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.
He'd been close to explosions before but nothing like this one. He was taken off his feet and flung forwards by the pressure wave. The pillar he'd been running towards intending to use as a shelter was now a solid object about to bring his flight to a sudden halt. By some miracle he landed on the ground first, rolling once before he hit the vertical obstruction.
The first person he saw when he regained consciousness was a male EMT looming over him, the man's face a blur as his eyes worked to focus. Confused at how Mason came to be above him Don tried to strike out before a little more of his memory returned and he pulled his right arm back, palm up in surrender. He may not want to detonate his bomb but Mason still had a gun.
"Easy, now. Easy." The man soothed in an unfamiliar voice. "You're safe."
Blinking Don managed to clear his eyes and everything came back. It couldn't be Mason, he was dead, sniper shot a few seconds before the bomb had gone off.
"That's it. Just relax for me." The young EMT continued in a calming voice. "You're going to be fine."
"Bad?" He managed, his voice rough. He started to cough and instantly realised that was not a good idea as his chest caught fire. A hand pressed against his right side and the pain lessened. Finally the urge to cough vanished and the man removed his supporting hand.
"Some broken ribs for starters. Nothing much I can do about those here." The man moved back to where he'd been working when Don woke up, his shoulder. He continued his diagnosis, the tone behind his words reassuring even as he listed the injuries. "The bullet wounds are messy but I'll get them patched up and you'll be medivaced out when the chopper gets here. Someone's already done a reasonable job on your leg."
"No." Don said in frustration, that wasn't what he meant. "How bad-?" Talking was not good either he suddenly realised as the urge to cough struck him again. After a painful spasm he managed to stop it from developing into another coughing fit.
"He meant everyone else." A familiar voice interrupted.
Don got his eyes open again as a shadow crossed him. Remembering that he shouldn't speak he mouthed David's name.
"We got everyone back far enough. The blast radius wasn't quite as bad as he said." David explained, giving his boss what he needed. "A few injured, shrapnel mostly and a couple of broken bones. You're the worst. Aside from Mason, he's dead."
He managed a nod, he remembered the way the man had fallen and was sure of that. The man's death hadn't worried him as much as his concern for others that may be been caught in the blast.
"Rest Don. Let the EMTs work." David's head lifted as he appeared to listen a moment over the constant sound of sirens in the air. "I think your ride's here."
Now he could hear it too, a helicopter rapidly approaching.
"Alright, Agent. We're going to get you onto a stretcher now, okay? Just let us do all the work."
Considering the pain that was starting to come at him from all over his body Don decided that he could manage that. Several more people suddenly pitched in along with David as he was lifted gently and the stretcher slid into place beneath him. They were careful but it still hurt and he couldn't help the gasp of pain. Everything got a little fuzzy after that, but he remembered parts of a golf buggy ride, the buildings moving past him making him feel a touch dizzy with the unusual angle. Then he was loaded into the helicopter and he felt them lift. The next he remembered was seeing the light fixtures in the ceiling as he was being wheeled down a hallway and into the ER. Prepping for surgery was quick and then finally the pain eased as they put him under.
Two days later the doctor relented and let David see him for more than a two minute window. Until then, much as he'd hated to admit it to himself he was in no condition for visitors. The concussive force of the explosion had left his body feeling like one giant bruise. Breathing hurt due to his ribs, even if they were just cracked, not actually broken. The bullet wounds had resulted in surgery on his leg, shoulder and arm which all added to his general discomfort. The doctor's report had been a surprise on that when she'd explained that he'd actually been shot four times. Sleep was a wonderful escape and the two days had passed in a sleepy haze. His father and brother had visited and stayed with him and he'd appreciated the company, taking most of the time he was awake yesterday to tell them what had happened. Having a fair chunk of the drama broadcast on television had made some of that easier.
He's woken this morning feeling far more alert and ready to get back to work, even if it was just going to be giving his statement or at least a version of events he could formalise later. That led to a round of arguing with the doctor which ended up convincing her he was up to visitors other than family. He still hurt, especially if he moved without thinking but he needed to be doing something. David arrived midmorning, lugging a laptop, ready to take notes. Alan had excused himself, setting down the book he'd been reading to head out for morning tea. Experience had taught him that Don wouldn't be as open as he needed to be if he were there to hear all the minute details.
"Hey, Don. How're you feeling?" David said once Alan had closed the door behind him.
"Like I nearly got blown up."
David grinned. "Can't imagine why."
"You know, I saw that pillar coming right at me and I was sure I was going to hit it." When he closed his eyes he could see the brightly coloured and hard, very hard, surface waiting for him. He knew if he'd hit that before hitting the ground things may well have worked out a whole lot differently.
David shifted a little uncomfortably and changed the subject slightly. "How about we rewind that and start at the beginning?"
The beginning was walking back to his SUV after assessing the latest crime scene so Don started there trying to fill in as much detail as he could as he went along. David would stop him and get him to clarify certain points or slow him down if he was getting ahead of himself. Parts of it seemed to take as long to tell as to happen. They stopped briefly for a drink and for David to stretch his overworked fingers but other than that the other agent didn't ask questions, concentrating on getting everything down. Until Don reached a certain point, that was.
