Random Variables and Heuristic Solutions

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Part Eleven

Heuristic Solution Numb3r Thirteen (Salvo's Italian Restaurant – Day 40, 8 .00pm)

It was Thursday night in downtown LA, and the evening was relatively quiet. Salvo's restaurant was already two thirds full, a testament to the quality of its food. Don held up the menu in his good hand and pretended to scan it for a minute. In reality, it was a waste of time. He knew what he wanted to eat. Besides, as much as he hated to admit it, he just needed to sit and relax for a while in an attempt to recover his composure. The car ride had left him a little shaky. He still felt so damned tired. Barely five weeks since the fiasco had happened – Don felt about ten years older.

A day or two after he'd woken-up, Don had collared Ian Goldberg. He'd waited until dad and Charlie had gone and then demanded all the gory details. Goldberg hadn't pulled any punches with him, right down to the part where he had died. Twice. Once in the ambulance, apparently, and again in the ICU. The second time, the kicker being, it was right in front of dad. No wonder Charlie had freaked out on him – had been frightened and so full of anger. It was probably why dad looked so haunted. Why his hair seemed a shade more silvery when he sat underneath the light.

One blow from a stupid crowbar.

Don couldn't expect to bounce back from this. His body had been too battered. However much he might have played hardball with Merrick, it was his own fault for being stubborn. For ignoring the fact he was not indispensable and hiding behind the job. The consequences had been a disaster. He had almost paid the ultimate penalty. But the reason he felt so guilty was because he'd hurt Charlie and dad.

Don knew it was going to take some time. He just had to be a little more patient. As hard as it was, he was forcibly grounded and would have to put up with the frustration.

"So," Alan peered at him over the menu. "As you don't appear to have read a single word, I take it you already decided?"

Don gave a reluctant grin. "Guess I already did."

"Let me guess," Charlie was pretty sure of himself. "The statistical probability of you choosing seafood linguini must be . . ."

"Pizza." Don folded the menu, decisively. "Peppers, pepperoni and ham. Heavy on the mozzarella."

Alan chuckled and shook his head while Charlie stared at Don, dumbfounded.

"Wait – we come all the way to Salvo's - my treat, by the way, and you decide you want pizza?"

Don shrugged, and put his menu down on the table. "That's what I'm saying, I want pizza. Been thinking about it all day. And besides, you told me you got vouchers. Vouchers, incidentally, because they messed up my phone-call, so you could argue this one's on me."

"That's the worse case of fuzzy logic I ever heard." Charlie rolled his eyes. "Your phone-call was merely a random variable in an entire sequence of events."

His voice faltered suddenly at the memory of that evening and Alan jumped in hurriedly. He was clearly enjoying the banter, and didn't want past events to cloud things.

"Now hold on a minute, Charlie, I think your brother may have a point. We wouldn't have received the complimentary vouchers unless they'd forgotten Don's call."

"Oh, Man," Charlie shook his head with resignation, and decided to quit at this point. It would be easy to argue Don into oblivion but his heart just wasn't in it.

Even now, just over one month later, Don was still pale and washed-out. The planes and angles of his face were shadowed, accentuated by the darkness of his eyes. Tonight, he was wearing a black silk shirt. He didn't fill it quite as well as he used to. The severity of the fabric against his skin threw him into sharp relief. In the soft glow of the candle-light, he looked almost gothic, like he'd walked straight out of the pages of Bram Stoker.

The waitress interrupted Charlie's train of thought as she brought their wine to the table. He noticed her eyes stray over to Don – gothic vampire, or not.

It didn't take long to give her their order and Don stuck to his decision. 'Maybe pizza wasn't such a bad idea,' Charlie thought, with a little hindsight. Don needed the extra calories. A little more meat on his bones.

"A toast -" Alan filled all their glasses with Barolo. He even poured some into Don's.

"Wait a minute, you're allowing me alcohol?" There was the hint of a smile in Don's sarcasm. "It must be some occasion, if I finally get to come off the wagon."

Alan ignored him and raised his glass. He looked across the table at his sons. "This year, for obvious reasons, we missed out on a proper Thanksgiving." He cleared his throat hastily as he nodded at Don, a suspicion of moisture in his eyes. "I think we need to rectify that omission. This year, perhaps more than any year, this family has a lot to give thanks for."

