A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT
*Two things inspired me to write this story in 1993. The first being, where did Rick and A.J. get the pinball machine that was in their office? And, the second - amongst the scenes in the opening Simon and Simon credits, Rick and A.J. are shown kissing Cecilia as she sits surrounded by birthday gifts. To the best of my knowledge, this scene was never shown in any aired episode, therefore A Day Late and a Dollar Short gave me a way to build a story around it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A.J. Simon sat at his desk with his head bent over the stack of bills he was studying. The blond man was oblivious to the afternoon sunshine streaming in through the picture window behind him, as well as to the blaring noise coming from the television Rick had on. The oldest Simon brother was slumped in his chair, feet propped up on the corner of his desk as he watched an old Gene Autry western on cable.
A.J. glanced at his desk calendar and made a mental note of the date. "Did you remember that Mom's birthday is in four days?"
The television had drowned out A.J.'s words. Rick picked the remote control up, aimed it at the TV, and clicked the volume down.
"What did you say?"
"I said, did you remember that Mom's birthday is in
Rick turned the TV off. "Well, yeah...sorta. I thought about it one day last week, but now that you mention it, I did kinda forget, I guess. Or at least I didn't realize it was this close. Mom's birthday has a way of creeping up on me."
"Tell me about it," A.J. agreed. Every year A.J. wracked his brain for weeks prior to his mother's birthday in an effort to come up with the perfect gift for her. It seemed as though he’d no more than find one, and then another year flew by and August 22nd, Mom's special day, was rapidly approaching allover again.
"What are ya' gonna get her this year?"
“Oh, no,” A.J. shook his head. "I'm not falling for that
"All I'm going to say in reply is, that Mom doesn't need two microwave ovens again. Or two of anything else for that matter," A.J. pointed out with annoyance as Rick snickered.
Like his younger brother, Rick always had a difficult time finding their mother the perfect birthday gift. Three years earlier Rick had, much like today, innocently inquired of A. J., "What are you gonna get Mom for her birthday?"
A.J. had answered Rick that day with, "She's really been wanting a microwave oven. Aunt Pat’s got one now, and Mom mentioned to me the other day that she’d like one, too. I think I might stop by Sears after work and pick one up for her."
That one clue given by A.J. prompted Rick to stop at a local discount appliance store after work that night. On the evening they celebrated Cecilia's birthday three days later, Rick made sure that he arrived at his mother's well ahead of A.J. When A.J. walked in a half hour after Rick's arrival carrying a box identical in size to the one that was already sitting on the dining room table, Cecilia joked, "My goodness, these boxes are exactly the same size. And they're both so heavy. Did you boys get me two of the same thing?"
Rick had smiled sweetly and ignored the outraged look his brother gave him while urging, "Open mine first, Mom. "
An angry A.J. had ended up returning Cecilia's extra microwave oven to Sears that year, and vowed never again to give his brother even the slightest of hints concerning what their mother might want for her birthday.
Now Rick pestered him with, "Come on, A.J., what are ya' gonna get her?"
"You're the last person on earth I'll tell."
"Oh, come on."
"No, Rick. No way."
"I bet you haven't gotten her anything yet. I bet you don't even have any ideas."
Although Rick's words were true, A.J. bluffed, "Yes, well, that just goes to show that you don't know everything. A fact I've been aware of for a long time, I might add."
Rick paid no attention to his brother, and let the gift part of the subject drop. "Do you wanna to take her out to dinner?"
"Yeah. Then we could go back to the house for cake and ice cream."
"Sounds good," Rick agreed. "You bake the cake, I'll buy the ice cream."
"So I ain't such a great cake baker. Give me a break, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, all right. You're forgiven. All I know is, we've got to be there on time this year for her birthday. "
"I suppose it would be a good idea, huh? I think she's
gettin' a little annoyed with us."
"A lot annoyed," A. J. said, as other birthday celebrations of his mother’s came to mind.
The Simon brothers had moved back to San Diego from Florida in 1979, and had opened their detective business upon their arrival. Prior to that, Rick hadn't lived permanently in his hometown since 1962, while A.J. had left in 1974. Therefore, upon returning to the city of their birth to take up permanent residence, both men knew that celebrating family occasions with their mother was an important priority. Unfortunately, the detective business didn't always care about priorities. Because of that fact, the brothers' good intentions regarding their mother's birthday had taken a back seat to more pressing issues in 1980, '81, '82, and '83. A.J. was bound and determined that August 22nd of 1984 was going to be different. They would celebrate their mother's birthday on the correct date, and they would be on time.
Thinking over the various cases that had kept them from meeting their past obligations, Rick suggested, "Why don't you call her right now and set the time. Tell her to pick whatever restaurant she wants to."
"Good idea," A. J. agreed as he reached for the phone.
Rick listened to the one-sided conversation as his brother exchanged pleasantries with their mother. A.J. then told her to pick the restaurant of her choice for her birthday dinner, and asked her what time she wanted her sons to pick her up.
Rick knew their mother was giving A.J. a hard time when the expression on his face became pained, and when he was forced to start defending himself.
"We will not, Mom. We won't be late! Yes, we will be there on your birthday.”
“Mother, I know your birthday's the 22nd.”
“Yes, I know that's Friday.”
“Yes, this Friday. Yes, I know.”
“Mom! Mom! We'll be there, I promise."
A.J. rolled his eyes as he held the receiver toward his brother and asked loudly, "Rick, we'll be there, won't we?"
"We'll be there, Mom!” Rick assured with a shout. “You can count on it! Promise! "
A.J. put the phone back to his ear. "See, Rick promises, too.”
“Okay, we'll see you then.”
“Yes, Mom, on Friday.”
“Yes, at seven o'clock in the evening.”
“All right. Good-bye."
Rick grinned as A.J. hung up the phone with a heavy sigh.
"She doesn't believe us, huh?"
The blond man ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
"Let's just say she's expecting us anywhere between the 20th to the 26th, and any time between five and midnight. She also said she'd have a casserole in the oven in case we're too late for our dinner reservations like we were last year."
"She knows us too well."
"Yes, but not this year," A. J. vowed. "This year we’re going to be on time. Mom's going to be treated to the nice dinner out that she deserves."
"She had a nice dinner out last year," Rick defended.
"Oh right, Rick. We took her through a McDonald’s drive-up at eleven-thirty at night. "
"Well geez, A.J., I told her she could have anything on the menu. I even bought her a hot apple pie."
"How generous of you, big spender."
"Hey, it wasn't our fault the Robinson case had us tied up last year on Mom's birthday."
"I know that, and you know that, but Mom's a woman. And if I've come to learn anything in my thirty-five years on this earth, it's that there are some things a woman just does not understand. "
"That's true, little brother,” Rick nodded. “That's very true."
"So anyway, we'd be wise to make Mom’s birthday a special night for her this year."
"Yeah, you're right, A.J.," Rick agreed. "It shouldn't be a problem. These last couple of weeks have been slow."
Rick turned the TV on once again, as A.J. studied the pile of unpaid bills. The blond man sighed with disgust as he nodded his agreement. "They sure have."