"He did what?"
"I know." Don ran his right hand through his hair as he saw David's disbelieving expression. He repeated himself. "He handed me the dead-man's switch."
"But, that's," The other agent was incredulous as he searched for words. "That's like giving the hostage the gun and telling them to hold it on themselves."
"Almost." Don described Mason's hand on his leg, the warning and promise to make him drop the remote if he tried anything, a promise that Mason had been able to carry out in the end.
"I guess. But, still."
"He wasn't exactly in his right mind." Given that it had led to the surprise move Don was actually a little thankful that Mason was unstable. If the man had been sane, handing over the remote would have been the very last thing he would have done. Both of them would have been dead by now in that case.
"I'm getting that." David agreed. He had to move on, the tale was not yet finished. "What happened after that?"
Don continued with the rest, up to the moment of the explosion.
David explained it from his perspective. "It was big but not quite up to the size Mason indicated. We'd finally got the crowd pushed back and they pretty much escaped the worst of the actual blast but the debris from your SUV and broken windows from the buildings caused a few injuries. I'm amazed no one else got hit given the way he was shooting at you."
"Maybe next time they'll listen when they're told to back up." The crowd, in a way, had almost gotten him killed.
"I doubt it. A lot of them still actually thought this was some sort of movie stunt, at least up until the explosion." The other agent commented. "On the up side, that meant we've got footage from about a hundred different camera angles of the explosion to work through. That includes your Superman impression."
Don couldn't help the quirk of his lips at David's attempt to lighten the mood a bit. That was a much better way of thinking of it, at least Superman wouldn't have been hurt hitting the pillar.
He quickly sobered. Knowing there was so much footage the investigators had to go through, analysing the explosion from every angle, reminded him that the investigation was far from over. There was a lot of work yet to be done and he'd be out of most of it for a while but the thought reminded him of something he wanted to know now. "What about Mason? Got anything on him?"
David saved the file and closed the laptop. "His full name was Peter John Mason, born 1975 in San Francisco, living and working in LA for the last nine years as a fully qualified advanced care EMT. He had actually been treating the people his bombs had injured."
Don saw David shaking his head at that. He'd found it hard to believe himself but then he knew of cases where doctors had deliberately harmed or even killed patients for their own designs so it really wasn't so out there.
"He'd been trying to get his big break as an actor for a few years now, getting some small roles in commercials and made-for-TV productions." David continued. "Then about four weeks ago he tried out for a part in a movie as the lead, a mad bomber terrorising a city. According to his manager the casting agency didn't think Mason had what they needed and told him not to expect a call-back."
"You spoke to Brock Management?"
"Yeah. He called us not long after he spoke to Mason, desperate to convince us he had nothing to do with the whole thing. Even drove straight down to the office and gave us everything he had on him."
"No, we found that at Mason's apartment. Well, not quite a script, more a very detailed outline of the plot along with the lead character's actions and motivations as background for when he went for the part."
"It was a blueprint."
"Exactly. Right down to the escalating explosions and the bomber's refusal to make any contact with the authorities. Even taking an agent hostage with a bomb in his car was in there, he just tried to change the ending but didn't quite manage it."
"The movie bomber gets taken out by the FBI?" Don surmised based on Mason's initial desire to avoid a static siege situation and the sharp-shooter targeting his head.
"No, his own bomb as the agent miraculously escapes."
Don blinked. It was close to what actually happened and whilst he'd been sure Mason was dead when he got hit by the sniper it didn't really make much difference if he wasn't, he'd been right near the back of the SUV when it went up. Either way, Don knew the forensics people would have been picking up pieces of the man. It was ironic, Mason had copied the movie to show he was the right man for the role and it had ended up killing him in the same way as the character he desperately wanted to play.
"We also found DVD copies of just about every recent bomber type movie that's been released since Speed. He was researching the whole genre."
Don could understand what had happened there, Mason had totally immersed himself in the role causing him to lose touch with reality. "What about the bombs? He was an EMT, where'd he get the bombs from?"
"He was also a computer geek and had just about every electronics hobby known to man. We're still trying to track where he got the actual explosives from, but the rest he built himself. From his notes and bomb making plans we were also able to determine that there was no other device downtown."
Don nodded at the confirmation; he'd decided the alleged extra bomb was a bluff before making his break. "What about his doctor?"
"Didn't have one." David answered, knowing Don wasn't asking about a run-of-the-mill MD. "It seems he just snapped when he was rejected."
"There had to have been something." Don protested. He'd got the feeling early on that something wasn't quite right before Mason's reaction to the final rejection left him in no doubt. Surely those that knew Peter Mason would have seen signs long before the man had gone off the rails.
David shrugged. "He was obsessed with acting, with getting his big break but that describes about half the people in LA. Other than that we're getting the usual 'quiet, kept to himself' type descriptions."
That was a worrying thought, how many other potential bombers were out there, undiagnosed in the community? He knew the answer to that himself, too many. It seemed nearly every week someone, somewhere went postal, Mason just another in a long list. There would be more after him.
He just hoped he wouldn't be caught up in the action quite so closely again.