Ashes To Ashes And Dust To Dust
*This story was written in 1997, and is similar to And The Angel Wore A Cowboy Hat, and California Dreamin’ in that it’s up to the reader to decide if Rick is dreaming, or if he, on occasion, visits an alternate Simon universe. Though these types of stories are a bit unorthodox, I had fun stretching my writing imagination when I was penning them.
*This story makes reference to the aired episode, May The Road Rise Up, and follows the time-line and events set forth in that episode for Jack Simon’s death.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The undertaker led Rick Simon into the casket room. Though the politically correct term was no longer undertaker, it was Funeral Home Director. And the Funeral Home Director no longer showed you to the 'casket room' but rather encouraged you to choose, "The vessel for your loved one's final rest." As though your loved one was simply taking a short trip across town, and not making the most permanent departure of all.
The man bypassed the less expensive caskets, those made of low grade, light-weight steel. Instead, he led Rick directly to a wall of highly polished oak and mahogany models.
sure you want the best for your brother, Mr. Simon."
"Oh yeah," Rick agreed. "He deserves the best, all right. I always promised A.J. I'd send him out in style."
The man didn't so much as blink at the detective's flippant remark. He'd dealt with thousands of grieving people over the years, and been witness to all types of emotional outbursts. Some clients were so distraught over the loss of their loved one he was forced to make all their decisions for them. Some families broke into fights right in front of him as brothers and sisters argued over which casket to bury dear old Mom in. Some people were stoic, showing little emotion as if the recently departed was barely more than a stranger they'd just met the previous day. And some hid behind humor, like Rick Simon, in an effort to keep their grief from spilling forth like floodwaters through a broken damn.
The director reeled off prices from memory while talking about the advantages of this casket over that one. Rick had little hope of keeping up with all the man said, finally settling on nodding his head at what seemed like appropriate intervals.
"And the lining in all these models here is satin. As you can see, the pillow is satin, too. Quite comfortable as well, I might add. Stuffed with goose down."
"A.J. was allergic to goose down."
The man eyed Rick, trying to gauge whether he was serious or not. When Rick brushed at his eyes as though wiping away tears, the director cleared his throat.
"Oh...uh...I see. Well, we have several other options. Fiber filled, cotton filled..."
strained to see in the caskets.
"Do you have one that's kinda flat?"
"Yeah. A.J. never did like his pillows real fluffy. Said it made his neck hurt."
The director scurried around the room, trying to find something that would please his client.
"Now, Mr. Simon, we can transfer any of these linings and pillows from one casket to another."
like Burger King, huh?"
know, hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us."
yes rather like Burger King. A unique
comparison, but an appropriate one, nonetheless."
walked up to a solid oak casket with a gold crest on the lid. "How much did you say this one
thousand dollars. And a beautiful
choice she is. They don't come finer
than this. She was hand-crafted by
artisans in Germany. This casket
literally speaks of how much the one she cradles was loved."
"Yeah, A.J. was a pretty good guy. And what the heck, we’ve got insurance for this kinda stuff, so why not. It's like I've always said, nothin's too good for my baby brother...provided someone else is payin' for it, a' course."
want a spray of roses, too."
"Oh yes. For the casket. With a banner that says ‘Brother.’ You mentioned your mother was too distraught to come with you?"
"Well, I didn't say distraught exactly. Actually, it was her day to host the canasta club. You know how gnarly those senior citizens can be when an outing they're planning gets canceled."
"Um, yes. Yes, I suppose I do."
anyway, Mom's sittin' down at the canasta table right about now. But actually, that works out
it would upset her so to be making these decisions with you?"
"Upset her? No, not really. She's a tough old bird. It works out okay because she has to make a lot of food when it's her turn to host the canasta gals. Why, I'm not sure because all of those ladies are always on diets anyway. But that's good, too, ‘cause this way we figure there'll be quite a bit left over for the funeral luncheon. You know, saves on the catering bill and all."
"Oh...well, yes, I see where that would be a savings."
"But that's A.J. for you. Always thinking of his family. I wouldn't be surprised if he timed his passing this way knowing Mom had to be in the kitchen anyway."
"Yes. How...thoughtful of him. So as I was saying, your mother will surely want a spray of roses on the coffin with a banner that says ‘Son.’"
"And that's important, huh?"
much does it cost?"
"Now you understand these would be the biggest, healthiest roses we can get."
"Wouldn't want anything less for my baby brother."
"Two hundred dollars for each spray."
"Two hundred for each one? Geez, seems a little steep, even for A.J., but okay, we'll take 'em. And how about one more spray?"
"One more? From your brother's wife, perhaps."
he wasn't married. From my dog."
"Yep. With a banner that says ‘Surrogate Master.’"
"That's a bit unusual."
an unusual dog."
"I'm sure he must be. But yes, Mr. Simon, I can arrange another spray with a banner to read as you requested."
cool. You don't mind if my dog comes to
pay his last respects, do you?"
"No, I don't mind. Provided the dog is well behaved."
he's well behaved all right. Now A.J.
might try to tell you a different story but..." Rick broke off with a
gasping sob. He dropped his head,
covering his eyes with his hand.
Simon? Mr. Simon, are you all
"Yeah...yeah. Just give me...give me...a second ple...please. I keep...keep...keep doing that. Keep forgetting he's...he's...he's gone. That he ain't gonna tell you about Rex's fleas, or how he likes to chew on slippers, or tear up Ole' Man Gorman's flower garden."
understand, Mr. Simon. This is a
Rick scrubbed his palms over his eyes. "Yeah, it is. It'll be even worse next week."
With quiet authority the man stated, "When the reality of Andrew's passing fully hits you."
"No. When I have to decide how I'm gonna redecorate his house."
"Yeah. He willed it to me, ya' see. But A.J.'s tastes and mine...well, let’s just say our tastes are about as alike as red hot chili peppers and chocolate."
"Red hot chili peppers and chocolate. Yes, those are two very different things, aren't they?"
"Yeah. So as you can imagine, I've gotta big job ahead of me turnin' that house into a home. Do you think the day of the funeral would be too early to hold a garage sale?"
The director arched a diplomatic eyebrow. "I would advise that you wait at least a few days before doing that. Out of respect for your brother's memory."
"Bummer. And here I was thinkin' what a dandy time that would be. I mean, everyone's gonna be gathered in one place anyway, so why not have that place be A.J.'s garage? Then while folks eat they can wind through the tables pickin' up this and that at bargain prices. It'll be kinda like they can take a little bit of A.J. home with 'em. You think if I advertise it that way people will be more accepting?"
"It's a possibility, I suppose. Obviously, you know your family and friends better than I."
"Yeah, you're right. You know, that will work out fine. You could probably make the announcement for us at the service. Tell folks Mom and I are gonna ‘meet with 'em and eat with 'em’ back at A.J.'s garage where they'll have the opportunity to make his memory a permanent fixture in their homes."
"Well...if that's what you really want I suppose I—“
"Oh yeah, that's what I want. It'll help wrap this whole thing up a lot quicker, don't cha think?"
"Yes, I imagine, but--"
"No, no buts. This is just how A.J. woulda’ wanted it to be. He never was one to put off till tomorrow what can be done today."
"I see." The man ran a hand down his necktie, leading the way from the room. "Whatever you desire, Mr. Simon. Here at the Hansen Funeral Home we strive to personalize each service. If this is what your brother would have wanted, far be it from me to intercede. Let's proceed to my office so I can itemize the bill for you."
Thirty minutes later Rick Simon walked out into the afternoon sunshine, a ten thousand dollar bill for the funeral expenses of Andrew J. Simon in hand. He smiled as he climbed into the cab of the Power Wagon. He paper clipped the bill to a stack of a half dozen other similar bills he had secreted in the glove compartment.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission had put laws into effect regulating what funeral homes must disclose to their clients. The government felt mortuary services had gone unmonitored far too long, meaning many people had been over-charged throughout the years, or had been ill-informed as to burial options that might be less expensive than the norm. The FTC had mandated that funeral home directors must offer a price list of goods and services, even if the buyer didn't ask for it. It also prohibited undertakers from charging for casket-handling fees, doing unauthorized embalming, and refusing to give out prices over the phone.
Until a week ago, Rick Simon hadn't had reason to be aware of these mandates, nor to care about them. But Simon and Simon Investigations had been hired to spot-check the funeral homes in San Diego for the FTC, a job both Rick and A.J. had willingly taken on with good humor. In part, because they found the subject matter amusing, but also because, as Rick told his brother, "What the heck, it's easy work for good money. Can't go wrong on this one, little brother."
Rick and A.J. had split in half the funeral home list given them by the FTC agent. For the past four days the brothers had crossed paths in their office for a couple of hours each morning, then gone their separate ways as they visited funeral home after funeral home collecting the necessary information to bury their fictional dead. Or in some cases, such as at the Hansen Funeral Home, they didn't collect the necessary information. Not only didn't Rick receive a price list, no mention had been made of it, nor of any of the other points that were supposed to be disclosed according to FTC mandates.
The detective grabbed a spiral notebook off his truck seat and unclipped the pen he had attached to its cover. He scribbled down the glaring offenses committed by the director, then noted the date and time of his visit. He tossed the notebook back on the seat and started his truck. Looking at his watch, Rick decided he had time to make one more stop before calling it a day.
The sun was beginning its slow descent down the horizon when Rick returned to his boat that evening. He tried to call his brother while he puttered around the galley making dinner, but got no answer. He didn't bother to leave a message on A.J.'s machine. There was no specific reason why he was calling other than to shoot the bull.
After supper had been eaten and the kitchen put back in order, Rick retreated to the deck with a cold bottle of beer in hand. He sank down onto a well-cushioned chaise lounge, Rex lying on the floor beside him.
The detective watched the final rays of sunlight disappear; leaving the clouds stained burnt orange and blood red. He laid his head back and closed his eyes while mentally reviewing his day.
Like he had told A.J., it was easy money. Rick chuckled, recalling the look on Rudolph Hansen's face when he told the man he wanted to hold a garage sale for A.J.'s belongings the same day of the funeral. How Rick had come up with such an outrageous line even he didn't know. He hadn't put too much thought into what his story was going to be when he arrived at the first funeral home he'd visited four days earlier, so when pressed for information he began weaving his tale of poor Andrew’s untimely demise. As he traveled from mortuary to mortuary his tale, like most that are untrue, stretched to the point that it bordered the ridiculous. Stretched to the point that Rick often had trouble keeping a straight, somber face while relaying it.
The detective shook his head with amusement as he thought of the high points of his story. A.J. needing a flat pillow in his coffin because a fluffy pillow had always bothered his neck, their mother hoping to use the leftover food from her canasta club for the funeral luncheon, the spray of roses from Rex, and Rick's biggest concern being how he was going to redecorate A.J.'s house.
The detective laughed at his own dark humor as he rose to retrieve another beer. He settled back on the chaise lounge, listening to the night sounds - a fish jumping from the water, a boat puttering into port, a foghorn blaring in the distance. He slowly drained his second beer then sat the bottle on the deck. As darkness blanketed the marina, soft lights popped on in nearby boats, offering a comforting balm that lulled the detective to sleep.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
The feeling of falling down an endless, dark abyss woke Rick Simon with a startled cry. His legs failed involuntarily as though they were attempting to find some type of hold that would stop his spiraling descent. He gripped the arms of the chaise lounge, trying to halt the free-fall that existed only in his sleep-laden mind. His breath came in hard, uneven pants while sweat beaded on his forehead and dampened his moustache.
It took a full minute before the detective's pulse and breathing rates returned to normal. He tried to recall the nightmare he must have had that put him in such a state, but couldn't. As a matter of fact, he didn't remember dreaming at all. He felt like he'd slept long and hard, 'like a log' as the expression went. The hours between sunset and sunrise were gone without him ever being aware they'd passed.
Waves lapped gently against the side of the boat as a lone seagull screeched from overhead. The detective heard the sputter of an engine in the distance, then watched as a fishing boat left the harbor. Rick glanced at his watch. It was twenty minutes to six.
The man scrubbed a hand over his face and pushed himself
up-right. He groaned while massaging a kink out of the small of his back.
I'm gettin' too damn old to sleep in the damp air all night on a lawn chair. Can't believe I didn't wake up after an hour or so. I usually do. It's been years since I've bunked out here all night. Not since the last time I tied one on with Carlos and passed out before I could reach the door.
Rick stumbled to his feet, the pointy toes of the cowboy boots he was still wearing knocking over beer bottles like bowling pins. Glass clattered together then tumbled to the deck in domino fashion. Rex woke with a start, scampering for shelter on the opposite side of the vessel. Two slips away a man's voice was heard.
"Hey! Hold it down out there! People are tryin' to sleep around here ya' know!"
The detective paid no attention to his irate neighbor. He stared at the deck in open-mouthed befuddlement, counting each empty bottle until he tallied eighteen.
Eighteen! What the...I didn't drink eighteen beers last night! I had two, exactly two. I haven't drunk eighteen beers in one sitting since...well, since I don't know when. Probably not since the last time I passed out before I could reach the door. If nothing else, with age comes a little bit of wisdom. I finally figured out the morning after wasn't worth the night before.
Rick pondered how all the empty bottles found their way around his chaise lounge while bending to pick them up.
I wonder if this was A.J.'s idea of joke. I bet that's it. He came over and found me sound asleep so thought it would be funny to make it look like I went on a bender. If that little creep poured good beer down my kitchen sink just to empty all these bottles he'll regret the day he was born.
Rick was still internally grousing about his sibling as he used the only free finger he had to fumble for the handle on the patio screen. Arms laden with amber glass, he stepped into the boat and took an immediate left. He walked through the galley, entering the short hallway that ran behind. The boat's bathroom was on his right, his small Whirlpool stacked washer/dryer unit was against the opposite wall. He moved to put the bottles in the red plastic recycling bin that sat next to the Whirlpool unit, but was forced to halt in mid-motion.
What the heck?
Rick looked around. The hallway wasn't big enough for the two foot wide by three foot high bin to get relocated or misplaced. Recycling of plastic containers, aluminum cans, newspapers, magazine, glass bottles and cardboard had been mandatory for city residents for three years now. And in those three years, the bin the marina had provided Rick with had always resided in this small, out-the-way hall.
I know it was here last night. I put my other bottle in it when I came in to get the second beer.
The detective headed back to the galley wondering if he'd carried the bin out to the deck the previous evening without realizing he'd done so.
But why would I do that? Garbage day isn't until Fri...oh no. No. Not again.
Arms still laden with beer bottles, Rick stood motionless in the center of his kitchen floor while finally taking note of the living room. The living room that, though it possessed the same familiar furniture, had been completely rearranged. The couch was where his TV normally sat, the easy chair and ottoman was to the left of the couch instead of the right. His guitar, which usually sat in the corner of the north wall, now sat in the corner of the south wall. The television itself took up most of the wall opposite the patio doors and was considerably larger than the one Rick had on his boat. It was almost as big as a damn movie screen and complete with stereo speakers for what was now being referred to as ‘surround sound.’ The three thousand dollar price tag that went with such a unit made it something Rick only dreamed about owning.
The detective let the bottles plunge into the kitchen sink, ignoring the sound of breaking glass as he ran to his bedroom. Sure enough, the bed and dresser were sitting on opposite walls from where they normally resided. His brow furrowed when he took note of the ashtray sitting on his nightstand that was overflowing with cigarette butts. He looked through the doorway into the living room and saw an ashtray in the same untidy condition sitting on an end table.
But I quit smokin' years ago. Rick was hesitant to allow himself to voice the rest of his dreaded thought. Or at least in my world I did.
The man boomeranged to the patio doors whistling for Rex. He threw open the screen just as the dog bounded inside. Rick hunkered down, accepting the animal's exuberant kisses. He grabbed a hold of Rex's collar and gently pushed the dog backwards. Rick studied the golden retriever's face. Rex looked years younger. No longer was gray starting to take up residence in his whiskers and around his jowls.
The detective swiveled, looking up at the calendar hanging in the kitchen. He squinted to read the month and year. January, 1990.
But it's actually January of '96 in my...world.
Rick slowly stood, absently sliding the screen door open to allow Rex outside for his morning run. The man hadn't realized how much his dog had aged in recent years until he watched this younger version of the animal streak across the deck, leap to the dock, then race for the grassy area that bordered the parking lot.
