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.
A/N: Written for Clue Challenge #8, February 2010, at hurt_don on LiveJournal. Prompts: Who? – Don. What? – Ice. Where? – Outdoors.
"Well, lookie what we have here!"
At the first word Special Agent Don Eppes was up and on his feet, spinning towards the voice. His hand flew to his side and the weapon holstered there. By the time the final word had been spoken he was frozen in place, Glock partially drawn but it was already too late. The two men facing the agent had their weapons already in hand and aimed firmly his way. He would be riddled with bullets before he could bring his Glock to bear so it remained where it was. Despite his apparently hopeless situation he sized the men up, calculating his options. There would be another way out, he just had to find it.
The speaker was a big man, taller than Colby and more solidly muscled. Even without the weapon he was holding confidently taking him on would be a difficult proposition, he looked like he could handle himself hand to hand. The tattoos on his lower forearms had the look of jailhouse artistry about them and the agent recognised some standard symbols. The man was indeed accomplished at fighting dirty. With the slightly longish dark hair, even darker eyes and casual clothing the man managed a menacing air, all aided somewhat by the 9mm semi-automatic pistol that was almost dwarfed in his large hand. His companion had a similarly hard look about him but was of more average build and height. The second man Don could probably take on but the both of them together was another story. Add in the weapons and the fact they already had the drop on him and things weren't looking good.
Assessment concluded Don could only see one path for his next move. Despite being reasonably sure what the reaction was going to be he said it anyway.
A slight smile crossed the face of the first man. As Don had expected he was not impressed, his tone leaving no doubt. "Feeb, huh? How about you toss the piece?"
"I don't think so." Don retorted. He tried a bluff. "You need to think about your position."
"Yeah, right. You're all alone, Feeb."
The man shrugged, satisfied with his assessment of the situation. The man didn't even bother looking around for the imaginary sharp shooters and waiting agents that Don was alluding to. "If there were any more feebs around here they'd be all over us by now. You're alone." The man shifted slightly closer and brought his gun up in emphasis, aiming now at the agent's head. "Much as this has been fun, toss it or I'll shoot you dead."
Bluff failed there was nothing for it but to obey the order. It seemed that perhaps he wouldn't be simply shot out of hand so he maybe had a chance. The men may have acted liked they didn't care he was a federal agent but it may yet serve to protect him. The fact that he was still alive at this juncture suggested he was right, if he didn't give them reason to remedy that.
Finding himself in this position was all his own fault. Heading home from the office he'd decided to drive by one of the hot spots Charlie had given them late that afternoon. The next day had been slated for scouting the five truck depots but he was conscious of time slipping away from them on this one, the shipment already in and about to be loaded and driven out of LA to vanish somewhere in the rest of the States, or perhaps even shipped overseas. Coming into it this late made it all the more probable that was going to be the result despite their efforts to pin down the location. Leaving the office he'd known he wouldn't be able to sleep very well if he didn't get the jump and scout at least one site.
Picking one that wasn't too far from his path home he'd pulled up against a side fence only to see movement where he wouldn't have expected it given the hour and the size of the depot. It wasn't quite enough to call it suspicious but it still warranted a closer look. He called in his location to Control and climbed out of the Suburban taking a moment to switch his cell to vibrate. After walking only a short distance along the fence line he'd found what he was looking for, a hole cut through the mesh, a standard feature in any fence.
Crawling through he'd headed to the side of a storage shed where he could get a better idea of the lay of the land without exposing himself. Unsurprisingly this truck depot was fairly standard. A loading dock backed onto a smaller than average warehouse with a couple of trucks reversed up against it ready for loading. More trucks, all bearing the name of the delivery company that ran the depot, were parked in the yard waiting their turns. A perfectly normal depot.
The only glaring issue was that for a depot that didn't run 24/7 there was a lot of activity for eleven o'clock at night. A relatively small truck, plain white and unmarked with any delivery company branding, was backed up close to an insulated storage area. A man was struggling with a manual pallet loader, tugging at the handle to move the full pallet from the shed across to the back of the truck. A second man was busy at work unloading a pallet already situated at the rear of the truck, somewhat gently loading individual bags of what appeared to be crushed ice into the back of the vehicle Don could now see was also refrigerated. A short distance away a dark car was parked in some shadows.
