Special thanks to the ladies who introduced me to Numb3rs, and to the one who encouraged me to go ahead and write this one.
No real warnings, just mild, blink-and-you-might-miss-them spoilers for Uncertainty Principle and Judgment Call.
D is for Dad . . . and Don
His hands were shaking. He squeezed them closed, and for the third time in as many minutes, reached for his cell phone. The reaction had become subconscious. He'd resisted before, but this time he gave in and retrieved the small silver device from its place, tucked in the inside pocket of his blazer
Its surface was warm in his palm, reminding him of the call he'd made. How long ago had it been?
The conversation had been short, and probably not all that coherent on his part. At first he hadn't been sure that he'd wanted to do it so soon, but his hands had gravitated toward the phone, pushed the speed dial button.
"Eppes." The usual response had greeted him after the second ring, the voice mildly distracted but sparing a moment.
"Donnie?" He hated the way his voice had come out. Shaky. Shook up. "Have I caught you at a bad time? I could call a cab, or maybe --"
"Dad? Hold up, slow down." The voice on the other end cut into his rambling, increasing in volume. "What's happened? Tell me what's going on."
Alan took a breath and made a conscious effort to do what Don asked. "There's been an accident," he said, allowing his eyes to focus on the gathered law enforcement officials, emergency vehicles and onlookers. Beyond them, the black of a tire and a bit of the silver painted body of his car was visible. He quickly turned away and focused on the asphalt beneath where he sat.
"It was an automobile accident, Donnie. I don't think I can drive the car. I'm probably going to need a ride home."
"Accident? Where are you? Are you hurt?" Don had shot the questions at him amid of a flurry of background motion and Alan knew that he was on his way. It was just a matter of time.
Yet, here he sat on the side of the road, cradling for his phone, wanting to hear his son's voice again. Don would be steady. Don would understand.
Of course, it had been an accident, plain and simple. It wasn't as if he hadn't been in one before. One could hardly live in LA as long as he had without experiencing at least one fender bender. Never mind raising two boys.
Accidents happened, and people died every day because of them and other mundane things. He was no stranger to those things. But he had never personally been responsible for someone's death. He had never before been placed in a position where he had to make a choice, someone else's life or his own.
It had started so simply. He'd been driving along West Hacienda thinking of nothing more than whether or not he'd test drive his new BBQ recipe on his sons that weekend, when he'd passed a group of brightly dressed bicyclers.
It was the mop of dark curly hair poking out from beneath one of their helmets that had started him chuckling and gotten the memory going. It was so vivid, even for having occurred more than twenty-odd years prior.
He had been rushing that day, having dropped by home during his lunch hour. A sound from outside caught his attention when he reached for his keys and he'd altered his motion so that he was angled closer to the side window. What he saw halted him in his tracks.
It was one of those lovely spring days when the sun filtered just right through the trees, bathing everything in soft light. It shone on his children like spot-lighted blessings from above.
Pride had welled up in him as he watched his older son teaching his younger son to ride a bicycle. Donnie, looking so serious and protective, hovered close, giving pointers that were too quiet for Alan to hear. It seemed absurdly normal to see his exceptionally gifted yet physically awkward child struggling with something as ordinary as learning to keep the two-wheeled vehicle upright. The bicycle wobbled along the driveway for several yards before tilting far enough to the side that Charlie had to stop.
His excited laughter and Don's enthusiastic encouragement reached Alan through the glass pane. The sounds were still echoing in his mind's eye when he felt the first shimmy. The smile that always came with that particular memory had barely faded when he felt something give deep within the bowels of the automobile.
The steering wheel pulled unexpectedly to the left, causing a warning screech against the pavement as the car veered violently.
Instinct had taken over then. He'd slammed his foot on the brake, his only goal to get the badly slewing car stopped. But in that space between heartbeats when the tortured squealing of rubber against unforgiving pavement seemed to go on and on, another group of cyclists appeared over the rise.
Horror washed through him. There was no way he would get stopped in time.
The group of riders were dead ahead. A gaping 12 foot drop-off occupied one side of the road and oncoming traffic the other.
His choice made, Alan yanked the wheel to one side with all his might. The spin changed sickeningly, adding another axis of motion. The little car shuddered and then there was the complete absence of sound as the tires left the pavement. The quiet lasted a lifetime as the view made a slow spin and then touched down in a stomach lurching crunch.
Alan was certain he'd never clearly remember getting out of the upside down car. It was a blur of colorful outfits and worried faces. Someone must have dialed 911 because shortly afterward he heard sirens. The officers had been buzzing around the scene ever since. They'd checked in with him and made sure he was in one piece and, he thought, gotten a statement. They had even gotten the traffic moving again, allowing other vehicles to alternately squeeze through a middle section of the road.