Though Rick wouldn't deny being surprised by this odd turn of events, he wasn't frightened or unnerved. He'd found himself in what he considered to be an ‘alternate universe’ a number of times in his adult life. While Rick knew of nothing he did to bring on these experiences he had to admit that, in the end, their meaning was usually revealed to him. Generally he was sent here to help his counterpart's family in some way. In some way Rick assumed his alternate self was unable to, or unavailable to. And based on the information he subtly gathered when he returned to his own world, he'd come to realize his alternate self - the 'other Rick' as he thought of the man - willingly filled his shoes for him while he was 'away,' without A.J. or his mother being the wiser.
Despite his eagerness to uncover the reasons behind this so-called trip, Rick knew there was no use to rush the start of the day. He'd learned from his past experiences that events unfolded in this world just like they did in his own, a little at a time with a lot of mundane duties to fill the gaps in-between.
Rick began one of those mundane duties now. He returned to the kitchen where he started a pot of coffee. Like the living room the kitchen possessed dishes, utensils, and appliances that were twins to those Rick owned, but often times were located in different spots. Once the coffee was brewing Rick took time to acquaint himself with the remainder of the vessel. In the four times he'd made this switch with his alternate self over the past fifteen years, he'd never been on the other Rick's boat.
The detective rummaged through drawers and closets until he found all the man's clothes. Clothes that were exactly like the ones he favored; khaki boxer shorts, yoke-necked undershirts, blue jeans, casual work shirts, three pair of cowboy boots, several pair of tennis shoes, one lone pair of black dress shoes, a black suit and tie, a white dress shirt, a brown corduroy sport coat, numerous hats of all styles, sizes and shapes, and a variety of field jackets. He located his razor and toothbrush in the bathroom, not too sure at first if he was willing to put the toothbrush in his mouth. For a long moment he stared down at the blue bristled utensil that was just like the one he had at home before finally giving an amused shrug.
What the heck, I guess in some strange way it is my toothbrush. Hope this guy doesn't have any odd kinda diseases.
The detective took a quick shower, finding the soap, washcloth and shampoo sitting on a built-in shelving unit of the fiberglass stall just like he was accustomed to. He dried himself, then wrapped the bath towel around his lean hips. He deposited the clothes he'd been wearing in the hamper by the Whirlpool before heading to the bedroom. He dressed in a pair of faded Levis and a blue work shirt. He found a replica of his Magnum in its shoulder holster hanging on a hook on the inside of the closet door. He carried it, a field jacket, a Panama hat, and pair of cowboy boots to the living room. He piled everything together on the floor by the couch, then went to the kitchen to make breakfast. The red blinking light on the answering machine caught Rick’s eye as he passed. He hesitated a moment before flicking the replay switch.
I suppose I'm violating the guy's privacy, but maybe I'll get some kinda clue as to what's goin' on.
The clues the detective gleaned only made the situation more mysterious. Every message expressed concern for his counterpart, starting with the first one from Abigail Marsh. Curiously enough, it sounded like the woman was fighting back tears.
"Rick...honey, sitting alone on your boat and drinking isn't going to change anything. Please, sweetheart, call me. I'm worried about you, Rick."
Honey? Sweetheart? Mmmmm, sounds like this Rick and Abby are just a bit...closer, than I am to the Abigail Marsh I know. Geez, Abby would toss her cookies if I told her we both existed in an alternate world where she refers to me as sweetheart.
Rick didn't have much time to ponder his counterpart's relationship with Abigail Marsh as the messages rolled on.
"Rick, it's Town. Listen, buddy, I know things are tough right now, but hang in there. If you wanna talk, no matter what time it is, call me, Rick. Please."
"Rick, Jerry Reiner. If you feel like company give me a call back. I'll stop by with a movie or a pizza - whatever you want. Rick...it's going to be all right. I know it is. Give me a call."
What's going to be all right?
"Hey, Ricko. Sammy here. I got that surveillance equipment in you ordered. But listen, I know money might be kinda tight right now, so if you want to send it back that won't be a problem. The wife and I want you to come to dinner one night, too, old friend. You shouldn't sit home alone night after night. Call me and we'll set up a time."
Wife? Oh, now there's a good one. In my world Sammy doesn't have a wife. No respectable broad in her right mind would take up with him. But it's nice of him and the little woman to invite me...or my counterpart rather, to dinner. Wonder what everyone is so concerned about this guy for?
Rick pondered the messages a long moment before giving up on trying to decipher their meaning. He knew sooner or later he'd be party to enough events to be able to figure them out.
While two slices of bread toasted Rick searched the cabinets until he found the cereal. A box of Wheaties, a box of Cheerios, and a box of Cap’n Crunch sat within.
Nice to see the guy favors the same brands I do.
Rick reached for the Wheaties before crossing over to the wire fruit basket hanging in the corner by the sink. He snared a bunch of bananas and broke one from the others.
Handy little way to store fruit. I'll have to get one of these for myself when I get back home.
The man sliced the ripe banana over his cereal and carried the bowl to the table. He returned for the toast that had popped up, slathered it with butter and jam, and sat it on a plate next to his cereal. The last two trips he made brought a gallon milk jug, a cup of coffee, and a glass of orange juice.
Rick reached behind him, turning on the radio that was sitting on the kitchen countertop.
I usually have it on top of the fridge, but I guess this works okay too. It's kinda nice 'cause I can click it on without having to get up.
The detective paid close attention when the seven-thirty news broadcast began. From what he could remember about 1990, the
world-wide news events that were being reported were exactly like those that had occurred six years earlier.
Maybe things aren't gonna be as different as I first thought. Rex is here, my boat's here – granted, stuff's been moved around a little and this Rick smokes...and apparently drinks like a fish as well, but other than that things are pretty much in order. Mmmm, I wonder what the reason could be for me bein' sent here this time?
Rick tuned back into the broadcast as the newswoman rattled off the time, day, and date before giving the weather report. The detective's mind latched onto the date. The date seemed significant, as though it should mean something to him.
January 9th, 1990, January 9th, 1990, January 9th 1990, Rick’s brain chanted. What is it about that date that's makin' my breakfast do somersaults in my gut? January 9...
The man shot up, peeling around the corner of the room. He threw the closet door open in his bedroom, raking carelessly through the clothes hanging there.
It's missing! The gray suit I wore for A.J. and Janet's wedding is missing!
As Rick gave it more thought he chastised himself.
Of course it's missing, you idiot. It's January of 1990. A.J. and Janet didn't get married until September. Which means they haven't started seein' each other again. Which means we haven't taken the Garcia case either. But we will today. On the 9th! It was January 9th that Carlos walked in our office with Erika and Adriano. Hey, maybe that's why I'm here. Yeah, that's gotta be it. In this world it must be important that those events never happen. I bet I'm here to prevent them. Or at least to prevent us from takin' on the Garcias as clients. Wish I had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again in my own world. Sure would have saved all of us a shit load of grief.
It was the one and only case in the history of Simon and Simon Investigations that Rick had never quite forgiven himself for accepting. It had left a fourteen-year-old girl dead after being brutally raped and tortured. It had left A.J.'s life in a shambles, causing him to make decisions in the coming months that eventually found Simon and Simon closing its doors and A.J. on his way to Seattle to make a new life with his new bride, Janet Fowler. But that new life ended in heartbreak as well, when the divorce became final in May of 1995. The only good that had come out of all of it, as far was Rick was concerned, was the resurrection of Simon and Simon Investigations during the summer of '95.
Though Rick knew what happened here in this alternate universe didn't directly effect events in the world in which he lived, it was nice to think he was going to be able to prevent this alternate Erika's death and spare his alternate brother the heartache that accompanied it.
Since it's the 9th today whatever higher power it is that controls these little trips I occasionally take must plan on this bein' a quick one. I'll just let it play out like it did six years ago, only give it a different ending. I'll listen to what Adriano and Erika have to say, but rather than talk A.J. into takin' the case, I'll advise Adriano to immediately move his family out of the area. It might be a financial hardship what with Adriano havin' to quit his job and then wait for his house to sell, but what the heck, it beats burying your daughter. Between him and Carlos they've got enough cousins that don't live in the San Diego area. I'm sure someone will take the Garcias in for a few months. A.J.'ll go along with me 'cause deep down I know he didn't want to take the case anyway. He only agreed to it 'cause Carlos is my friend.
Rick was feeling rather smug with himself and his powers of deduction by the time he'd cleaned up the kitchen. He whistled for Rex
with the intention of locking the dog in the boat for the day.
The retriever sat on the deck outside the patio doors looking up at
his master. The detective stepped aside and pointed toward the houseboat's interior.
"Go on, boy. Go in. I gotta go to work."
The dog refused to move.
"What's the matter with you this morning? I just filled your bowls with fresh food and water like I do every day...or rather like I assume your other master does every day, and I left a couple rawhide chewies on the kitchen floor. You'll be fine. Go on inside."
Every time Rick made the slightest movement the dog bounded for the nearby dock with an excited bark. When this action was repeated for the fourth time the detective realized what it was the animal was telling him.
"You think you're goin' with me, huh? No. No way. A.J. will have my butt if I bring you to...but hey, this is that other world, isn't it? Where everything's opposite of what I’m used to. Mmmmm, on second thought, maybe you do come to work with me every day."
Though Rick couldn't quite imagine how that scenario would play out, he wasn't against trying it.
Worse thing that's gonna happen is I’ll have to come up with some cockamamie line of bull to feed this A.J. about why Rex is with me.
Rick stepped into the boat. When he returned to the deck his gun was holstered in place around his shoulder and he was wearing his field jacket, hat, and boots. The act of him pausing to lock the door was evidently the signal for Rex to lead the way to the parking lot. The young dog raced off, his master following behind at a more leisurely pace.
If Rex hadn't been with him, Rick wasn't sure if he would have ever known for certain which vehicle parked in the marina's lot belonged to him. Missing from his assigned spot was the Dodge Ram truck he'd bought in 1988. He looked around, assuming things weren't quite as they should be just like the furniture on his boat. He scanned the parking lot but no silver truck was in attendance. Rex remained sitting by the vehicle parked in what Rick knew to be his spot in his own world. As Rick walked away from the four door smoky gray Ford Bronco the dog barked.
Rick turned around to see Rex studying him with head cocked.
"What? Are you tryin' to tell me this is mine?"
The dog barked again.
"No way. These things go for around thirty grand fully loaded." Rick cupped his hands, looking in the driver's window at the dashboard. "And believe me, this sucker is fully loaded."
Rick could decide what to do a man passed on his way to his own vehicle. "What's the matter, Rick? Lock yourself out?"
The detective recognized the well-dressed banker as a man who moored a houseboat four slips from his in his own world.
"Uh...no. No. Just lookin' things over."
idea. Did I tell you someone scratched
the paint on the driver's side door of my car last week?"
"No, no you didn't tell me. Scratched the paint you say? Geez, I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah, it really ticked me off. Probably kids goofing around. I complained about it to the harbor master."
maybe I need to hire a private detective, huh?"
Rick laughed politely at the man's joke. "Yeah, maybe. Well, you have a good day, John."
The man wave as he walked on to his Caprice. "I will. You do the same."
Now that he was alone once more Rick scanned the keys on the ring he'd picked up off his bedroom dresser. Until now, he hadn't noticed the key for his pickup was missing. In its place was a square key labeled Ford.
Rick shrugged while inserting the key in the lock. "If nothing else this'll be fun for a day or two. I've always wanted one of these babies."
Rick opened the back door, allowing Rex to jump in on the black cloth bench seat. He climbed in the front of the sport utility vehicle, took a moment to find the important things like the switches for the lights, windshield wipers, heater/air conditioner, radio, and automatic door locks, then, started the engine. He fingered through the CD's stacked neatly in a mounted wooden rack on the dashboard, seeing his counterpart and he shared the same taste in music. He picked out George Strait's Greatest Hits and slid it in the player. He grinned at his dog in the rearview mirror as he backed out of his space.
"Now this is what I call living, Rex, my boy."
Rick assumed he'd find the current Simon and Simon office in this world in the same location it resided in his world - the Gas Lamp District.
If things are similar to my world then in 1988 these Simon brothers would have bought the building where their office is housed. Mmmm, makes me wonder what these guys are doin' different from me and A.J. After that transaction went through the last thing I could afford was a home entertainment system and utility vehicle like this guy's got. Maybe I'll pick up a few pointers while I'm here. Won't A.J. just flip if I come back with all kinda ideas to make us financially more successful. He'll sure wonder what books I've been readin'.
Rick parked in his accustomed spot in the small parking lot next to the four story building, but didn't see A.J.'s Camaro.
Maybe he drives somethin' fancier, too. A Porsche or a Corvette? Kinda hard to imagine though, 'cause even when A.J. has money at his disposal he's real conservative about how he spends it.
Not knowing for certain whether his alternate brother was at work or not, Rick took the time to prepare himself for the moment they came face to face.
I gotta be careful about what I say. I can't screw this up and have him thinkin' there's something 'different' about me. I'll just let him take the lead and kinda follow in his footsteps. It shouldn't be too hard. Besides, by the time the day's over the Garcia case will be behind us, and me and the other Rick will be back where we belong.
Rex followed Rick into the building. The dog didn't seem to have any fear of the old-fashioned elevator car, waiting by it until Rick opened the gate. When they exited on the fourth floor the dog trotted ahead of Rick, turning into the first office on the right.
"Rex! Hey, Rex! Get outta there!"
Rick ran down the hallway expecting to see the three women who worked in World Wide Travel, the travel agency he and A.J. rented this particular office to.
Rick flew through the door only to discover Rex was a welcome visitor here. The lone woman in the office appeared to be in her
mid-thirties. A computer sat on one corner of her desk, a phone on the other, a Rolodex in the middle. Two plants, an appointment calendar, and pictures of a man and three young children with hair tinted various shades of red were neatly arranged on what space was left. A sidearm extended from the desk and had a printer and a typewriter resting on it.
The woman pulled a Milkbone out of a box she kept in the bottom drawer of her desk. Rick watched as his dog accepted the treat, then walked over and lay down in a corner as if this was a daily ritual.
The woman's attention shifted from dog to master. She looked up at the detective and smiled. "Good morning, Rick."
"Morning..." Rick paused until his eyes found the nameplate on the desk half obscured by a philodendron leaf. "Donna."
"You look well-rested for a change. Better than I've seen you look in weeks, as a matter of fact."
If my counterpart makes guzzling down a dozen and a half beers a nightly habit I imagine I do look well-rested.
Donna Hensel brushed a strand of pale, shoulder length hair behind one ear while sorting through a small stack of pink slips of paper. Even from this angle Rick could read the heading on the papers - ‘While You Were Out.’ "I've taken three phone messages for you already and the recorder was full. I left it on ‘announce.’ All you'll have to do is hit the rewind button to get the messages."
"Uh...okay, thanks." Rick subtly studied the room he was in, noticing that aside from the woman's desk that faced the hallway, a Xerox copier resided in one corner of the room while black file cabinets lined two walls. When she crossed over to one of those cabinets he took the opportunity to glance back at the open door.
Simon and Simon Investigations was painted on in bold black letters, just like it was on the closed door Rick could see directly across the hall. The closed door that led to the room Rick was familiar with from his world as housing the Simon and Simon office.
Rick turned when he heard Donna bustling toward him. "Here are the two files A.J. wanted you to bring him."
Rick glanced over his shoulder again while accepting the thick manila folders the woman laid in his arms.
I get it now. This is why my counterpart can afford the fancy wheels and cinema size TV. The business in this universe has grown beyond what it has in my world. A.J. and I have just now started talking about adding a secretary to work about twenty hours a week, but part of the reason we haven't is we don't know where we'll put her. We're in no position to be able to give up the rent the travel agency pays us for this office. I guess in this universe the Simon brothers are in that position. Lucky dogs. The ‘other’ A.J. must be in our office already doing whatever it is we do now that we have secretary.
"Tell A.J. one of the phone messages I took was from Don Stewart. Mr. Stewart said he'd speak to you later in the week about renewing the contract he has with the agency, but I'm sure A.J. will want to know he called."
Rick had no idea who Don Stewart was, but acknowledged the message as though he did. "Sure. I'll tell him."
"And Lieutenant Brown called right before you walked in. He said he tried to get a hold of you at home last night but couldn't reach you. It's not urgent, but he'd like to touch base with you before the end of the day. He wants you to call him when you have a spare minute."
you get his number?"