The next morning the Simon brothers could be found doing much the same thing they had been the previous afternoon. Rick was lounging in his chair trying to make his fortune off of the Price is Right, while A.J. sat at his desk shuffling the unpaid bills back and forth.
Rick glanced over at his brother. "What are you doin'?"
A.J. rubbed his temples. "I'm trying to decide which bills we can pay and which ones can be put off a while. Trouble is, none of them can be put off."
"Well then, just pay the ones you can and let the others wait."
"Rick, the problem here is that we can't pay any of them!"
Rick watched as his brother continued to massage his temples. The lanky detective opened his desk drawer, reached inside, then walked over to deposit a bottle in front of A. J. The blond man opened his eyes and gave his sibling a slight smile as he caught sight of the Anacin sitting in front of him. "Thanks," A.J. said as he pried the lid off the bottle and dumped two aspirin in his hand.
"A.J., don't worry about it. We'll get by,” Rick said as his brother got up to get a cup of water from the cooler. “We always do.”
A.J. swallowed the aspirin, then replied, "I don't understand this business we're in sometimes. Why can't it be more consistent? It seems like we either have more cases than the two of us can handle by ourselves, or that we have none at all."
Rick perched on the corner of his brother's desk as A.J. sat back down in his chair. "Well, little brother, that's the name of the game. You know that by now."
"Yeah, I suppose. I just wish we could have one steady case a week. Is that too much to ask?"
Rick chuckled. "I hate to tell you this, kid, but I think it is. We've been in business together for what...almost five years now?"
"And in those five years we've either been runnin' our tails off tryin' to solve three cases at once, or we've been sittin' around doing nothing like we are right now."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"So see, there's nothing to worry about. Something will come our way," Rick pacified as he walked back to his chair. "Besides, look at it this way. If we don't have any jobs this week, we'll be able to get to Mom's on time for sure this year."
"Good point, Rick. The only thing that's lacking in your logic is that if there's no money coming in, that means there's no money available to go out. As in go out to buy Mom her present, or take Mom out for her birthday dinner."
"I know this might come as a shock to you, Mr. Tightwad, but maybe, just maybe, you're gonna to have to dip into that emergency account you have for the business that you think I don't know about. We can always borrow some money out of there for Mom's gift and the dinner."
A.J. tried not to act surprised over the fact that Rick knew about the emergency fund account he kept with several thousand dollars in it. "That's supposed to be for business emergencies, Rick. Like if we have a slow month and I'm short on money to pay the office rent, or if one of us gets sick or hurt and the business is closed down for a while."
"I'd say us showin' up at Mom's without gifts or the money to take her to dinner qualifies as an emergency, A.J. At least in the sense that if we show up without those things, we may find ourselves hurt and in the hospital."
A.J. chuckled as Rick went on to say, "You worry too much anyway. Things are gonna work out. Mom's birthday is still three days away. Something will come along."
"I'll hold you to that, Confucius," A.J. remarked as Rick returned his attention to the television.
Two hours later, the brothers were doing the exact same things they had been doing two hours earlier, when their office door flew open. The startled detectives jumped to their feet, each reflexively reaching for their side arms.
As his racing heart began to slow, Rick roared, "Jerry! What the hell are you doin' charging in here like that? You're lucky one of us didn't shoot you!"
Jerry Reiner apologized in-between gasps for breath. "Sorry, guys, but I need your help! Come on!"
The Simons shot each other a puzzled look as Jerry raced for the door. "Com on, you guys!"
"Jerry...Jerry, slow down," A.J. urged as he walked toward his friend. "Have a seat and tell us what's going on."
Jerry reluctantly moved to sit down in the chair that A.J. gently pushed him toward. A.J. sat down at his desk across from Jerry, while Rick sat in the other chair next to the coroner.
"Okay, Jer, what's this all about? Why are ya’ in such a rush?"
"I need to hire you guys...well not me, really. The coroner's office needs to hire you actually. But it's my fault."
Rick's eyes lit up at the word “hire” while A.J. 's brows knit together in confusion.
"Whoa, Jerry. Back up,” A.J. instructed. “What's your fault and why does the county coroner's office need you to hire us?"
"We need you to find him."
"Find who?" Rick asked.
In an effort to calm his upset friend, A.J. assured, "All right, we can do that. We're fairly...light on cases at the moment."
A.J. pulled a note pad and pen out of his top drawer. "Now, what can you tell us about this Mr. Tesar? Where did you last see him? What are his interests, hobbies...things of that nature? Does he have a family? Where does he work?"
"He doesn't work anywhere anymore. He's dead."
"What?" came the simultaneous question of surprise from the Simons.
"Jerry, why the hell do you want us to look for a dead guy?" Rick asked.
"Because I lost him."
"You lost him?" an incredulous A.J. repeated.
"Yeah, I lost him, and I've got to find him again, and you guys are the only people I can turn to for help. If you two can't find him I'll lose my job. My boss is pretty pissed about this whole situation, and he's worried about it leaking out to the press. You guys have gotta find him. Mr. Dennison, my boss, told me that if I don't have the guy back by Saturday there's going to be hell to pay."
Rick crossed his arms as he thought out loud. "Well, normally I'd say four days isn't very much time to track someone down. But, what the heck, the guy's dead. How far could he possibly get?"
A.J. gave his brother a wilting look. "Far enough that
Jerry lost him, Rick." Turning his attention to his old high school friend, A.J. said, "Jerry, just tell us everything that's happened. And slowly please."
The young coroner nervously ran his hands through his hair. "Okay. It’s like this. I was getting ready to work on...do an autopsy
on Mr. Tesar...Michael Tesar. And I...uh...well it was lunch time, and I was hungry, so I left the room long enough to get a sandwich, and when I got back he was gone."
"You don't suppose the guy got tired of waitin' for you and got up and walked away, do ya’?"
"Very funny, Rick," A.J. said as he gave his brother a look that said, Jerry's really upset Knock it off with the smart remarks.
A.J., who treated even a good friend with professionalism, asked, "Nobody would have come in and moved him to another room, would they? Or to a hospital morgue, or funeral home, or something like that?"
Jerry shook his head. "No, we thought of all those things. I checked the hospitals out myself, while a couple of our secretaries called every funeral home in San Diego. He's nowhere to be found. At least not anywhere we've thought to look. "
“Was there anything unusual about this guy?” Rick asked. “Any reason why someone would wanna to steal his body? Did he die in an unusual or traumatic way?"
"No, I don't think so. I didn't have a chance to start the autopsy, so I don't know for sure what he died of, but it looked like a heart attack. His wife couldn't wake him up yesterday morning. He was fifty-five years old, a smoker, and over weight, so all the signs were pointing to a massive coronary."
Since none of the information Jerry had given them as
of yet was leading anywhere, A.J. probed some more. "Jerry, do you know anything about this guy? Anything that would give us a clue as to why someone would take his body?"
Jerry shrugged. "No, not really. I know he was in business for himself. Oh, yeah, and that he belonged to the mob."
"The mob?” Both Rick and A.J. exclaimed at the same moment.
"Yeah.” Jerry looked from one brother to the other. “Why? Is that important?"
A.J. and Rick got some additional information from Jerry that morning, as well as a check from the coroner's office for two thousand dollars, which Jerry told the brothers was for four days of detective work on their part.
