NUM13ERS
Corin Pecuniary
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Special Agent Don Eppisode had a too-close encounter with a man on a mountain bike as he crossed the road to the FBI building in L.A.'s business district on a Monday morning. He caught a brief glimpse of the threat before the man was past him, trailing a curse; just enough to tell him that he had not almost been run down by his brother Charles, a mathematics professor who was a pathological cyclist.
   As he crossed the polished marble of the FBI building's entrance hall, Don tried to summon a feeling of enthusiasm. He failed, as usual, and managed only to feeling every one of his forty years. Things were not going well for him.
   Don's reputation as a hard-working, dedicated agent had made him the obvious choice to head a task force, which had been set up to track down a serial rapist in the city. Unfortunately, Don was trying to catch a very clever and methodical man who, possibly just to irritate the FBI, had recently decided to pad out his CV by adding murder to his criminal repertoire.
   His current score stood at eight rapes and three murders. Technicians from the L.A. Crime Lab had assembled a mass of evidence, at vast damage to the FBI's local budget, but nothing helpful; like a set of clear fingerprints, a DNA sample or a dropped driver's license; had emerged from the mountain of Crime Lab reports.
   Someone signing his letter with the single name Lawrence had written a mocking letter to Agent Eppisode after the second murder. Opinion was still divided on whether the letter had come from the killer or someone trying to confuse the issue, but the name had stuck. The team was now known to everyone as the Lawrence Task Force.
   Agent Jerry Kake arrived in his office with fresh coffee as Don Eppisode was struggling to find a direction for the day. In her early thirties, she was a naturally lively, independent type, who became very irritated when people accused her of playing Officer Frank Smith to Don Eppisode's Sergeant Joe Friday. Another good way to irritate her, the team had found, was to speculate about who was the current object of her fantasies. Ash-blonde Jerry Kake remained permanently unavailable to the members of the task force but they could dream.
   Don Eppisode's boss, Walter Darrick, made his standard early morning contact by phone. Not visiting the task force's offices in person was his way of telling everyone that he was far too busy to leave his own office two floors higher. Don was able to make the right noises and promises of an up-to-the-minute situation report on Lawrence by internal email within the hour and a mid-morning conference kept the boss sort of happy for the moment.