"His number? No. He was calling from the office."
"That's what I figured. I don't have his office number here."
I've watched you dial it a hundred times from memory."
Uh oh. Careful, Rick. It's little things like this that'll trip you up.
exactly where was it Lieutenant Brown was calling from? I mean, what city?"
"Well San Diego, of course. Where did you think he was calling from?"
"From L. - never mind. It's not important. Thanks. I'll call him back."
Another thing that's changed. By 1990 Town and Temple were married and had been living in L.A. for four years. They didn't move back to San Diego until October of '92.
Rick craned his neck, looking at the open appointment calendar on the secretary's desk.
do you have anything written down for today for a Mr. Garcia? Adriano Garcia?"
The woman didn't need to look at the page she knew was blank. "No, I don't have any appointments scheduled for today. You asked me to keep the entire month as free as possible because of A.J."
"Yes, because of the treatments."
studied her boss's face. "Rick,
are you okay?"
"Uh...yeah. Why do you ask?"
"If you don't mind me saying, you seem a little out of it this morning."
Lady, you have no idea.
"I'm kinda...preoccupied, I guess. "
Donna sat down at her desk and rolled a document into the typewriter. "That's understandable."
"Yes. Because of A.J." Rick was certain he could detect a hint of tears in the woman's voice. "I feel so bad for him, Rick. My kids and I say a prayer for him every night before I tuck them in bed."
"Uh...thanks, Donna. That means a lot to all of us."
What the hell is she talking about? A.J. musta got hurt on a case. Happens to us often enough, I guess. Or at least more often than Mom likes to see. That's probably the reason behind the upset callers from last night and my counterpart's beer binge. Geez, I hope A.J....or his counterpart rather, ain't hurt too bad. He must not be if he's askin' to review files. Some of this is makin' more sense now. One way or another I bet Adriano and Carlos show up today, or in the next few days. It's gonna be up to me to tell them no, and to steer Adriano in a safer direction than the one we took in my world.
The woman glanced up at the wall clock across from her desk. "You'd better get moving. The doctors are usually there for consultation at nine-thirty."
intense gaze pinned Rick. "Are you
sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, yeah I'm fine."
you like me to drive you over?"
"No...no that's not necessary. Like I said, I'm fine."
go on then, I'll take care of things here. Do you think you'll be back after
don't know," Rick said without hesitation, finally getting into the role
he was playing. "I'll try to
be. Why, are we really back
getting that way. But people have been
so understanding. And Mr. Fowler has
been a big help."
"Yes. A.J. had a good idea when he suggested farming some cases out to him so the agency doesn't have to turn down clients during the next couple of months."
farming out cases to Myron? This I
gotta see to believe. Aside from how
bizarre that sounds, in my world Myron was already retired and living in Miami
fingers danced effortlessly over the typewriter's keys, her eyes on the paper
in front of her. "I think Mr.
Fowler has enjoyed coming out of retirement, don't you?"
"Uh, sure. I guess. He's been a...big help," Rick finished, trying to keep the question mark out of his voice.
sure has been." Donna looked up at
the clock once more. "You'd better
The woman threw Rick a look that led the detective to believe she was about ready to give him a sobriety test. "He'll stay here with me just like he always does when you have to be out of the building. If for some reason you don't return by five, I'll drop him off at your boat."
"Oh. Okay, thanks. The spare key's hidden--"
"Rick, I have a key."
"I have a key to your boat. You gave me one a month after you hired me for just this type of situation. That was two years ago now."
"Oh. Uh, yeah. I guess I did. I...my mind's on a lotta things today."
Rick wasn't sure what to make of the woman's soft, sympathetic, "I know."
detective decided it was best to exit the presence of this very perceptive
secretary. "Well, I'll be goin'
then. I'll try to call you if I'm not
gonna come back. Do I need to take
anything else to A.J?"
"No, you've got everything he asked for. Don't forget to tell him Mr. Stewart called."
"Rick," the woman scolded in a teasing tone.
"Sorry, bad joke. Don, I know. Don Stewart. I'll tell him." Rick headed for the door carrying the files tucked under one arm like he used to carry his schoolbooks. "If you need me I'll be at County."
"County?" The woman's voice echoed behind him.
"Yeah." Rick turned to face his secretary. "County General Hospital. Where A.J.'s at."
"A.J.'s not at County, Rick."
"No, he's not. He's at University Met."
University Met? University Metropolitan? The cancer hospital?
Rick swallowed hard. "Did you say University Met?"
"Yes, that's what I said. Are you sure you don't want me to drive you there and--"
Rick walked out of the room in a daze, barely realizing he made a reply to the woman.
"No. No, thanks. I know...I know where it's at."
The receptionist who sat behind the big, crescent-moon shaped desk in the middle of the vast hospital lobby didn't seem to find it strange that Rick needed to ask what room his sibling was in. But, then, he didn't identify himself as Andrew Simon's brother when he asked, and supposed, too, that hundreds of people made inquires of the woman every day either in person or by phone. The likelihood that she would remember his face was fairly remote.
Rick road the elevator up to the eighth floor. He walked down a wide expanse of hallway the length of a football field with offices, restrooms and family waiting areas filling up space on both his right and left. It seemed to take him forever to reach the stainless steel double doors that led to patient rooms. He paused a moment, reading the bright red sign mounted on the doors.
Do Not Proceed Before Stopping At The Nurses' Station. For Our Patients' Safety Sterile Conditions Must Be Maintained Within. Only Previously Authorized Immediate Family Members Allowed.
Immediate family members, huh? Guess in a round about way that means me.
Rick did as the sign told him, halting at the nurses' counter just inside the doors.
A woman looked up from the chart she was studying. She smiled in recognition. "Hi, Rick."
Rick's eyes flicked to the nametag on her light green smock top. "Hi, Gwen." He jerked his thumb over his left shoulder, indicating to the corridor behind him. "Is it okay if I go see A.J.?"
"Sure." The woman pointed in the opposite direction Rick had. "Except he's down this hallway."
"Oh...yeah right. Thanks."
Rick swiveled. "Yeah?"
"Don't forget to suit up."
Suit up? To do what? Blast off into outer space?
"Uh...no. I won't."
Rick rounded the counter, heading in the direction the woman pointed. Before he actually entered the section of rooms where patients were housed he came across another sign similar to the one on the double doors. This one was mounted on a four foot high metal stand and posed like a sentry in the middle of the hallway.
WARNING, NO ONE BEYOND THIS POINT WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION. FOR OUR PATIENTS' SAFETY STERILE CONDITIONS MUST BE MAINTAINED.
Every room Rick passed thereafter was shut up tight. They all had large picture windows that faced the hall, but in most cases draperies were drawn preventing Rick from seeing within. What few rooms had the draperies open didn't appear to be occupied.
The detective eyed room numbers as he passed, looking for 108. He stopped when he spotted the door labeled as such. Just like he'd done in the office parking lot an hour earlier, Rick took a moment to prepare himself for this first meeting with his alternate brother. Only now a very unexpected and unknown aspect had been added to it.
I wish I had even the smallest clue as to what this is all about, was Rick's last thought before placing his hand on the stainless steel knob.
"Whoops, whoops, whoops!" A female voice scolded. "Mr. Simon!" The woman ran up behind him. "Mr. Simon, hold on a minute!"
A young nurse no older than twenty-five stopped Rick before he could enter. "You can't take those folders in there. I'll need to sterilize them for you."
Rick looked down at the forgotten folders he was carrying.
Sterilize 'em? What the hell is she talking about?
woman with the glossy black ponytail trailing down her back took the folders
from Rick before he was able to voluntarily release them. "Didn't Doctor Mulcheski tell you that
anything you bring in from the outside for A.J. has to be sterilized before he
can have it?"
"Uh...yeah. Yeah, I guess he did."
"She. Doctor Mulcheski is a woman."
"Oh. Yeah, she is, isn't she." Rick fished for some explanation that was going to keep the young woman from having him put in a straight jacket. "I've seen so many doctors lately I can't keep track of who's who."
must have said the right thing, because he was rewarded with a forgiving
smile. "Yes, sir, I'm sure you
have." The nurse started to turn
away from him. "After these are
sterilized I'll leave them in the alcove."
Rick had no idea what she was talking about, or where exactly the alcove was, but he figured he'd find out sooner or later. "Okay."
Again Rick's hand was on the knob to enter the room when the woman's voice halted his movement. "Mr. Simon, your boots and hat."
"Your boots and hat. Please leave them outside the door."
By the stern look he was getting, Rick got the impression he was violating a rule he was supposed to be well aware of.
"Oh yeah. Sorry." He took off his hat and sat it on top of the small coat rack mounted on the wall. He placed his boots underneath it.
"You'll probably want to leave your jacket hanging out here as well. You'll get pretty warm with it on underneath the scrubs."
Underneath the scrubs? What does this broad think I'm gonna do, perform surgery?
"Right. Good idea." Rick was glad he'd left his Magnum unloaded and secreted underneath the seat of the locked Bronco. He wouldn't have wanted to leave it in the hallway, but he could just imagine the woman's reaction to the suggestion he take it in A.J.'s room with him.
She'd probably insist on sterilizing it, too.
The nurse watched until Rick had carried out her instructions.
Though she seemed reluctant to leave, she turned away when he gave her a smile and a wave.
By the look on her face, she thinks I'm as out of it as Donna did.
It was when Rick opened the door that everything the woman said began to fall into place. He wasn't in A.J.'s room, but rather an alcove the size of a small bathroom complete with sink and closet. The door ahead of him bore another red warning sign.
DO NOT ENTER BEYOND THIS POINT WITHOUT STERILE DRESS.
Fortunately for Rick, there were laminated instructions hanging over the sink that explained exactly what sterile dress was and how one went about obtaining it. He carefully read the instructions, making sure he followed them to the letter. He unbuttoned his shirtsleeves and rolled them up past his elbows. He ran the water as hot as he could stand it, then used the antiseptic soap to scrub his hands, fingernails, arms, face and neck just like the pictures on the poster indicated. He opened the closet to find several sets of hospital scrubs hanging stiffly in heavy brown paper bags marked Sterile. He took the largest set out, slipping the baggy blue pants and smock top on over his jeans and shirt. Sterile booties fit over his socks. Just like a surgeon would do, Rick tied the cloth cap on his head next, then finished by tying the mask around his face. The entire ensemble left only his hands and eyes exposed.
The mask hindered Rick's attempt to take a deep calming breath before opening the door. He had no firm idea as to what waited him on the other side, but was beginning to draw conclusions he was certain he wasn't going to like.
If he hadn't been told this was A.J.'s room, Rick never would have guessed the man laying in the fetal position on the bed was his brother. Or his brother's counterpart was a better way to put it. Regardless, the man Rick expected to see as a twin to the A.J. he knew was curled in a tight ball of misery, his arms clutching his stomach. His closed eyes were swollen and rimmed red from what Rick assumed was pain and lack of sleep, while oozing sores dotted his lips like raw, open scabs. His complexion was sallow and pale, his cheekbones so prominent they appeared ready to slice through the thin layer of waxy skin covering them. By the way his pajamas threatened to swallow him up Rick guessed the weight loss this man had incurred was recent and rapid, probably brought on by the vile drugs being pumped in his system by the IV line running into a vein in his left arm. The vile drugs that had left him without a tuft of hair on his head, and had taken his eyebrows and lashes along with it. The vile drugs that left him looking like the haunting pictures Rick had seen in history books of concentration camp victims.
Rick sagged against the door.
Oh my God. What am I doing here? What's goin' on? What could possibly be the reason behind all this? Hey, just 'cause I had a little fun at A.J.'s expense during those funeral home visits doesn't mean I deserve this. It doesn't mean I need to be taught some kinda lesson. I love my brother. I know how precious life is. No one needs to show me that.
Rick started to turn around, his intention to flee the room. As far as he was concerned, this was not part of the bargain in this alternate universe switch stuff. Now what the bargain was, and exactly who Rick needed to plead his case to, he didn't know, but he figured if he returned to the boat and slept on that chaise lounge long enough he'd eventually wake up back where he belonged.
And flee the room Rick would have done, and without an ounce of shame to boot. After all, this man wasn't really his brother. His brother was healthy and safe. It wasn't fair that the other Rick somehow got to benefit from that. That was Rick's reality, not his counterpart's. If this was where the guy was supposed to be, then one way or another Rick was going to get him back here.
Just because you couldn't stand to face this shit doesn't mean you can wish yourself away, fella, and somehow pop me here. No way, pal. One way or another I'm gonna straighten this mess out. I don't belong here. Do you hear me? I do not belong here.
The one and only thing that could stop Rick Simon's flight occurred before he could get the door open. A hoarse, weak voice sounded from behind. The way the name was spoken led one to believe the man was surprised at the identity of his visitor.
Regardless of what universe this was, the voice was A.J.'s. When Rick slowly turned he was rewarded with a smile. A smile that, as well, no matter what universe, belonged to Andrew Simon.
Whatever fears Rick previously harbored vanished. The sick man on the bed suddenly became his brother in the same way ‘his A.J.’ was his brother. His feet crossed the tiles without sound or hesitation. Just like he would have done if he was in his own world and this was his brother, Rick gingerly sat on the edge of the bed. He forgot all about the need to be cautious with how he proceeded. He fell into the same type of easy conversation he had shared with his sibling all his life.
"How ya' doin' today?"
Like Rick expected would be the case, A.J. didn't voice his misery. "Okay."
Without thinking about it, Rick raised a hand with the intention of running it through A.J.'s hair. Hair that was no longer there. He hesitated a brief second before lightly brushing his fingers over A.J.'s naked skull.
The sick man smiled at the display of affection. "Guess I'm gonna have to borrow some of your hats when I get out of here."
Rick hoped A.J. mistook the tears in his eyes for moisture caused by amusement. "Guess so." Rick's hand fell to his brother's back where he rubbed up and down the curved spine.
He feels like nothin' but skin and bones. What the hell are they doin' to him in this place?
sent along the files you asked for.
Some nurse is sterilizing them now."
"Thanks." A.J.'s eyes briefly drifted closed before he forced them open again. "Don't feel much like...looking at them though."
"That's okay, they can wait. I can go over them with you later if you're up to it."
A.J. nodded his head.
"Oh, and Don Stewart called. He wants to renew his contract with us."
"Good. The jobs we get from him are a third of our annual income. I was afraid with me being...sick, he'd drop us."
Sick with what? Help me out here, A.J.
"No, no. I'm sure he won't do that. Donna said everyone's been real understanding."
Myron working out?"
"Good. He's been...filling in the gaps when I can't be there."
smiled and teased. "Just don't
piss him off, okay?"
"Who me? Piss my old buddy Myron off? A.J., please."
The detective snorted. "Your old buddy, yeah right. You two mix about as well as oil and water."
At least some things haven't changed.
"What about..." A.J.'s words were abruptly cut off. He rolled away from Rick, bending toward the deep sterile pan mounted on the raised railing on the opposite side of the bed. His stomach was seized with violent cramps. His body shook with spasms as it tried to purge itself of the poisons within.
Rick climbed on the bed with his alternate brother, holding the quaking body as time and time again A.J. choked and vomited. All that came up was greenish bile, the bile giving way to nothing but dry heaves after a few minutes.
"I'm gonna get a nurse," the panicked Rick said.
A.J.'s right hand snapped up, snaring a corner of Rick's smock. "No...no. They can't...do anything...to help."
Rick was outraged. "Whatta ya' mean they can't do anything to help? This is a hospital damn it! They'd better do something to help!"
Whatever A.J. was going to say was left unspoken by another assault of dry heaves. The cramping grew so intense he was moaning while trying to curl into an even tighter ball, but every time Rick moved to leave A.J. only clung to him harder.
"It's okay," Rick soothed when he finally realized his 'brother' wanted him to stay by his side. He ran a hand over A.J.'s sweat soaked pajama top. "It's okay. I'm right here. I'm not goin' anywhere. I'm right here."