"I hope four days will give you enough time to find him," Jerry said.
A.J. assured Jerry they'd do their best and be in touch, then sent the man on his way. The blond man smiled as he made out a deposit slip for the check, with the intention of stopping at the bank some time that day.
Rick observed this action and said smugly, "Just call me Confucius."
The two men headed out the door. When they reached the parking lot, they walked toward the Camaro.
"We've looked for a lot of missing people over the last few years, but this is the first dead missing person we've ever looked for,” A.J. said. “I don't even know where to start."
Rick laughed. "The cemetery?"
A.J. shot his sibling a long-suffering look, that reaction only causing Rick to laugh harder as they climbed in the sports car.
Twenty minutes later, the Simons entered Downtown Brown's office. The police lieutenant looked up upon hearing the door shut.
"Don't you guys ever knock?"
"Gee, Town, I thought we were always welcome here," A.J. quipped. "You know, your office is our office, our office is your office, that kind of thing."
"What the hell good would your office do me?"
Rick made himself comfortable on the couch. "Well, it would get you away from this place for one thing. Maybe your disposition would improve a bit then."
Town, who had been at work for almost twenty hours due to a tedious investigation, let his exhaustion do his talking as he raised his voice.
"My disposition? There's nothing wrong with my disposition! You two jokers just waltz in here whenever you feel like it looking for free information."
A.J. recognized their friend was tired, so tried to humor Town out of his mood. "Us?” the blond man said while placing a hand on his chest. “Look for free information? Town, I'm really hurt. We can't even come visit our good friend without being falsely accused."
"Can the bullshit, A.J.," the black man sighed while hiding
a smile. "Whatta ya’ you guys want?"
Now that Town was willing to converse with them, Rick went straight to the point. "What do you know about a Michael Tesar?"
"I know he's dead. Why?"
"Well...uh...we're kind of looking for him," A.J. volunteered.
"Looking for him? I just told you he's dead."
"Yeah, yeah, we know that, Towner. But...well, we can't really tell you too much. It's confidential and all,” Rick explained. “But, if you could just tell us more about this guy it might be helpful."
The black man smiled. "What if I say it's confidential?"
"Come on, Town, don't be a smart ass," A.J. said.
"Okay, but this is gonna cost you guys at some point in time."
"Why?" Rick questioned.
"'Cause I've got better things to do than jaw with you two today, that's why. I work for a living you know." Town pointed a warning finger at A.J. who was about to make a comment. "And one more smart remark from you and I don't tell anything."
A.J. held up his hands in a gesture of compliance and hid the smile that was trying to break through on his face as Town leaned back in his chair. A
"I know that Michael Tesar was involved with the mob here in
San Diego big time. And I do mean big time. As far as I know, though,
we were never able to catch him at any wrong doing. The guy had a reputation of being good, and of covering his tracks well."
"Exactly what branch of the mob service was Mr. Tesar in?" Rick asked dryly.
"Yeah, pinball machines. But more recently, he'd switched to video games. You know, the prime source of recreation for teenagers of the eighties."
"You mean like one of these video arcades I see around
so much now?" A. J. asked.
"Yes, exactly. Arcades. Tesar goes back a long way. He's been tied to mob dealings with arcade games all the way back to 1954, but now with all these new video games there's been a very big surge of interest by the kids to go places like that again. Arcades kind of died out in the late 60's and through most of the 70's, but now there's big money to be made with them again."
Rick nodded. "Yeah, come to think of it I saw where the one I used to hang out in has opened up again recently. I bet it had been closed for fifteen years."
"Yeah, and Mom always did say you'd meet up with no-good crooks in that place," A.J. teased. "Maybe you've met Tesar and just didn't know it."
Rick scoffed, "Ah, Mom doesn't always know what she's talking about.”
A.J. raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
“Well, sometimes she's wrong.”
“Well...well...once in a while—“
As Town and A.J. laughed Rick said, "Well, anyway, I never met him. What would a guy like that want with a fifteen year old kid, anyway?"
"Cheap employment," Town contributed.
Rick nodded. "Yeah, I suppose."
"No wonder you never ran across him, Rick. The last thing you wanted to do when you were fifteen was work. Mom used to send me to find you at Sam's Arcade because that's where you'd always hide out when she wanted you to mow the grass. Huh, come to think of it, not much has changed."
Rick gave his sibling a dirty look, then asked, "So what was this guy's scam, Town?"
"It was pretty simple actually. During the mid-fifties Tesar bought a couple of pinball machines, then rented them out to local beer joints and bowling alleys. He made a few bucks, so he bought a few more. Pretty soon Mr. Tesar had a nice little business going, all on the up and up, then through some of his more shady business contacts he was introduced to one of San Diego's mob families. I never met the guy myself, but supposedly he was outgoing, humorous, a loyal friend, the kind of person everyone likes. So anyway, he gets real friendly with the Skarpelli family and--"
Rick let out a whistle. He could vaguely recall a lot of criminal activity being connected to this family in the late fifties and throughout the sixties.
"Pretty tough characters."
"Yeah,” Town nodded. “They were then, and they still are. They're just more discreet about it now days."
"So Tesar became a member of the Skarpelli family, so to speak?" A.J. asked.
"No, not really. But he became a good friend of the family. And you know how the mob works, if you're a friend, then you're family."
A.J. nodded his agreement. "Well then, what did Tesar do that was so illegal?"
"We don't have proof he did anything. But with the help o fhte Skarpelli family his little business grew and grew until he had a monopoly in this area with his arcade games. Funny thing, if someone else tried to rent a pinball machine to a local bar, or roller rink, or whatever, it was suggested - quite strongly - that they move their business elsewhere...like to New Mexico. Then there came a day in 1966 when a guy by the name of Gene Vos decided that no one was going to tell him that he couldn't establish himself here in San Diego doing the same thing Mr. Tesar did, renting pinball machines to various businesses and arcades. I can't blame the man for his principles, but when you're dealing with the mob it's best to bow to good old-fashioned common sense. According to Vos's wife, he received threats for over a year from some anonymous caller. When he didn't heed those warnings, his wife was abducted from their driveway one afternoon and taken for a ride."
"Did they kill her?" Rick asked.
"No, just scared her. They dropped her back off at her front door three hours later."
"Nice of them," A. J. quipped.
"Yeah, tell me about it," Town agreed. "Anyway, Mr. Vos still held his ground. According to the reports, his wife said he was pretty scared, but that he told her he wouldn't cave in to a bunch of overpaid punks, which was a mistake on his part. He disappeared four days later, and what was left of his body was found seven months after that on an overgrown piece of land north of Balboa Park. He had been killed by a single bullet to the base of his skull."
"Sounds like a professional job," A. J. commented.
“Yeah, it does.”
"I don't suppose the guys that did the dirty work were ever caught?" Rick questioned.
"No, they weren't."
"Was Tesar ever questioned about this?" A. J. asked.
"Yes, but nothing ever came of it. He maintained that he knew nothing about it, and Vos's wife couldn't tie him to it in any way."
"Did the cops think he had something to do with it?" Rick asked.
