"I see you found him," David said to Don. "I knew you would eventually, if I couldn't get back to him. Colby?"
Don's face darkened. "Surgery."
David's own eyes grew grim. "He gonna…?"
"The docs are pretty hopeful," Don said, starting to pull out his cell phone. "I can check with—"
David grabbed Don's wrist, and even Ian raised his eyebrows at the agent's haste. "Don't."
"David? You know something that we don't?"
David indicated the mathematician on the floor of the garage, and bent to help Don pick him up. "Colby figured this one out. He realized that the laptop was equipped with a microchip. You know, for tracking."
"A little late," Charlie croaked, trying not to grimace, moving from horizontal to vertical.
Don slipped under his brother's shoulder. "Charlie?"
It was David that replied, shoring up Charlie's other side. "He's right," he said. "Colby and I started Charlie to working on that laptop," and he nodded at the machine in Ian's hands, "and then Colby figured out that the thing was microchipped. You know; in case it got stolen. Turning the thing on gave someone the potential to track it."
"I wanted to turn the tracker off," Charlie muttered, trying to help with the forward locomotion. It wasn't working well.
"It was a little late for that, Charlie," David told him. He glanced at Don, and then edited the next thing that wanted to come out of his mouth. David wanted to ask, what next? How do we protect a man when the enemy has the same access to the same technology that we do? "Let's get you to a safe location, and cleaned up."
"And you," Charlie added faintly. "Those guys…"
"Charlie!" Don exclaimed as his brother's eyes rolled back up into his head. "Crap!" he swore, reaching around to keep the man from hitting the ground. "David, you get his legs. Let's get him back to the hospital."
"Where the mercenaries can get at him again?" Ian asked sourly. "How about a better plan?"
"You got one sitting in your back pocket, Edgerton?" Don started to retort, and then it hit him. He knew what to do. "Let's get Charlie safe," he directed. "First things first. Then we're going finish this thing."
Normally, Charlie liked to pace. His legs rarely kept up with his thoughts, but that didn't matter. It was the action that pumped blood to the brain to better support the lightning fast mental gymnastics that were speeding along inside.
Not today. This time Charlie sat in front of his laptop, fingers dancing on the keyboard but one leg propped up on a stray chair bolstered with pillows. He was working on decrypting the pass code of the late Professor Walter Husinger, and it was taking all of his attention. Even his leg didn't hurt. Or, it did and Charlie was far too occupied to notice.
Colby limped in, hand pressed to his side. Three days later the junior agent was still on medical leave, but that was unimportant to him. Being present for the final action of the case was far more pressing. "Hey, Charlie."
There might have been a stray hand gesture acknowledging Colby's arrival, but Colby wasn't about to swear to it. With a sigh and a grin, Colby settled himself onto another chair in the room to wait.
He might have been anyone, although his lack of a tan in sun-conscious Los Angeles marked him as a guest in the City of Angels. Not the physique, though. Even in a town known for surfer dudes and buff bods, he failed to stand out. The muscles underneath the carefully casual polo shirt and khakis were toned. The jacket seemed a bit heavy, even for the fall weather, but it did a yeoman's job in covering the shoulder holster that he wore equally as casually.
He parked his car at the curb, closing the door on the fast and sporty model that bore the logo of a local car rental. In this part of L.A., that too did not stand out. To look good, one had to look good in one's car, and this man looked good. He strode up the walk to the small bungalow style dwelling and knocked on the door.
Special Agent Don Eppes answered the door, opening it as little as possible and scanning the exterior surroundings with a faintly worried air.
The man pulled out his identification. "Bergstrom."
"Director." Don nodded in acceptance. "Come in."
Director Bergstrom entered the house, noting the comfortable furniture dotting the living area and the heavy curtains that prevented anyone from peeking in. He also saw the laptop on the table to one side. The screen was lit, lazy fractal figures going through their mathematical dance, but there was no mathematician sitting in front of the computer.
Bergstrom raised his eyebrows. "Professor Eppes?"
"Sleeping." David Sinclair came up off of the sofa to stand at casual attention.
"But he got the data off of the machine," Don clarified, indicating the laptop. "He finished a short while ago, then he crashed and burned. We stuck him in the bedroom down the hall while we set up for the files to be transferred onto a flash drive; Ian's with him now, just in case. You didn't see anything suspicious out there, did you?" Don asked worriedly. "I swear, those mercs have got more men and better intel than we do. They keep showing up at our supposedly safe location. Can't figure out how they're doing it. It's enough to give me an inferiority complex."
"There was no one outside, Eppes," Bergstrom said impatiently. "Give me the flash drive."
"Hang on a sec. The files should finish downloading onto the drive any minute—yes, it looks like it's done." Don fiddled with the laptop.