When the team's early-morning briefing was out of the way, Agent Mike Ebrow invaded Don Eppisode's office. He had some suggestions to make; all of which Don knew would take the investigation nowhere. But they were the sort of boring, procedural tasks which had to be completed in the course of any by-the-book investigation.
   "Is it my imagination, or are you even more charming and laid back this morning?" Mike asked when his boss had signed his latest set of expenses. He was a couple of years younger than Don Eppisode and he, too, had dark hair and a bulky physique. They were frequently mistaken for each other at a distance when they were wearing regulation dark suits.
   Don just scowled at Mike Ebrow. He knew that some people considered him an archetypal macho-man while others saw him as a brooding bully. He and Mike Ebrow went back too far for Mike to be bothered about upsetting either personality.
   "I almost got killed by a guy on a bike crossing the road right in front of this building," Don said at last.
   "Chuckie-baby settling his sibling rivalries with his elder brother?" Mike said with a mocking smile.
   "I thought it might be him on his way here to apply for a consultant's job," Don admitted.
   "Well, we all know Chuck's enthusiasm for law enforcement," laughed Mike.
   Charles Eppisode was one of the professors of mathematics at U.C.L.A. His speciality was event theory and he was the sort of absent-minded academic genius who could fill a blackboard with equations faster than Mike Ebrow could fiddle his expenses.
   Although Don Eppisode did his best to explain the facts of life to his brother, Charles remained stubbornly convinced that crime-fighter Don led the sort of glamorous life depicted in movies and on TV.
   "Aminta. She'd make a great consultant," Mike said with a longing smile.
   "In your dreams!" scoffed Don.
   A stunningly beautiful foreign student called Aminta was working on her thesis with Charles Eppisode. Mike Ebrow had tried to talk to her but she always said little and kept most of her attention firmly fixed on the Prof. Despite Mike's best efforts to research Aminta, her availability remained vague and he was not sure whether she was in love with Professor Eppisode or just stalking him.
   Klara arrived to deliver the morning mail. She had the face of an angel and the physique of an Olympic shot-putter from the days of the German Democratic Republic. She had a smile for the task-force leader and a glare for Mike Ebrow for wasting the boss's time.
   "By hand to the office of. Not for electronic transmission," Mike Ebrow read from one of the official grey envelopes. "I guess this is the bill from the Crime Lab for all the stuff they've done that didn't get us anywhere. Ever think of bringing Pearl in on the case, Don?"
   "About three or four times an hour." Don pulled a disgusted face at him.
   "You know what they say about that in England," Jerry Kake said, arriving with an envelope of photo-prints lifted from CCTV tapes. "If the wind changes, your face will stick like that."
   "He mentioned the P-word," Don accused.
   "Yeah, well, the way things are going, we might just have to crawl to Pearl's office and beg her to help us," laughed Jerry.
   "Let's face it, gimmicks go down with the Powers That Be," said Mike.
   "I don't believe Agent Pearl McGrath has psychic powers," Don said firmly. "Any more than you do. I think she just got lucky in the Cardosian Case."
   "What about that other guy? The one who claims he has, what is it?"
   "Dodge," said Jerry. "He claims he has fugitive telepathic powers."
   "That's right," said Mike. "They come and go unpredictably. And they're never switched on when someone wants him to demonstrate them."
   "He just uses psychology and he's very good at reading body language," said Don. "He's no more a telepath than I am. And no better as a consultant than my brother would be."
   "But you have to agree, Chuck does know numbers," said Mike. "What is it his pal Barry says? If there was a Nobel prize for mathematics, he'd win it every year."
   "Everything comes down to numbers," Jerry quoted. "That's what Charles always says."
   "So what are you saying?" Don challenged. "I need a gimmick to compete with Pearl and that swindler Dodge? That I should turn a deaf ear to my better judgement and get Charles involved in this case?"
   "Lawrence, our rapist turned killer, is very cautious, he never leaves a mess and he doesn't seem to feel a need to tell someone else what he's done," said Mike.
   "Apart from his letter," said Jerry.
   "If we leave this case to the guys at the Crime Lab," Mike continued, "we'll be drummed out of the Agency in disgrace for failing to catch him; if the Agency doesn't go bankrupt first; and Larry will die of old age secure in the knowledge that the forces of law and order never even came close to him."
   "But if you let your brother process our data like he wants, what will it achieve?" said Jerry. "Either he'll give us something we can work with or he'll admit he's a failure, his equations can't solve real crimes and he'll never bother you again."
   "If only," sighed Don.
   "What have you got to lose?" prodded Mike. "We'll be going through the motions today, and tomorrow and the next day. And then Larry will kill someone else. On Thursday. Like he said he will."
   "Okay, I'll think about it," said Don. "Now, can we get some work done around here?"

The meeting with Walter Darrick, Don Eppisode's Head of Department, started off confrontational and ended up heading in an entirely unexpected direction. Darrick was under increasing pressure to deliver a positive result in the Lawrence Case. The Mayor was unhappy and worried about the impact on business and tourism about having a high-profile serial killer loose in the city.
   When Darrick started threatening to bring in the psychic, Agent Pearl McGrath, as a consultant, Don found himself countering with his brother, the mathematician, which confused Darrick satisfactorily with a new concept.
   "You think your brother can succeed when a multi-million-dollar crime lab has turned up squat?" Darrick said through a sceptical frown.
   Don shrugged. "Everything comes down to numbers. That's what my brother always says. And Walt, it's a lot more scientific than a freakin' psychic."
   "Don, you know Lawrence is going to kill someone else on Thursday?"
   "I also know we have nothing to give us a clue about who or where, despite the best efforts of three different profilers."
   "So what you're saying is, 'What have we got to lose by trying your brother? He can't do any worse than the consultants who've tried already?'"
   "Well, yes." Don Eppisode found himself beset by doubts suddenly. He felt that he had been driven into a corner by his boss's prodding.
   "Nobody can know what Charles is doing for us," Darrick continued, not listening to Don. "There'll be hell to pay if it gets out that we gave him access to confidential case papers."
   "What, more hell to pay than using a psychic?" Don prodded.
   "Well, I guess not," Darrick conceded. "Okay, set it up. But Don, keep it freakin' discreet. Okay?"