Town shrugged, "I think it was left pretty much hanging as to whether he did or not. No one thought he pulled the trigger, if that's what you mean. They weren't even sure if he was influential in having a contract put out on Vos. But they did know, of course, that Tesar was good friends with the Skarpelli family, and that this was a mob killing. It's also been rumored for years that the Skarpellis’ made some financial gain from Mr. Tesar's little business. So you tell me whether he had something to do with it or not."
Both Rick and A.J. nodded as they digested Town's information.
"I'd say it's a pretty fair bet one way or the other," Rick commented.
"Yeah, but no one could ever prove it. And now I guess no one ever will, 'cause the guy dropped dead of a heart attack forty eight hours ago," Town said, then added with a sly smile, "Unless you two have been hired by someone to solve a twenty year old mystery."
A.J. rose from his chair, Rick following suit as the blond man said, "We've been hired by someone to solve a mystery, but not that particular one. Thanks for your time, Town."
"Yeah, thanks, Towner," Rick echoed as he trailed his brother to the door.
Town's stopped the two detectives before they could exit the office. "Hey, did you guys get your mother a birthday present yet?"
A.J. and Rick looked at each other with twin expressions of surprise; then looked at Town.
"How did you know our mom's birthday is coming up?" Rick asked.
"Oh, I know the birthdays of all the important ladies in my life. Don't tell me you guys forgot."
"No, we didn’t forget,” A.J. said a little too sharply.
"What'd you get her?"
"Well...uh...well,” Rick stammer, “See...it’s like...well...we haven't had time to--"
"You haven't gotten her anything, have you?"
"No, not yet,” A.J. admitted. “But we will.”
Town pulled a lilac colored envelope out of his top desk drawer. From where the brothers stood they could see it was addressed in Town's bold script to Cecilia Simon.
"I've got her card right here. All signed, sealed, and ready to be delivered."
Rick reached a hand out for the card. "There's no use in you wastin' a stamp. We'll give it to her."
Town yanked the card from Rick's grasp. "Are you kidding me? You two clowns will lose it, get blood on it, or forget it all together. I'm mailing it myself on my way home today."
"Oh, Town, come on," A.J. coaxed, as he now reached for
Downtown Brown smashed the envelope against his chest. "No way!"
"What? You don't trust us?” A.J. asked. “Or at least me?"
"Of course I don't trust you. Neither one of you. You guys never even show up on time at your mother's for her birthday. Do you honestly believe I'd trust you with a card I paid a dollar for? No way. Now get outta here, I got work to do."
The Simons shook their heads as they exited Town's office. As Rick closed the door behind them he said, "He got a card for our mother. Can you believe that?"
"I have a feeling we’d better be on time this year," was all A.J. said in return.
"Yeah, I'll say,” Rick agreed as they walked through the squad room and out into the hallway. “Nothin’ like Town adding extra pressure for us to contend with. Can you believe he paid a dollar for that card? Geez, now I gotta spend more than that on one for Mom."
"I doubt Mom's going to look at the prices on her cards, Rick."
"I don't know, A.J. You know women. They do some pretty strange stuff."
A.J. decided that now was the time to change the subject.
"Speaking of women, let's go see if Janet's in."
"Maybe she's got some recent information on Tesar. It's worth a shot as long as we're so close to her office."
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Rick agreed as the men exited into the parking lot and headed for A.J.’s Camaro.
Thirty minutes later the Simons were finishing up their conversation with a busy Janet Fowler, who had pretended to be annoyed at their intrusion of her time. The brothers didn't learn anything new from the woman who worked for the district attorney’s office, so ended their time with her by teasing her about a multitude of things which prompted her to finally order, "Okay, you two, get out of here. You might not have a real job, but I do. I've got to get back to work."
"Are you saying that being a private investigator does not qualify as having a real job?" A.J. asked with a mock pout. "And here your father taught me everything I know."
"No, A.J., that's not true. Rick taught you all the seedier things you know, Daddy didn't."
"Hey!" Rick protested. "I don't know any seedy things."
"Sure, Rick. And pigs have wings," Janet replied. "Now go on, get lost. I've got work to do."
"Rick, I think she's trying to get rid of us," A.J. informed his brother as he leaned across Janet's desk and gave her a friendly peck on the cheek. "Thanks, babe."
Rick copied his brother’s actions. "Thanks for your time, darling.’"
Janet could no longer pretend to be angry as she received a kiss on each cheek from the handsome men. She smiled and said, "You're welcome."
The brothers said a final good-bye and headed for the door, only to be stopped by Janet's, "Oh hey, did you guys get your mother her birthday presents yet?"
Rick and A.J. exchanged glances, then the blond offered hesitantly, "No. Huh...no. No, not yet. We've been busy and—“
"Well, just don't forget like you usually do."
"We don't forget!" Rick disputed.
"What I mean is, be on time for a change," Janet ordered. "And don't get her what I got her."
"You get our mother a birthday present?" Rick questioned.
"Of course I do. I always stop and visit with her for a little while on her birthday. I got her a nice card, too."
"What'd you get her?" A.J. asked.
"Some Sensuous cologne and bath oil. Her favorite."
"Our mother's favorite cologne is something called Sensuous?" A.J. said more to himself than to anyone else.
Janet laughed at A.J.'s words, as well as the look of surprise on the brothers' faces.
"Guys, this may come as a shock to you, but your mother's not that old. She's in the prime of her life. She's a very attractive lady. I'm sure many men find her sexy...sensuous. "
"They'd better not when I'm around," Rick growled.
Janet laughed again as she pushed the Simons out the door. Rick stopped in mid-stride and turned.
"Hey, Janet, how much did the card cost you?"
Before Janet could answer, A.J. grabbed Rick by the arm and pulled him on down the hallway. "Come on, Rick. "
As the brothers walked out to the parking lot Rick asked, "Can you believe Janet got Mom a present? Did you know she does that?"
"I knew she used to back when we were engaged, but no, I wasn’t aware she still does."
"Man, A.J., between her and Town we're really gonna look bad if we don't show up on time at Mom's this year."
"We'll be on time," A.J. stated firmly as he unlocked the car doors.
The brothers climbed in the low-slung vehicle, and were soon headed for the county morgue in an effort to continue their investigation.
A.J. and Rick spent what little was left of the morning, and most of the afternoon, at the morgue questioning secretaries, the receptionist, three janitors, and anyone else they could think of who might have seen, without realizing it, Mr. Tesar's body leave the building.
At three o'clock the detectives walked out into the bright afternoon sunshine. A.J. removed his light-weight sport coat and slung it over his shoulder. The blond man stopped his progress toward the parked Camero and turned to study the building he had just exited. When Rick got to the car he realized he was alone. He turned around, staring in confusion at his brother's back. A.J. was standing still and looking at what, Rick didn't know.
"Hey, A.J.! What are ya’ doin’?"
It was a few seconds long before A.J. turned around and jogged to the car.
"What were you doin’?" Rick asked again as A.J. unlocked the passenger side of the vehicle.
A.J. looked back at the building. He leaned against the frame of the Camaro, one hand in a pocket of his trousers, the other still hanging onto his sport coat. "You know, with the way this building is set up, with no windows facing the parking lot - only the double doors, the receptionist has a limited view of what's going on out
"Yeah, so?" Rick asked, as he too leaned against the car.
