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 #9, March 2010, at hurt_don on LiveJournal. Prompts: Who? – Don. What? – Explosion. Where? – Crime scene.
About to close his car door he stopped, distracted by the ring of a cell phone. The keys in the ignition hung forgotten as he listened to the unfamiliar ring again. It sounded close, like it was in the SUV with him. By the next ring he had it, a cheap, no frills phone lying under the jacket he'd discarded earlier on the passenger seat. Wondering how the cell came to be there he looked at it with a degree of perplexity for a moment before deciding to answer it.
"Who am I speaking to?" The male voice asked politely.
The question wasn't quite what he expected. He'd already decided that the cell had been left in his Suburban for a reason and given the calmness of the caller and the lack of 'sorry, wrong number' he figured that the caller had to have known exactly who he was calling. "FBI Special Agent Eppes. Who's this?"
"You are the Agent in Charge, right?"
There was no doubt as to what he might be in charge of. Don frowned, a niggle of suspicion making its way into his thoughts. His next words were a touch more cautious, "Yes, I am. Who is this?"
"I think you can figure it out, I prepared today's explosion to draw you here."
The bomber. He was talking to the bomber, the man whose handiwork he was looking at through his windscreen. From his spot he could see at least three bodies covered in clean white sheets and blankets, the wounded, numbering more than twenty, had already been removed. He flashed on the sequence of events that had led up to him being at this scene today. The bombings had started relatively small scale a week ago, causing some damage and a fair degree of consternation but that was about it. Within a couple of days it was clear that there was more going on as each day had brought an explosion precisely at 10am. Each was bigger than the last, casualties started on the third day, as did the FBI investigation. He'd been at the scene of the earlier explosions but had missed the last two days being stuck in the incident room managing the investigation and the response to the bombings as they'd happened. David had attended the last two scenes, and whilst his briefings were highly detailed and accurate Don felt that something was missing. He needed to see and feel the crime scenes for himself. Today's blast was the largest yet, five dead, three others on the critical list with at least one likely not to survive and the rest injured to various degrees.
Frustratingly, even after all this time they were still working from a reactive standpoint, unable to do more than send resources to the scenes as they developed. All their efforts so far had not allowed them to predict the next target or identify the person or persons responsible. It seemed those responsible had instead identified him.
Don's niggle of suspicion was now a full grown flashing neon light. The fact that the cell phone had been left in his vehicle meant that something else could have been as well. The bomber clearly had access into what was supposed to be a secure crime scene and his less than secure Suburban. He had to get out of the SUV and now. His body shifted but the urgent voice from the cell froze him in place.
"Stop! There is a pressure sensitive device under your seat." The man said quickly. He paused as if to note the agent's reactions, when he continued his voice was much calmer and deadly serious. "Good. I also have a remote. If you even think of moving, Agent Eppes, I will detonate. I want you alive but your death will still serve my purposes. Do you believe me?"
Don remained frozen, his heart hammering in his chest as adrenalin surged through his body. His hands shook and suddenly felt clammy. Years of dealing with offenders had honed his ability to know when he was hearing the truth. The sound of his name being repeated snapped him out of it. "I believe you."
"Good. I'm coming to you now." The man's tone was now almost conversational. "As you can appreciate I really didn't have much time to install the device so it is, shall we say, a touch crude?"
That was so not good. Pressure sensitive devices were not the most stable in the first place, let alone a hastily installed one. "Not moving."
"I'm pleased you understand me." The man said. "Now, put the cell on speaker and then put your hands on the top of the steering wheel, I don't want you inviting anyone else to this party."
The man's words and actions made it more than clear he was under surveillance so he complied with the instructions before looking around in an effort to spot him. Both he and his team had been wondering who the bomber was and his motivations and it now appeared he was going to find out. There were many other ways he'd rather this went down, but the choice quite clearly was not going to be his.
Another thought made its way through his mind, the bomber had previously not communicated with them, unless you called the bombs themselves 'communication'. They'd had virtually nothing to work on even if Charlie was insisting there was a pattern beyond the escalation that they could all see, just one he couldn't read clearly at the moment. Don had to admit, to himself, that the possibility it was more the fact that his brother couldn't accept that there may not be a logical pattern had crossed his mind.
To suddenly go from no communication to calling the lead investigator directly and now intending a face to face meet whilst threatening him with his own personal bomb was a huge step. This could only end badly and he was going to be right in the middle when it happened. He really wanted to reach for his phone and make a call, not to his team but to his family as he had the sudden dread feeling it was something he might need to do before the day was out and may not get another opportunity. The bombers instruction had been clear however so he remained still, waiting with his hands in plain sight for whatever was going to happen next.