Still not sure he was doing the right thing, Don Eppisode took an early lunch and drove over to the university. He found his brother in his office. Inevitably, Charles was chalking equations on a blackboard under the admiring gaze of his student, the dusky Aminta Hamujan. Aminta began to make some fresh coffee while Don tried to find a non-embarrassing way of asking his brother for help.
   "I think a study of Bondian Dimensions might be relevant," Charles said after some thought. He was enjoying the role of semi-official FBI consultant too much to tease his brother.
   "Don't tell me," Don couldn't help saying to prove that he had absorbed some of his brother's jargon, "they have double-oh seven degrees of freedom?"
   "Could we take this a little seriously, please?" said the professor.
   "Probably not," Don muttered through a smile, accepting a steaming mug from Aminta.
   "It's just a question of assigning the right framing parameters to the various dimensions," Charles continued, half to himself. "Once that has been done, everything should drop into place."
   "You're sure about that?" Don prodded, not convinced by his brother's show of confidence.
   Charles shrugged. "If I have enough information to populate the matrix."
   "Or bridge over any voids," Aminta contributed.
   "Yes, good," said Charles, approving professor to star student.
   "And how long will all this take?" Don asked.
   "Three or four days." Charles shrugged. It was his standard vague answer.
   "Lawrence is planning to kill again on Thursday," Don pointed out.
   "In that case, dear brother, I shall have to lay in a goodly stock of midnight oil," Charles said with an encouraging smile. "This is going to work, you know."
   "If anyone can make it work, you can, Prof.," Aminta said with her most dazzling smile.
   "After all, it's just event theory with a backward spin," Charles continued. "We know what happened and when it happened. It's just a question of working backwards in time and space from that event."
   "And trying to keep the noise down to a manageable level," said Aminta.
   "Exactly," Charles said approvingly. "We know where your friend Lawrence was at specific times. We just have to work back to the common point of origin for all events. Pretty similar to the work we've been doing for the Department of Defense recently. Only somewhat more complicated. When do we get access to the data?"
   "As fast as you can get to my offices." Don decided to say nothing about the we. Given the choice, he would have excluded his brother's student from the picture but he knew that Charles would involve Aminta as a reflex, no matter what he said. As well as being an outstanding mathematician in her own right, she was his willing gopher.
   "Okay, we'll need somewhere to work," said Charles. "Undisturbed."
   "I can fix you up with a temporary office," said Don.
   "With an armed guard on the door?" said Charles.
   Don Eppisode realized that he would have to take on the job of deflecting their father. Alan Eppisode had a habit of just dropping in on his sons, even at work, and expecting them to drop everything and chat to him about what they had been doing since his last visit.
   Since winning the lottery, he had adopted the role of patriarch, something which he had never been allowed to do under the thumb of Don and Charles' mother, who was now divorced from Alan, remarried and living on a farm in upstate New York with her new family.
   Alan Eppisode seemed to have taken it upon himself to find out what his offspring were doing in a way which was as insensitive as it was intrusive. Charles likened him to a family chronicler, who felt obliged to gather up every trivial detail for posterity, but who never quite got round to writing it down.
   "Okay, I need to get some stuff organized," said Charles. "Make sure it's on my laptop. I'll report to the FBI building in an hour. Okay?"
   "Okay," Don returned with the best show of confidence that he could manage.

Charles Eppisode spent most of the next two days in the office next to his brother's at the FBI building. Don reported to him three attempted invasions of the building by their father, who had been deflected at reception with the news that Agent Eppisode was out for the day and he would not be able to wait for his son in Don Eppisode's office. Charles just nodded and returned to his calculations each time.
   Aminta Hamujan came and went, wearing her visitor tag. She was on day-shift only, retiring to her apartment at seven o'clock each evening. Charles worked, ate and slept in the room with his computer terminal and left it only for trips to the rest room at the end of the corridor. The FBI agents around him quickly passed from amused to impressed by his dedication.
   Charles offered a preliminary conclusion late on Tuesday evening. Euphoria changed to let-down when a contact team reported that Charles had provided the address of an empty building, which was awaiting demolition. A cautious search of the building showed that it had been empty for a long time, unwanted even by squatters. The next trail from Charles' computer led to a little old lady who was reputed to be a minor loan shark.
   When Charles' program spat out another name and address late on Wednesday evening, Don sent in a contact team as a matter of routine. A sense of elation grew when they determined that the latest candidate for Lawrence was white, male, thirty-two and he lived on his own in a quiet neighbourhood in a building which he could leave unobserved at the back.
   The man's name was Ridley Strassberg. His criminal record consisted of a couple of speeding tickets issued five and eight years before. The good news was that everything that the team could find out about him matched predictions from the criminal identity profilers, and when it was fed into Charles' program, the probability that he was Lawrence kept improving. The bad news began when the task force started to consider what they could do with Charles' conclusion.
   "Okay, shut up, let's get a handle on this," Don Eppisode said in his loudest 'boss' voice to restore order in the open-plan office which most of the team occupied. "We think we know who Lawrence is but we have no evidence to base an arrest warrant on, and nothing to justify a search warrant for his home."
   "Maybe we should find a friendly judge and take a chance?" suggested Nick Zucker, the youngest member of the team.
   "What if we don't find anything at his house?" said Jerry Kake.
   "What if he doesn't talk?" Mike Ebrow added. "All we'll do is tell him we know who he is. Which will make him even more careful."
   "Or he might relocate somewhere else," said Don Eppisode, "and start again."
   "So what do we do?" said Mike.
   "The smart thing to do," Charles Eppisode said unexpectedly, "would be to call in your Head of Department, tell him you have a hot lead and let him make the decision."

