Thanks for all the alerts and of course thanks a lot to fighttowin1 for the review! Concerning this sentence from Don… well, just consider it some sort of relieved hyperbole :)
Hope you enjoy!
2 – CHAPTER TWO – 1.414²
Charlie was again looking at the documents in front of him while his superior, Bernard K. Jamison, was walking up and down next to him in the law firm's conference room. The client, a widow, was sitting on a chair at a large and beside Charlie's and the lawyer's documents empty conference desk. The widow was pale, but she seemed determined to do right by her deceased husband – no matter the cost.
In his mind, Charlie recalled the most important points. Everything was clear and coherent. It would be a child's play and above that a grim joy to knock the stuffing out of their opponents in the following meeting. David against Goliath. The firm and he against the FBI.
His guts still burned when he thought of his colleague Sanjrani and how the FBI had treated him – and himself! Deprived him of his clearance… how could they? How often had he helped them? And now, they were throwing him away. Disposing of him as if they were spitting out a wad of chewing-gum. Just because of one single E-mail! After all that he'd done for them; the hours spent poring over calculations, squeezing in his CalSci work around Don's demands, being shot at, followed… True, he'd been the one to insist that he could help and he'd loved the thrill and immediacy of the work, but they simply couldn't treat him like this! What's more, he'd been right about Sanjrani. And they had been wrong. They had destroyed Sanjrani's life and his career, and Charlie wasn't going to forget that. Oh yes, he was looking forward to this meeting.
The voice that pulled him out of his thoughts and made him jerk his head around was familiar to him. For a second he was unable to place it, but then he caught sight of Colby Granger coming through the doorframe. Next to him was David, looking no less bewildered. And the man that was just appearing behind them seemed to be as stunned as Charlie. His half-opened lips seemed unable to form a single word. Seemed. That soon changed.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Don's brow furrowed in a frown. "It's you!" he snarled. "You're their consultant!" His tone made it clear that for him, anyone working for Kelly Norvtcharov's lawyer was no better than working for the mafia.
Charlie didn't get a chance to answer and he was secretly glad about it, not wanting to have to justify himself. Fortunately, however, Jamison chimed in. "Oh, you know each other, Mr. –?" he quizzically asked around.
"SAC Eppes. Just a bit", Don retorted coldly, staring intently at his brother, his voice vibrating in Charlie's mind.
"Oh, now I see! Are you related?"
"No," Don responded before Charlie could even open his mouth.
The younger Eppes still wanted to say something without knowing exactly what, but for Jamison the topic was done with a polite "Not? There really are the oddest coincidences!" He barked out a short, fake laugh before clearing his throat and becoming immediately serious in order to begin the briefing. "Well, gentlemen, we all know what you're here for. Therefore, I don't think it'll be necessary to keep on with the small talk. I guess we've outlined our complaints against the FBI rather clearly. Our mathematical consultant is going to explain the details to you now. Dr. Eppes, please?"
Standing, Charlie sensed the imbalance in his body. His stomach suddenly seemed to be filled with stones while his head was empty. What should he do now? He couldn't possibly say the things he had prepared. This wasn't simply about any FBI-team, it was about Don's team! And that was a difference as wide as heaven.
Once more, he regretted his position in the law firm. If he hadn't been the secondary consultant, he wouldn't have been the one who had to make this talk and, more importantly, he would have gotten the real data and with it the real names. On top of that he sure as hell would have been able to work it out if terms like 'the SAC' and 'Agent 3' had been replaced by the real names; Don, David and Colby. Now, however, it was too late for such thoughts.
Charlie's much too brief reprieve had come to an end. He was already standing in front of the white board up at the head of the conference desk. He quickly turned his gaze away from Don who was, arms crossed, leaning back as far as possible. As far as possible away from Charlie. His angry gaze, hitting Charlie like spears, made it impossible for him to look at him further. Instead, his gaze went to Colby and David. But their frosty features didn't make it any easier for him to list the complaints in detail. Therefore, he directed his words to the client, who was thank God looking bitterly at the desk in front of her. At least until now.