"Well, we've been going with the assumption that the body left in a hearse. Maybe it didn't."
"What are you sayin’?"
"What I'm saying is, that maybe we're not dealing with a simple case of a mix-up of bodies like Jerry's boss thinks. Jerry never got to do the autopsy, we know that much. Maybe somebody didn't want an autopsy done. Maybe it was going to reveal something they didn't want known."
"That thought's crossed my mind, too. Especially with the guy's connections and all."
"So anyway, I've been looking at this building and thinking of how easy it would be to get a body out of there, and simply stuff it in the back of a station wagon or other large vehicle."
Rick nodded. His brother had a good point. Security checkpoints in the morgue were almost nonexistent, and what was in place would be fairly simple to bluff your way through with the right clothes and
a gurney. He and A.J. had gotten through tighter checkpoints many times in their career.
"So what do you wanna do now?"
A.J. looked at his watch. "Why don't we stop by Tesar's house and see if we can get a list of the arcades, theaters, bowling alleys, and other businesses he rented games to, from his wife. Maybe we can question some of the owners yet this afternoon, then start in on it again tomorrow."
"Sounds good," Rick agreed as he opened the car door. "But let's stop and get some lunch first, I'm starving."
"Rick! It's almost supper time."
"Okay, then let's stop and get an early supper. Call it what you want. All I know is, I didn't have lunch today and I'm hungry."
As A.J. got behind the steering wheel he grimaced. "How can you think of eating after you've been in there?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"The atmosphere isn't very conducive to kicking in my appetite. It's cold in there, and it smells funny. Besides, it's depressing."
Rick shrugged. "Doesn't bother me any."
A.J. rolled his eyes as he pulled the Camaro out of the parking lot. "That doesn't surprise me. I swear your soul is filled with cement. You're so insensitive."
"My soul might be filled with cement, but my stomach's empty and that's all I care about right now. Find a Burger King. I'm buyin.’"
"You're only buying because you know I'm not eating," A.J. pointed out.
Rick laughed, but chose not to reply. He gave A.J. directions to the nearest Burger King, while mulling over how many Whoppers he could fit in his empty stomach – two, or maybe even three.
On Thursday morning while A.J. stayed at the office and made some phone calls regarding the missing body, Rick hit the streets in an effort to shake loose any information he could from some of his more low-life acquaintances.
Rick arrived back at Simon and Simon Investigations shortly before noon.
A.J. looked up upon hearing his sibling shut the door. “Any luck?”
Rick shook his head as he plopped his lanky frame down in a chair across from his brother's desk. "Nah. Not at all. Nobody knows anything."
"Are you sure they were telling you the truth?"
"I think so. The kind of guys I know out on the streets
don't have anything to do with the mob unless it's numbers running, and since that's not what Tesar was involved in it doesn't surprise me that I didn't learn anything new. How about you? Did you shake anyone's tree?"
"No. I've been on the phone all morning to our contacts who are a mere step or two above your street friends, and none of them seems to know anything either."
"Well, how about if we grab something to eat, then head back to the arcades?"
A.J. stood. "Sounds good. Let’s stop and see Jerry, too. I need to ask him--"
Before A.J. could finish his sentence there was a rap on the door. Cecilia Simon didn’t wait for an invitation to enter as she stepped into the room outfitted stylishly in a navy blue dress with white beads, earrings, shoes, and purse.
"Hi, Mom.” A.J. greeted.
“Hey, Mom." Rick gave a low whistle. "You sure look nice today."
Cecilia smiled as she reached up to pat her eldest on the cheek. "Thank you, honey."
"What brings you to see us all dressed up like this?" A.J. asked with a smile.
"I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by for just a minute and say hello."
"We were just getting ready to go for lunch,” A.J. said. “How about joining us?"
"Thanks, sweetheart, but not today. I'm on my way to meet Edie and some other friends at the Blue Gill. The girls are treating me to lunch for my birthday. "
"Your birthday's not until tomorrow," Rick pointed out, wanting to subtly let his mother know he was on top of things this year.
Cecilia gave her son a sly smile. "Yes, dear, I know that. However, I told the girls that I wouldn't be able to have lunch with them on my actual birthday, because I would be much too busy getting ready for the special evening my sons have planned for me. In honor of the occasion I'm going to pamper myself. You know, do my nails, my hair, spend the day soaking in a hot tub with scented oil--"
"Scented with Sensuous bath oil no doubt," the blond detective mumbled under his breath.
"What was that, A.J.?"
"Nothing, Mom. Nothing," A.J. assured. "You go ahead and pamper yourself like you have planned. It will be a special evening, I promise."
"I'm glad to hear that, sweetheart, because the other reason I stopped by was to let both of you know that I’ve made seven-thirty reservations at the new restaurant on the north shore, The Taste Of San Diego. Have either of you been there yet?"
The brothers shook their heads as A.J. commented, "I hear the food is excellent."
"And expensive," Rick mumbled, each earned him a dirty look from his sibling. "Do I have to wear a tie?"
"It would be nice, Rick," was what Cecilia said in a tone that her eldest took to mean yes.
Rick bent and kissed his mother's cheek as he sighed, "I'll wear a tie."
Cecilia smiled at her oldest and his long-suffering look, then said her good-byes to her sons. Their chorus of "Good-bye," and "Have a nice lunch," followed her out the door.
A.J. grabbed his sport coat off the back of his chair. "Did you get Morn her present yet?"
"No, I haven't had time. I had planned to go shoppin’ last night, but we were runnin' around to all those arcades until after ten. Everything's closed by then."
A.J. nodded his agreement. His own plans of getting his mother's birthday shopping out of the way had been ruined by their recent job, too.
"Maybe we'll have time to stop some place this afternoon," the blond man suggested as he headed for the door.
"Yeah, let's try to. I gotta feeling we're gonna be in deep shit if we blow it this year, A.J."
"More and more I'm getting that feeling, too,” A.J. agreed as the locked the office door. “But, just remember, if there’s one thing we’re not going to do in the next twenty fours, it’s blow it where Mom’s birthday is concerned."
“Don’t worry, little brother, I hear ya’ loud and clear on that one.”
Later that afternoon A.J. and Rick could be found in the county morgue building once again. This time, after lunch, out of respect for A.J. 's stomach.
Jerry wasn't in his office. The brothers checked with the receptionist, who directed them down a long corridor that contained the autopsy rooms. A.J.'s pace slowed as they got closer to Room 5, the room Jerry was supposed to be working in.
Upon realizing that his sibling wasn't keeping up with him, Rick turned around and saw his brother was lagging a good twenty feet behind.
"Come on, A.J. Quit draggin' your feet. I wanna check out some more of those arcades yet this afternoon."
A.J. didn't answer Rick, or make an attempt to pick up his sluggish pace.
"Come on! Geez, what's your problem?"
"Uh...Rick, Jerry's working in there."
"Yeah. So?" Rick shrugged, before the light of day suddenly dawned and he realized just what “Jerry's working,” meant. "Oh...oh yeah...yeah, well, we can just knock. We don't have to go in there."
