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[personal profile] aleo_70
Title: Choices
Author: [info]aleo_70
Rating: PG 13+
Genre: Gen
Characters: Don Eppes, David Sinclair, Colby Granger, Charlie Eppes, Alan Eppes, OMCs - Scott Nelson and Paul Nelson
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.  Anything you don't recognise is a product of my imagination.
Spoilers: Arrow of Time, Fifth Man, Pilot.
Warnings: violence
Word count this chapter: ~3310
Word count total: ~44,000

Summary: Making a choice is one thing, surviving the consequences that follow is something else altogether.  Third instalment of Nelson series following Flight and Crosshairs - Brad escapes but danger for Don comes from an unexpected quarter.


CHAPTER FIVE

Getting Alan and Charlie settled had been difficult to say the least, leaving David drained.  It had taken longer than he’d hoped but he was finally on his way back from the hotel where he’d left Stone and Brown guarding the pair.

When he’d arrived at the Craftsman he had started with breaking the news that Brad Nelson had escaped and was pleased to hear that they already knew.  Things had gone downhill from there however when he told them about Don’s disappearance.

“I knew it!” Alan had exclaimed angrily, rounding on David and forcing the agent to take a step back.  “You had ample warning and this is how you protect my son.”

“Easy, Alan,” David tried to soothe.  He saw the eyes narrow at the familiarity, normally welcome but clearly not now.  “Mr Eppes, we are not yet sure what has happened-“

“Really?  Seems clear enough to us,” Alan snapped.  “Brad’s got him.  That psychopath’s got my son.”

“We’re not sure.  There’s no sign of violence, if it had been Brad there would have been signs,” David explained bluntly. 

“There doesn’t have to be any signs, he could have knocked my son out!”

“No, the prints show he was conscious,” David said and had explained how the prints showed Don had leant against the side of his suburban ‘in the position’.  “We also don’t think it is possible for Brad to have reached LA as yet either.”

“It is possible,” Charlie spoke up.  “Not likely, but possible.  I need a map and some more details to confirm it but I think it is possible.  He should have had a protection detail long before now.”

Despite having wanted the same thing himself David had felt the need to defend the Bureau.  “In hindsight maybe, but we can only go on the information we have at the time.  We’re not taking any more chances; you both need to pack a bag for a few days.”

“We’re staying here,” Alan had refused.

“Mr Eppes, Charlie, if someone found Don at his home they can find you here.  We may have dropped the ball with Don but by keeping you safe now we may help to keep him safe.  Understand?”

There had been more arguing, then grumbling but he’d finally convinced them to pack and got them safely to the hotel room for the night.  They’d only just checked in to the room that had been intended for Don when his cell phone beeped.  Within a few seconds the other two agents’ phones also alerted them to a new text message.  Checking they each found the Missing Agent Alert.  He showed it to Alan and Charlie.

“That’s gone state-wide?”  Alan asked.

“It will be going state-wide for locals.  Nation-wide for us, ATF, DEA and the US Marshals,” David explained.  “We’ll find him.”

Now as the hotel disappeared behind him he called Control for an update.

“Transferring you to the ADIC,” the control operator announced unexpectedly.  “Stand by.”

“Wright.”

“Sir, its Sinclair.  His family are secure at the hotel.  I’m on my way back in.”

“We’ve heard from Eppes,” Wright announced.

“When?  Is he alright?  What did he say?”

“About an hour ago he contacted Albuquerque and ordered some checks into Brad Nelson’s cellmates.” 

“Albuquerque are sure it was him?” David asked.  “Not someone claiming to be him and using his code?”  He didn’t want to think on how the code may have been obtained.

“The agent he spoke to, the duty agent, used to work for him there.  It was him,” Wright confirmed.  “The duty agent called us when he started to run the checks and Eppes’ code was denied.  He’d been instructed to leave a message on voicemail when the checks were done so I’ve had him leave a message for Eppes to call him for the results.  They will keep him on the line as long as they can for a trace.”

“Any activity from his cell?”

“It was used to make the call but wasn’t on long enough for more than a basic cell tower triangulation.  He was somewhere in the Rialto area at the time.  LAPD and some agents are patrolling now.”

