Chapter 1: Blood Poisoning (#325 Green)
Colby ignored Charlie’s pleading and kicking just as he ignored baby Ada’s cries for her afternoon bottle.
Colby was more interested in Charlie’s back. It was a blotchy red and white from fever but that was nothing. What had Colby’s attention were the deep scratches along Charlie’s back and the perfectly parallel lines of welts like he’d been beaten with something solid that had sharp edges.
Just the injuries would have Colby blind with fury under most circumstances but the smell made it all worse. It was the smell of infection, of wounds in unreachable places left untreated oozing yellow and green. One set of scratches at the small of Charlie’s back had small tendrils of black radiating under the skin. Colby had seen men die in third world shitholes from things like that. Charlie had stopped fighting and was simply pleading now. It was a jumble of words that Colby wasn’t really listening to. ‘Don’t tell, it’s not what you think,’ was the overriding theme.
Colby let Charlie up. He sprinted to the nursery. Colby followed. Charlie was curled up in the oversized rocker, his torso still bare trying to get Ada to take her bottle.
Colby picked up Ada’s baby bag and started packing all the things he thought an infant might need for a few days. Then he went down the hall, found a bag, and packed it with everything a mathematician might need for a few days. Then he went back to the nursery. Ada was feeding, Charlie was crying.
“Here’s how it’s going to work, you and Ada are coming with me and where we are going first is a hospital, then someplace safe where you can call your lawyer. And if you don’t like that idea plan B is calling the cops. Your choice.”
Chapter 2: Plan A (#98 Hospital)
Colby gently bounced Ada, trying to keep her calm, while the doctor cleaned and bandaged Charlie’s back, at times using a long needle to draw out the patches of pus. Colby could see Charlie’s face contorting against the pillow but he never made a sound.
Colby tried to decide what his next move was going to be. He hadn’t really thought anything through from the moment he noticed an odd stain on the back of Charlie’s shirt and caught a whiff of a sickly smell.
The nurse had already slipped him the domestic violence pamphlets and the number for a shelter even though the doctor had yet to officially ask what had happened. Now that he was standing in a hospital Colby curious as to how it happened. How things went from Larry talking about the power of love to Charlie with an IV of broad-spectrum antibiotics in his arm.
Colby knew what he wanted to do and it involved a pair of handcuffs slapped on just a little too tight. He also knew that if Charlie had gotten to this state without walking away then getting him to press charges would be damn near impossible.
Ada gurgled and started to doze off. Colby checked his watch. It was getting late in the day. At some point Amita would come home and find her husband and daughter AWOL then the shit would really hit the fan and as much as Charlie wanted to keep what was obviously a nightmare secret Colby just knew it would all be out by the end of the day. He looked at Charlie with his face pressed against the thin hospital pillow. Colby knew his next move had to be to get Charlie someplace secret and safe. Luckily there were people who owed him favors.
Chapter 3: On the Move (#310 Protect)
Colby gets Charlie someplace safe and starts putting plans into action.
Colby waited for Don to pick up before sending the pictures.
“Colby? Whose phone are you on?”
“It’s a burner phone so you can’t track me.”
“I just sent you some pictures. Look at them. I’ll wait.”
Colby pulled out the battery on Charlie’s phone and his work phone. He heard Don curse. “What the fuck are these? Where’s Charlie? Where’s Ada?”
“They’re with me,” Colby calmly answered. Slipping back into covert mode was proving to be quite easy. “And what you are seeing in blood poisoning. Lethal in third world countries. Shouldn’t even exist here except Charlie is being abused by his wife.”
There was a long stretch of silence. “Colby, put Charlie on the phone.”
“No.” Colby peeked through the motel window into the room that he had only rented for a few hours. “He’s feeding Ada then I’m moving him of a safe house.”
“Put Charlie on the phone!” Don snapped.
“No,” Colby repeated. “You failed Don. Those are lethally infected scratched, layers of bruising. She’s been beating him with something that’s leaving those parallel marks and you missed it. Fortunately Ada seems to be okay but they’re staying with me until Amita has been dealt with.”
“This is kidnapping.”