A.J. nodded with relief as he caught up to his brother. "Good idea. We can go back to his office to talk."
The brothers arrived at the closed door labeled with a big gold 5. Rick used his right fist to bang on its metal surface.
The Simons exchanged uneasy looks, before A.J. called back, "Jerry, it's us!"
"That's okay! You guys can come in!"
"Uh...Jerry...uh, I don't think that's such a good idea!"
"It's all right! Come on in!"
"Uh...listen, Jer!” Rick shouted through the thick door. “We don't need to come in there! You come out here!"
"I can't! I've got my hands full! You guys come in here!"
A.J., who suddenly realized how ridiculous they must look playing knock-knock, finally gave in and reached for the door handle.
Rick grabbed his brother's hand. "What the hell are you doin’?"
"I'm going in there."
"You're going in there? Five minutes ago you were the one who looked like you were gonna pass out if I even suggested we go in there."
"Yeah, well I've changed my mind. It's obvious that Jerry's not coming out, and we don't have all day to play stupid games with him, so let's go," A.J. urged as he started to open the door.
"A.J.! What if he's got someone in there?"
"Just close your eyes and hold your breath, that way you'll never know if he's got someone in there or not. "
And that's exactly what Rick did when A.J. opened the door.
As the Simons entered the room, Jerry looked up from the autopsy table he was leaning over. Catching sight of Rick and his closed eyes, the coroner asked, "What's with him?"
"Jerry!" A.J. bellowed. "We thought you were working on
Upon hearing A.J.'s words, and Jerry's reply of, "What made you think that?" Rick opened his eyes to see Jerry eating a double decker cheeseburger with the works, and a large order of fries.
"What made you guys think that?" Jerry asked again as he licked ketchup off his fingers.
"What made us think that?" Rick asked. "Well, for starters you're
in an autopsy room, and you said you had your hands full."
Jerry held up the large sandwich. "I do have my hands full."
The brothers walked over to the table Jerry was using to rest his lunch on.
"Why are you eating in here anyway?" A.J. asked.
"I always eat in here. It's relaxing. Peaceful."
A.J. gave his friend an incredulous look as he studied the room, taking in its sterile surroundings. There was a large stainless steel double sink, a stainless steel drainboard, and a variety of medical instruments locked in a glass front cabinet, including saws of various shapes and sizes.
"Peaceful, huh?" the blond detective questioned.
"Yeah, peaceful," the coroner reiterated, and then changed the subject. "Did you guys have any luck?"
The brothers shook their heads as Rick said, "Not too much."
"I gotta get that body back! The funeral's supposed to be tomorrow."
"Look, Jerry, we had a talk with your boss yesterday,” A.J. said in an attempt to calm the man down. “I think we smoothed things over with him. He understands that this guy had mob connections, and we also told him that the security around here leaves a lot to be desired."
"It just plain sucks," Rick contributed. "He can't blame you for this."
"I know. I know. He already talked to me about all that, and I really do appreciate you guys gettin’ me off the hook like you did and putting in a good word for me. It's just that I’ve never lost a body before. It just doesn't set too well with me."
A.J. nodded, knowing fully well that under Jerry's quirky sense of humor, was a man who took great pride in his work.
"The reason we stopped by is because I wanted to ask you some more questions regarding this whole mess."
Jerry threw the remainder of his lunch away in a nearby garbage can. “All right. Ask away.”
The three men spent the next twenty minutes gathered around the autopsy table, Rick and A.J. asking Jerry numerous questions regarding Tesar's death.
“Another question for you,” A.J. said as he glanced down at the list he’d made on a small notepad he’d pulled out of his shirt pocket. “Could Tesar have ingested something without being aware of it...a drug of some sort, that would have made his death appear as though it resulted from a heart attack?”
“That’s possible I suppose. I mean, sure, there are drugs that can do just what you’re saying. Though some trace of the drug would be found when we do the autopsy. Why do you ask?”
“It’s like this,” Rick said. “Me and A.J. are thinking that Tesar might have been murdered, but then for some reason or another, the guy who offed him needed the body back. Now I’ll be honest with ya’ here and tell ya’ that I’m not so sure we’ve hit the nail on the head with this theory. But A.J. thinks it’s a possibility that the murderer, or murderers, decided that there was something they didn't want an autopsy to reveal. So, the reason behind the body snatching.”
“That could be a valid reason,” Jerry said. “An autopsy doesn’t allow many secrets to remain hidden, that’s for sure.
“Well, keep in mind that, like Rick said, it’s just a theory,” A.J. told their friend. “At this point we’re doing our best to cover all the bases.”
The brothers finished up their conversation with Jerry and promised to get in touch with him as soon as they found out anything. Rick and A.J. exited the room and headed for the lobby doors, Jerry walking with them.
"I'm glad you guys stopped by,” Jerry said. “Seeing the two of you reminded me that I have to get your mother's birthday card in today’s mail."
“Oh no, here we go again,” A.J. muttered, as Rick exclaimed, "You got our mother a birthday card?"
"Sure. I always send your mom a birthday card."
"Why?" Rick asked.
"Because she's a nice lady and it's her birthday, that's why."
The men reached the lobby area of the building. As Rick and A.J. headed for the double doors, and Jerry turned toward his office, Rick stopped and asked, "Hey, Jer, how much did you spend on that card?"
"How much did the card cost ya’? A buck? Two bucks? What?"
Jerry shrugged. "I don't remember. What difference does it make?"
A.J. grabbed his brother by the arm and pulled him out the door. "It doesn't make any difference. Just forget it, Jerry. Rick's paranoid!"
The Simons walked toward the Power Wagon parked at one end of the lot.
"You know, A.J., I can understand Janet rememberin’ Mom's birthday, and I can almost understand Town rememberin’ Mom's birthday, but Jerry? No way. I don't get it.”
"Come on, Rick. Think about it. Jerry's been a friend of mine...and yours, too, since I was fourteen. He's known Mom a long time, and when his own mother died a couple of years ago Mom kind of helped him over the rough spots, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. But still, I don't go sendin’ birthday cards to my friends’ mothers."
"That doesn't surprise me," came the dry response. "It's all you can do to remember to send a birthday card to your own mother."
"Hey, get off your high horse. I bet you don't send cards to your friends’ mothers either, do you?"
"Well...no...but maybe if I felt really close to someone's mother I might."
"Yeah, sure you would," Rick said as he unlocked his truck and the brothers climbed in.
Rick argued that point further as he pulled out of the parking lot. The subject dropped soon thereafter, when the detectives headed for another San Diego arcade that housed games rented from Michael Tesar.
The Simon brothers spent another wasted afternoon going from arcade to arcade, asking questions about Tesar, while hoping to come up with some leads. By seven o'clock that evening they still had nothing to go on and decided to call it quits so they could get home in time for A.J. to keep a date with Liz.
It was five minutes to eight when A.J. bounded down the stairs dressed in blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, hair still damp from the shower. As he grabbed his watch and wallet off the countertop, he made a face at his brother who was sitting at the snack bar eating.
Rick looked up from his fried chicken TV dinner. "Yeah. So what?"