“I’ll update his family that we’ve heard from him,” David said, taking the next turn.  He was close enough to go back and deliver the news in person.

“They’re sure it was him?”  Charlie asked when David finished.

“Yes.  Apparently the agent he spoke to knew him.”

“Thank God,” Alan eased back into a chair.  “Is he alright?”

“We think so, the agent didn’t suspect anything was wrong until he tried to use Don’s code,” David explained.

Charlie looked concerned at that, he understood what it could mean.  “What checks?”

“I can’t go into that, Charlie. You know that.”

“But I can help!”  Charlie insisted.  “Let me come back with you.”

“Charlie, we’ve been through this.  No.”

“Maybe he’s right, Charlie,” Alan interrupted.  “Don said if anything happened we had to stay away.”

“He needs to know you’re safe, Charlie,” David said.  “This was what he wanted.”

“He’d want me to find him.”

“Charlie, there’s nothing you can do for now.  If we get something you can work with we’ll bring it to you.”

Charlie looked to his father and the agent before bringing up his hands.  “Fine.  But any time, David.  I don’t care what time it is, you bring it to me straight away.  Okay?”

***

“See, Agent?”  Nelson finally said breaking the long silence as he helped Don from the car after they’d finally came to a stop at a cabin.  “My son is not here.”

Don shook himself free as he looked around seeing the cabin was completely isolated.  They’d passed the last signs of habitation, a hint of lights way off the road, some time ago. 

After making the call to Albuquerque they had travelled north a ways before the road started climbing and he realised he recognised the area.  It had been a while but he was sure they were heading towards Green Valley Lake.  Another few miles and he finally saw a sign, confirming his suspicion.  If they stopped at the town he had an advantage, he knew the area.  And the sheriff.

Unfortunately they drove straight past the turnoff after going through the small town of Arrowbear Lake.  Continuing on they passed through the larger town of Big Bear Lake before turning off onto a minor road and several more after that as they wound their way through the hilly terrain.  The forest had thinned markedly, reduced now to a scrubby brush.  He wasn’t clear on where they were exactly but it was pretty much miles from anywhere. 

That meant his choices at the moment were limited.  Escape was a priority but right now, with two guns on him and them expecting him to make his break at the first opportunity there was no point making the attempt just yet.  He could have no real expectation of reaching help before he could be re-captured and quite possibly shot into the bargain.  Cuffed, he was at a disadvantage on foot, particularly on the run in the dark.  The rocky ground along with the general terrain made it likely he would injure himself if he tried.  It was still a viable option if the chance arose but the urgency was gone as Nelson was right, Brad was not here.  The young killer would not have been able to restrain himself and would have come running out of the rustic cabin the moment they’d pulled up.

“So what do you want?”  Don demanded as his simmering anger resurfaced.  “A thank-you?”

“No,” Nelson sounded hurt.  “But a little trust would be nice.”

“Trust.  You want trust at gunpoint,” Don snorted and sidestepped the hand that reached for his elbow.  Without another word he started walking for the cabin.

It was about what he would have expected for the area, constructed of logs to look old fashioned even if it was likely only a few years old.  The brush that he’d seen in the car’s headlights didn’t look as if it had been touched by the wildfires a few years back but he didn’t think the cabin would have pre-dated them by much.  The bushes beside the steps leading up to the porch were barely established and the log siding still had some colour to it from what he could see in the headlights Paul had left on for the moment.  The large poly water tank mounted high on a raised platform at the side wall was another indicator the cabin was not as old as it tried to look.  He took the steps up to the porch to the door and tried the handle finding it unlocked.  Pushing it open he stepped in with Nelson close on his heels as Paul moved about the car.

He moved into the darkness far enough for Nelson to enter behind him and stopped as the other man swung a flashlight around the open area.  The beam settled on a chair at the table.

“Sit.”

Obeying the instruction he pulled out one of the four chairs and sat as Nelson moved over to the kitchen area and worked at one of the lamps waiting on the bench.  The first lamp was battery powered and was a simple matter of turning it on to get light.  Nelson then fiddled with another lamp attached to a gas bottle.  When that one was lit and stable he carried the battery one over to the table.