Colby went into the motel room and held the phone up to Charlie’s ear. He was sure Don was tracing the call and they didn’t have long.
“Chuck, when’s mom’s birthday?” Colby heard.
Charlie squeezed his eyes shut. “September,” he whispered.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I need to keep Ada safe,” Charlie sobbed.
Colby took the phone away. “Don, it’s not that I don’t trust you, I don’t trust Amita.” He hung up.
“September is our safe word. Any other month and I’m in trouble.”
“You are in trouble, but I’ll fix it.”
Chapter 4: Calling for Backup (#127 Spy)
Colby was glad he had kept his spy days escape plan in place. An untraceable car. Safe houses. Burner phones. Cash.
Colby knew the shit had to be hitting the fan at the FBI, but his first priority was to get Charlie and Ada settled. Charlie looked half dead as he collapsed onto the narrow bed. He had been quietly crying most of the drive. Colby couldn’t imagine what kind of hell Charlie had been living. He was sure the only reason Ada was unharmed was because Charlie was taking the full brunt of everything.
Colby had sent messages and images out to a few other people before calling Don. The first had been to Charlie’s lawyer. If there was ever a time for a quickie divorce this was it.
Colby check his new burner phone. The second set of messages had gone out to someone he knew was interested in Charlie’s wellbeing. Edgerton.
After a case and more than a few drinks Ian had confessed that he had a thing for Charlie. Colby doubted that Charlie returned the feelings but Colby knew that Ian would take one look at those photos and come.
The phone vibrated and Colby stepped into the other room to pick up. “Hello.”
“Granger, where the hell are you?” Ian asked.
“Good. I’ll be in LA by morning.” Ian’s voice was cold.
“Ian. We can’t kill her.” Colby thought it best to get that out of the way.
“Then what do you want from me?”
“Any leverage we can get. I haven’t talked Charlie into pressing charges yet and technically we just kidnapped an infant so I’m going to need eyes in the field.”
“No problem. If she’s got any other bad habits I’ll find them.”
“I know you will.”
Chapter 5: Where Fault Sits (#292 Insomnia)
It was 3AM and Charlie had managed to get Ada back to sleep but seemed unready to sleep himself.
“What happened?” Colby asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” Charlie replied sinking into a cheap kitchen chair. “I’ve been trying to trace it all day. It’s like bits of my mind are just blank and I’m so tired, but I also feel like I’m just waking up.”
Colby went to brush away a bit of hair that had fallen into Charlie’s face. Charlie flinched. Colby dropped his hand.
“She used to give me little shoves but Don used to do that. Little shoves or sometimes a good shake. Get Charlie’s head back into the real world.” Charlie closed his eyes. “I don’t know where it went wrong.” His voice cracked. “There must have been a tipping point. I must have done something to push her over but I can’t figure out what.”
Colby took Charlie’s hands trying to keep his own from shaking. Those were almost the exact words his sister had uttered before Colby walked out of the house, down to the bar and knocked his brother-in-law’s teeth in.
“Charlie, I need you to listen to me very carefully. You’re going to hear this a lot over the next few months. It might take you a while to believe it but none of this is your fault. None of it. Not a moment.”
Charlie opened his mouth to object.
“No. No one asks for this. No one drives someone else to this. There are no excuses. None. Not a single one in the world. Amita is responsible for her own actions and she will have to pay for what she has done to you and maybe someday you’ll understand and believe that but for now you should just try to sleep.
Chapter 6: Ways and Reasons (#105 Prison)
Ian and Amita have a little chat.
Ian waited quietly in the shadows of the garage. He had followed Amita for two days since the FBI cut her loose, unable to press any charges without Charlie. He followed her to her lawyer, then her lover. Don put a tail on her as well but Ian was better. Now he waited. She came in. Ian stepped out of the shadows and chambered a round. “One reason I shouldn’t kill you?”
Amita whipped around. “Edgerton. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Following you. You’re not exactly acting like a woman with a missing child and husband.”
Amita grabbed something off a table and raised her hand. “Get out of my house.”
Ian grabbed her wrist but not hard enough to leave marks. He took a ruler from her hand. It was metal with sharp edges and a bit of give. It would have left the rectangular bruises and parallel lines of welts.