A.J. just shook his head as he walked toward the door.
"Are you comin' home tonight, or are you stayin' at Liz's?"
A.J. grinned and shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I'll have to see how the night goes."
Between mouthfuls of peas and mashed potatoes, Rick said, "By that cheezy smile on your face, I'd say that it's a fair bet that I won't see you until after dawn."
A.J. pointed a warning finger at his brother. "That doesn't mean it's open season on my house. There better not be a party here tonight,"
"Nope, not tonight. I'm bushed. Besides, I've gotta run out and buy Mom's present before the stores close.”
"Yeah, as soon as I get to Liz's I'm going to see if she'll go to Southport Mall with me so I can get Mom's shopping done, too. We're getting down to the wire here. "
"Tell me about it," Rick agreed as he rose to throw away his empty tray.
"See you later," A.J. said as he headed out the door. Rick just barely heard his brother add, "Don't wait up," as A.J. jogged down the driveway to his car.
At seven o'clock on Friday morning the August sun was already shining, and ducks were quacking on the canal, as A.J. Simon turned his key in the lock of the kitchen door. The blond man entered his house and heard David Hartman's voice coming from the TV. A.J. walked past Rick, who was sleeping on the couch, and stepped over Marlowe, who was sleeping on the floor next to his master. A.J. clicked off Good Morning America, only to have his brother wake up with a start as the cessation of all sound penetrated his brain.
A.J. greeted his bleary-eyed sibling with a cheery, "Good Morning."
"Mornin’," Rick yawned as he buried his head a little deeper in the pillow. "What time is it?"
"A few minutes after seven."
Rick eyed his brother, noting that A.J. was wearing the same jeans and shirt he had left the house in the previous evening. "I take it you're just getting home?"
"Yeah, I just walked in," the blond replied as he headed to the kitchen to start the coffee. Marlowe had followed him, so he opened the door to let the dog out.
"Did you have a good time with Liz?"
A.J. 's dimples showed as he shut the door with smile. "Oh, yes, a very good time."
Under his breath, Rick muttered, "I find that hard to believe."
A.J. looked up from the Mr. Coffee. "What did you say?"
"Uh...I said I bet it was hard to leave."
"Yes, well, it’s another working day, so I really had no choice. I sure hope we have better luck today with this Tesar case than we've had the last two days."
"Me too. I swear if I have to walk into one more arcade and hear that stupid Pacman game going I'm gonna get violent. Whatever happened to just plain, good old-fashion pinball machines, anyway?"
"There you go showing your age again, big brother. You're problem is, that you're a child of the fifties trying to fit into the eighties world."
"Yeah, well we'd be a lot better off without all this technology if you ask me,” Rick informed his brother as he walked over to put his pillow away in the hall closet. “Life was a lot simpler when we were growin' up, A.J."
"You're just ticked off because you lost ten bucks yesterday to that nine-year-old kid when you challenged him to a Pacman duel." Before Rick could make a reply, A.J. placed a cup of coffee on the counter for him. "Hey, what'd you buy Mom for her birthday?"
"Nothin’." Rick sat down at the snack bar and took a sip of the hot liquid. "I fell asleep on the couch right after you left, and when I woke up it was after midnight. What'd you get her?"
"We never got to the mall. Our night got involved rather early and then—“
Rick waggled his eyebrows. "Sex maniac."
An already red-faced A.J. blushed even deep at his brother's words, as he thought back to how Liz had greeted him at her door the previous evening. His lovely lady pulled him inside before he could even ring the doorbell. She was dressed in skimpy, lacy lingerie and kissed him before he got a chance to say so much as hello. From there, all thoughts of shopping for his mother's gift left A.J.'s mind, not to return again until the hour was late and the all stores were closed.
A.J. put an end to the teasing by shifting the subject. "We'll go shopping today. We can get to a store in-between all our stops."
"That’ll work, but when are you gonna bake Mom's cake?"
"Later this afternoon. We'll knock off early today. Four o’clock at the latest. That’ll give me enough time to get the cake baked before we have to pick Mom up at seven."
"That sounds good, 'cause aside from gettin' Mom her present yet, I still gotta get the ice cream I promised I'd bring."
A.J. took a loaf of bread out of the breadbox and popped slices in the toaster for himself and Rick. "Do you have that list of arcades and theatres we haven't been to yet?"
"Yeah." Rick reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
While the brothers ate toast spread with strawberry jam they sat at the snack bar studying the list. A.J. grabbed a pen and a piece of paper from the pad by the phone and jotted down the most efficient route to take in order to make as many stops as possible in the least amount of time.
Rick sighed with frustration as he list aside. "This would be a lot easier if Tesar's wife would talk to us."
"Yes, but she wouldn't, so there's no use pushing it. I don't want her contacting any of her husband's ‘friends’ and telling them we're harassing her."
Unfortunately, up to this point, the only path the Simons could travel in this investigation involved talking to the owners of the arcades, cinemas, and bowling alleys that Michael Tesar leased his games to. From what little Rick and A.J. had found out, Tesar was his own one-man office. He hadn’t even had a secretary. His wife had done his bookwork. Other than giving the brothers a computer printout of her husband's customers, Tesar's wife had refused to answer any of their questions, nor would she offer any information. Therefore, the detectives had little to go on, and no other contacts of the man's to question, other than those who rented equipment from him. Rick and A.J. were still hoping to run across an arcade or theatre owner who knew Tesar well enough to reveal some pertinent clues to this case.
A.J. rose and walked around the snack bar. He rinsed his cup and plate off in the sink, then put them in the dishwasher. "I'm going to take a shower, then let’s head to the office. I need to spend a few minutes looking through the mail that's been piling up."
Rick rose as well, going through the same ritual his brother had just completed. When he heard a “Whoof!” he opened the door and let Marlowe back in the house.
"Yeah, I need to grab a shower before we leave, too. While you go through the mail I'll make more phone calls to some of those numbers Bruno gave us from Tesar's last phone bill. So far they haven't been any help, but there's still about ten left I haven't tried yet, so maybe we'll get lucky."
“Okay," A.J. agreed as he trotted up the stairs to the master bath. Rick followed at his brother’s heels and headed for the other second floor bathroom that was situated in the hallway between the two guest bedrooms.
A half hour later, A.J. was standing at the kitchen counter dressed in tan Bugle Boy trousers and a tan and red striped polo shirt. The blond man was skimming the front page of the newspaper when his brother appeared from upstairs, freshly showered and shaved.
The strong smell of aftershave prompted A.J. to look up from the headlines.
"My, my, my, what's the special occasion?"
"The anniversary of the invention of toenail clippers. Geez, A.J., whatta ya’ think? Mom's birthday, a’ course."
"We don't have to be at Mom's until seven o'clock this evening," A.J. informed his brother as he studied Rick's attire of a light blue dress shirt and navy dress slacks. Well, at least dress slacks by Rick Simon's standards. The pants A.J.'s brother wore were cotton slacks made by the Levis jeans company; therefore they were cut like blue jeans, but looked a shade more stylish.
Rick tossed a navy blue western style sports coat on the kitchen counter as he had walked in the room. "I know we don't have to be there until seven, but I'm not takin' any chances just in case
we're runnin’ 1ate. "
"We're not going to be late."