The sound of another siren reached his ears and he wondered which branch of the emergency response it might represent. The police cruisers on the scene did have their lights flashing, but no sirens had been left on and there were surely enough of them on hand. He'd declined an ambulance and the fire truck was parked farther up the road. He hoped that nothing had happened to any of the onlookers.
The sound of the siren drew closer. Alan watched in fascination as a sea of SUVs and passenger vehicles parted to allow the newcomer passage.
A black Suburban rolled through the gap, lights still flashing in its dash as it pulled in sloppily behind one of the cruisers. The door swung open and Don stepped out.
Alan felt something approaching calmness come over him. He watched as Don flashed his badge and said something to the patrolman who approached him, but he never stopped moving in Alan's direction. And then he was there in front of him.
"Are you alright? Are you hurt?" Don's hands went over him in a frantic inventory before he helped him to his feet. "What the hell happened?" He looked in the direction of the car, still upside down in the ditch, then back toward Alan for a response.
"I flipped the car, Donnie." Alan couldn't help that it came out sounding contrite.
"Yeah, I can see that. What happened?" Don gave him another once over. "Are you sure you're not hurt?"
"I'm fine. Not a scratch."
Don stared at him for several long moments, some of his initial intensity fading. "You're sure? Nothing hurts?"
"I promise you. No bones are broken. You know, I'm starting to feel like I'm the child and you're the parent. What's next? Are you going to take away my driving privileges?"
A corner of Don's mouth twitched. "That depends – was it your fault?"
"It was the car. Something went wrong with it." Alan looked away. Then would have been a good time to explain what had happened when he'd seen those riders in front of him, to tell Don about the expressions of horror he'd caught on the faces of the bikers who had looked back. But the words wouldn't come and the moment of silence dragged on too long.
"You mean like a blowout or something?" Don pressed, breaking into the quiet.
Alan glanced back up and noticed Don's frown. "Yeah – something like that. I'm sure they'll check it out."
"I'm sure they will." Don's tone was thoughtful. "Why don't you go ahead and get in the car while I square things up with the officer-in-charge?"
"I already got all the information. I have been through this before, you know."
"Professional courtesy," Don insisted and started moving them toward the Suburban.
"Fine." Alan had the distinct feeling of being escorted. But he let Don have his way and climbed up into the truck. The cushioned seats felt good to muscles that were already beginning to stiffen up. He was really going to feel it tomorrow.
"I'll be right back," Don said, before he slammed the door shut and moved off toward several uniformed officers and then out of view.
Alan settled back into the chair and watched the wrecker crew through the side view mirror as they made several attempts to draw the car up from the deep ditch. It no longer felt like his vehicle, and he knew that even if they repaired it, he would never drive it again.
The driver's side door opened and Don climbed up beside him.
"It looks like they're having some trouble." Alan nodded toward the scene. "I'll bet Charlie has some algorithm about the right angle of attack or something."
"When were you planning on telling me you flipped the car on purpose?"
Alan turned back toward his son, noted the anger in his voice. "I didn't start my day this morning with the goal of ending up upside down in a ditch. It wasn't exactly done on purpose."
"Well that isn't what the skid patterns say, or the statements of the eye-witnesses."
"Those bicycle riders were right in front of me, Donnie. There were so many of them and no way I could stop in time. I just reacted. It was the only thing I could do to keep from hitting them. Did the skid patterns or statements happen to tell you that?"
Don's tone softened. "Yeah, they said that, too. But why didn't you tell me? Were you even going to? Why did I have to find out from some street cop's notes?"
"I suppose I could've downplayed it."
"What are you talking about?"
"You know, Donnie, like when you get shot and tell me you were scratched by a bullet, or that you were just in the vicinity of gunfire."
"That's different, Dad. That's my job!"
Alan smiled and nodded. "I know. As a part of your job you put your life on the line for other people. And that's why I thought you might be able to understand what happened out there. But when I wanted to tell you about it, the words wouldn't come out."
"Dad . . ."
"I think in that moment I understood a little about why you don't tell us a lot about the things that happen with you at work, especially if it was a close call. And I can't tell you how much the thought of that terrifies me. But you protect people; it's what you do best. I've come to terms with that."
"Dad . . ."
"Something else terrified me today, though. It was the thought that those boys on those bikes were someone else's children who would die if I didn't do something. So I did what I had to. It was the right thing to do."
Don let his head drop back against the seat and there were long moments of quiet. Then, "So you were the protector today."
"I was what I am every day."
"Yeah," was what Don said, but the look he gave him said so much more. "I'm really glad you're okay, Dad. In the future, try not to give me heart failure like that, okay?"
"I believe that's my line," Alan replied.
Don grinned. "Let's get out of here."