities. He had even called Alan and Margaret and warned them of the consequences if their son was anything less than a gentleman when he was with her. Besides the physical resemblance, Don saw the same arrogance in this large man before him.
Short and Skinny needed a guest shot on "What Not To Wear". Distinguishable only in a nondescript way, he wore pants of a vague dark color, a blue stripe shirt and an outlandishly bold plaid bow tie.
The third man was painfully young and obviously star-struck by the lone woman in the group. He carried a large video camera on his shoulder and maintained a position two steps behind her as they approached him. Don recognized her as a newswoman from a local television station. The young man must be her photographer.
Don made sure the door to Charlie's room was closed tight and took a few steps away from it, drawing their attention to him.
"Are you suppose to be in here?" he asked, using his best authoritative voice. He was definitely uneasy that they had been asking about Charlie. The last thing his brother needed today was a bunch of intrusive strangers asking questions while some over-eager photographer took his picture. Don made sure his glare at the young man conveyed that and he was gratified to see him swallow thickly and take a step backwards.
The others were not as easily intimidated. Collectively, they ignored his question. With a nod of his head indicating the closed door behind Don, Daddy Dearest asked, "Is that one of the men injured in the warehouse explosion this morning?"
"Yeah." Don answered cautiously, suspiciously, protectively – knowing they already knew the answer.
Bow Tie spoke up. "We heard FBI was at the scene when the latest bomb went off. Is he an FBI agent?"
"No, he's a math professor."
"Was this the work of the serial bomber?"
Don adapted the timeworn, exasperated, You know I can't say anything about it, why do you even ask expression and said, "That's an active case. I can't comment." He tried to push his way past them, hoping they would get the message that the interview was over and leave also, but the woman spoke next and her cold, calculating tone stopped him in his tracks.
"Wait a minute. A math professor. Is that Dr. Charles Eppes in there. He consults for the FBI, right?"
When Don didn't answer immediately, they took his hesitation as a confirmation and they swooped in like vultures.
"Was he there on a case?"
"How badly is he injured?"
"Is he working with the FBI on the bomber case?"
Don recovered enough to repeat his earlier statement, his dark eyes flashing. "I told you, it's an active case – no comment."
"Well," the large reporter drawled slowly, taking a step towards Charlie's door, "maybe the professor will have a comment. We'll just talk to him."
Don stepped in front of him, blocking the doorway. "Not today. His throat's a little sore from the smoke and he's rest..."
"Who are you," Bow Tie interrupted, "his doctor?"
With considerable effort, Don kept his voice low and he let a dark penetrating gaze sweep over each of them in turn. "No, I'm his brother, Special Agent Don Eppes and I am with the FBI. You can talk to him tomorrow."
Confident that he had made his point, Don walked away, shaking his head at the reporter's abrasive and insensitive attitudes.
Once again, it was the woman's voice that stopped him. This time, however, it was laced with quiet respect and honest curiosity. "Agent Eppes, we heard he saved those two FBI agents today. How could a math professor do that?"
He turned to the group again and noticed the change immediately. Apparently it was alright to push their way into an interview with a witness but there was a whole new set of rules with a family member. There was a deference, a professional courtesy now, that wasn't there before and Don relaxed. They were just doing their jobs – and as long as they stayed away from Charlie today, he could care less about their rules of reporters etiquette.
Should he tell them how Charlie managed to get himself and David and Colby out of the building today? He couldn't stop the small chuckle as he thought about Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion and wondered if they would believe him.
Seeing that they were waiting for an answer, he shrugged his shoulders and grinned as if he were enjoying a private joke and said simply, "How else? He used math."
The woman sighed, noticeably disappointed at what she saw as an evasive and unlikely answer. She turned to the young man beside her and motioned for him to follow her.
This time it was Don's voice that stopped her. Surprising even himself, he called out, "You want a story?"
She was a good judge of character and she had seen that he had just been trying to protect his brother earlier, but now, she stopped, looking into his eyes, trying to determine if he was really offering to tell them what had happened at the warehouse this morning.
He could see her hesitation and offered another morsel. "I'll tell you just how Charlie saved my agents today."
The four of them stood quietly as Don ran his hand through the soft curls at the back of his neck. He couldn't believe he was doing this. He chewed his lower lip, took a deep breath and prayed he'd get it right. "See, you may not know it," he began, "but we all use math everyday . . ."
Wow, the response to this story was outstanding. Thanks to all of you who have read it and a special bless you to those who took the time to review.
A/N; To those of you who reviewed my previous story, "A Loss of Innocence", and asked for a sequel, I'm not counting out the possibility of one in the future. I admit, originally, it was planned as a three part series – something I've always wanted to do – but, as it progressed it just seemed to flow better as a one-shot and I honestly feel I said what I wanted to say. I may continue it, though, if I feel I can do justice to it.
Thanks again to all my readers.