“Is this what you used?” He let Amita yank her hand away.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What’s your excuse? Your justification?” Ian stalked closer. “Was he not attentive enough? Drank milk from the carton? Was it just that he’ll always be that little bit smarter than you? Enough to drive you nuts.”
Amita pushed him away. He gave her credit for balls or stupidity.
“You don’t know a thing.”
“Maybe not. I do know you’ll be in prison before I leave town which will be preferable to dead in a ditch, which was my first choice.
Amita’s eyes went cold; a million miles from the computer nerd he’d first met. Of course the Charlie he had last seen could stare into the eyes of killers without blinking.
“Charlie doesn’t have the balls to disappoint his family. And no one else would take him.”
Chapter 7: The Big Guns (#54 Mother)
Colby knew they’d have to poke their heads out sooner or later. His escape plan was for one adult, not two adults and an infant. If nothing else they were running low on diapers.
Ian was using burner phones same as Colby, relaying any new information he got. Don didn’t know Ian was around. There was no AMBER Alert or warrant’s issued as far as Ian knew. There seemed to some sort of unofficial blackout and a lot of rumors. Don and Alan had a public meltdown at each other. Amita had a lover. None of that changed the diaper situation.
Then Ian said he was sending someone. Someone he trusted implicitly.
There was a prearranged knock on the door. Colby opened it to a short, round woman with gray hair and a bright smile. Her arms were loaded with grocery bags.
“You must be Colby. I’m Karen.” Karen pushed her way in and went right to the tiny kitchen where Ada was being fed. She dropped the bags and took Charlie’s face in her hands. “And you must be Charlie, you poor dear. Well, don’t you worry about a thing. I’ve got formula, diapers, and Ian wasn’t sure if she was on solids yet so I got bananas. You can never go wrong with mashed bananas.”
Karen quickly tidied everything away.
“Now do either of you boys have a dollar? Or even some loose change?” Charlie and Colby looked at each other. Colby pulled some change out of his pocket. “Is eighty cents enough?”
“Perfect.” She took the change and handed a business card to each of them.
Attorney at Law
“Like I said boys, don’t you worry about a thing. This ain’t my first rodeo and I don’t believe in taking prisoners.”
Chapter 8: Once a Day (#238 Spark)
The worst moment of each day.
This was Colby’s least favorite part of the day but he was sure Charlie hated it more. Charlie would strip off his shirt. Colby would strip off the bandages. He would carefully inspect the state of each wound, apply antibiotic cream then re-bandage everything. The worst of the infected ones were still putting out a little heat and a few would scar but the black and green were gone. Even the bruises were heading towards yellow. Despite the improvement he tried to do it all with as little touching as possible since Charlie still flinched at nearly all human contact.
It was only Ada he wanted close to him. During the day he always kept her in his arms. At night she only slept a foot away. At the slightest sound he would scoop her up and whisk her away to another room. A habit of a lifetime. Her lifetime.
Charlie still didn’t want to talk much about everything that had happened. He was quiet most of the days seemingly content to hold Ada and stare at nothing. That possibly scared Colby more than anything else; the idea of Charlie not desperate to have a piece of chalk in his hand.
Colby taped the last bandage down and looked over Charlie’s naked spine. He was thinner than he should be. Not dangerously thin but certainly heading towards skinny.
Colby didn’t really swing that way but every day, in this moment, before Charlie pulled his shirt back on, he wanted to wrap his arms ever so gently around Charlie and just hold him close, whisper to him that everything would be fine and he was safe now.
He wanted to whisper that until Charlie believed him, until he stopped flinching, until that spark of genius flared in his eyes once again.
Chapter 9: Actions (#43 Manipulation)
Ian needs to talk Charlie into something.
Ian hadn’t gone to the wedding. He hadn’t been invited and he had been glad for that. He would have made a fool of himself. Now he wishes he’d taken the chance he’d seen years earlier.
He watched as Charlie fed his daughter. Ian knows she’s beautiful. She has her mother’s nose but all the rest his Charlie from his dark curls to sharp, curious eyes. Not that Charlie’s eyes were sharp now, they were still dull and frightened.