Left to himself as Nelson moved to the door to take the bags handed to him by his son Don took the time to look the main cabin area over.  With the door behind him to his left was a kitchen area along the far wall and partway along what had to be an internal wall.  It was basic with some cupboards, a long bench and a gas stove top.  There were labels on the cupboard doors and the drawers and he concluded the cabin was or had been a rental. 

Directly in front of him at the end of the kitchen bench and in the middle of the internal wall was an open doorway that he guessed would lead to a bunkroom and a bathroom area that he expected shared plumbing with the kitchen sink.  To his right was the living area with a long low couch that on a second look appeared to be a single bed with some cushions propped up against the wall.  A sleeping bag was already spread out along its length and he assumed it would be for whoever was on watch.  There were also a couple of easy chairs facing a fireplace on the end wall with a small coffee table in between.  It was basic and clearly not on mains power but some effort had been made to make it comfortable.

Once all the bags were in and the door closed Paul busied himself at the gas stove, filling up a kettle and setting it to heat.  He then started to sort through a cardboard box on the bench and Don recognised the bowls of dried noodles.  His stomach growled, he’d not had much of a lunch and had certainly missed dinner.

“It’s not gourmet but it’ll do,” Nelson commented when he saw the direction the agent was looking.

Don was more concerned with the number of cardboard boxes he could see on the bench and stacked in front of it.  “You had time to buy all this?”

“For a little extra they do the shopping for you,” Nelson explained.

“How long did you tell them to shop for?  How long are you planning on keeping this up?”

“As long as it takes, Agent.”

He should have expected the answer.  “So now what?  A campfire sing-a-long to round out the evening?”

“Hardly,” the older man said in reaction to the sarcasm.  “A civil dinner and then we check your messages before turning in for the night.  I think we’ve all had a long day.”

“Here,” Paul said as he placed two cups on the table.  “Coffee.”

It was clearly instant but he could really do with a coffee.  Reaching out his hands he grabbed the closest cup and took a sip, grimacing around the taste before taking another.

“Do you take sweetener?”  Paul asked holding up a couple of sachets.

The contrast wasn’t lost on him as he put the cup down to take the sachets, the hot coffee and the polite offer of the sweetener against the restriction of the cuffs as he moved.  He turned to Nelson who had taken the seat to his left, holding up his wrists suggestively. 

Nelson shook his head.  “No.”

“Huh,” he grunted as he turned back and worked at the sachets, dumping their contents into the cup.  While he’d been hopeful he wasn’t surprised.  “Civil.”

Nelson heard the muttered word but let it go.

It was only a few minutes later that Paul brought over the first two bowls, placing them and forks in front of both his father and the agent. 

Taking up the fork and pulling the bowl towards him Don made to stand, telegraphing his intention by glancing over at the coffee table where he planned to eat.

“Stay, Agent,” Nelson invited.

It wasn’t an order and he found himself hesitating.  He was angry and frustrated and in no mood for joining his kidnappers at the same table for a meal, the reason he’d started to move in the first place.  Paul brought his own meal over and took a seat, looking at their unwilling guest in question.  Don reconsidered, it was a small thing but cooperation on this could help to relax the pair around him.  That could lead to an opening.  He settled back on the seat and started eating.

The noodles were salty as he expected but did the job, filling his stomach.  Nelson and Paul had started in silence but had relaxed slightly and engaged in conversation.  The older man tried a number of times to involve Don but there was no way he was discussing anything of a personal nature.  He concentrated on eating awkwardly and listened, learning an interesting point along the way; Paul was a qualified advanced care paramedic which explained the EMT level kit they had brought with them.

When they’d finished and Paul was cleaning up Nelson pulled out Don’s cell phone and powered it up.  It beeped again to indicate there were new unread messages and this time Nelson dialled Don’s voicemail.  The messages when they started occasionally dropped or fuzzed out suggesting cell reception at the cabin was poor.  If reception was that bad and the call was kept brief Don expected the data from the cell tower would be of little help to locate him. 

