Don sat silently in the back seat while David drove them back to the FBI office. Megan turned around. "You okay, Don?"
"Yeah." Don was silent for a few long moments, then said, "I think I'm ready to go home."
"Okay," David said. "Let's pick Charlie up at the office, and then I'll drive both of you home."
"Thanks," Don said quietly. He watched out the window until he saw the high rises of downtown. Finally, he said, "Megan, what did you think of what Cary Ryan had to say?"
"I think she was telling the truth. How about you?"
Don nodded. "I agree. When we were in high school, I was walking down the hall with a buddy of mine, and he just stopped. He had this goofy look on his face, and he pointed at the other students. Then he said the weirdest thing. He said, 'You know, these are all people. They all have thoughts and feelings and opinions different from mine.'"
"What did you say?" Megan asked.
"Not much. I thought he was a little nuts, but in a way I understood what he meant. We usually think of people as things in our world – they help us or get in our way or they just … exist."
"And you were in Cary's way," Megan said softly. "It sounds like she hasn't gotten the inspiration your buddy got."
"No," Don said softly. "I don't think she's gotten the message yet."
David pulled into his parking spot. "What do you want to bet Granger and Liz are sitting back with their feet up leaving all the paperwork for us?"
"Nah," Don said. "Charlie's with them. He's lecturing them about something or other, and they're dozing off, wishing they were doing paperwork."
"Come on," Megan said, taking Don's arm. "Let's go rescue our fellow agents." She turned to face David. "You're talking paperwork. Does that mean our part in this little caper is about finished?"
"Well, Brickle's involved now. That's usually the point where we bow out and let the esquires handle things. I think we've arrested about everyone we're going to arrest."
Don's brow furrowed in concentration. "We know who masterminded the whole thing. We know who killed Ellen Davis. We've got a whole bunch of Chinese gangsters for Betty Liu to interrogate. We've got one of the paintings."
"We're missing two paintings," David pursed his lips. "Damn. We're not done yet."
Don laughed. "Sorry, Boss. Hey, if Charlie isn't too busy, maybe he can cook up some algorithm to help us find the paintings."
"Or we could get out the brass knuckles and visit an Agincourt or two," David growled.
"I'd go with Charlie first and leave the brass knuckles for a last resort," Megan laughed.
"And so, Larry and I decided to attack the problem from a whole different…" Charlie turned from his white board as the others entered. "Hey, I was just telling Colby and Liz about…"
"You can finish up later," Don said. "We were wondering if you could help us find the two missing paintings."
Charlie pondered for a moment, then nodded slowly. "I may be able to help you narrow it down." He turned back to the white board and began writing.
While Charlie's back was turned, Liz and Colby made their escape and Don grinned at David. "Told you."
"Told him what?" Charlie paused in his writing and glanced at Don.
"Uh, that you'd be able to help. That's all," Don said. "You think you can work on this at home?"
"Sure." Charlie studied Don's face. "You okay?"
"A little tired and sore, that's all."
Megan chuckled. "He just doesn't want to help with the paperwork."
"He's on medical leave," David said. "Which reminds me. It's about time I got these two home. Mr. Eppes is probably wondering where they are."
Charlie rolled his eyes. "I'm surprised he hasn't called yet. Okay, let me pack up my things and I'll be ready.
The moment David's SUV pulled into the driveway, the front door opened, and Alan Eppes stood waiting. David smiled as he, Don and Charlie walked to the house. "Mr. Eppes," he said, "I've brought your boys home safe and sound."
"I appreciate that, David," Alan said as he gave his boys a quick visual examination. "Come on in. David, have you eaten?"
David thought for a moment and said, "It's been a while."
A few minutes later, Alan put a salad and bread on the dining room table. "The lasagna will be out in a few minutes. What would you like to drink?"
Don stood. "Sit, Dad. We're not invalids. David, Chuck, what would you guys like to drink?"
Once Don had brought everyone's drinks, he sat back down and avoided his father's piercing gaze. Finally, he looked up. "What?"
"Are you okay, Donnie? You seem upset."
Charlie looked up from his food. "He went to see the little girl who shot him."
"What? Why?" Alan sputtered. "Hasn't she put you through enough?"
Don shrugged. "I don't know, Dad. I felt I needed to see her. To find out what was going through her head."
"And how'd that work out for you?" Alan said gently. "It looks like it's got you upset."
"I think she was just scared." He grinned. "Don't worry. I'm not going soft. I'm not going to beg the judge to drop the charges or anything stupid like that. She did what she did. She knew it was wrong. And she needs to be punished for it. But she was supposed to have a taser, not a gun. She was talking with some of the other kids and they were all worried that we would catch on to what they were doing. She decided a taser wouldn't be much help because you can only use it once, so she took the gun from her dad's gun locker."
"And the rest is history," Alan said.
"Yeah," Don said. "So, yeah, it was a kind of upsetting experience. But it's over and I'm glad I talked to her. She's got a good, supportive family, and a great lawyer. She'll be okay. And I think she really understood the magnitude of what she had done. Not just shooting a law enforcement officer, but hurting another human being."
Alan nodded slowly. "That's good then. So, does this mean you're finally wrapping up this case?"