Ian read over his mother’s notes, taken over several interviews, then added his own observations.
They had enough to do a lot of damage but they needed one more thing and that was to get the law involved. That would be tricky. He was hoping that maybe anger would help.
He sat beside Charlie. “She’s beautiful.”
“Yeah,” he whispered.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Why not? I guess I should get used to them.”
Ian took breaths to steady himself. “Were you aware that you wife is having an affair?”
“No,” was Charlie’s answer with no other reaction. “I’m not surprised though. I wasn’t as attentive as I should have been. I should have tried harder. I mean who else is going to have me.”
Ian dug his fingers nails into his palms.
“There are more people who would have you than you think.” Charlie just twitched a shoulder.
“Charlie, I went to your house.” Charlie looked up. “I found a ruler in your garage.” Charlie flinched. “I know what she did. If she did it to you how long would it have taken for her to start on Ada?” Charlie curled his body over Ada’s. “What she did was wrong and actions need to have consequences.”
“She’s not a bad person.” Charlie mumbled.
“She’s not a good one either.”
Chapter 10: A Statement (#251 Speak)
It’s time for Charlie to speak to the law.
Gary Walker hadn’t dealt with a domestic violence report since he moved up from patrol officer. That was until Charlie Eppes was asked to name a cop he trusted. Gary hit the record button on the tape deck.
“This is a statement by Dr. Charles Eppes pertaining to charges of domestic assault at the hands of his wife Dr. Amita Ramanujan. Present are Lt. Gary Walker, LAPD. Dr. Charles Eppes, Karen Edgerton attorney and Ada Eppes, infant.” Gary cleared his throat. “Dr. Eppes, can you tell me when the first assault took place?”
“It was when we were still in England. She always used to give me little shoves but my brother also did that. She got pregnant and she started hitting. Little taps at first then harder. I thought it was just hormones or something.”
“Did you ever tell anyone about it?”
“No. I thought it would stop after Ada was born.”
“Did she ever strike or threated you with a weapon or other object?”
Charlie swallowed hard and didn’t raise his eyes from Ada who was clutched to his chest.
“Can you elaborate?”
“I had an idea pertaining to knot theory and data transfer rates. I went into the garage.”
“You usually work on math in your garage?” Gary knew the answer but other people needed to hear.
“Yes. I have my chalk boards set up in there. I had my headphones on. Then there was this pain across my arm. I dropped my chalk. Amita was standing there with a metal ruler and she looked so mad at me. I hadn’t heard her call. After that whenever she was mad at me about something…”
Gary wouldn’t have believed a word if he hadn’t seen the pictures. He took a breath and moved to the next question.
Chapter 11: Truth and Lies (#15 Home)
Ian tries to tell Charlie the truth.
Ian watched as Ada fed, her tiny hands gripping the bottle. Her eyes, dark like Charlie’s, flitted about the dingy room. He wondered if it was true that people remembered everything; if she would always remember, in a tiny corner of her mind, a barren room in a safe house and her father’s tears.
Ian sat next to Charlie. Charlie didn’t move but he didn’t shy away.
“You’re going home, Charlie, in another day or two.” This time Charlie did flinch. “It’ll be okay. It’ll be safe first. I’ll make sure of that.” Ian just touched his fingers to Charlie’s knee. “Charlie.” Ian’s mouth started to go dry. “I know what she’s been telling you.” Charlie’s head turned sharply away. “It’s all lies. You’ve never disappointed anyone and there are so many people who would have you in their lives.” Charlie’s head dropped.
Ian’s head turned at the sound of footsteps stopping by the bedroom door. Colby stood there looking at them. The look was not entirely friendly. Ian removed his hand from Charlie’s knee. Colby knew where his tastes lay. Ian wasn’t sure about Charlie. There was a time years earlier when Ian though for a moment Charlie may have looked his way, but Ian knew it could just as easily have been a half constructed dream.
Ian folded his hands into his lap like a child being scolded. He hadn’t been making any kind of move on Charlie but he didn’t want Colby getting the wrong idea.
Colby stepped into the room. “Charlie?” Charlie looked up. “Will you be okay on your own for a few hours? Ian and I need to take care of something but it shouldn’t take long. I’ll leave you a phone?”