"Well" – Damn! Why did his voice sound that throaty? Clearing his throat once – "Well, Mr. Jamison has already explained to you what this is about." Still not any better, he cleared his throat again. "Indeed, I have some points to say that… the FBI could maybe … er, improve some of its procedures." Close to normal again. Yet, his throat was still dry as dust.
Out of the corner of his eye, Charlie noticed Jamison arching his brows, and he didn't have to be a visionary to know why. Charlie had been made responsible for laying out the arguments against the FBI before giving his mathematical information; the argument being that it would create a professional presentation. In their preliminary talk, both of them had been determined to strike with a far more attacking tone. After all, the agency had failed, and that was the reason why their client was a widow now. Of course they wanted the FBI to catch the perpetrators, but they also needed to point out what the FBI had done wrong. Although…
"Well, I've developed a formula that is…"
His supervisor interrupted him, clearing his throat. "Didn't you forget something, Doctor Eppes?" Jamison asked, sanctimoniously, though his features were icy. "You wanted to point out the mistakes the FBI made. Or am I supposed to do that?"
It wasn't a question, it was a threat. Charlie could imagine what would happen to him later if Jamison himself had to present the arguments. He didn't need to stoop so low; he was paying Charlie to do that. Besides, maybe Charlie would be able to turn the greatest harm away from Don's team…
Again, he cleared his throat. "Well. Firstly, the undercover investigation had been arranged without taking due caution…"
"But that wasn't our fault!" Colby interrupted sharply. "Norvtcharov came from another department!"
"Exactly," Charlie agreed, nearly thankful. "That wasn't the fault of your team, Col… Mr. Granger, but the FBI's fault."
First point done, go on with point two. If possible, the situation had become even more uncomfortable to Charlie. He wondered if he could simply let go of the incident. But then Jamison would mention it. And maybe Charlie would be able to cushion the impact a bit. "Then, there was this… incident during an interrogation. Although the reaction of… Special Agent Eppes is very understandable, it's not very… constructive to… step on the suspect's toes in a way that could nullify the FBI's case."
"Dr Eppes wants to say that it was completely unacceptable for you to get so 'testy' with the mobster," Jamison spoke sarcastically.
"Well, Doctor Eppes and you have been criticizing our actions pretty much," Don retorted, no less bitter, "but your remarks haven't beenparticularly constructive, either… Doctor Eppes."
"Doctor Eppes hasn't finished his explanations yet," Jamison jumped in, adding arrogantly, "Your impatience will get you into serious trouble one day, Agent Eppes. You should really stop being so aggressive. This meeting has only been arranged so that our firm can help the FBI by showing you some of our methods."
Nice joke, Charlie thought. Before Don could react to the insulting words and start a fight, he began to rattle out the explanation of his theory shortening it to the most important basics. "We've got a fairly common social network here. People build the most varied social networks, from baseball teams to church communities to universities and federal agencies. With a bipartite network analysis, we can examine the organization's structures and assess who are the real bosses, in this case the mob bosses, and who the weak elements in the chain are. Coming from this and from the information Alex Norvtcharov had given to the FBI before his death, I'll also be able to give the odds for who is the investigator's probable murderer and above all for eventual flaws in the network which are the most likely ones to give information to us. Therefore, however, I'd need the data the FBI is still keeping secret at the moment." He dragged in a breath and sat down in his chair.
He was done. He daren't look up knowing that the FBI agents would be staring at him angrily, especially his brother. He wanted to be anywhere other than here. Unfortunately, his presentation obviously hadn't gone over too well with either the widow or Jamison. He'd played down the situation and not included a lot of the other arguments. He slid down further in his chair feeling the angry glares coming from both sides of the table.
"I'm done," he said, the last word of his recital barely having passed his lips. "May I leave?"
Displeased, Jamison arched his eye-brows, though shrugged. Charlie was immediately out of his chair and turning towards the door when a strong grip on his upper arm held him back.
"Oh no!" Don's voice hissed in his ear. "Who knows, maybe there'll be some questions? You stay here."
Don knew that Charlie wouldn't struggle now. The unnatural, grim requirement of seeing Charlie suffer had won over the desire that his little brother would keep out of his sight for good.