The spell lasted twenty of the longest minutes of Rick's life. When it finally ended A.J. was spent and exhausted. Without realizing it, the lanky detective knew exactly what to do. He went to the bathroom, dousing a washcloth in cold water. He returned and ran it over A.J.'s flushed face and neck several times. He unclipped the pan A.J. had thrown up in and washed it out in the bathroom sink with a disinfectant he found on the floor of the linen closet. He clipped the pan back where it belonged, then searched through the bureau drawers until he found a clean pair of pajamas. With garments in hand he walked over and sat on the edge of the bed once more. This time A.J. was on his back and appeared to be, for the moment at least, free of pain.
wanna put on some clean p.j.'s, kid?
Those are pretty wet."
A.J. didn't open his eyes. "In a minute."
Rick allowed his brother to gather the strength he needed. He reached over and picked up a pitcher from the nightstand, pouring cool water into a cup that already possessed a straw.
"How 'bout a drink?"
A.J. allowed Rick to guide the straw to his mouth. He took three swallows then turned his head away, that small act costing him more energy than he could spare.
Rick didn't like how long it was taking his brother to recover. "A.J., I'm gonna go get a nurse. I'll be right--"
A.J. brought a weak hand up and laid it on Rick's forearm. For the first time since the violent nausea began he opened his eyes. "No. I already told you...they can't do anything. Don't bug them. They've got enough...enough work with...without babysitting for me."
couldn't keep the anger out of his voice.
"And just why can't they do anything?"
If A.J. found Rick's question strange he didn't let on. "Because this is...isnormal. They told us to expect it...Rick."
"The nausea. The vomiting. The cramps. The whole...shot. Whether I like it or not...it's what chemotherapy's all...about."
Rick supposed the word chemotherapy should have shocked him, but he'd already surmised that's what was going on. But chemotherapy for what?
As if he could read Rick's mind A.J. filled in the gaps, his mind rambling in a disoriented fashion, his words spaced from fatigue. "Who would...have ever thought? So I was a little tired...big deal. We'd been working...lots of hours. I didn't...didn’t think anything of it. But then the...bruises appeared. I couldn't figure out...how I got them. Then you saw them...and thought I should see Joel. I kept putting it off though...we had so many cases going. I guess that day I passed...passed out at the office gave you a pretty good scare, huh?"
Though he obviously hadn't been witness to the scene A.J. was speaking of, Rick could easily imagine his counterpart's reaction. "You could say that."
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think that...that simple blood test was going to result in...a diagnosis of leukemia."
Leukemia? Oh, no. Oh Lord no. I can't...I don't...would someone please tell me what's goin' on here?
Rick patted the bony hand that still rested on his arm. "It's gonna be okay, A.J. Everything's gonna work out fine."
A.J. nodded, his exhaustion forcing him to close his eyes. "This is...the worst of it. At least that's what...they tell me. Once the transplant is over...things will...be better."
A.J. sounded like he was almost asleep. "The bone marrow transplant."
sat up straight. "Bone marrow
transplant? A.J., who are you gettin'
this transplant from?"
A.J.'s eyes opened a mere slit. He appeared to be too tired for the odd line of questioning to register as being off-base. "Rick...please. It's not your fault. We've already talked about this."
"There's nothing...you could do. There was only a fifty-fifty chance."
"That'd you'd be a match. They explained all that to us. Please...let's not discuss it anymore. You've got nothing to feel guilty about."
But I do feel guilty, don't I? Or rather, my counterpart does. Maybe that's why this switch was made. Maybe he couldn't stand to be here. Couldn't stand to watch you suffer knowing he was unable to prevent it. Maybe he wasn't gonna be able to offer you the support you need. Based on the amount of booze he put away last night I'd say he's havin' more than a few problems handling all this.
By the time Rick got A.J. into clean pajamas and returned from depositing the sweat soaked ones in the bathroom hamper the younger man was drifting off to sleep.
"A.J.?" Rick said softly. "A.J.?"
A.J. opened swollen eyes.
"I'm gonna go for a while so you can rest. I'll be back later."
don't...have to come back."
"Whatta ya' mean, I don't have to come back? Of course I'm comin' back."
"We talked about it yes...yesterday. You said...you said you needed a break from all this for a couple days. That's why I...I was surprised to see you."
"I said that?"
A small smile touched the corners of A.J.'s mouth. "Unless it was...was another guy who sounded...like you. It's not always...easy to tell who...who's underneath those sharp...looking duds...they've got everyone sporting who...who comes in here."
"Yeah, well, to tell ya' the truth I think it was another guy who sounded like me."
The jerk, Rick thought with vehemence of his counterpart. What's he think he's doing walking out on his brother right when A.J. needs him the most? I swear if I get a hold of him I'll shake the shit outta him and knock some sense into his beer-battered-brain while I'm at it.
Rick focused on the exhausted man. "Yeah, A.J."
meant what I said yes...yesterday. It's
okay. I under...I understand that this
is overwhelming for...for you. It's
that way for me...on most days...too.
It's okay...it’s okay if you have to get away...away from it for a
Rick reached out and rubbed a hand over his brother's shoulder. "A.J., let's forget about what I said yesterday. Whatever it was I didn't mean it. I was...tired and worried. You know how I get when I'm tired and worried."
A.J. gave an impish wrinkle of his nose. "Yeah. Crabby."
In a gesture of playfulness Rick's thumb and forefinger lightly tweaked that nose. "Hey, you. Watch how you talk to your big brother."
A.J. chuckled before allowing his eyes to close.
"A.J., today's a new day, okay? What went on before today, things I might have said, well let's put 'em in the past. The important thing I want you to know is that I'll be here for you every day until they spring you from this joint."
A.J.'s hand groped for his brother's. When he felt Rick's palm slide into his he squeezed. "Thank you."
Rick choked back the tears at the gratitude he heard in his 'other' brother's voice. A gratitude his counterpart didn't deserve.
That bastard. I could kill 'im for hurtin' A.J. like that. What the hell is his problem?
The detective gave A.J.'s hand a final squeeze. "I'll be back later, kid. You rest until then."
A.J. nodded his head without ever reopening his eyes.
With one last look at the sleeping man on the bed Rick returned to the alcove where he stripped off his scrubs. He threw them in the rubber barrel the laminated card told him to leave them in, making sure he sealed the lid tight when he closed it.
There was no one at the nurses' station when Rick walked past. He paused, looking both left and right before reaching over to thumb through the charts. When he came to 'Simon' he plucked the file from its rack. He exited the area, found an empty, secluded office in the hallway, and spent the next twenty minutes reading. Though there was a lot of what was written that he didn't understand, there was a lot he did. If nothing else it filled Rick in on everything that had occurred since A.J. had first seen their family physician four months earlier.
the chart back wasn't quite as easy as obtaining it had been. The nurses' station was manned when Rick
went to return it. He waited outside
the double doors a few minutes, keeping a watchful eye through the small panes
of glass each panel contained. He
finally caught sight of a candy striper coming his way who was carrying a
bouquet of flowers. He hailed the
teenage girl, handing her the chart.
"Young lady, hold up there! I'm Doctor Marlowe. I've just been paged and gotta run. Return this to the nurses' station for me, will ya'?"
The girl was too naive to wonder why Rick didn't have an employee identification card clipped to the pocket of his shirt. As for his casual dress, she was used to seeing doctors in everything from three piece suits to robes and turbans. A cowboy hat barely made her blink.
"Sure, Doctor Marlowe."
Rick beat a hasty retreat for the elevator before the girl could point him out to any inquiring nurse. He didn't leave the grounds, but rather followed the signs that led him to a separate building that housed the hospital's vast medical library. Although he wasn't allowed to check any books out, he was welcome to review all the reference material they had available on leukemia.
The detective had a layman's knowledge of the disease in regards to knowing it was a form of cancer that attacked the blood. What he read over the next three hours considerably expanded his rudimentary understanding. Though there are several types of leukemia, Rick knew from reading his alternate brother's chart that A.J. was afflicted with the most common, lymphocytic leukemia. Lymphocytes invade the bone marrow and interfere with the formation of red blood cells. Twenty years ago a diagnosis of lymphocytic leukemia was almost always fatal. But in the past decade many patients had made remarkable recoveries and gone on to be considered cancer-free as a direct result of bone marrow transplants. Because of marrow transplants, this particular form of leukemia had an eighty percent cure rate, which bolstered Rick's spirits somewhat. However, before the cure could be had, weeks of aggressive treatment took place like A.J. was now incurring. Chemotherapy and radiation are used, sometimes separately and sometimes in combination with one another, to destroy the patient's diseased marrow. This rigorous course of treatment destroys the patient's immune system, as well, hence the need for sterile conditions and sterile dress by visiting family members. Rick learned that in some cases patients are isolated even more so than A.J. had been in something called a Laminar Airflow Unit. The person literally lives in a sterile bubble and rarely do visitors enter this isolated domain. If so, they are clothed in what looks like a space suit, making it impossible to have direct physical contact with their loved one and making their time with the patient limited to thirty minutes because of how hot and uncomfortable the suits are. Long-term studies found the psychological ramifications of this type of isolation to be extremely difficult on both the patient and family, therefore only a small number of cancer institutes in the country employee it. From what Rick read, it appeared that medical experts were equally divided on the pros and cons of its use. If his alternate family was as close as his real family, he could easily imagine that given a choice, A.J. would avoid such total segregation from those he loved.
Rick studied the section on bone marrow transplants with rapt attention. He learned that a patient's best chance of finding a perfect match is within his or her own family, that match generally being a sibling. However, in thirty percent of the cases there will be no match found among a patient's siblings. In this situation a match is looked for among those registered with the National Marrow Donor Program.
The actual transplant itself is a simple procedure. Even simpler for the patient than the donor as the patient receives the marrow intravenously much like a blood transfusion. The donor is the one who undergoes mild pain. An epidural anesthesia is given, then, the marrow is collected from the rear of the donor's pelvic bone. Discomfort during the actual harvesting of the marrow is minimal, but for several days afterwards the donor can expect to experience lower back and muscle pain.
Small price to pay for givin' someone the gift of life, Rick thought. No wonder the other Rick is so upset. I can imagine how I'd feel if it were me. If he's as close to his A.J. as I am to mine, he took it for granted that they’d be a perfect match.
From what he'd read previously, Rick already knew a successful marrow transplant would leave the patient cancer free. However, like with anything good, there is also some bad. Complications can arise after the transplant including rejection, infection as a result of destroying the patient's immune system, or a relapse, meaning the disease reappears in the new marrow. In most cases these complications prove fatal.
It was one o'clock before Rick left the building carrying a stack of photocopies he'd paid one of the librarians to make. He stopped at the Bronco, unlocked it, and placed the copies on the front seat. He hit the power lock switch then shut the door.
I'll go see how A.J.'s doin' then grab a Big Mac and head back to the office for a few hours.
As the detective was walking into the hospital a slender, russet headed woman with wide hazel eyes was stepping out. Both Rick and the woman were so preoccupied they didn't notice one another until they bumped into each other.
Rick stumbled backwards in shock when this alternate Liz immediately wrapped her arms around his waist while resting her head against his chest.
"Oh, Rick, I just came from seeing A.J. He's so sick again. He wouldn't eat any lunch. And the nurse told me he didn’t eat breakfast either."
Rick hesitated before raising a gentle hand to rub over the sobbing woman's back. "I know," he soothed softly. "I know."
Get a load of this, me and Liz comforting one another. Boy, that's something that wouldn't have happened in a million years in my world no matter what the circumstances. If my A.J. had been seriously ill, you can bet Liz and I woulda' been goin' after each other's jugulars the entire time.
Rick looked down at the woman, studying this softer version of Elizabeth Kay Bauman. It appeared as though all the sharp edges that defined the person Rick knew had been left out of this Liz. When she released the detective he could see something else was missing as well - the wedding ring that had been placed on her finger a year after she had broken off her relationship with A.J.
Well whatta ya' know, they must still be an item in this world. Back home they broke up almost five years ago now, and Liz married that Carver guy the next summer. If this A.J. and Liz are serious about one another, I guess that would explain why the hospital would let her into see him even though she's technically not an immediate family member.
Liz wiped at her eyes with the back of one hand. "I brought A.J. a couple of books he was asking for. One of the nurses is going to run them through the sterilizer then give them to him."
Rick nodded his head. From the research he'd just completed he'd learned there was a small unit no bigger than a microwave oven that was used to sterilize personal items brought into the patient.
"Thanks. I'm sure A.J. appreciates it."
you going up to see him?"
"Yeah, for a few minutes."
woman's eyes pleaded with Rick.
"Try to get him to eat something.
You know how important it is that he keeps up his calorie intake."
Yeah, I suppose I do considering that, according to his chart, he's throwing three quarters of it back up.
"I'll see what I can do." Rick laid a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Don't worry, Liz. A.J.'s gonna come out on top of all this."
Liz reached up and grabbed Rick's hand, giving it a hard squeeze. Tears filled her eyes once more. "I hope so, Rick. You have no idea how much I hope so." The woman stood on her tiptoes to give the detective a kiss on the cheek. "I have to get back to work, my lunch hour's almost over. Take care of him for me."
Rick watched as Liz crossed the parking lot. The breeze caused her full-skirted dress to wrap around her legs while the thin heels of her shoes clicked out a steady rhythm against the blacktop. She climbed in a plum colored Nissan Stanza and hesitated a moment before finally driving away. Even from this distance, Rick could tell she had been looking up at the floor that housed A.J.
The detective stopped at the nurses' station and conferred with Gwen. She thought over his request, then gave him permission to act on it. He exited the hospital, jumped in the Bronco and drove away. Thirty minutes later he was back carrying a brown paper bag. He handed the bag off to the nurse then headed toward A.J.'s room. He referred to the instructions again while suiting up, making sure he didn't miss even the smallest detail.
This time Rick paid more attention to the interior of the room than he had that morning. In many ways it was laid out like the average hospital room. A bed was in the center, its head facing the picture window from which hung beige draperies A.J. kept drawn shut. A well-stuffed, comfortable looking brown reclining easy chair sat in a corner next to the bed. A raised eating tray on wheels was to the immediate left of the bed, the metal two-drawer nightstand to the right. Aside from the cup and water pitcher Rick had made use of earlier, the wide nightstand also contained a phone and an intercom. The former allowed the isolated patient contact with the outside world, the latter took the place of the traditional 'call' button to allow the patient easy communication with the nurses and vice versa. A five drawer dresser sat angled in a corner on the far wall from the bed, a nineteen inch television with VCR built right into it rested on top of the dresser. Two movies in plastic cases sat next to the TV with the hospital's name in black letters visible on the labels.
The VCR, movies, and recliner are a little more than most hospitals provide, but I suppose they try to do everything possible to keep the isolated patients from losin' their minds. This would be tough on anybody.
The bathroom Rick had been in earlier held a narrow closet for linens, a sink, mirror, toilet, and shower stall. The stall contained a wide fiberglass seat for those patients too weak to stand up during the process of bathing. The showerhead was removable and attached to a long hose, again to allow the patient the ease of bathing without having to stand.
didn't open his eyes to see who his visitor was, but somehow Rick knew he
wasn't asleep. The detective laid a
hand on his alternate brother's arm.
A.J. gave a barely perceptible nod of his head.
"A.J., you gotta eat something." Rick looked over to see A.J.'s uneaten lunch consisted of chicken and dumpling soup, milk, crackers, vanilla pudding and applesauce.
Rick rolled the tray toward the bed. "Come on. Just a few bites if nothing else."
A.J. rolled his head away. "Can't."
"Hurts too much."
From the reading he'd done, Rick knew the ulcerated sores on A.J.'s lips that looked like open blisters were also inside his mouth. They were caused by one of the drugs he was being given and were painful when they came in contact with most foods.
if I tell you I've got something on its way here right now that won't hurt
goin' down. Will you try it for
opened one wary eye. "What is
Rick laughed at the expression on his brother's face. "I get the impression you don't trust me."
"Well, you're gonna like this, I promise."
Before the brothers could debate the situation any further Gwen appeared in sterile garb. She carried a tall glass complete with straw and spoon.
"Here you go, A.J. Thanks to your brother your real lunch has arrived. Wish my waist line could afford to call this lunch."
Rick took the chocolate malt from the nurse. For the first time in weeks A.J. was interested in a food item.
"How'd you manage this?"
Rick answered through the mask that covered his mouth. "A little old fashioned ingenuity, and a little help from Gwen. If you like it, then she'll make sure the hospital has 'em available for you."
A.J. pressed a button to raise the head of his bed to a thirty degree angle. Rick held onto the heavy glass while aiming the straw at his brother's mouth. A.J. tried to suck the rich liquid through it several times before dropping back to his pillow in exhaustion.