“Don?  It’s David.  Just letting you know we’re packing it up for the night.  We’ve located another two witnesses and have got a statement from one; the other will be in first thing.  Looks like we may finally have a line on identifying at least one of the crew.  Don’t worry about calling me back, Wright’s advised me of the arrangements for tonight.  Take the opportunity for some room service.  See you in the morning.”

“Agent Eppes, it’s Stone.  We’re at your vehicle, where are you?”

“Agent Eppes, Stone.  Call me back immediately.”

“Hey, Don.  Why didn’t you call me?” Charlie’s voice sounded annoyed.  “Dad said you didn’t want to interrupt my classes.  You know I would have wanted to know about this straight away.  I can help.  I’m calling David, I know you don’t want me to go in but I can help.  Call me back when you get this.  If you can.”

“Agent Eppes, this is Control.  Please report your location.”

“Agent Eppes, this is Control.  Report in urgently.”

“Don?” David’s voice was no longer cheerful.  “Don, where are you?  Call me back now.”

“Hey Don,” Robin’s voice sounded concerned. “I got your message.  I wish I wasn’t at this conference so I could be with you.  If you need me though, I’ll try to get home.  Keep in touch, please.”

There were three more messages from Control before the message Nelson wanted.

“Agent Eppes? Tony Shelton, Albuquerque,” the duty agent’s voice was clearly worried.  “Sir, I need you to call me back as soon as you get this.  I have some of the results of your inquiries but I can’t leave them as a message.  Call me back.”

After hanging up on the voicemail service there was a different beep and Nelson looked questioningly at the agent.

“Text message,” Don supplied.  Nelson read it through with a deepening frown before turning the phone so he could see.  It was the Missing Agent Alert he’d been expecting.

Nelson powered the phone down. 

Don got in first, “I’ve been officially declared missing in suspicious circumstances.  There is nothing more I can do for you.”

“He said he had some results,” Nelson argued. “That was before the time on the alert message.”

Don shook his head, “My access will have been blocked long before that alert.  The checks needed my code to run.”

“So it was a ruse, to make us call in,” Nelson deduced.  “No more calls to Albuquerque.  We’ll find another way.”

“There is no other way.  I can’t help you.”

“Yes, you can.  You must know other people you can call direct to get answers.”

“I know people,” Don confirmed.  “But they won’t help.  By now that alert has gone out to all federal agents across the country, not just FBI, along with local and state law enforcement.”

“A bit dangerous, don’t you think, for them to have sent it to you as well?” Nelson said, picking up on a key point.  “They know we have your phone.”

The agent suspected that may have been why the alert was delayed so long in the first place.  “It would be too hard to separate my number out from the group.  It had to come to my cell as well as everyone else’s.  How long did you really think you could hold me without something like this happening?”

Nelson ignored the question and stood.  “Then it’s time we made that call.  Let’s go.”

Don was surprised to be hustled out to the car, but then as they started off he remembered Nelson’s plans to confuse attempts to track their location by their calls and figured they were heading somewhere nearby.  Instead they drove for almost three quarters of an hour turning away from LA when they reached the main road and following it down off the plateau before finally stopping on the outskirts of Lucerne Valley.  Nelson handed over Don’s cell.

“Call Agent Sinclair.  Tell him to give you back your access,” Nelson ordered.

Somewhat exasperated, having thought he’d made the point clear Don nevertheless took the phone.  Calling David worked to his needs too so he would use whatever pretext Nelson wanted.  He had a thought as he waited for the phone to acquire the network, if he could get the identification of who held him to the FBI that was a major bonus for him.  They’d worn gloves during the initial stages of his kidnapping and he knew the forensic examination of his SUV and the surrounding area under his building would have yielded little evidence to identify suspects.  The same went for the hotel room, assuming that had been found yet.  He was sure that David would have fears it had been Brad Nelson that had taken him, correcting that would make things a little easier on his family.

“I need to be able to tell him it is you, not Brad, that has me or they won’t give it back,” Don tried.

Surprisingly, Nelson agreed.  “Fine, just me.  Leave Paul out of this.”

.

Next chapter - here
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