That set him back as it wasn't quite what he was expecting. The intel they were working from had suggested that a load of 'ice' was being moved and had seemed solid. It was just that he was working on the street slang meaning of the word, not the dictionary definition. About to leave in disgust at all the resources they'd already wasted on this matter he'd suddenly paused and reconsidered. Loading frozen water was hardly illegal but the way in which this operation was being conducted seemed somewhat odd. Who could urgently need ice at this hour of night from a depot that would not normally be staffed? And why were the men struggling to move the bags manually, not using the motorised forklift he could see parked mere yards away? The obvious answer that came to mind was the men felt the need to conduct this late night operation below the radar. This conclusion was supported by the fact that there weren't even any lights on other than the ones mounted on high poles around the depot, certainly not the large floodlights that hung from the buildings overlooking the loading area.
Deciding things were off he had worked his way closer trying to get a handle on what was going on, perhaps even catch a snippet of conversation that could explain the situation. It had been his undoing, leaving him in the difficulties he now found himself.
Moving slowly he pulled the Glock the rest of the way from his holster and carefully tossed it in a well practiced move. The weapon landed precisely where he'd intended; close enough that he would be able to lunge for it whilst far enough away that the average goon would think it was out of play. Seeing the sneer on the first man's face however he realised that this goon at least wasn't average.
"You throw like a chick." The man moved three steps to his left before kicking the Glock with a sweep of his foot sending it spinning off into the darkness. He returned to his previous spot in front of the agent. "Anything else you do like a girl?"
Don gave that comment the contempt it deserved as he waited to see how far the men were going to take this.
The man gave him a shrewd once over, eyes raking over every inch of the agent's body. A search without the hands-on. He looked back up with a bemused smirk on his face. "You're not very good at this are you?"
Not expecting that comment his "Huh?" was out before he could stop it.
"Barely even skulking around and you've lost your phone." The voice was contemptuous as the man waved at the empty holder on the agent's belt. "Careless."
Don's hand automatically went to the familiar place, encountering the empty holder that the man had noted. He went with the flow, grabbing at the empty holder as if the cell would materialise and allowed a chagrined expression to cross his face. Having been given a slight advantage he would take it.
The man laughed at the agent's apparent discomfort before leaning forward. Grabbing a handful of the other's shirt in his left hand he dragged him forward for a close menacing look before pushing him in the direction of the activity at the back of the truck.
Stumbling slightly Don regained his balance, glancing back to see the two men following. At his turn the first man lifted his weapon slightly in emphasis for the agent to continue on ahead of them. The glance had shown what he was starting to expect. The men were above the average cut of goons, their positioning behind him only illustrated that further. Both were far enough back that a spin and a lunge would not bring him into contact with either of them but they were close enough that any attempt to flee could be quickly countered, if for some reason they decided not to simply shoot him. For now he had no other avenue other than to walk ahead of them to the truck.
The man with the manual pallet loader suddenly stopped as he saw the intruder being marched towards them. He tapped his fellow worker on the shoulder and both turned to stare as Don stopped.
"Who's this?" The man at the pallet loader demanded.
"What?" He looked wildly around, probably searching for the back-up that Don wished he had in position. The gun that had been shoved into his waistband was in his hand and tracking around the shadows.
"Now what?" The other asked, already lowering his quickly drawn weapon as he failed to see any signs of a raid.
Listening to the exchange the agent came to the conclusion that the man that had first bailed him up was actually the one in charge. Even though not much had been said it was fast becoming clear that they were not going to use names. A simple number system would have to do. The leader was One, his friend Two and the last pair were Three and Four.
"Now we keep doing what we were doing." One stated. "Nothing's changed except now we got an extra hand to help load."
Don's first reaction to that was that they could go to hell; he wasn't going to help them with squat. His next was to remind himself that being useful, even if in the short term would be to his best interest. It might also give him a chance to figure out just exactly what it was they were up to, assuming he could do anything with the information when he got it. A hand on his shoulder pushed him towards the partly unloaded pallet.
"Get to work. Don't drop any."