He's too weak to even suck through a straw. Damn, A.J., we gotta get some food in you.
"Here, A.J., I gotta better idea. Let's use the spoon."
A.J. didn't attempt to take the spoon from Rick, but rather allowed his older brother to feed him. The thick, cold ice cream felt good against his sore lips and mouth. It took thirty minutes for A.J. to finish off the entire malt, but Rick didn't rush the procedure. He was just happy to see his idea had been a success.
When the glass was empty Rick sat it on the tray. A.J. gave his brother a weary smile. "Hope this tastes as good coming back up as it did going down."
think it will? Come back up, I
answer was matter-of-fact. "No
doubt. Almost everything else
was glad the mask he was wearing was covering the distraught expression on his
face. "Uh...listen, you want me to
go over those files with you I brought in this morning?"
"Sure." A.J. pointed to the bottom shelf of the nightstand. "They're right down there."
Although neither one of these cases was familiar to Rick, A.J. didn't seem to notice. They got through the first file, Rick making notes where A.J. indicated, but were only halfway through the second file before A.J. drifted off to sleep again.
While A.J. slumbered Rick remained seated at his side on the edge of the bed. Though his mind kept telling him this wasn't his real brother, his heart wouldn't listen.
In a matter of hours you've become as important to me as my own A.J. is. There are so many other things...people in this alternate world that are slightly different from the things and people in my world, but you're not one of them. You're exactly like the A.J. I know. Exactly. You're handlin' this situation just like he would, and that scares the shit outta me. Do you have any idea how hard that makes all this on me?
Though he told himself not to become any more attached to this sick man than he already was, Rick couldn't help but run a light hand over A.J.'s arm in way of saying goodbye. He quietly rose and exited the room, willing himself not to look back.
It was three o'clock before Rick returned to Simon and Simon Investigations that afternoon. He poked his head in Donna's office.
woman looked up from her computer.
"Hi. How was A.J.?"
he eat anything?"
She seems to know all the right questions to ask. She must have a good working relationship with her bosses.
"An entire chocolate malt."
Donna smiled. "Good for him. Let's hope he keeps it down."
"Yeah, let's hope so."
The secretary picked up two thin files along with a handful of phone messages and rounded her desk. "Two new clients came in while you were gone. I took down the necessary information. I told them you and A.J. would look their cases over and call them back with a decision within forty-eight hours."
Rick accepted the files the woman handed him. "Thanks."
The message slips came Rick's way next. "Here's some more people you need to call back. I put them in order of urgency, greatest being at the top to the salesmen at the bottom."
Rick chuckled in appreciation of this woman's efficiency. "Okay. I'll get 'em all taken care of before I head back to the hospital this evening."
"And Mrs. Cassidy is waiting for you in your office."
"Yes. She needs to go over the Carlyle case with you. I have the file sitting on the middle of your desk."
Rick stepped across the hall, his memory refreshing him in regards to the long-ago Carlyle case.
But who the hell is Mrs. Cassidy, and why is she waiting for me?
Rick opened the door to the office that was an exact replica of the one in his world, right down to the placement of the furniture, his pinball machine, A.J.'s weight machine, and the jukebox. Rick's visitor was sitting in a chair across from his desk. Even with her back to him, and even in this alternate world, he'd recognize those long, shapely legs anywhere.
Janet turned at the sound someone entering the room. She rose and greeted the detective halfway with a warm hug.
Despite the feelings of animosity that had been present between A.J.'s ex-wife and Rick in recent years in his world, it was easy to recall the warm friendship he and Janet had once shared. The detective fell back into that mode as though that friendship had existed only yesterday, and not six years in the past now.
kissed the woman on the cheek.
"Hi, sweetie. How ya'
"I'm fine." Janet took a step back, openly scrutinizing the lean man. "How are you?"
Without thinking about it, Rick's reply was exactly what it would have been if he was dealing with this same set of circumstances regarding his brother in his own world. "I've been better I guess, but I'm hangin' in there. Don't have much choice. A.J. needs me."
"Yes, he does. I talked to him on the phone last night. He sounded so weak and exhausted, Rick. I wish I could go see him, but I
know visitors are limited to you and Liz right now."
"Yeah, that's about it. Well, and Mom of course."
By the way Janet's eyebrows arched, and by the concerned furrow of her brow, Rick got the impression he'd said the wrong thing.
"Rick, your moth..." Janet started to speak, then let the sentence fade away as though unsure of what to say.
Rick had no idea what flub he'd just made but hurried to cover it. "It's tough on A.J., bein' so secluded like that, but to be honest with you, he's not up to seein' much of anyone else anyway."
Although her concern was still apparent, Janet was willing to move the conversation forward. "Liz told me how ill he is. And how...he looks."
The conversation seemed so natural Rick never gave it a thought that in his world Janet Fowler had never met Liz Bauman. For a brief moment the detective's eyes clouded over with tears as he thought of the emancipated, bald man he'd just left. "You wouldn't recognize him if you saw him on the street, Janet. But things will get better. I know they will. And once he's outta the hospital I know he'll be thrilled to see you."
Janet smiled. "I plan on being his very first visitor."
Rick indicated to the chair Janet had just vacated. The woman reseated herself while Rick moved to sit behind his desk. When Janet's hands came up to rest on the desk's surface he saw the diamond ring on her left hand.
Interesting turn of events. In my world Janet was already separated from Allan Cassidy in January of '90 and in the process of gettin' divorced.
"I stopped by to discuss the details of Mrs. Carlyle's case."
"Mrs. Carlyle's case?"
"Yes. Mrs. Carlyle. My client."
"Your...oh, yeah sure. Donna mentioned that's why you were here."
Another thing that's different. In my world, Mrs. Carlyle's lawyer was a guy by the name of Clarence Judson.
Just like he'd done with Clarence Judson six years earlier, Rick spent the next half hour reviewing the case and his findings with Janet. The woman asked questions regarding some of the finer points, then pulled a file out of her briefcase. She handed Rick some papers she wanted him to read, including a letter she'd written to the district attorney's office on behalf of her client. A letter that had the heading, Cassidy & Cassidy Law Firm, embossed in gold across the top. Rick took note of the firm's San Diego address.
pretended to read the words on the page.
"So...uh...how is Allan these days?"
"He's fine. Busy of course, but at least one of the pluses of being in business together is that we get to spend so much time with one another."
By the chipper note to her voice I'd say this is definitely not a woman who's about to go through a divorce.
"Great. Tell him I said hi."
Rick called Donna in the room and asked her to make a copy of the papers Janet had given him. Within five minutes the project was complete and Janet was leaving.
Rick stood and walked his visitor to the door. Janet paused on her way out to lay a solicitous hand on the detective's arm. "Take care of yourself, Rick. I know how difficult A.J.'s illness is for you."
"I'll be okay, Janet." Rick kissed the woman's cheek. "You take care of yourself, too."
you going to give me two more?"
Rick laughed at this strange request. "Well, I'd like to, but I don't think your husband would appreciate it."
not for me, silly. For the girls. You always give me a kiss for each of the
girls every time you see me."
Janet held her right hand level with her knees. "The whirlwind of a four-year-old you call Hurricane Hannah." Janet's hand dropped a little lower. "And the two-year-old who shamelessly flirts with you that you call Princess Morgan."
At Rick's blank look the woman supplied, "My daughters, Rick."
Daughters? Get a load a' that. If only in my world her counterpart woulda' been so willing to make A.J. a daddy. They coulda' worked out whatever other problems came their way if Janet would have given A.J. the only thing he ever asked of her. A child.
"Oh...oh your daughters. Sure. Sure." Rick gave Janet two more kisses like his counterpart evidently always did. "Sorry. My mind's...my mind's not exactly here today."
Janet didn't need to make a reply. The look of sympathy she gave the detective said more than any words could have. She gave him a long, warm hug. "I know. You get some rest. You seem awfully...tired."
"I'm gettin' there. I'm gonna return some phone messages, then go see if Mom wants to ride with me to the hospital."
Janet pulled away from the man, a strained expression tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Rick..."
The attorney hesitated a lengthy moment before giving Rick a tight smile and a little pat on the chest. "Nothing. You just get some sleep."
Rick moved to shut the door behind the departing Janet. He paused, watching as she entered Donna's office across the hall. He could hear the two women murmuring in quiet tones. Though he couldn't make out their words, Rick could pick up the concern in their voices. For some reason he got the feeling they were conferring about him.
The detective shrugged as he headed for his desk.
Wonder what that's all about?
If there was one person who knew Rick Simon as well as his brother, it was his mother Cecilia. Rick was willing to bet the same held true in this alternate world. He pulled into the driveway of the home that in every way was a replica of the one he'd grown up in. He took a moment to gather his thoughts, knowing this woman would see through him in a second if he were not extremely cautious.
The detective slammed the Bronco's door then walked the concrete path to the front door. He was halfway there when four screeching children all under the age of ten, two boys and two girls, came tearing around the corner of the house. One of the boys rammed into Rick, gave him a quick, "Sorry, Mister," and continued in pursuit of his siblings. Rick did a double take when the kids threw open the front door and raced inside.
Maybe she's babysittin' for some neighbor's kids or something. Mom does that on occasion in my world. With wry humor the man thought, Or, just my luck I'll find out the little hooligans belong to me. Or my counterpart rather. Won't that be a trip and a half? Or hey, maybe they're A.J.'s. Maybe she's takin' care of them while he's in the hospital. Not that I can imagine A.J. to have kids that wild. And who would their mother be if he's dating Liz? Oh well, it's not like I'm gonna find out unless I go inside.
Without knocking or ringing the doorbell, Rick entered the house. He was halfway through the empty living room and headed for the kitchen when he practically slammed into a man who appeared to be in his late thirties.
what do you think you're doing walking into my--" the man's sentence faded
as his brow furrowed with recognition.
"Uh...yeah." Rick's eyes roamed what he could see of the
kitchen over the man's shoulder.
"I'm looking for my mother."
"Yes. My mother.
"Mr. Simon...uh...my wife and I bought this home from you and your brother three years ago."
me and my brother?"
"After your mother passed away."
swore he could feel his body sway back and forth with shock. "After my mother passed...away?"
"Yes. Look, can I get you something? A drink of water maybe?"
Rick turned, stumbling for the front door. "No. No, I'm fine. I'm sorry about the intrusion. It won't...it won't happen again."
A woman wiping her hands on a dishtowel joined the man, the two of them trailing Rick to the front door. They watched from the porch as he paused to look up at the house before slowly climbing in the Bronco. Even from this distance, the detective easily overheard their conversation.
"What was that all about?" the woman asked.
"I don't know," her husband replied. "He came here looking for his mother. He seems...spacey. Like he's on drugs or something."
Sheridan next door is a good friend of the family. She keeps in contact with one of his aunts. His brother is really sick. Diagnosed with some type of cancer. Leukemia, I think she said. According to the gossip going around this
one...Rick...was that his name?"
"Anyway, he's been drinking heavily."
"Must be true then, because something sure was wrong with him." The man put a protective arm around his wife's shoulders as he led her back into the house. "Don't leave the doors unlocked when you're in the house alone, even if the kids are out playing in the yard. And keep a close eye on them for the next couple of days."
think he'll come back? You think he'll
The man glanced at the big departing Ford. "No, I don't think so. But it's better to be safe than sorry. Something's sure not right about that guy."
Because Rick Simon was a good investigator no matter what world he existed in, he soon uncovered the facts around his counterpart's mother's death. Three and half years earlier the Cecilia Simon of this world had gone for her morning walk but cut it short, complaining to the women she exercised with of feeling weak. Later in the day it was Rick's alternate self who found his mother lying unconscious on her kitchen floor, felled by a massive stroke. She remained in a coma five days before death claimed her.
It was armed with these facts that Rick began to better understand his counterpart's recent actions. The heavy smoking, drinking, and the deep depression that warranted phone calls from concerned friends. The man was scared. Scared he was going to lose the only family member he had left.
But that doesn't excuse him not standin' by A.J. That doesn't excuse me havin' to be here 'cause he's too big of a chicken shit to handle what life's dealt him.
Rick sat at the kitchen table on his counterpart's boat and tossed back his seventh beer. Darkness had fallen two hours earlier, but he'd made no move to eat dinner or return to the hospital.
The brooding detective cupped the cold bottle between his palms. There wasn't one part of this scenario he was enjoying. In less than twenty four hours he'd come to completely identify with his alternate family. To feel their pain as if it were his own. To feel such enormous sorrow at discovering the loss of this Cecilia Simon, in the same way he'd feel it if the woman had been his mother. To experience the heartache surrounding A.J.'s illness in the same way he'd experience it in his own world.
Rick drained the bottle of its last drop, then reached for the next cold beer lined up before him like a dutiful soldier. He picked up the bottle opener, snapped the top off, and listened as it fell into the pile of discarded metal caps with a tiny ‘ping.’
Even on this, his sixth beer in less than forty minutes, he had yet to feel the warm buzz the alcohol should be producing somewhere in his brain. He had yet to feel his nervous system begin to shut down and relax. He had yet to feel the stupor he so desperately wanted to slip into.
The man fumbled around in the deep side pocket of his counterpart's field jacket. He pulled out the open pack of Marlboro's and smiled.
Ain't had the pleasure of enjoying one of you boys in a good number of years now, but if I remember correctly you complemented a cold beer in a mighty fine way.
Rick tapped the package against the edge of the table until a cigarette appeared. He slid it between his lips with ease, giving no indication he was twelve years out of practice. He found a Bic lighter in the same pocket that held the cigarettes. It was as he was bringing the flame to the stick of tobacco in his mouth that he gave a deep growl of disgust. He threw the lighter aside, the cigarette joining it seconds later. Rick’s eyes scanned the empty beer bottles on the table, then took in those waiting their turn to be poured down his throat.
"No, I'm not gonna do this! I'm not gonna be like him. I'm not him! I'm not him and this isn't my world. It isn't my world, and I don't have to be a part of it."
The lanky man pushed himself up from the table, stepping over the dog lying in the middle of the galley floor. He whisked his keys and hat up off the counter as he passed. He locked the patio door behind him and stomped toward the Bronco, the marina's floodlights giving him a clear path to see by.
"I'm gonna go talk to A.J. To this other A.J. He'll probably think I'm crazy, but hell, I don't care. I'm gonna tell him what's goin' on. I'm gonna tell him who I really am. I'm gonna tell him his real brother walked out on him. I'm gonna tell him I'm sorry about that, but I can't help either one of them. There's no way I should have to live through this shit. It's a family problem, and contrary to what everyone thinks, I ain't family."
Rick climbed into the Bronco, peeled out of his parking space with tires squealing, and pulled onto the street.
"No siree, I ain't family, and this alternate A.J. is just gonna have to live with that."
It was after ten p.m. when Rick walked down the hospital corridor with a spring to his step. No one attempted to hamper his progress, which led him to believe visiting hours weren't strictly regulated on this wing.
Probably because the patients' visitors are limited to immediate family members. In most cases I suppose it means they don't have very many people comin' to see 'em.
Rick tried to ignore the small stab of guilt that thought produced. Once he divested himself of any obligation to this alternate brother he'd acquired, that meant the only visitor A.J. would have is Liz.
Hey, it's not my problem. I can't help it if this Rick Simon is a shmuck who turned his back on the kid.
Rick also tried to ignore the small voice in his head that said, Who are you to judge? The man is frightened. Frightened he's got no choice but to stand by and watch his brother die. Maybe given the same set of circumstances you'd do the same thing.
Rick received an odd look from a passing nurse when he spoke out loud with firm conviction, "No, I wouldn't."
The detective barely needed to glance at the sterilization instructions as he went about the necessary routine. For some reason he couldn't meet his own eyes in the mirror when he told himself, Once I tell A.J. what the deal is here, I'm home free. That's all I gotta do. Once I renege on this assignment, or obligation, or whatever it is, I'll be back where I belong. Heck, what difference can it make anyway? If the transplant takes then he's got a good chance of makin' it. If it doesn't...well, if it doesn't there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing I, or his real brother, can do about it.
Rick took a deep breath before opening the door.
Might as well get this over with.
Although he'd seen A.J. violently ill that morning, Rick wasn't expecting the scene that awaited him. The sick man was on his hands and knees on the floor being assaulted by dry heaves with an intensity that went beyond any he'd experienced previously.