"Hear, hear," said Charlie, firmly, his own gaze locked on his brother.

"To us, and mom." Don's voice was soft and a little bit husky. "The family, Eppes." The wine glowed ruby in the candlelight as he lifted his glass in a toast. "Because, in the end, it's all about family, right?"

"Yeah," said Charlie. "It's all about family." He looked across at his brother and acknowledged the private salute. Don had said those self-same words to him on another, poignant, occasion. "To us all, the family Eppes."

Both Charlie and dad had tears in their eyes as their glasses met with a ring of crystal. Don took a mouthful of the very good Barolo – his own weren't entirely dry. Another year in California. Another year spent with his family. There was a time when he wouldn't have thought it. When he wouldn't have considered coming home. And yet, here they were, the three of them, all mushy and sentimental with each other. Don knew, right then, it was special. He wouldn't have it any other way.

It was so damned easy to break things. Especially things which were fragile. The events of the last month had reminded them of that. Had brought matters too close to home.

One blow from a stupid crowbar.

It had almost broken his life.

When Don thought of the upset and potential damage, it still made him feel acutely sick. Death or the loss of a kidney. A grief-stricken, Alan and Charlie. His team in tatters – an FBI inquest. All of it - it had so nearly happened.

All down to a series of arbitrary quirks, the random interference of chance. When fate decided to mess with your life, it had the power to turn things upside down. Don sighed. He was avoiding something big. The fact that Terry was leaving. It was the one, irrevocable, result of this mess that Don knew he still had to deal with.

He didn't want to think about it tonight.

The waitress brought the food to the table and blushed prettily as he gave her a smile. 'Way to go, Eppes,' he thought, ironically. 'You still got it, you can still get 'em – it's just the keeping them that's hard.'

Don looked at the size of the pizza and felt his stomach shrink. There was no-way in a million years he'd manage to eat the whole thing. He'd be lucky to get through a miserable third, the way his appetite was. On the other hand, he had to force some of it down. Dad and Charlie still worried about him.

"I think Don's regretting the linguini." Charlie wouldn't leave it alone. "Although, perhaps we should have asked for turkey, seeing this is Thanksgiving by proxy."

Don looked across at his father and grinned. Charlie had walked right into it. Alan rolled his eyes expressively - this one was too good to miss.

"We already got us a turkey, bro." Don drawled, as Charlie took a huge bite of food. "He's gobbling his way through some garlic bread. Even now, as we speak."

"Hey!" Charlie feigned indignation and pointed towards Don's lean abs. "I'm not the one who needs fattening-up. Turkey is, as turkey does."

Don smiled at him complacently and gestured across to the waitress. "It's called the lean and hungry look – and the ladies seem to like it."

"Yeah, right." Charlie retorted. "You look like you just flew in from Transylvania – in-spite of the broken wing. She was probably wondering whether to bring you a pint of blood or put some extra garlic on your pizza."

"Yeah? – Probably trying to figure out a way to sink her teeth into my neck . . ."

Alan snorted, and listened with half an ear, as the insults flew back and forth. He truly had a lot to be thankful for – he meant it with all his heart. The reality of Don's brush with death remained hard for him to deal with. He still woke up at night in a tangle of bedclothes with his eldest son's name on his lips.

The surreal march of days and nights when he'd prayed for a miracle in the ICU. The implacable feeling of terror that time Don's heart had stopped beating. Alan knew those things would haunt him forever. There was no exorcising this particular ghost. Just when he thought he'd comes to terms with Don's job, life had taught him a salutary lesson. One, perhaps, he should already have learned when Margaret was snatched away.

He would never take his loved ones for granted again. Today, did not guarantee tomorrow. They had just about survived this ordeal intact, but nothing was carved in stone. All the more reason to make the most of what of they had. To live for, and enjoy, every moment. Alan took a mouthful of his veal parmigiana and determined to do just that.

Because, in the end, it was all about family. His older son was absolutely right.

"Hey," he brushed the remnant of moisture from his eyes and interrupted his bickering offspring. If life was going to carry on as normal, it may as well start right now. "Did you boys decide on dessert?"


Lisa Paris - 2006