Walter Darrick found himself in a quandary when he returned to the FBI building after leaving early to attend a family dinner under threat of violence from his wife if he failed to show up. Darrick had made a big show of handing responsibility for the Lawrence Case to Don Eppisode but he had insisted on remaining deeply involved in every decision and informed of every new lead. Now, he felt trapped into having to put his career on the line by deciding what to do about the mathematician's conclusions.
   After much discussion, Darrick went along with Don Eppisode's plan. Part of the team would follow the suspect the next morning, ready to jump on him if he tried to kidnap his next murder victim somewhere other than the place predicted by Charles' equations. Mike Ebrow and the rest of the team would be posted at the projected scene of the kidnapping, ready to take action if Charles was right.
   Later, in private, Don and Mike decide that the best thing to do would be to shoot the perp if he looked like kidnapping someone to murder and plead they did it to prevent a crime. They were both well aware of how insubstantial their 'evidence' would look to a court.

The next morning, on Murder Thursday, Ridley Strassberg left his home somewhat earlier than usual but by the front door. After what were clearly checks for pursuit, he headed for the underground car park which Charles had identified as the scene of his next kidnapping. An FBI team followed him, captured his movements on video, prepared for action, and found themselves frustrated. Lawrence just headed for his place of work, as normal, after visiting the target area.
   A reduced surveillance team stayed with Lawrence when the others returned to the FBI building for a conference. Walter Darrick arrived in the task force's offices ready to play the part of the head of department who had trusted his task force commander to do a job and been let down rather badly.
   "Okay, what went wrong?" Don Eppisode demanded in his most dangerous tone.
   "Nothing." Charles Eppisode looked completely unfazed as he smiled at his brother. "I'd suggest that was just a dry run. He doesn't kidnap his victims in the morning."
   "We don't know that," said Don.
   "It's what two of the profilers said," Jerry Kake mentioned. "He doesn't grab them in the morning and leave them somewhere while he's at work. He's not the type to leave them out of his control for that length of time."
   "We don't know if that's true," Don pointed out.
   "We don't know it's not," said Darrick, twisting his task force commander's tail.
   Charles Eppisode left them arguing round in circles and headed back to his temporary office. He had a feeling that he might be able to gather enough additional data to identify the victim.

As six o'clock on a dull evening approached, the surveillance team reported that Ridley Strassberg had left his office and he was heading in the wrong direction for home but the right direction for a kidnapping. Don Eppisode developed a sense of omnipotence as he watched Jerry Kale plot positions on her map and the suspect moved into the heart of a trap.
   Ridley Strassberg started shooting the moment the FBI agents identified themselves in the underground car park and demanded he surrender. The man whom Strassberg had been stalking took the first three bullets. Ridley was hit four times in the body and three times in the head. He was pronounced dead at the scene and he was found to be wearing body armour, which had not protected his head.
   Luckily for his intended victim, Agent David McNichol had taken his place. McNichol had not enjoyed being shot three times in his flak jacket, but he survived his brush with a killer lightly bruised and slightly deaf from the noise of the gunshots.
   Leaving Mike Ebrow supervising the crime scene, Don Eppisode rounded up a team of Crime Lab technicians and he and Jerry Kake headed for Strassberg's home. The search lasted well into the night and turned up precisely nothing connected with the eight rapes and three murders of the Lawrence Case.
   A technician with a metal-detector was sent out to search a communal garden area, to which Strassberg had enjoyed access. She turned up a small metal tin containing trophies from the second and third murder victims. Everyone knew that no competent defense attorney would have let the FBI link the tin with his/her client.
   Don Eppisode and Jerry Kale headed back to the FBI building confident that the Crime Lab would present another sizeable bill for its services but provide nothing useful in the way of evidence. They arrived to find an atmosphere of celebration in the task force's offices but everyone obeying the agency's strict 'no alcohol on the premises' rule. The team was a long way from closing the Lawrence Case officially but, barring copy-cats, everyone was confident that they would have no more trouble from their rapist turned killer.