David took a sip of coffee. "Yes, we're just about finished. We've got a couple of missing paintings to find, but Charlie's going to help us with that. We've got enough perpetrators in jail to keep the court system busy for quite a while. But, yeah, I'd say we're about done."
"Good," Alan said. "It seems like this case has gone on for years."
"It does. But it's only been a few days," Don reached for the salad bowl.
"Must be Einstein's theory of relativity," David said. "Didn't that have something to do with time?"
"Well, actually," Charlie opened his notebook and grabbed a pencil.
"Now you've done it, Sinclair!" Don said with a gusty sigh. "Maybe I'll eat my lunch inside. I wonder if there are any good games on."
A few weeks later, a rowdy crew sat in the living room of the beautiful craftsman the Eppes men called home. Millie and Alan were passing around beer and champagne. The television was on, and for once it wasn't tuned to a sporting event. Instead, it was tuned to the local news channel.
Alan stopped what he was doing and glanced nervously at the TV. "Is it on yet?"
Charlie turned from nuzzling Amita's cheek. "Not yet, Dad. I don't know what the big deal is."
"The big deal, my son, is that we are going to be on the news."
"Is the DVR set?" Megan asked. "You'll want to preserve this moment forever."
"I'm certain the television station would be able to provide them with copies of the report," Larry said.
"Hey, here it is," David pointed at the screen.
Don grabbed the remote from Charlie and turned up the volume as a graphic appeared on the screen.
"Artful Dodgers?" Colby smirked. "That's what they're calling this case?"
"Shhhhh," Liz hushed. "I want to see what she's going to say."
The graphic shifted to a spot over the anchor's right shoulder and she smiled at the camera. "Today in Los Angeles Federal Court, a case reminiscent of a Dickens story was resolved. Francis and Felicia Agincourt, seen here leaving the court, the 'Fagins' in this particular Dickens novel, were convicted of three charges of stealing valuable art works. While the art works involved were important, the most interesting aspect of this case was the method they used to steal them."
The scene shifted to a group of children, surrounded by lawyers and family members. "The Agincourts enlisted the aid of these children as well as, among others, three skydivers to accomplish their task. The Agincourts were also convicted of twenty nine charges of illegally dealing with a minor and endangering the welfare of a child. For the most part, these children were not charged."
The camera focused on Cary Ryan. "However, Cary Ryan, thirteen, was charged as an adult in the shooting of FBI Special Agent Don Eppes during one of the robberies. Her lawyer and Assistant US Attorney Alvin Brickle, negotiated a plea deal whereby Ms. Ryan would be sentenced to six months in a juvenile facility, followed by probation until she reaches the age of eighteen."
The camera switched to Alan, Charlie and Don exiting the court room together. "Our reporter, Tiffany Baxter, asked Special Agent Eppes what he thought of the plea bargain."
Tiffany approached the Eppes with a microphone in hand. "Agent Eppes!"
The men stopped and Don said, "Yes?"
"You must have mixed feelings about these convictions today…"
Don looked confused. "Mixed feelings? Why? Justice was done. The perpetrators of this series of crimes were convicted."
"But the girl who shot you plea bargained her way out…"
"I fully support the plea bargain. AUSA Brickle consulted me throughout the process, and I think what was done was the best for everyone involved. Cary is just a kid. She knows what she did was wrong, and she's learned from it. I'm satisfied."
Tiffany turned to Charlie. "And this is the eminent Cal Sci professor, Dr. Charles Eppes. Dr. Eppes, I understand you were instrumental in solving this case."
Charlie glanced nervously at the camera. "I… uh… As a consultant, I did everything I could to help the FBI solve this case."
"Am I right in understanding that you used math to solve this crime?"
Charlie chuckled. "You don't have to make it sound like voodoo or black magic. The FBI uses mathematicians for many cases. Social networking was especially useful in this case, but there were many other applications…"
Tiffany pulled the microphone back. "Thank you, Dr. Eppes. Back to you, Sarah."
As the anchor moved on to the next story, the room erupted in applause. When it was quiet again, Charlie muttered, "She didn't let me explain the interesting part."
Amita patted him on the cheek. "At least it went better than your past television appearances."
Charlie rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me."
Liz turned to Charlie. "Maybe you just need to learn to condense your comments into sound bites."
"Yeah," Colby said, "you can practice around the office. The next time you have some magic formula for us, try to say it in fifteen seconds."
"Or less," David added.
"In all my years of knowing Charlie, I don't think he's ever said anything in fewer than fifteen seconds," Megan said.
"Gee, thanks, guys. Maybe I'll go back to working with LAPD. They at least appreciated me," Charlie tried to feign a pout, but couldn't quite pull it off.
"Hey, Buddy," Don reached across Amita and ruffled Charlie's hair. "You know we appreciate you. Otherwise we wouldn't pay you the big bucks. Seriously, we got the bad guys, we even recovered all of the paintings."
"Brickle's deal with Francis had a little more to do with that…"
"Yeah, but your math showed us that Francis was the one to go after."
Alan lifted his champagne glass. "To the math, the US Attorney, and good old fashioned investigation. I'd say it was a team that brought the bad guys to justice."
Don raised his glass. "To teamwork."
"To teamwork!" the others said, raising their glasses.
"And to champagne. Plenty of champagne," Charlie said.