Traitor! How could he have turned on them? Yeah, somehow Don could understand that Charlie was angry with the FBI. But that didn't give him the right to, denigrate him, Don, and his team! One of their agents was dead and Don had been responsible for him! He knew that, but they were already doing everything to clear up the whole unfortunate situation! And now it seemed it was to become their undoing?
Granted… the methods had been more than ugly. Gradually, as the case went on, Don became more and more afraid of how far he would go to solve this case and make the perps disappear behind bars. He knew that he'd already crossed a line. This suspect… At least, thanks to Sanchez's statement they now had an arrest warrant against this Kalinkov. But in the back of his mind, he had one question: How far would he have gone?
Don was starting to be afraid of himself.
There was a little pause before Jamison, more arrogant than ever, took up again. "You've listened to the facts, agents. So, if you don't want to cause any more problems, it'd make the most sense to include my firm in your investigations. Our math consultant will be able to figure out what you've missed."
There was an icy, hostile silence for a while. Finally, David plucked up his courage: "Now how exactly does that work with this net…work?" he inquired, a bit acidly.
Charlie felt his tension loosen up as he started explaining the thing more thoroughly: how the method was working, which information he needed, what they could achieve and much more. The federal agents knew that they would need Charlie's help, but that wasn't really improving the atmosphere in the room. Charlie wished he could escape to the moon. He was beginning to wonder why he'd agreed to consult for Jamison.
Finally, however, they got a result: Don, David and Colby would check the issue with the AD first before taking further steps. It was clear to every one of the attendees where this was going to end, namely to Charlie collaborating on the case. And of the six people in the room, two thirds weren't greatly enamoured of the situation.
But at least, the briefing was finished with that, and Charlie literally flew out of the room. He wanted to get away from everybody as quickly as possible. He had to think rapidly; where could he hide. At home? No, Don would come there in few minutes to take him to task. And before it could come to a fight with Don, Charlie had to think about his arguments for his defence. And he had no clue on Earth of how he could justify his behaviour. And Jamison wasn't really likely to offer him his help for his plea.
So he took his bicycle and went to CalSci. Indeed, he didn't feel perfectly comfortable entering the campus, but at least he would be able to talk to Larry or Amita here. He wondered where the two of them were. When Don had looked for them, in earlier times, he had most often found them in Charlie's office. However, since the room currently wasn't Charlie's office, he didn't even consider that opportunity. Probably they were in Larry's office; at least he'd find one of the pair there. It was always worth trying. So he locked his bike and set off.
"Charles! To what do I owe this honour?" Larry greeted him gladly, though turning immediately back to the piles of paper on his desk.
"Are you free for a sec?"
"Uh-oh, that doesn't sound good at all," Larry murmured, deep in his documents.
"That's the understatement of the year."
Larry glanced at him before turning his gaze to the chaos of papers again, obviously looking for something. "Is it about a case for Don?" he inquired, being trapped in his usual confusion. He didn't notice the look Charlie gave him that had it reached its target would probably have killed him.
"Larry, I don't work with Don anymore or have you already forgotten that?" Charlie squeezed out the words between clenched teeth, exhaling violently. "Rather against him."
Now finally Larry was looking at him directly. "Oh… yeah, right." He stopped shortly. "Wait – what do you mean, 'against him'?"
Exhausted, Charlie let himself fall onto a chair. "I've told you about this new job of mine, right?"
"Uh… yes, yes… I think I remember."
"Well, this team I had to anatomize – it's Don's team."
"Oh. Well… that's not quite optimal."
"Not optimal?" Charlie gasped, jerking to his feet. "Not optimal? It's a catastrophe! Who knows, maybe I'll be out of another job by tomorrow! Mr Jamison hates me! The widow hates me! David and Colby hate me! And don't even talk about Don! He'll probably kill me the next time he sees me!"
"Well… if you've made the talk you'd presented to me… then he probably considers you an opportunistic and faithless traitor that projects his hatred of the FBI onto his brother."