His only sign of rebellion to the order was his jaw muscles jumping as he ground his teeth together. Being ordered around by offenders was not something he was happy with, even if he'd decided to do as he was told. After a moment of stubborn hesitation he bent and carefully hefted the first bag. The cold against his unprotected fingers felt almost like a burn and he found himself glancing at the leather gloves worn by Three. That man didn't note the almost wistful look as he was too busy clambering up into the truck, ready to take the bag from their new assistant.
For a moment he'd thought it quite possible that he'd be forced to do all the work now that they effectively had him for slave labour. However, giving it some more thought as he handed the first bag up, it made sense. They were doing things the hard way, manually, but were on a tight schedule. That meant speed was of the essence and the original two men were going to continue their task along with him, three sets of hands were better than two. The man he'd dubbed 'One' maintained a watchful distance, his weapon constantly tracking the agent's movements, a fact Don noted very quickly. Two disappeared into the darkness, perhaps having netted one spy he thought to find another.
As he worked, moving the next bag and the next he eyed the two workers. Both were armed, their pistols tucked into the front of their belts. All he had to do was take on one of the men and he had ready access to a weapon, the problem was that they by the same token also had ready access to weapons. With One's gaze and aim locked on him at all times, and whichever of the two men he didn't target able to react, any move he might make was a good shot at getting himself killed.
The other problem was that the longer he waited to do something, anything, the less he was going to be able to act. Already losing feeling in his fingertips he knew it wouldn't be long before his hands became clumsy and next to useless for fine motor control such as that needed to steal and use a gun. Unfortunately the constant observation from One meant doing anything other than shift bags of ice was likely to be very bad for his continued good health.
Four was now helping with the last pallet load of ice, as with Three that man also was wearing leather gloves unlike their prisoner. Don's hands were now almost completely numb, his ability to feel reduced to pressure and a stinging pain that was gradually increasing in severity. Fine motor control was out and he was constantly shoving his hands under his armpits when turning back from the truck to the almost empty pallet in an ineffective attempt to warm them back up. The inevitable finally happened, a bag he'd picked up slipped from his clumsy grip to fall and burst open on the concrete. The reaction was immediate and to his thoughts rather excessive.
All movement stopped. Then One was on him, shoving his gun hard up under the agent's chin as the other two men crowded in, unfriendly expressions on their faces and hands on weapons.
"Pick up every piece." One hissed. "You miss any, I won't. Got it?"
Don didn't get the opportunity to respond or acknowledge the order before he was shoved violently forward and down. Landing hard, his hands next to useless to break his fall he got himself back up to his knees. He glanced up to see that three weapons were now pointed at him. Dragging the burst bag over to him he started scraping up the pieces of ice and shovelling them in though the hole. Sitting on the concrete still slightly warm after the day's bright sunlight the chunks of ice were already stating to melt making them slippery and his task all the more difficult. He persisted and finally had all the bigger pieces back together. The last few smaller chips had pretty much melted completely so he ignored them. Sitting back he started to shift as if to rise but froze as a gun pressed firmly against the back of his head.
"Every piece, Feeb." One reminded. He then added an order to his companions. "Get those last bags loaded, we need to get moving."
As the other two men returned to shift the last few bags Don bent back down and dragged his numb fingers through each damp spot, smearing the water around each time showing that there wasn't actually anything more to pick up. Until his fingers suddenly encountered a hard chip, a piece of ice that unaccountably hadn't melted like the rest. Surprised he hesitated a moment before, using both hands, he managed to scoop the small chip up. He brought it up and looked at it as best he could in the available light forgetting for the moment everything else. It was small and hard but it wasn't ice. At least not in the technical, frozen water, sense. As he looked at the small rainbows and bright flashes reflected off in the light it all became clear.
The men were smuggling cut diamonds. Frozen in ice they were undetectable. The one he held may have been small in the scheme of things as a piece of frozen water but as diamonds went it was quite big. He glanced back at the truck as if he needed the reminder of how many bags of ice it contained. If each bag had just one diamond in it the load was extremely valuable.
"You get it now, Feeb?"
He got it alright. Given the amount of ice and the probable haul of the valuable stones the men would have little compunction against murdering an interfering agent when any possible reason for letting him live was gone. Now more than ever he needed to work on an escape.