Charlie nodded. “I’ll be okay.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t be gone long.”
Chapter 12: Papers and More Papers (#103 Arrest)
Time for Amita to face the music.
Colby planed it all like a covert mission making sure everyone was in their place. Karen took the lead with Gary flanking as they rounded the back of the craftsmen. It felt cold. Colby could hear voices raised. Don, Alan, Amita.
“Oh Good. Everyone’s here.” Karen took out a stack of papers. “Doctor Amita Ramanujan, this is a restraining order. You are to keep 500 yards, or 457 meters if you prefer the metric, away from your husband Doctor Charles Eppes at all times and have no contact except through legal counsel.” Amita’s jaw dropped open. Karen handed over another stack of papers. “This is a suit for damages both physical and psychological received via extended abuse.” Amita still looked shocked. “Divorce papers of course. I’ve slipped in some stills of you and your toy boy.”
“What?” Don and Alan snapped eerily in sync.
“A copy of our petition to the FBI that your security clearance be revoked pending an investigation into assault charges.”
“You can’t do that!” Amita final found her voice.
“Oh, and of course a suit for full custody of Ada Eppes. And I suggest you not fight that one.”
Karen stepped aside and Gary stepped forward. “Dr. Ramanujan you are under arrest for assault and domestic violence.”
“Charlie will never go through with this.” Amita snarled as Gary slipped on the cuffs. “And I have a good lawyer.”
Karen smile and held up her card so Amita could read it. She also handed one to Don and Alan. “I hear they call my boy over there the bastard son of Clint Eastwood and Yoda. Well I got news for you dearie, I ain’t Yoda.”
Colby wanted to laugh at the look on Amita’s face but he was too busy bracing himself for what was coming next.
Chapter 13: Some Realities (#101 Interrogation)
Colby, Karen, Don and Alan sit down for a chat.
Colby had sent Ian back to Charlie for everyone’s good. And overemotional sniper was not needed in this situation. He and Karen sat on one side of Charlie’s dining room table. Don and Alan sat on the other going through copies of pictures and statements documenting Charlie’s hell. A hell they had missed.
“Where are they?” Don asked.
“You know I could have you arrested right now.”
“Donnie!” Alan snapped. His hands had been shaking since Amita had been dragged away. “Is Charlie okay?”
“He’s healing. Physically at any rate. Mentally…” Colby gave a small shrug.
“She’s started gumming on some green banana the other day.”
Alan lowered his head with a choked off sob. “I am so sorry.” His voice cracked. “I just though… Charlie said he was fine. Tired. New babies are hard and…”
Don’s jaw was locked tight and his fingers looked like they were trying to drill through the hardwood table. “When will Charlie becoming home?” Each word was controlled.
“When some legalities have been sorted out and when he feels safe to do so.” Karen answered. “He has been abused. Get used to that word, boys. His own home, and his own family, no longer feel safe to him and may not for some time.”
Don lowered his head.
“Don, one of the things they teach you in counter interrogation training is that if you hear something enough times you start to believe it. You tell a genius he’s stupid enough, that he’s a disappointment, that no one else will have him. Tell him he’s weak, make him feel alone.” Colby’s fingers began to dig into the wood as well.
“Whatever relationship you three had look forward to rebuilding it from scratch. Charlie’s got a long road ahead. He’ll need you there.”
Chapter 14: Breaking News (#156 Anxiety)
Ian delivers some news to Charlie.
Ian settled himself beside Charlie. He watched Ada play with a multicolored rattle.
“Are you okay to talk, Charlie?”
“Sure.” Charlie expressions was hovering between scared and numb.
“We’ve arrested Amita.” Charlie’s head whipped around so fast Ian actually heard a pop. “There’s also a restraining order in place. She can’t get anywhere near you or Ada. You can go home now, if you want.”
Charlie jumped to his feet, scooped up Ada, and ran to the bedroom. Ian grinned. Spending an hour in the drab little safe house got under his skin. He couldn’t imagine what days on end was doing to Charlie.