Charles Eppisode lost interest in Lawrence as soon as the puzzle had been solved to his satisfaction. Feeling that he was on a roll, he dipped into the files of unsolved cases on the FBI computer system and found a sequence of bank robberies, which looked like a suitable candidate for his analysis system.
   Don Eppisode was surprised to find his brother still at work the next morning; he had more or less forgotten about Charles. The data on the work station's monitor screen meant nothing to Don but his brother captured his attention, and his imagination, with an announcement that the gang of bank robbers would strike again on the Friday of the following week.
   As his team was fully occupied with the routines of wrapping up the Lawrence Case, Don decided to score some points with his Head of Department. In the wake of a solid success, Walter Darrick was inclined to accept that Charles and his numbers could produce genuinely useful predictions.
   Agent Mike Ebrow suddenly found himself in charge of a small team, which had been assigned the task of discreetly gathering information on the bank robbers. Walter Darrick wanted Charles Eppisode to feed as much relevant data as possible into his computer program to find out how reliable his prediction was.
   Faced with the same problems over evidence with the bank robbers as they had had with Lawrence, Walter Darrick decided to set up another ambush. His FBI task force would surround the target bank and be ready to move in when the robbery went down. And if nothing happened, everyone would leave quietly and there would be no embarrassment for the agency; just a lot for Charles Eppisode.

Inevitably, someone spotted the FBI deployment on the day. The gang was entering the bank when Don Eppisode found himself in a huge row with Captain Armsted of the Los Angeles Police Department. Armsted saw it as his personal duty to reminds Don Eppisode that law enforcement in the L.A. area was not the exclusive job of the FBI. Otherwise, there would be no need for the L.A.P.D., the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, the California Highway Patrol and all the other law enforcement organizations in the area.
   The row was reaching epic proportions when subordinates crashed in on Eppisode and Armsted with warnings that something had gone wrong in the bank.
   Then the shooting started.

Charles Eppisode preferred to do his hospital visiting in the evening, when the medical staff had finished most of their work. But he felt obliged to visit his brother at the first opportunity, which turned out to be on Saturday morning. Don had been detained overnight for observation with suspected concussion. Part of a cornice of a building had struck him a glancing blow after being blasted loose by some sort of high-explosive ammunition.
   Don groaned internally at the sight of the man in cycling helmet and the knee- and elbow pads approaching his bed. He felt that there was something positively un-American about not using a car. Charles had brought him a crisp, new newspaper. Don had no need to study it to learn that a dozen people had died in and around the bank. The dead including five bank robbers, three of them women, two bank staff, one cop from the L.A.P.D. and four rubber-neckers, who had resisted the attempts of the cops in the street to drive them out of the danger area.
   Over fifty people, mainly rubber-neckers, had been injured by military weapons firing explosive ammunition. The hospital's Emergency Room had been packed out and the Mayor had spent a sleepless night making sure that there would be no adverse political fall-out from the massacre.
   "What's the state of the head?" Charles asked as he lowered himself onto a flimsy chair at his brother's bedside.
   "No concussion but I can't get out of here until the doctor says so," said Don.
   "One of the customers is getting the blame for the shooting match," said Charles. "She used to work at the bank and she set off one of the alarms. She must have forgotten the rule about doing nothing until the bad guys are off the premises."
   "What's Armsted saying?" Don growled.
   "With a dead cop on his hands, surprisingly little. Your chief, Mr. Darrick, can make a strong case that the police got in the way of your people and Armsted was positively obstructive."
   "At least we didn't start the shooting. I hope you've not been back into our filing system."
   "Actually," Charles admitted, "your Mr. Darrick did mention that. But I told him my program needs more work. In fact, I've decided to give up my career as an FBI consultant and return to the simple life of a college professor. Less blood and less responsibility for people dying."
   "You're going to stick to what you know?" said Don, offering ritual support to his brother but knowing that Walter Darrick would not let Charles desert so easily. Anything to do with computer intelligence was hot property at the agency and Charles had proved that numbers can be extra sexy.
   "Oh, oh," Charles said suddenly. "Here's the old man."
   Don Eppisode groaned internally and braced himself for embarrassment. Their father was sure to tell everyone in sight that his elder son was a hero. Being shot at by bank robbers was much easier to take. ■

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Created for Romiley Literary Circle by HTSP Web Division, 10 SK6 4EG, Romiley, G.B.
The original story Corin Pecuniary, 2005.