The scene around the area of the explosion was still chaotic, emergency services personnel were moving quickly around doing their thing. In amongst them were agents and detectives from the LAPD, along with forensics and bomb experts from both agencies. Don had been with them until a few minutes before when he took his leave to return to the MIR. As he searched for someone that could be the bomber he noted a burly paramedic picking his way over the rubble away from the epicentre. He watched the man for a moment but an ambulance was parked a short distance from his SUV and it appeared the man was headed there. An equipment bag was slung over one shoulder, no longer needed as there was no one left that needed medical attention. He looked away, searching the crowds of bystanders back near the barricades as best he could see them mainly through his mirrors, perhaps the bomber was coming from outside the scene, although he doubted it. The bomber had already been to his SUV and left at least the cell if nothing else.
"How are your nerves, Agent?" A newly familiar voice suddenly said beside him.
He managed, somehow, not to jump even if his hand did go to the grip of his weapon. Turning his head he saw the burly paramedic he'd noted before standing next to his still open door smiling at him. As Don realised who he was looking at the man raised his left hand to show a small box with a switch on it, a switch the man was currently pressing down on. A dead-man's switch. Moving slowly Don pulled his hand away from his gun and put it back onto the steering wheel earning a wider smile.
"I see I've picked the right man for the job." He continued at the agent's outwardly calm reaction.
"What do you want?"
"For now I want you to listen. Oh, you can turn off the phone but keep your hands on the steering wheel."
After the briefest hesitation Don moved, pressing the end button on the phone and tossing it onto his dash before returning his hand to its place on the wheel.
"Now, Agent in Charge, would I be right in assuming you've thought of the possibility that I'm bluffing? That this switch is a dummy and there is no device under your seat?"
Eyes narrowed Don didn't answer. He'd been thinking just that but with the bomber's history of proficiency to date and the truth he'd heard in the man's speech he'd decided not to call it just yet.
"I'll take that as a yes." The man said as he took in the look. "I'm going to ask that you take me on face value for just a little longer. Trust me, you'll be glad you did."
"What are you doing?" Don demanded sharply as the man started to reach under his seat.
"Stay perfectly still, I warned you the pressure switch is a bit touchy. I'm afraid it won't be up to the drive we're about to take. I'm going to disarm it." The man's voice took on a more cheerful note. "Don't worry, I'll still be able to detonate it by this remote."
That was exactly what Don was worrying about. The man fiddled for a moment, Don tearing his gaze away to see if anyone else at the scene was aware of this little drama off to the side. It had been a forlorn hope, everyone was too busy with their duties to be wondering why he was still sitting in his truck talking to an EMT that should be packing up to leave.
"So, what do you think?"
Snapping his attention back he froze again. As he'd been dreading the man had not been bluffing. In his hands the bomber was holding his device. It was a far cry from the bombs the public saw in the movies, this one matched the very tidy device the combined efforts of LAPD and FBI technicians had reconstructed from the previous explosions. No masses of wires or clumsy timer here, this was very much a device you could almost expect to walk into a high-end computer store and find on a shelf. A clear Perspex shell surrounded a couple of closely stacked circuit boards. The battery was mounted neatly into a purpose built holder and if there was a timer it didn't have a display with clichéd flashing red numerals. Unlike the previous devices a rod protruded from the top and Don knew that it was a part of the pressure sensor he would have activated when he sat in his seat. The majority of the box was filled with the explosive that was less technical, basic C4. Based on his general knowledge of explosives he determined that it was far, far more than was needed to blow one SUV and agent out of existence. He got his brain into gear as the man was waiting for his response.
"I'm back to, what do you want?"
The man's face spread into a fresh grin. "Good. I'll just put this back and then we'll go for our drive."
Grinding his teeth together in frustration Don waited as the device was slid back under him. The man then closed the driver's door before walking around the front of the SUV and opening the passenger door, all the while keeping his hand with the remote in the agent's view. As he climbed up he tossed his equipment bag into the back between the seats. A moment later he was settling himself comfortably in the passenger seat, door closed and looking over at the agent.
Interpreting the expectant expression Don reached for the ignition to turn the key he'd already inserted when the bomber interrupted.
"Not yet. Give me your gun first."
Despite sitting on several pounds of explosives giving up his gun was not something he wanted to do even if given the dead-man's switch meant the weapon was pretty much useless. It was almost a superstition, surrendering his gun seemed too much like tempting the Fates and given that it seemed he may not survive the day due to the explosives that was the last thing he wanted to do. He'd won against the odds before but as Charlie had often reminded him, the numbers were going to catch up to him eventually. The numbers he saw at the moment were related to the very low survival rates of LEOs who found themselves in situations similar to his.
"I'm not going to ask again." The man stated. His voice that had previously been conversational in tone, if not friendly, now sharpened at the agent's hesitation.
Telling himself that the bomber was just as dead if he released his switch really didn't help Don all that much. It wouldn't be the first time that a bomber martyred himself for his cause. Moving slowly, he lowered his right hand to his weapon and pulled it free from the holster. The normally comforting grip just felt cold as he twisted his wrist and offered it butt first to the bomber. It was taken and Don watched as the man slid it under his right leg, safely out of his reach but where the bomber could grab it in a heartbeat.
"That's better. Now you can kick it over and start driving." The man instructed. He appeared to think of something. "Oh, and we're keeping this just between us for the moment."