The detective forgot all about his resolve to let this alternate brother know he wasn't really family and ran to A.J.'s side. Rick never was sure if A.J. had fallen out of bed in the middle of a gut-wrenching cramp, or if he'd purposefully moved to this position with the thought it would somehow bring relief. When it was all over with even A.J. himself didn't know.
Rick didn't attempt to move the man, but rather dropped down to his knees beside him. He wrapped his arms around A.J.'s chest being careful not to make his hold too tight. Rick eased himself to the floor in a seated position, bringing A.J. with him. The sick detective lay on his side in Rick's arms with his face tucked into Rick's chest, his legs bent at the knees. The comfort Rick offered came without thought or hesitation.
"It's okay. It's okay. I'm here now." He brought a hand up to A.J.'s face, wiping at the perspiration beaded there. "It's okay. Just roll with it. It's okay."
A.J. rocked his body back and forth within Rick's embrace. The heaving and struggling gasps for breath didn't stop long enough for him to say anything, but Rick could see the fear in his blue eyes slowly recede - as if big brother's presence was going to make everything better. A.J. reached up and latched on to Rick's right arm, his grip tightening reflexively when the stomach spasms were at their worst. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain and moaned between cracked and ulcerated lips.
"I can't...I can't...do this anymore. I can't...I don't...want...to. I want to...go home. Take me home...Rick. Take me...home please."
Rick stroked his fingers over A.J.'s ear. "No, A.J, I won't do that. You gotta stay here and see this thing through. You can't quit now."
can. I...I want to. It doesn't...mat...matter to
me...anymore. It's...not worth...worth
Rick forgot about being gentle when he gave A.J.'s body a firm jerk. "Yes it is worth it! And it might not matter to you, but it matters to me. Do you hear me, A.J.? It matters to me, goddamn it, and I'll kick your ass from here to the moon if you ever say anything like that again! Do you hear me? Huh, do you hear me?"
A.J. gave a weak nod. "I hear...hear you. But...but it hurts, Rick. Oh God it hurts...hurts more than I ever...imagined."
Rick leaned his head against the man's and brought his mask-covered mouth close to A.J.'s ear. "I know. I know it does, Andy. I know. Just hang in there for me, buddy. I need you. I need you. I can't...I can't live this life without you. I'll be here with you every step of the way, but you gotta keep up your end of the bargain. You can't give up. A.J. Simon is not a quitter. He does not give up."
Another spasm of his empty stomach didn't allow A.J. to reply, but to Rick it seemed as though the man was fighting with renewed strength. That somehow he found a source of reserves deep inside himself to draw from.
When it was finally over A.J. laid exhausted with his eyes closed in Rick's arms. Rick looked down at the man he was cradling, the man who was more like his brother than not.
How can I do anything but what I just promised you? I can't not be here for you every step of the way. He walked out on you, but that's not your fault. You shouldn't have to pay the price for his shortcomings. If I leave, you won't have anyone. Your parents are dead. You don’t have a wife or children. Your brother is all you have left. You need him right now more than you've ever needed him in your entire life. And I guess...I guess if I'm supposed to take his place then I'll do it. Even if it means...even if it means I'm here to help you die, rather than to help you live. I don't want that to be the reason, but it might be. It might be, and I'll see it through until the end.
It was a long time before A.J. had the energy to rise that night. Rick supported his meager weight while helping him to the bathroom. A.J. allowed 'his brother' to strip him of his sweat-drenched pajamas and seat him in the shower stall. The sick man melted back against the fiberglass wall while Rick set the water temperature to a comfortable level then removed the showerhead. He let the water travel over A.J.'s body like a light, soothing gentle rain until the man indicated he was ready to get out.
A.J. remained seated while Rick dried him off. He stood and stepped out of the stall with Rick's aid, but didn't move any farther than the closed lid of the toilet where he sat again. A.J. didn't attempt to help while Rick dressed him in clean pajamas, though did manage to quip weakly, "One thing about being bald, it makes showering a lot quicker."
Rick chuckled. "I've been telling you that for years." He grasped the man underneath the arms, and with little effort lifted A.J. to his feet. "Here we go, kid. Let's get you back to bed."
A.J.'s eyes closed the moment his body came to a gentle rest on the mattress, but he never removed his hand from his brother's arm.
There's gotta be something more I can do for you. There's gotta be a reason why I'm here other than to watch you suffer like this.
"A.J., it's gettin' late. I'm gonna go now so you can sleep."
The bald head nodded against the pillow. "Thanks. For...for being here. I couldn't...couldn’t have gotten through it...without you."
Rick made no reply, but instead bent to touch his mask covered lips to his brother's temple. If this A.J. thought that gesture was odd, or out of character, he didn't comment on it. His head turned slightly on the pillow, and Rick felt the light brush of A.J.'s mouth against the small portion of cheek bone left peeking through between his mask and eyes.
Rick patted the man's shoulder. "Take it easy, Andy. I'll tell the nurses to keep a close eye on you. If you need me to come back tonight have one of 'em call me. Otherwise, I'll see you in the morning."
detective had to strain to hear A.J.'s response. "Yeah. See you...see
you in the morning." Before Rick
got to the door that led to the alcove A.J. spoke again. "Rick?"
eyes opened a mere crack. "Since
when have you started calling me Andy?"
Oh shit. I never gave it a thought that the other Rick might not refer to his brother by Andy, like I sometimes refer to mine.
"Why? Would you prefer I don't?"
Rick swore he saw an intensity behind A.J.'s gaze that spoke of the man's private investigation instincts kicking into high gear.
it’s...it's okay. I was just wondering,
that's all. I don't remember you ever
calling me that before."
"I won't do it again if you don’t want me to."
smiled as he allowed his eyes to close once more. "Doesn't bother me.
I was just asking. Besides, it
makes me think of Dad. He used to call
me that, remember?"
do, kid. And Uncle Ray, too."
"Uncle Ray?" A.J.'s eyes popped open. "Uncle Ray always called me Andrew. Nothing but Andrew. I always hated that. Made me feel like I'd done something wrong. Geez, he was a harsh old SOB wasn't he."
Ray, a harsh son-of-a-bitch who referred to you as Andrew? In my world Uncle Ray was, and at age sixty-three still is, nothing but an overgrown kid who's never called you anything but Andy. Gee, there really are some differences in this world.
"Yeah...yeah he was. Harsh that is. Well whatever, I'm getting out of here now because you need to rest. Good night...Andy."
A small smile touched A.J.'s lips as he slipped off to sleep.
Rick sat in the hospital's parking lot a long time that night, wondering if he would come to regret the commitment he'd made to this alternate brother. The commitment he'd had no intention of making a mere two hours earlier.
Why am I here? He kept asking himself as he drove back to the marina. Why was this switch made? There's got to be a reason. There's got to be a reason other than me being forced to watch this man die.
Rick sat up all night long reviewing the photocopies he'd had made at the medical library thinking perhaps this was where he'd find his
As the sun dawned, so did revelation.
be reasonable. You're grasping at
straws. I know it's hard to see A.J.
going through the chemo in preparation of the transplant, but that's the way
it's got to be."
"I understand that, Joel." Rick sat on the edge of the chair the doctor had offered him. "All I'm saying is I want you to test my blood again."
The stocky doctor ran a hand through his shaggy curls while leaning his weary body back against his desk. His working day had started at five a.m. He hadn't expected it to end twelve hours later with an obstinate Rick Simon in his office.
"Rick, we did the test two months ago. You weren't a match. We discussed that possibility. Because every offspring receives his or her genetic code from both parents, it's not unusual for siblings to be unsuitable as transplant donors. It's the same reasoning behind why you have dark hair and A.J. has light. Why you're two inches taller than he is. Why the two of you don't share the same eye color or resemble
"Joel, I know all that. But the best donors, the cases in which the transplants are most successful, is when the marrow comes from a brother or sister of the patient. Am I correct?"
"Yes, you're correct. But there's nothing you or I can do to change the fact that you aren't a match."
"Look...call me crazy. God knows I've been called worse. But for some reason I can't explain I think there was a mistake. I have a feeling if the test is done again, you'll find out I'm a perfect match."
this is A.J.'s life we're talkin' about.
What the hell is one little blood test compared to that?"
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But I'm seeing a hope in your eyes
that scares me, Rick. You...you've been taking this very hard, I realize that. I know you were counting on the test results having a different outcome than they did. I know because you and A.J. are so close, you thought you were going to be the one we'd harvest the marrow from. But I warned you it didn't work that way. I told you--"
know what you told me. I know what you
told me, and I've read a lot about it, too.
But at this point what do we have to lose? I want you to do the test one more time. If it shows again that I'm not a match, I
won't say another word about it."
gazed down at his friend. He'd spent a
lot of time worrying about Rick in recent weeks, as had everyone who was close
to the man. He never imagined he'd see
Rick Simon cry, but he saw just that the day he told the detective that his
marrow wasn't a match for his brother's.
Rick took it a lot harder than Joel anticipated he would. The few times Joel had seem him since, the
detective had appeared to be lost in the foggy world of deep depression. Rumor had also reached the doctor in regards
to the man's heavy drinking.
"Okay, so you won't say another word about it, but how will you
"Like I tried. Like I gave it my best shot. I have to do this, Joel. Please, for my own peace of mind the test has to be run one more time. If you won't do it, I'll find someone else who will."
The doctor sighed in defeat. "I'll be right back."
The man returned with a disinfectant wipe, syringe, rubber strap, cotton ball, and Band-aid. It took him only seconds to find a plump, willing vein in Rick's left arm. The detective watched the plastic vile turn deep rich red. Somehow he knew that liquid held the key to saving A.J.'s life.
Joel rose from his stooped position as he finished securing the Band-aid over the small wound. "We'll know in a couple of days. In the meantime, I don't want you to get your hopes up. We've already got a donor lined up for A.J. He's luckier than a lot of people, Rick. Some never find a match."
"I know." Rick rolled down his shirtsleeve and stood. "But A.J.'s found more than that. He's found me."
The doctor shook his head at Rick's retreating back, wondering how the man was going to accept the news Joel was certain he'd be giving him by week's end.
But the news was far from what the doctor thought it would be. He had the lab run the test four more times before he finally picked up the phone and called Rick. The detective didn't seem surprised at all, as if he had known all along this would the ultimate outcome.
"How soon will we get this show on the road?" Rick asked from the phone in his office.
"In three weeks."
Rick looked at the work piled around him. Some of the cases he'd gotten through quickly because he'd already tackled them six years earlier in 'his world,' therefore knew the outcome. But others were completely unfamiliar and taking longer. Like Donna had said, Simon and Simon was backlogged. Three more weeks should give Rick the time he needed to get things in order. He supposed he shouldn't care whether or not he got the case load under control for his counterparts, but for some reason he did. In a short period of time Rick had become so caught up in what was going on in this alternate universe he quite often forgot it wasn't his reality.
"Great," Rick replied. "I'll be ready. And listen, Joel, don't tell A.J. about the test results. I wanna do it."
Rick could tell Joel Lankey was smiling. "I wouldn't dream of it. You deserve to do the honors yourself."
The very capable Donna proved to be a Godsend. She kept the office running smoothly while Rick wasn't there, and guided his attention in the necessary direction when he was. He walked across the hall, tossing a completed file on her desk from the doorway. Rex looked up from the rawhide bone he was chewing on.
"You can file that, Donna. Oh, the bill's inside. Mail it to Mrs. Thomas for me please."
"Sure thing, Rick." The woman smiled at her boss. "You look the happiest I've seen you in weeks. Good news, I hope."
Rick grinned, giving the secretary a ‘thumbs up.’ "The best I've had in a long time. I'm gonna be outta the office the rest of the afternoon. I'll be at the hospital if you need me."
take it you'd like me to drop Rex off at your boat when I leave for the
"No, I don't mind. That's part of what I get paid for."
you deserve every penny we give you."
Rick started to leave the room, only to pause in the doorway. "Say, Donna, how long has it been since
we've given you a raise?"
months ago. On my two year
"Well, you deserve another one. I'll see to it an additional dollar an hour is added to your check come Friday. And a three hundred dollar cash bonus for all the extra work you're doin' on account of me being out of the office so much."
"Rick! That's very generous of you, but with A.J. being ill right now I think you'd better--"
held up a warning finger. "Uh, uh,
huh. Never argue with the boss."
"Are you sure this is going to be okay with A.J.? You guys never make decisions like this without discussing it with one another first."
me, Donna, after A.J. hears the news I'm gonna share with him this afternoon,
anything will be okay. Absolutely
Rick's news didn't bring the elation he was expecting, however. As a matter of fact, there was little reaction at all. He sat perched on the edge of the hospital bed in sterile garb while A.J. reclined in the easy chair covered by a light blanket, an IV flow of drugs dripping into one vein.
"A.J., don't you get it? Now you're gonna have a better chance of beatin' this thing."
A.J.’s words were as hallow and empty as the eyes. "A chance. Nothing but a chance. Not a guarantee, Rick. Just a chance. A chance...a chance I'm not sure I care about taking anymore."
Rick was aware the past week had been especially rough on his alternate sibling. The forced isolation of the illness was taking its toll on the man. As well, he was vomiting up almost every ounce of food that went him, weakening him even further and causing him to become increasingly dependant on those around him for even his most basic needs. A.J. had been withdrawn and quiet the last three days, too, barely speaking to either Liz or Rick when they visited. When Rick mentioned his concerns regarding A.J.'s mental state to the head nurse, Gwen, he was told depression on the part of a patient as ill as A.J. was normal. It might be normal, but that didn't mean Rick Simon had to like it. Or allow it to grow with coddling and "Oh poor A.J.," platitudes.
chance you're not sure you care about taking anymore, huh? And just what's that supposed to mean?
A.J. rolled his head away from the lanky man. "What it sounds like it means."
"I thought we had this discussion last week. I thought you said you weren't a quitter."
"I didn't say that. You said that."
"Oh. I see." Rick's tone was terse and harsh. "So you are a quitter."
A.J. moved his head enough on the pillowed back of the chair so that once again he could meet his brother's eyes. "It's not a dirty word, Rick. Quit. It means to discontinue. To stop. There's nothing wrong with that."
"There is when what you're talking about discontinuing is your life."
"My life. My choice."
flippant answer enraged the older man.
"And what about me?"
"Don't I have a say-so in all this? Seems to me I've been here with you from the start. Seems to me from the very first day you were diagnosed you've included me in every decision you've made." Though the words flowed from Rick's mouth without conscious thought, he instinctively knew they were true, because faced with the same set of circumstances in his own world they would have been true. "So now you're tellin' me what here, A.J.? To take a hike? To hit the road? That what I think or feel doesn't mean shit to you?"
A.J.'s quiet words were in total contrast to his brother's shouts.
think and feel means a lot to me. It
always has. You know that. But you aren't the one going through this. You don't know what it's like to puke your
guts out every day until there's nothing left to vomit up, only to have your
stomach continue to turn itself inside out for another hour. You don't know what it's like to be so
nauseous you lie in that bed clinging to those railings because you feel like
you're on a raft in a tidal wave. You don't know what it's like to have your
mouth so full of open sores that it hurts to swallow your own saliva. You don't know what it's like to look at
yourself in the mirror and to not even recognize your own face. You don't know what it's like to be trapped
in this room like a damn zoo animal in a cage.
You don't know what it's like to have to depend on your brother just to
help you get to the bathroom that's only ten steps away. You don't what it's like to be so weak your
brother has to support your weight just so you can take a leak for crying out
loud. You don't know what any of it's
like, so don't stand in judgment of me, Rick."
"You think I don't know what any of those things are like, huh? Where to hell do you think I've been for the past three months? Siberia?"
"No. You've been here. Believe me, I know that.
But just because you've watched me go through all this, doesn't mean you
know first hand what it's like."
"Okay, you're right," Rick conceded. "I guess I don't know first hand what it's like. But I do know this. I know that if this marrow transplant is successful you have an eighty percent chance of being cured, A.J. Eighty percent. That's not just a small piece a' the pie we're talking about, kid, that's practically the whole thing. And if you want my personal opinion, we can jump them odds up by ten percent because now we know you're gonna get that marrow from me. Your sibling. Your best chance at that transplant taking."
"And what if it doesn't?"