"Good. I'll take it back to Washington." Bergstrom held out his hand. "Your part in this mess is done, Agent Eppes, Agent Sinclair. I'll see that Washington properly recognizes your contribution to this case."
Don detached the small plastic key from the side of the laptop, and dropped it onto the director's palm. "I'll be glad to get that piece of technology off of our plate," he remarked. "It's a little too hot for my taste."
Bergstrom nodded. "Likewise, Agent Eppes. I have instructions to take it directly to the Pentagon, no stops in between." He glanced at his watch. "In fact, my flight leaves in just under two hours. I had best get moving." He stepped out, then hesitated. "I understand that Professor Eppes was injured during the recovery process. If he's sleeping here, I presume he is on the mend?"
There was absolutely no expression on Don's face except polite dismay. "He is. I'll give him your get well wishes."
"You do that, Special Agent Eppes. He is an asset to this country." Bergstrom headed for the door. "I'll let myself out. You keep an eye on him. He'll stay here until we can pass the word to the intelligence community that we have the plans? That trying to obtain the data would be worthless?"
"Absolutely," Don promised. "Wouldn't have it any other way. We've already arranged for other professors at CalSci to cover his classroom lectures."
"Very good. There will be commendations in everyone's files for this, gentlemen. Good work, and good day." Bergstrom stepped out onto the front doorstep and closed the door.
But not before he tossed something small and round and deadly behind him.
Bergstrom hurried away, just fast enough so that he was only knocked off of his feet by the concussion.
The sound of the grenade blended into the roar of Bergstrom's car as he sped off.
Sirens, summoned by terrified neighbors, alarmed in the distance.
"Don! Are you all right?" Charlie tried to get up from his chair, only to sink back down when his leg informed him in no uncertain terms that standing unaided was still out of the question. Colby, wiser, remained where he was although he too scanned his team mates with a worried eye.
Don rubbed wryly at the smudge on his cheek. "What, I didn't get all the soot off?"
"Did you…?" Details. Clearly Charlie wanted details.
Well, actually he seemed to want to know that his big brother, the one that he was finally getting to know, was truly all right. That the trap that he'd helped Don to set up had been sprung in the right direction, because some of the possibilities to go wrong were awfully dire.
"I did." Don was enjoying himself. It felt good to have his little brother, the one with all the accolades, looking up to him. He'd enjoyed it as a kid on the baseball diamond, and found that the sensation hadn't diminished now that they were adults.
The situation hadn't been difficult to see. As long as the details of The Weapon, as Don had come to think of it, were locked under Charlie's and Walter Husinger's pass codes, Charlie would never be safe, never get to go out in public where some highly recompensed mercenaries would be waiting to snatch him. The mercenaries had been ahead; they already had Husinger's pass code, the cipher that Dr. Husinger hadn't been able to give to the feds before his death. All the mercenaries needed was Charlie's pass code.
Obvious solution: get both Charlie's and Husinger's pass codes to the feds before the mercenaries. The brains of the Pentagon would take the information and start work on it immediately as well as work on a way to defend against it. With weeks of a head start, the mercenaries would come in at a distant number two. No one would want to buy what they had.
That still left the problem of the rogue agent. The evidence against him was entirely too vague for a conviction of treason, and one hint that the net was closing in would send the man running. No one on Don's team wanted that, not after what Bergstrom had put them through. No, Bergstrom was going to be removed from his position and sooner rather than later.
So Charlie had helped Don and the others to set up a trap, using Bergstrom's own intelligence against him. Bergstrom had previously determined Charlie's whereabouts by the tracking chip in the laptop? Don would take the laptop to some place where they could draw Bergstrom in, turn the laptop on so that Bergstrom would once more track the signal.
Which was where Charlie came in. Charlie was manipulating the laptop—but from the safety of the Los Angeles FBI Headquarters, through the miracle of the internet. Sleeping off his injuries in the back room of the new safe house? Not this time. Don had been pleased to deliver that lie to Bergstrom.
Don cracked his knuckles. "Hooked him this time, Charlie. Drew him in, handed over what he thought were the goods, and then ducked."
"You're all right, though?" Charlie searched his brother's face for any evidence that the man was lying to him.
"A little shaken up, but otherwise undamaged," David assured him.
"You said that he'd try to shoot you!"
"Yeah, well, can't call 'em all correctly," Don said, shrugging. "Flak jackets worked pretty well against explosions, too. Never knew that a sofa could absorb so much of the blast. Never knew I could jump behind it so fast, either!"
"I did," David said, reminiscing. "The sofa, I mean. There was this time in Cairo…"
Don looked around. "Where's Ian? I'd have thought that he'd want to be for the finale. On this coast," he amended. "They're going to arrest Bergstrom when he arrives in Washington with the flash drive filled with fake data." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Step off the plane, into the hands of the Transportation Authority people. Just so that there isn't any possibility that Bergstrom had someone else on the inside of the FBI to tip him off, you see," he explained to Charlie. Then he frowned. "Where's Ian?" he asked again. "Isn't he here?"