Once the engine was running Don manoeuvred the large vehicle out from where he'd been parked and drove up to the manned barricade. With the man's last few words in mind he simply waved at the LAPD officer and made no attempt to signal he was under duress. After a curious glance at the EMT riding with a federal agent the officer waved back with a friendly smile and pulled the barricade aside allowing him to drive through. Even without the bomber's warning he wouldn't have tried anything here, not with the crowds of people at risk. At the end of the block where he had a choice of turning or continuing straight on he hesitated. "Which way?"
He turned then asked the next question. "Where are we going?"
"I'll tell you when to turn." The bomber responded.
Not the answer he was looking for. Eyeing the man for a moment he tried a different question. "Who are you?"
"Mason will do." The man said answering the literal question even as he had to know the agent was actually asking far more than just that.
"Alright, Mason, now that we're properly introduced mind telling me what this is all about?" He rather thought he deserved to know.
"You haven't figured it out yet? Not even the most obvious part of it?"
Wondering if that meant the man was some kind of a megalomaniac he spared another glance at his passenger. Instead of a gloating expression he found the man looking back at him with some degree of surprise.
"Really? I thought the FBI were better than that."
"Sorry to disappoint." Don offered. "Perhaps if you were to explain it to me I might understand."
"Don't talk to me like I'm a child." Mason snapped.
Considering his position Don quickly apologised and changed tack. "Sorry. What do you want me to do?"
"For now, just drive."
"I can do that." They went a few more blocks allowing things to settle before he again tried to draw the man out. Mason's behaviour was confusing him. Already thinking he knew the answer to his question he asked it anyway in order to restart the conversation. "So, was it me you were targeting or just the lead FBI investigator?"
"What do you think?"
"You wanted the Agent in Charge, not me personally."
"Good. Do you know why?"
That really led back to the reason behind the bomber's actions which the man didn't seem to want to elaborate just now. Thinking it over he gave his best answer. "You wanted someone you felt was important to the authorities. Someone they might want back." Inwardly he cringed a bit as it sounded like he was big noting himself. He was an agent of rank but he didn't feel that he was all that important and certainly wasn't worth the loss of at least five innocent lives to put him in Mason's hands. There could also be something else. "You want my contacts."
"I wanted someone they will listen to." Mason corrected. "And someone with enough experience to know when I mean something and not try something stupid."
That seemed to fit. Their profile had already shown that the bomber was organised, thorough and working to a plan even if they'd not yet worked out what that was. The last thing he would need was some first year rookie cop as a hostage that might either crumble under the pressure or worse, try to be a hero.
"So, we're here and you're in control. How does this play out?"
"Ultimately that is out of my hands. You do your bit, I'll do mine but how this ends depends on whether I get what I want or not."
"Which is?" Don tried again.
"Something I thought your people would be able to figure out for themselves."
Grinding his teeth together at the insult and the lack of an actual answer he concentrated on driving for a moment, taking the next turn as directed. If the man wouldn't answer the big questions maybe he would answer the smaller ones. "So why this? Where are we going?"
"It's not so much where we're going as where we're not."
"Alright, so where are we not going?" He worked hard at keeping the frustration out of his voice. Taking his eyes off the traffic around them he found his passenger eyeing him and he realised he'd not been as successful as he'd hoped.
"Keeping it calm, keeping it together. I really did pick the right person." Mason said as he gave the agent a satisfied once over. "Alright, where we are is not one place. We keep this moving I'm not going to have some sharp shooter setting his sights on my head."
That made sense. A rolling hostage situation was damned difficult to manage as he'd had firsthand experience. Given the situation though he was not all that sure he'd prefer having a sniper aiming at the bomber, the dead-man's switch was aptly named.
"So you hijack me and we drive around but don't tell anyone. What's the point?" He decided to try for the big question again. "You want something, otherwise we wouldn't be here."
"I have what I want for now. The rest will come in due course."
Wondering what could be the decider for the time frame Don glanced at his fuel gauge. Almost full which meant they had many more hours of casual driving left to them.
"Ah, very good." Mason commented.
It seemed he'd guessed right. One mystery solved but that just left another already waiting. "We go until we stop?"
"If it comes to it then, yes. Hopefully we'll be done long before then."
After so much running around in circles that was a snippet of real information that he seized upon. "Done, how?"
That earned him a long look, no sign now of any amusement. "You know, that is starting to get annoying."
"I think that given you've dragged me front and centre into your plans I have a right to know." Don argued back. He'd tried polite and cooperative but it hadn't got him very far. It was time to push.
"What you have a right to know and what I feel like telling you are two very different things." The man snapped back.
The change in mood wasn't hard to detect but he continued. "Why not tell me? I figure you've already decided on killing me, perhaps even yourself as well, so you may as well just let me know."
There was a flash of anger across Mason's face. "You really need another hint?"
No, he didn't. He'd pushed it far enough after the first warning. Reasoning that he might just bring the man's planned agenda forward he shut his mouth and played out the role of chauffeur.