There was a long pause, then Rick emitted a heavy sigh. "Then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
A.J. rolled his head away once more. "I've crossed a lot of bridges in the past three months. I don't know that I care to cross any more."
"So this is it. This is how it's gonna end? Three weeks away from the transplant taking place and you're gonna throw in the towel? Call it quits? Oh, excuse me, not quits, but rather you're going to discontinue doing something because it makes your belly hurt."
Despite his nausea A.J. whipped his head toward his brother, his eyes flashing bright with anger. "Don't you dare trivialize it! Don't you dare stand over me and act like I've changed my mind about attending a goddamn Boy Scout Jamboree! You can't put yourself in my place, Rick, so don't even try!"
"No, I can't put myself in your place, and I guess you can't put yourself in mine either! But I'm gonna tell you one thing, A.J., and you'd better unplug them stubborn ears of yours and listen up. I didn't come all this way to watch you die!" Rick yelled, his fury causing him to forget to exercise caution regarding his words lest he give himself away. "I haven't been spendin' every waking moment of the past week trying to figure out what my purpose is here! I haven't been keeping your office running just so it can be called Simon Investigations! And most of all, I didn't bully Joel into giving me another blood test just so you could tell me you don't think you've got the guts to live!" Rick pushed himself away from the bed and stomped for the door. He turned before exiting, pointing one stern finger at the man in the chair. "You'd better rethink your position here, pal. I told you I'd be with you every step of the way and I meant it. But if this is the path you're gonna choose to walk down then you can just forget about me walkin' beside you. You're gonna be walkin' it alone from now on, do you hear me?" Rick's voice rose as his fury increased. “You're gonna be walkin' it alone, because I will not accept my brother choosing death over life! I won't! I won't accept it, and I won't be a part of it!"
Long after the door slammed and Rick had left the building, A.J. sat in the chair staring up at the ceiling. Twice he reached for the needle in his vein with the intention of yanking it out. And twice the echo of his brother's words made him stop.
was after midnight when the phone rang on Rick's boat. The man was in bed, but far from
asleep. He rolled on his side, picking
up the receiver on the third ring.
It didn't matter what world Rick Simon was currently existing in, he'd have recognized the voice anywhere.
bone marrow I'm going to get from you?"
"Does that mean I'll have a taste for chili cheese dogs, tequila, and Merle Haggard music?"
The detective laughed before reaching up to wipe at a sudden tear. "You just might, little brother. You'd better watch out, 'cause you
The transplant procedure was exactly like Rick had read it would be. Due to local anesthesia, the harvesting of his marrow was relatively painless. Within a few hours, however, the site where the needle had gone in grew sensitive and the detective walked with a slight limp, feeling as though the muscles in his lower back had been twisted through a meat grinder. It was well worth the discomfort, however, to see the life giving matter flowing into A.J.'s veins.
A.J. was sleeping with a blue Simon & Simon baseball cap resting on his bald head, the cap having been a recent gift from his alternate older brother. Although Joel Lankey was a general practitioner as opposed to an oncologist, he'd been present throughout the recent procedure. He and Rick stood outside A.J.'s room observing the slumbering man through the picture window that now had the drapes pulled open.
"I don't know how you convinced me it warranted testing you again," Joel said. "Or why I listened to you when my common sense told me you were setting yourself up for a big disappointment."
"Doesn't matter how or why, Joel. What matters is what I knew all along. A.J.'s best chance at life was gonna come from me."
Joel watched the liquid flow through the IV tubing. "Provided his body doesn't reject the marrow, or he doesn't experience the assortment of other problems we've discussed in the past, there's a very good possibility we'll eventually consider him cancer-free."
"His body won't reject it, and there won't be other problems. And yeah, there will come a day when you and the other specialists consider him cancer-free."
Joel's facial expression spoke of his open skepticism. "What makes you so certain?"
Rick placed a hand on the doctor's shoulder, but his eyes never left his sleeping ‘brother.’ "Let's just say there was a purpose to be served here and leave it at that. A very important purpose."
It was a weary Rick Simon who was released from the hospital twenty four hours after the transplant procedure. He returned to his counterpart's boat, uncertain as to how much longer he was to exist in this alternate world, but also unconcerned about that fact. He'd come to feel right at home despite the subtle changes and differences, quite often he forgot it wasn't his A.J. he was trying so hard to save.
Rick sat the small, zippered overnight bag he was carrying on the kitchen countertop. He did a double take when he saw Rex slumbering on the living room floor. He'd left the dog with his next door neighbor, Clarissa. The woman's counterpart in Rick's own world had a German shepherd named Molly, and often took care of the Rex for him when he was away for a few days.
detective gave a moan in deference to his sore back as he hunched down in front
of the dog. "So what's the scoop
here, boy? Weren't you behaving for
Clarissa? Were you chasing Molly around
again trying to get something from her she didn't wanna give? Did Clarissa have to ban you to your own boat?"
"I brought him home. And in my world Molly's name is Mindy, and she's spade."
Rick forgot all about his aching back as he whipped his body around at the sound of the voice that was familiar in a surreal, eerie way. He slowly came to his feet, never taking his eyes off the man standing in the bedroom doorway. It was like looking at his identical twin, or viewing himself in the mirror. Except for the eyes. The eyes held a depth of bleak sorrow Rick's were lacking.
Rick crossed the living room in four strides. "You bastard! You son of a bitch!" He grabbed his counterpart by the lapels of his field jacket, balled his fist, and belted the man right in the chops. The other Rick didn't attempt to defend himself. He flew across the bedroom, landing against the opposite wall with a 'thud' that knocked his cowboy hat from his head.
Rick stood over the man, not sure whether to offer him a hand or hit him again. His counterpart looked up at him while gingerly working his aching jaw with one hand.
I deserved that, huh?"
deserved that, and a helluva lot more.
How could you walk out on him?
How could you tell him you needed a break from it? You needed a break? You sorry-ass chicken shit sonuvabitch, do
you have any idea what he's gone through?"
Rick's counterpart pushed himself up the wall. "Yeah," he replied in a quiet voice so full of pain it was palpable. "Yeah, I have a pretty good idea as to what he's gone through."
stepped away from the man. Because of
his tender hip he slowly eased himself to the edge of the queen size bed. As angry as he was at his counterpart, he
couldn't help but feel this Rick's anguish and regret. Or acknowledge that he, the man who had so
desperately wanted to return to his own world on many occasion in the past few
weeks, had no right to judge.
"Yeah...yeah I guess you do, don't you?"
The other man moved to sit in a chair that was angled in a corner opposite the bed. For a long moment the two detectives studied one another. Finally, the man who belonged to this world spoke.
"I knew you'd come."
"I knew you'd come. I knew if I couldn't be here, that somehow you would be. I knew all along he wouldn't be alone."
"That you exist?"
"I know there's another world out there somewhere that's similar to mine, while at the same time being different. I know you and your brother live in that world, just like me and mine live in this one."
how does this happen? How do we end up
Rick's counterpart shrugged. "Beats me. Though this time we didn't."
"Switch places. I left San Diego, but I didn't leave my world."
pondered this turn of events and wondered what that meant. Wondered if his mother and brother were
frantic because he'd been gone for over a month now with no counterpart present
to take his place. There wasn't much
he could do about that concern right now, however, so pushed it to the back of
his mind. Though he already knew the answer
to his next question, Rick asked it anyway.
"Why'd you leave him?"
man looked down at his folded hands, worrying the long fingers into tight
knots. He didn't seem to realize he was
rocking his body back and forth ever so slightly. "Because I'm so scared I'm gonna lose him. Because I'm so scared he's gonna die. Because every day that went by it was harder
and harder for me to watch him suffer.
But running away from it didn't help, it only made it worse. Not a second passed while I was gone that I
didn't think about him and worry about him.
Well...except those times I was too wasted to know my own
name." The man's head rose. "So you're right. I'm a chicken shit. I couldn't face what life dealt me and I ran
from it. Ran from the man who is both
my brother and best friend. Ran because
I couldn't help him."
"The bone marrow transplant they wanna do. I thought I'd be the match. I...I was countin' on it pretty heavy, I guess. When I found out it wasn't to be, I felt like I'd failed A.J. It was the only way I could help him, and yet I failed him."
"It wasn't the only way you could help him. Just being here with him and for him was all he'd ever ask of you. Whether you could or couldn't be the transplant donor was of little consequence to him."
"I know," the man whispered shame-faced, his eyes dropping back to his lap. "That's what made it all the more difficult." His voice trembled when he asked, "Is he..."
finished the question the man couldn't.
"Very much so."
The man looked up at the light tone behind Rick's voice. Rick stood, beckoning his counterpart toward the bedroom doorway. "I've come to learn over the years that these strange little...sojourns I take into your world are usually for a purpose. It took me a while to figure out what the purpose of this one was, but when I did let's just say I hit the nail square on the head. That bein' the case, I think it's way past time you reenter your brother's life. That is, if you're ready."
The man nodded with newfound strength. "Regardless of what the future holds, I'm ready. I'm ready to be here for my brother."
"Truthfully, I think you always were," Rick said. The men stepped out into the California night and walked toward the Bronco. "I don't really understand it, but what happened had to. There was no other choice."
had to go away, and I had to be here."
"I'll explain it on the drive to the hospital. You might be surprised as to how I came to acquire it."
Rick's counterpart gave him a thoughtful, knowing look. "Or I might not be."
"You're right, you might not be." Rick smiled while draping an arm over the man's shoulders. "Come to think of it, you might not be surprised at all."
It was late when the two men arrived on the eighth floor of University Metropolitan Hospital. Rick knew it was more than fate that left the nurses' station unmanned that night, and left the hallways vacant of any visitors or personnel. He and his 'twin' walked unhindered to room 108. They paused as one outside the door.
counterpart spoke first. "You're
not coming in?"
"No. For some reason, I get the feelin' I've ridden this pony as far as I'm supposed to. This is where I'll unsaddle."
The man held his hand out. Rick took it and they exchanged a firm shake.
"Thanks for what you did. For the transplant. And for bein' here when I...when I couldn't be."
thanks is necessary," Rick replied.
"Instinct tells me everything that's happened has been by
design. Given the opportunity, you
wouldn't be able to go back and change the events regardless of how much you
might want to." Rick stepped
away. "Take care of your brother
for me. I didn't let them ram a needle in my hip for nothin' ya' know."
"I know. I'll take care of him. Believe me, you won't be called here again on my account. I plan on stickin' around as long as the powers-that-be allow it."
"Glad to hear it," Rick smiled, "cause I got a feelin' your brother's gonna be around for many years to come. He wouldn't wanna go through those years without you."
"And, as you well know,” Rick’s ‘twin’ said, “I wouldn't wanna go through those years without him either."
Rick's voice stopped his counterpart's progress for the alcove door. "Oh, and hey listen."
"Uh, if Abby's a little narked off at you, I guess that's kinda my fault."
off at me? Why?"
"I've been doin' a pretty good job of avoidin' her since I got here. Then the one night she did finally catch up with me, I wasn't too willing to participate in the...ummm...evening she had planned, if you get my drift."
counterpart arched a surprised brow.
"So you two aren't an item in your world?"
The man laughed at the expression on Rick's face and the firm protest in his voice. "Either your Abigail Marsh is very different from mine, or we simply don't have the same taste in women."
"Who knows?" Rick shrugged with mild amusement as the man turned away. "Might just be a little bit of both."
The detective stood in the hallway while his counterpart disappeared into the alcove. Rick stood in a far corner of the picture window and watched through the glass as the man, now dressed in sterile garb, approached the bedside of his sleeping brother.
Rick's counterpart knelt down and ran a hand over A.J.'s right arm. Even from this angle Rick could see tears streaming down the man's face that were being absorbed in his surgical mask. His presence stirred A.J. awake. If the blond man was confused as to why his brother was kneeling by his bedside crying, he didn't voice it. He reached his left arm across his body to lightly caress the man's head.
Because of the glass Rick couldn't hear the words the brothers exchanged, but somehow he knew his counterpart was offering sob-choked apologies. Apologies that the man in the bed shouldn't have understood the reason for, but somehow did. Apologies that were gently but firmly rebuked.
What A.J. said that made his brother's sobs turn to a throaty chuckle Rick wasn't sure, though he could easily imagine A.J. had told the man he had a strange craving for a chocolate chip omelet. Or perhaps had a hankering for a spicy burrito, or a peanut butter and banana sandwich. All of them were foods Rick Simon loved regardless of what world he resided in, and all of them were foods A.J. Simon, any A.J. Simon, would turn up his nose at just the mere thought of.
Rick watched as his counterpart draped an arm over his brother's stomach in a loose embrace and buried his head in the man's pajama top. Rick had been certain he was well out of A.J.'s line of vision, and was therefore taken aback when the man's eyes locked with his. A.J. gave him a smile and a ‘thumbs up,’ an action Rick, despite his shock, mirrored without conscious thought.
I wonder if he's known all along?
Rick could have sworn it was A.J.'s voice he heard in his head as if in answer to his question.
Since when have you started calling me Andy?
While Rick stood perplexed, he saw A.J.'s smile broaden and watched his nose wrinkle in that familiar impish gesture of silent teasing.
Rick had a feeling he'd never get the opportunity to discover whether or not his alternate brother had somehow telepathically communicated with him, or whether his tired mind had simply kicked his over-active imagination into full swing. Rick supposed that overall it really didn't matter. What mattered was he gave one man back his life. No, make that two men. He'd given two men back their lives.
A.J. threw Rick a little wave as the detective turned to walk away. Rick waved back, but A.J. didn't see the movement. His eyes were closed now as one hand rubbed the shoulder of the brother who held him in a firm embrace.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
That wild feeling of free-fall tumbling prevailed once more. Rick tried to find a handhold but couldn't. He was twisting and turning in the dream-gone-out-of-control, his body being tossed about like he was caught in the middle of a tornado.
The first conscious thing Rick was aware of was the solid ground beneath his knees. That, and the warm body he was gripping, his face buried in the person's side as he mumbled, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Rick wasn't certain if it was dream or reality when he heard a familiar voice say, "What the...Rick? What the hell are you doing?"
Rick's head emerged from its hiding place at the same time A.J. leaned up on one elbow and flicked on his bedside lamp.
It took a moment for Rick to acclimate himself to this surroundings. He was kneeling beside his brother's bed, one arm loosely draped over A.J.'s bare stomach. Or loosely draped until A.J. lifted it off so he could sit up.
Rick quickly pivoted in order to hide the tears running down his cheeks. That sudden action forced him to stifle the moan produced by the sensitive nerve endings in his right hip.
The tousled A.J. studied his brother with a mixture of bewilderment and anger. "Again I ask, what the hell are you doing here? For God's sake I could have shot you, you idiot!"
studied his silent brother more intensely as Rick moved to sit on the edge of
the bed. "Rick?"
held up one hand, the need to collect his thoughts more important right now
than answering questions. It wasn't
until he felt a concerned hand on his back that he focused on the worried
face. He offered his younger brother a
smile. "I'm...I’m okay."
what are you doing here?"
"I...I don't know."
"You don't know?" A.J. glanced at his clock radio. "It's one fifteen in the morning, I wake up to find you in my bedroom, not to mention practically in my bed, and you don't know what you're doing here?"
Kid, if I told you you'd never believe me.
"No, I don't know."
leaned toward his brother and sniffed with narrowed eyes of suspicion. "Have you been drinking?"
held up two fingers. "Two
"Yeah, just two. Honest."
"I already told you, I don't know."
A.J. gave his brother a skeptical glare, threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. Where A.J. was going when he exited the room Rick wasn't sure, but he heard his brother's footsteps descend the carpeted stairs, then a few seconds later the sound of the kitchen door opening. In short order A.J. returned to stand over his brother, confusion etched on his face.
expect back in the marina's parking lot."
you get here then?"
"Don't tell me, let me guess. You don't know."
"That's about the size of it."
you dreaming? Could you have walked
over here in your sleep?"
"Uh...yeah. Something like that."
reached out a hand and placed it on his brother's forehead. "Are you sure you're all right? You're not sick, are you?"
"No," Rick lifted the solicitous hand away. "I'm not sick."
"Rick, this is rather strange, even for you. Not to mention dangerous. Maybe you should make an appointment to see Joel."
"Nah, I don't need to see Joel. I have a feelin' this little...episode won't happen again anytime soon."