He strolled into the bedroom to help Charlie pack. Instead of packing he found Charlie curled into the corner, Ada clucked to his chest. His breathing harsh, ragged, and far too fast.
He flinched, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Charlie, can you calm down a little? Take a couple of deep, slow breaths.”
Charlie shook his head.
“Okay.” Ian took a seat next to Charlie, against the wall, careful not to touch, but he wanted to. He watched an ant crawl across the rug then up the wall. Charlie’s breathing slowly calmed.
“So, I’m guessing the panic attacks are new?”
“Old,” Charlie whispered. “Very old.”
Ian wondered if it was school, running from bullies. Or maybe college, forced to present himself as an adult well before his time.
“You’re safe, Charlie. I promise you that. You don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want. You don’t have to do anything you’re not ready for. And I’m not going anywhere. Not for a while yet.”
Ian reached out and gently set his hand on Charlie’s knee. Charlie slowly leaned until his head was resting against Ian’s shoulder. Ian watched another ant crawl up the wall.
Chapter 15: Namesakes (#389 First)
They finally get Charlie out of the safe house.
It had taken pointing out the black mold growing under the sink to get Charlie out of the safe house. The compromise position became Colby’s apartment since Charlie still feared returning home. Colby and Ian had made a raid on the craftsmen to get fresh clothes, supplies and Ada’s cradle which was now installed in Colby’s guest room.
Looking around he wished he could repaint the room. It was nearly as drab as the safe house. A cheery yellow or soft green would be better. Charlie didn’t seem to mind however, not witIh the way he was splayed out on the guest bed, snoring softly, Ada still only a hairs breath away.
He looked peaceful and Colby was hesitant to wake him, even for the dinner Ian was laying on the table. He had invited himself along on their little move and it turned out the scariest guy in the FBI could cook.
Ada murmured in her sleep and Charlie’s eyes flung open.
“She’s fine,” Colby said quickly. “She’s asleep.”
Charlie still rolled over and peered into the cradle.
“We named her after Ada Lovelace,” Charlie said softly, brushing aside her dark curls.
“Yes. Arguably the first computer programmer. She worked on Babbage’s Analytical Engine.”
“She was the daughter of Byron. Her mother insisted she study mathematics and science so she wouldn’t turn out like her father. He had no contact with her but she still insisted on being buried beside him.”
Colby sat beside Charlie. “Ada will grow up smart, strong and she will chose a path in life that will make her happy.”
Charlie let out a long sigh. “I’m still scared Colby. I’m afraid of losing her, of hurting her…”
Colby grabbed his hand. “She is safe. Nothing will happen to her. I promise.”
Chapter 16: In His Corner (#286 Change)
Robin knows it’s time for her and Charlie’s relationship to change.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Robin knew, or at least she should have known. That’s what she kept telling herself. Things had felt wrong. Not in any obvious fashion but just off enough that her prosecuting lawyer senses tingled. She had ignored them. She chalked them up to her lack of familiarity with babies or even parents. She told herself that the cold that seemed to have seeped into the craftsman was just in her imagination. It was unthinkable, after all, that Charlie and Amita would ever have anything but nerd love between them.
Robin wished on so many levels she was wrong. That she had listed to her instincts. That perhaps she was just a little closer to Charlie. That she didn’t have to witness the Eppes family fall apart.
It had taken hours to get the truth from Don one night before he finally held out his phone and showed her pictures of septic wounds on Charlie’s body. She ended up holding Don that night while his body rattled with warring emotions. She didn’t mention that she’d had bad feelings since before Ada was even born.
The day Amita was arrested Robin made a choice. Don and Alan might have been unsure how to approach Charlie, to regain his trust, but Robin was going to make sure Charlie knew she was in his corner.
She knocked on Colby’s door. He knew she was coming and was quickly let in. She was led into the living room where Ada was rolling on a brightly colored mat. Charlie stood as she approached.
Robin stepped close and loosely wrapped her arms around Charlie. “I’m sorry.” He went instantly rigid. “I should have known. I should have said something. And I want you to know from here on out I’ll do everything I can to help.”
I was never a big fan of the Don/Robin relationship for various reasons but I refuse to believe that Robin would put up with this kind of shit happening in her family.