Exhausted, Charlie again let himself fall onto the chair, laying his head back. Filled with a sudden weariness, he closed his eyes. "Thanks, Larry. You're a great help to me," he said hollowly and the sarcasm was thick enough to touch.
However, Larry remained insistent. "The analysis of your situation will help you to find a solution."
"I don't think that there is a solution to my problem. Only, maybe suicide."
Larry was looking at him. "I think you should reappraise your findings."
However, Charlie didn't have an opportunity to respond.
"WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?"
Charlie jerked up. He had hardly stood up from his chair when he was almost pulled off his feet again. Don had stormed into Larry's office. He grabbed his little brother by the collar and pushed him against the wall. "WELL? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?" he continued to blast at him.
"I… I…," Charlie stammered, but he couldn't go on.
"Yes, you, you, always only you!" Don shouted. "I know you're mad at the FBI – but it doesn't entitle you to criticise us like that!"
"But I didn't know…," Charlie whimpered helplessly. He tried to make eye contact with Larry (because that meant not looking into his brother's anger-filled eyes), but he only caught a glimpse of a totally confused and petrified Professor Fleinhardt.
"You didn't know!" Don shouted at him harshly. "What? That I'm with the FBI? That people don't connive behind their friends' backs? What the hell were you thinking? Did you just want to show the whole world again what a bright boy you are? Talk to me! Over there you managed to talk enough!"
He pulled him back and then pushed him again against the wall. Charlie shook his head, trying think coherently. Don must have driven himself into an even deeper rage on the way over. He couldn't be at his senses. This man couldn't be Don, not the insightful and understanding brother he had become for Charlie in the past couple of years. What for God's sake, was driving him? Why was he acting like a madman?
"Stop it!" Charlie shouted and Don was so surprised by his sudden resistance that he actually let go of him. However, the pit between them didn't justify the rise in volume. "What's the matter with you? Why are you being so aggressive?"
"ME! AGGRESSIVE? So what was your claptrap over there?"
"You know exactly that I said the truth!"
"That's the way you want to justify it? What sort of logic is that? I can also say: 'My brother is a mean little asshole that likes acting up and pretending to be bigger than he actually is.' Will you agree with me, huh, just because it's the truth?"
Charlie didn't say anything anymore. He didn't know what to say. There wasn't anything he could say. He didn't want to show how much Don's words were hurting him. A mean little asshole… bigger than he was… that acts up…
So that was the way Don actually thought about him. As if out of nowhere, a magazine page appeared in Charlie's mind; Don had been interviewed by a magazine concerning Charlie's book. If there's anything stronger than the bond between brothers, it's the bond between brothers who have become friends. Charlie is my friend. The whole thing was only empty words? Did Don say such things only that he could use Charlie for his cases with the FBI?
"Leave." Charlie said it completely calmly. However, its impact was the same as if he had shouted. But he couldn't shout anymore. He couldn't see Don anymore now. He wanted to be alone. He wanted to think. He had to find out how the relationship between his brother and himself really looked like. Had everything really been mere illusion?
Don laughed briefly. "Do you want to boss me around or what? But you can't throw me out. This isn't your office. You've got nothing at all to say here."
Charlie shook his head. "You know what? I don't have to do this," he responded coldly and calmly although the others could hear the slight tremor in his voice. Before his brother could notice the wet glimmer in his eyes, Charlie quickly stepped out of Larry's office, slamming the door behind him.
"Yeah, get lost!" Don called after him. "That's all you can do, just fly away!"
"Well, honestly, Don…" Larry gasped.
"Don't say anything," Don cut him off. He didn't want to talk to anybody now. He certainly didn't want to hear the reproaches he was convinced were coming. And right now, he didn't want to think about his actions, even if he knew that they might not have been completely correct. He wanted to hold onto his anger and be able to point out his brother's bad actions.
Don stomped off the campus. He kept his anger on the boil, but could now feel it mixed with desperation as he thought about how Charlie had slammed the door behind him creating a barrier between them. And then, all of a sudden, he saw Charlie's bike almost as if it was waiting for him. Without thinking for long, Don let the air out of the tyres. Charlie should see how it felt to simply not be going anywhere.