Colby looked up. "He wasn't with you?"
"No. What gave you that idea?"
"He received a phone call," Charlie said. "We thought it was from you. He headed out."
Don shook his head. "Not from me. Maybe there's another hot spot somewhere that needs him. Too bad," he remarked. "I would have liked to have had a chance to say good bye."
David put down the phone, hand waving to his team leader. "Don! There's been shooting at LAX."
"Sniper, randomly taking people out?" Don grabbed for his flak jacket that he'd removed not two hours ago.
"Not clear. Single shot, from out of nowhere. One fatality, and several thousand terrified travelers fleeing from the airport."
Charlie looked up. "You're going?" There was a world of emotion in his voice, too many feelings for Don to decipher and certainly not when circumstances called for the senior agent to dash out from his office in FBI Headquarters.
"Got to, buddy. You sit there," Don admonished Colby who had likewise started to rise. "You want that hole in your side to open up again? Besides, I need you with Charlie. Those mercs don't know yet that their operation is a bust."
Colby nodded, settling himself back down in his chair. "We'll be right here, the both of us." He grinned. "Maybe I'll even learn some math."
The excitement was over by the time Don and David got to LAX. Airport security was the most prevalent force in the area, somber uniforms dominating the scene.
The captain in charge was already eager to turn over the scene to the FBI. "Single victim," he told them. "Poor slob never knew what hit him. Got him in the back of the neck. Must have severed the spine or something, execution style, you know? Probably dead before he hit the floor." The captain frowned. "Going to be a hell of a mess to clean up, and the tourists will have a fit."
The captain stopped the two FBI agents at the edge of the scene. "Didn't they tell you? He's one of yours."
"Ours?" Don got a sinking feeling. This could get really messy…
"Yeah. We pulled out his ID. He had it in his pocket, in his wallet, so that he could get through Security. Guy by the name of Bergstrom." The captain tried to sound sympathetic. "You know him?"
"Execution style? Couldn't happen to a more deserving person." Ian perched restlessly on the edge of Don's desk.
"Not really execution style," David said, eying the sniper with an unreadable expression. "Execution style is from close up. This was done from a distance."
"Same result, though," Ian mused. "Single shot to the back of the neck. Pretty good shot, that far away and other people all around. Damn good shot. Don't know if I could have made it myself." He paused. "Maybe someone was sending a message to someone else."
"We'll be running the bullet against the databanks as soon as the ME digs it out of Bergstrom's corpse." Don too was watching the sniper. "Are we going to find a match, Ian?"
Ian shrugged his shoulders. "How should I know? Probably not. These high powered jobs these days don't leave much in the way of a signature." He changed the direction of the discussion. "How about the fake flash drive? You find it on him? That's our proof that he was dirty, remember."
"Gone," Don said. "We're going on the assumption that Bergstrom met his contact. We don't know if they've figured out that the data is fake, yet. It would have been pretty fast."
"They would have to have someone knowledgeable in at least physics," Charlie put in. "Mechanical engineering."
"Whole thing will get swept under the carpet," Ian predicted. "Dirty laundry; the agency's not going to want this to get out into the light of day. My guess is that Washington will call to tell you to close the case. They'll have some Internal Affairs types take it over."
"They can have it," Colby agreed. He grimaced. "I'm tired of getting shot at." He eyed Special Agent Ian Edgerton speculatively. "Damn good shot."
"That's what I said, Granger."
Charlie was watching the interplay between agents. There was a subtext going on, something that he wasn't following. It could be the narcotics that he was still taking, or it could be…No. It couldn't. He simply wasn't awake enough to follow the discussion and besides, this wasn't his field of expertise. After all, it sounded as though Ian had…
No. Unthinkable. Things like that happened only in spy novels, not in real life.
"You look beat, buddy." Don came around his desk to Charlie. "C'mon. Let's get you home."
"Home?" Now Charlie was thoroughly bewildered. "But I thought you said…two weeks…the mercenaries still want the code…"
"That was before someone took care of Bergstrom," Don explained, trying to be kind. "Someone just sent a powerful message: game over. Everything all right now. You can go back to CalSci. You, too, Colby. You're staying at Dad's place for the next few days, while you recover."
"Thanks. I could use that." Colby eased a tight muscle.
"Cooking won't be as good. I'm swinging by to pick up my old man from the hospital on the way home."
"Always take out, Eppes," Ian warned, a twinkle in his eye.
"Good, because you're going to be going out to get it, Edgerton. Either that, or you're putting up with my cooking."
That Charlie understood. He fixed Ian with a firm eye. "Trust me on this, Ian; you're coming home with us to protect me from Don's cooking."