A.J. shrugged reluctant acquiescence while padding barefoot to the bathroom. "Let's hope it doesn't happen again anytime soon. Sleepwalking five miles through I don't know how many intersections during the wee hours of the morning is not exactly a good way to promote longevity."
I guess not." Over the sound of
the running water coming from the master bath Rick asked, "Hey, A.J., what day is it?"
appeared in the doorway, blotting his face with a towel. "What?"
"What day is it?"
I mean the date. What's the date?"
"Rick, are you sure you're all--"
"Just tell me what year it is."
"1996. And Bill Clinton is the president. And we live in San Diego, California. And
you're the only fifty-one year old man that I know of who still enjoys Captain
Crunch for breakfast. And you can’t get
enough of country music, and your favorite show is Baywatch. Does that about cover it?"
"Yeah, that about covers it."
So no time passed at all while I was away. Well, at least that part was good. Since my counterpart didn't switch places with me, I'd have a helluva time explaining to A.J. and Mom where I've been for the past month.
A.J. shook his head at his brother's strange questions, still a little uncertain as to whether Rick was telling him the truth in regards to how much alcohol he'd consumed that evening. The blond man moved back inside the bathroom and hung his towel on the rack. When he returned to the bedroom he reseated himself beside his sibling.
Rick caught a shadow of something on A.J.'s face. He reached over, grasping the blond by the chin. "Hey, what's this?"
tilted A.J.'s face so the light from the lamp glowed on his left cheekbone. "This bruise here. How long have you had it? How'd you get it?"
A.J. heard a panic behind Rick's tone he didn't understand. "I've had it exactly four hours, and I got it on the baseball diamond. I was beaned, like I've been beaned many a time throughout my years of playing the game."
"Oh." Rick dropped his hand, relieved. "That's right, it was your league night, wasn't it."
team win or lose?"
"Hardy har har."
"How's...how’s the funeral home visits going?" Rick ventured next.
"Fine. I'll wrap mine up tomorrow. Or today rather, now that it's past
midnight. Like you said, it's easy
money. How about you?"
Rick found himself unwilling to say more than, "Okay. I'll be finished tomorrow, too." A long pause followed. "Hey, A.J.?"
you ever thought much about dying?"
"No, other than the fact that I long ago realized I'll be forced to do it someday whether I want to or not."
you think anyone ever really accepts it?"
A.J. pondered that while stacking his pillows against the headboard of his bed and moving to lean back into them. "Yes, I suppose most people do. If it occurs suddenly, like in the case of car accidents or plane crashes, you don't have much time to worry about accepting it. It just happens. And if it doesn't happen suddenly, if you're sick with some type of terminal disease and your quality of life is taken from you, then I suppose there comes a point when you actually welcome it."
"Somehow I thought you'd say that," Rick nodded, while thinking of the alternate brother he'd just spent so much time with. "So do you think it's better to have the opportunity to say goodbye to those you love, or to just go real fast and get it over with, even though you might leave a lot unsaid?"
"A question like that makes me think about Dad and how he died. About how angry I still am sometimes because he chose not to let us be a part of his last days on this earth. Therefore, I'd want the chance to tell the person all the things we usually leave unspoken on a day-to-day basis. How about you?"
Rick's mind traveled to the world he'd so recently been a part of. To that alternate place where he'd gotten a glimpse of what it would be like to watch his brother suffer from a horrid disease. "I'd want it to be quick. Over with real fast. I know I don't always tell people how I feel, but I hope my actions tell 'em. I think about Dad sometimes, too. I wouldn't have wanted to watch him suffer, A.J. Even though he died without telling us one last time he loved us, I've never doubted for a moment that he did, have you?"
A.J.'s voice was soft and hard to hear. "No. But it wasn't Dad telling us he loved us that I needed, Rick. I needed to tell him I loved him."
"He knew, kid," Rick threw his brother a smile. "But somehow, I'm positive he knew."
A.J. turned away to hide the sudden tears his brother's words produced. When he faced Rick again all traces of moisture were gone. "So what brings all this up anyway?"
"I don't know," Rick shrugged. "Maybe this funeral home stuff is gettin' to me."
A.J. cocked an amused eyebrow. "Getting to you? Somehow I envisioned your morbid sense of humor relishing a job like this."
It did for a while, A.J., but then I got to see the other side in a way I never imagined I would, and suddenly it doesn't seem so funny anymore.
Rick kept those thoughts to himself. There would be plenty of time to ponder them further when he was alone. He reached out a hand and gave A.J.'s left knee a playful pat. "Well, if nothin' else, little brother, I'm sendin' you out in style."
"I've made big plans for your funeral. As I keep tellin' those directors, only the best for my baby brother. Heck, at one place I went yesterday it cost me ten thousand smackers to give you eternal peace."
thousand dollars!" A.J. flew off
his pillows. "Have you lost your
it isn’t for real. You're not
dead. And hey, even if you were, what
do you care? Money won't mean nothin'
to you anymore."
"It will if you spend it foolishly. For heaven's sake, Rick, what are you burying me in, a gold plated casket?"
quite that fancy, but I suppose I could look into it if you want me to."
"No, I don't! If...when...well, if there ever comes a day you have to make those kind of arrangements keep it simple."
"We have life insurance for this kinda stuff, A.J."
"I know that, but I'd rather go to that great private investigation firm in the sky thinking that there was some of that life insurance money left over and that you, big brother, invested it wisely."
rubbed his chin. "Invested it
wisely, huh? You mean like bought
myself a new boat and christened her the A.J.?"
"No, I mean like bought some mutual funds, planned for your retirement, paid some bills, paid off your boat loan, put some in your savings account, invested in--"
"A.J., even in death you're a drag."
"I might be a drag," A.J. smiled with a hint of mischief sparking his eyes, "but I'll still be watching out for your well being."
"Somehow I have no doubt about that." Rick paused, "Say, speaking of life insurance money, how did you spend mine? How much is it costin' you to put old big brother to rest?"
most or the least?"
"Fifteen hundred dollars!" Rick exploded in outrage. "Fifteen hundred dollars is all I'm worth to you!"
"No, of course not! But personally, I think handing over thousands of dollars to a funeral home just to put a body in the ground is stupid. The essence of the person is gone, Rick. What's left is just a shell. Hopefully, who you are will live on in the hearts of the people whose lives you've touched."
"Yeah yeah yeah, it's a nice sentiment and all, but just a lousy fifteen hundred bucks? Geez, what are you buryin' me in, a cardboard box?"
I'm not burying you."
I'm having you cremated."
"Cremated! I don't wanna be cremated!"
"Well, how was I to know! It's not like we've ever discussed this before! I thought you'd like having your ashes spread over the ocean."
the ocean, huh?"
"Well...maybe. Yeah, I might like that okay."
"Do me favor, Rick. Give it some serious thought and have a will drawn up."
"A will? What do I need a will for? Those things cost money, ya' know. I don't have a wife or kids, so any assets I have are gonna go to you and Mom."
may be so, but still, it would be nice if you'd write down your last wishes so
I don't end up cremating you if that's not what you really want."
"Can I do that without goin' through the hassle of hirin' a lawyer?"
"Yes, though understand it's doubtful your instructions would be upheld legally in the court system if it ever came to that."
"Doesn't matter. I mean, it's not like you won't do exactly what I dictate."
let me think on it a while. I'll get something
written down, have Carlos witness it and get it notarized before puttin' it in
my safety deposit box. Fair
A.J., do you have a will with all this kinda stuff spelled out in it?"
"Yes, our lawyer has a copy and so does Mom."
don't I have a copy?"
"Because you'd lose it."
point. So what does it say?"
"Pretty much the same thing you want to state in yours. That my assets go to you and Mom. And that you can have this house if you so desire. Otherwise, it's to be sold and the money it brings is again, to be split between you and Mom."
"Oh. What about how you want to be buried?" Rick grinned. "You know, just so I don't make a mistake and spend lots of money on your goin' away party."
"Well don't. Spend lots of money that is. My will states I want a simple funeral, nothing extravagant or expensive, and that I want to be buried next to Dad on Matt Haskel's estate just like he offered you, me and Mom."
"Mom's plannin' on bein' buried there, too, isn't she?"
"Yes, she changed her will accordingly years ago when everything came to light about Dad."
"That's what I thought. I guess I want to be buried there, too, then. I'll write that down."
"But buried. Not cremated. You go that?"
A.J. smiled. "Got it."
Rick glanced at the clock seeing it was edging toward two in the morning. "I guess I'd better head back home."
"And just how do you plan on doing that?"
Rick stuck out his thumb in the gesture of a hitchhiker.
don't think so." A.J. shook his
head. "It's stupid, it's
dangerous, and no one in their right mind would pick you up at this time of the
"Okay, you can give me a ride then."
"Wrong again. I'm not a public transportation service, and I don't provide rides home at two a.m. when my brother shows up without even knowing how he got here in the first place."
Oh, I know how I got here, little brother, but you'd have me committed if I tried to explain it all to ya.’
Rick tuned back in when the harmless ranting and raving came to an end and A.J. offered, "You can sack out on my couch if you want."
"A.J., you've just made me an offer I can't refuse."
"Somehow I had a feeling you were going to say that."
stood to leave the room. "My
pillow and blanket still in the living room closet?"
"Right where you left 'em the last time you bunked here," A.J. confirmed.
"Good deal." Rick paused, turning back to face his brother. "A.J., you know how we were debating whether it's important or not to have the chance to say those things we're usually forced to leave unsaid as we depart for the hereafter?"
"Well, I know there's a lot of things I don't say to you very often that I probably should. But I hope you know they're always inside me."
A.J. nodded. "I know."
Rick wasn't certain what made him bridge the space and do it. Possibly remnants of a reality that brought to mind a gaunt, ill brother lying at death's doorstep. Or maybe the words were simply long overdue.
lanky man bent, wrapping his arms around his seated sibling. "I love you, kid. I hardly ever tell you that, but I do."
Rick felt his brother's arms encircle his back. "Rick, whether you know it or not, you tell me every day. And I love you, too."
Rick brought a hand up, running it through A.J.'s hair. "I know you do, A.J. If for some reason I'd died this afternoon, I'd have known that without you ever saying a word."
"Good. And I'm glad you didn't die this
chuckled. "Why's that?"
"Aside from the obvious, I would have blown it and had you cremated."
been pretty hard to put me back together again when you found out that's not
what I wanted, huh?"
"Boy, I'll say."
Looking down at the blond man with the teasing smile on his face poignantly reminded Rick of another man. Somehow Rick knew that because of him, that A.J. Simon would once again be the picture of health this A.J. Simon was. Rick lingered, savoring the robust man before him until A.J.'s smile began to turn to a frown of concern.
"Nothin.’ Just tired.
I'm gonna hit the hay."
"Good idea." A.J. glanced at the clock. "I'll get you up around seven. We can go out to breakfast then run by the boat so you can let Rex out and feed him. We have to be in the office at eight-thirty."
"Because we have that interview."
"Interview? What interview?"
A.J. gave an exasperated sigh. "For a secretary."
"Rick...are you sure you only had two beers tonight?"
yeah. Just two. Uh, A.J., what's the name of this woman
"Donna. Donna Hensel."
"Does she have three red headed little kids?"
"I don't know what color their hair is, but yes, she's got three kids. The youngest started first grade this past September, which is why she's ready to rejoin the work force."
are you talking about? We haven't even
met her yet."
"Well...maybe not. But let's just say her reputation precedes her."
"Rick, what the heck is wrong with you tonight? You know, once every few years you get like this - like your brain has been on some trip and is having trouble readjusting your body. I really think you should make an appointment to see Joel and—“
Rick gently but firmly shoved A.J.'s head into his pillows while shutting off the lamp. "Goodnight, A.J."
A.J. was too tired to carry on the argument so gave in with a sigh and a "Goodnight, Rick." Even in the darkness of the room Rick could tell his brother had pushed himself back up on one elbow. "And hey, throw the deadbolt in place on the kitchen door, and maybe you should put a chair in front of the knob, too. The last thing I want to do is wake up and find out you're roaming greater San Diego in your boxer shorts."
Rick chuckled as he limped down the stairs, a hand placed on his sore hip. "Don't worry, A.J., my roaming days are over for a while." A.J. never heard the soft words that finished Rick's sentence, "That is, until your counterpart needs me again, little brother. No matter what world I exist in, I can't help but offer my assistance when A.J. Simon needs me."
As Rick took the blanket and pillow off the closet shelf in the living room a soft object came tumbling down at him. He grabbed it with one hand, knowing what it was before he even turned it around.
The last time Rick had seen this blue Simon & Simon baseball cap it had been resting on the bald head of his alternate brother. A small, folded piece of white paper peeking out from inside the cap caught his attention. Rick retrieved the paper and unfolded it, quietly reading the words written in neat, clean script he immediately recognized as a dead
ringer for A.J.'s. His A.J.'s.
~ ~ ~ ~
I never did get the opportunity to thank you. As you had seemed to know all along it would be, the transplant successfully took and today, six years later, I am indeed considered a cancer survivor. Because I once again possess a full head of hair, much to the jealously of my older brother I might add, I thought I'd return this hat to you. Each time you look at it I hope it reminds you of the life you so willingly saved. Again, my brother and I thank you for your sacrifice. If we can ever repay the favor, one way or another we'll make a trip to your world.
Thanks again, 'big brother,’
~ ~ ~ ~
Rick smiled at the way the man had signed the note. He folded it and shoved it deep in the pocket of his blue jeans, not even attempting to figure out how six years had passed in that alternate world while only mere hours had passed in his. Though Rick doubted anyone could hear him, he looked up and said in reply to the letter, "No problem, kid. Glad to do it."
appeared at the bottom of the steps, his brother being the recipient of another
concerned gaze. "What are you down
here mumbling about? Who are you
"Where'd you get that hat? It's not mine."
"I know. It's mine."
A.J. could just barely make out the logo on the front. "Since when do you have a hat like that? Please don't tell me you ordered five hundred of them from Sammy as some kind of advertising promotion."
"Nope. Just have this one."
"Thank the Lord for small favors."
A.J. wasn't quite certain what Rick meant by his soft reply. "Yeah, I guess we should thank Him."
Before the blond could question his brother further, Rick looked down at the object in his hands. "Actually, it's not really mine. I guess you could say it belongs to a...friend. A very good friend."
"A friend? Why would a friend of yours be wearing a hat that promotes our agency?"
"Oh, just 'cause someone gave it to him at a time when he needed it."
"Rick...are you certain you're all--"
fine. Go back to bed."
A.J. kept a worried eye on his brother until Rick had made himself a bed on the couch and climbed in under his blanket. With a small shake of his head the blond man turned toward the upper level of the house.
long as I don't really need to be with you when you interview Donna in the
morning, I'm gonna run an errand."
turned around. "An errand?"
"What kind of an errand?"
"I'm gonna have some blood drawn."
"See. You are sick,” A.J. accused. "I knew it. I--"
"I'm not sick."
then, if you're not sick why are you having blood drawn?"
"I wanna register with the National Marrow Donor Program."
"You remember. We got some literature on it in the mail last fall. A simple blood test might match me up to a person who's in need of a marrow transplant. I've been thinkin' a lot about it, and decided I wanna do it."
A.J. arched an
eyebrow at the brother who had never, to the best of his knowledge, volunteered
for any type of medical procedure in all his fifty-one years. "You're sure you want to do that? You know, if they match you to someone you
can't back out. If I remember correctly
the patient's immune system is destroyed by the intense treatment procedures, meaning
you have to go through with your end of the bargain."
me, little brother, I know all about it first hand. And yeah, I wanna make that kinda commitment. So you don't mind if I come into the office
a little later in the morning?"
"No, I don't mind. Sounds like a good cause to me."
"Oh, it is. I can assure you of that."
"Fine by me then. I'll see you when you arrive."
"Great. And hey, Andy?"
A.J. smiled at the nickname Rick used on rare occasions. "Yes?"
"Nothin' special. Just bein' my brother."
"God knows it's not always an easy job," A.J. teased while wrinkling his nose in a way that so poignantly reminded Rick of another man.
"That's true. But I still think I'm worth more than fifteen hundred bucks dead or alive."
The sound of A.J.'s laughter drifted down as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom. Rick reached up and shut the den lamp off. He fell asleep clutching the baseball cap he suspected he'd one day have the opportunity to return to its rightful owner.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~