Eyeing his brother's clothes with mock distaste, Rick told his sibling, "You look awfully casual. That'll never do for the Taste Of San Diego."
"I know that,” came the annoyed response. “Don't worry, I'll have plenty of time to change."
"I sure hope so for your sake, little brother. Mom's gonna be pretty pissed if you show up lookin’ like that."
"Give me a break! You're not that dressed up. You're only dressed up by Rick Simon's rather low standards."
"I'll be dressed up when I add this," Rick said as he pulled a navy blue tie out of the sport coat's pocket.
"Hey, that's my favorite tie! Who said you could borrow
Rick smiled. "Mom did."
"She did not!"
"Well, she practically did. She said I had to wear a
tie, and since my tie supply is limited, I raided your closet. Geez, A.J., don't get all shook up. You must have seventy-five of these stupid things."
"Yeah, and out of seventy-five of those stupid things, as you call them, you managed to find my favorite, and the most expensive."
"Just goes to show ya’, A.J. I might not own fancy things, but I do have an eye for value."
A.J. just shook his head at his brother as he headed for the door. "Come on, let' s get going." Under his breath he added, "Thank God we don't wear the same size clothes."
The Simon brothers ended up spending most of the morning in their office. They had both gotten tied up with phone calls longer than they had anticipated. Even the call they made to their mother to say happy birthday turned out to be lengthy, as Cecilia extracted several promises from her sons that they would be on time that evening. After they had hung up the phone Rick and A.J. agreed that, while their mother had been teasing them, there was a note of underlying seriousness to all she said concerning them being on time for her birthday celebration.
The business phone calls that had been made produced no results, so the two men left their office at eleven that morning feeling like they were rowing a boat that was going nowhere.
A.J. glanced at the gas gauge on the Carmaro as they headed for the first arcade stop of the day. "I need to stop and put gas in the car."
The brothers weren't too far from their mother's home since the arcade they were going to was in their old neighborhood.
"Pull into Mr. Garwood's," Rick instructed. "I haven't seen him for a couple of years."
Hayden Garwood had run the neighborhood gas station and car garage since Rick and A.J. were small boys. Rick had worked for the man when he was in high school. While other full service stations in the area were converting to self-serve and mini-marts now days, Mr. Garwood still believed in complete customer satisfaction.
The bell to the gas pump dinged as the Camaro rolled over it. Both brothers got out of the car as a stocky, gray-headed man of seventy came out of the station.
"Hey, Mr. Garwood," Rick greeted.
"Hi, Mr. Garwood," A. J. smiled.
"Hi, boys!" the man grinned as he began to fill the Camaro's
tank. "Long time no see. What trouble have you two been up to lately?"
The three men visited back and forth over the next ten minutes. The brothers followed Mr. Garwood into the immaculate station so that A.J. could pay for the gas. As the elderly man handed A.J. his change, he also gave each of the Simons a pack of Juicy Fruit gum on the house; something he had been doing ever since they could remember.
Rick smiled. "Just like old times. Thanks, Mr.Garwood."
"Thank you," A.J. said as he popped a stick of gum in his mouth.
The brothers said their good-byes and headed for the door.
“You guys stop by and see me more often,” Mr. Garwood instructed. “Oh, and tell your mother happy birthday for me tonight. "
Rick and A.J. exchanged a long glance as they turned back to face the man.
"You know it's our mother's birthday today?" A.J. asked.
"Sure. I know all my long time customers' birthdays. I always send them a card."
"You sent our mother a birthday card?" a Rick asked.
"Why sure. Your mother's a lovely lady, boys. If I wasn't happily married for fifty-one years now, I'd be courting her myself...with your permission, of course. "
A.J. and Rick chuckled at the man's teasing, then continued on their way out. Rick stopped suddenly and turned around once again.
"Hey, Mr. Garwood, how much did you spend on that--"
Before Rick could finish his sentence A.J. pulled him out the door while calling, "Bye, Mr. Garwood!"
The brothers got in the Camaro. A.J. sat behind the steering wheel, not making any move to start the engine.
Rick stared at his brother. "What's wrong?"
"What the hell did Mom do? Take an ad out in the paper that read: ‘Citizens of San Diego, Make my sons feel guilty for always missing my birthday.’ This is getting ridiculous. Everywhere we go someone knows it's Mom's birthday."
Rick chuckled. "I was waitin' to see how long it would take for this to start gettin' to you."
"Well, at least I held out longer than you. It got to you three days ago when Town first mentioned it."
"Yeah, well, I guess it doesn't really matter now. Mom's birthday dinner is only eight hours away. We're home free, A.J."
"Yes, we are,” A.J. said as he started the car. “There's no way we're going to miss Mom's birthday now. Absolutely no way.”
With that, the blond detective wheeled the Carmaro onto the street as the Simons headed for the first arcade stop of the day.
Forty-five minutes and four arcade stops later, the detectives had obtained little worthwhile information. A.J. pulled the Camaro into a downtown parking lot so he and Rick could visit six theatres in the immediate area by foot.
As the blond man fed the parking meter Rick stood leaning against the car, rubbing his temples. "If I hear one more bleep, or blip, or whatever the hell those sounds are that come from those damn video games, I swear my head's going to explode."
A.J. smiled in sympathy. "It shouldn't be too bad this time. Usually only one or two of those things are in the theatre lobbies."
"You know, A.J., the more I think about this case the weirder it is. Who in their right mind would steal a body? And what the hell would they want with it anyway?"
"There's probably more reasons why someone would do this than we can come up with. You know that. This isn't the first strange case we've been hired to solve."
"No, but it's the strangest," Rick informed his sibling. "When you think about it, it's kinda funny. I mean, how can you have a funeral without the guest of honor? What's Mrs. Tesar gonna do tonight? Tell everyone her husband had another obligation, or that an emergency came up and he's out of town? Or maybe that he had some place better to be?"
A.J. gave his brother a grimace. "You're sick, you know that? I think that headache you have is affecting what little thinking you normally do."
"Yeah, well I have been thinking about one thing that I know for a fact. If that body isn't being kept cold somewhere, it's gonna really stink by the time we find it."
"Rick, I could have continued to work on this case quite happily without ever feeling the need to have you remind me of that fact."
Rick shrugged. "Look at it this way, kid. Maybe our noses will lead us in the right direction."
A.J. reluctantly agreed. "With as strong as that body will smell by now if he hasn't been refrigerated, you just might be right."
The detectives headed toward the first theatre, stopping to converse as they walked by several large department stores. It was then they decided that Rick would take a half hour to do the shopping he needed to for their mother, while A.J. went to three of the theatres on their list. Then A.J. would return and they'd switch roles so the blond could get his share of the birthday shopping done as well.
By one-thirty that afternoon, the brothers were walking back to A.J.'s car, each carrying a shopping bag of wrapped gifts. Neither brother had had any luck at the various cinemas, but both were happy to have at least accomplished this one important chore.
As the brothers got settled in the car Rick asked, "What'd you get her?"
"It's a surprise."
"Oh, come on. What'd you get Mom?"
"I'm not telling you," the blond man stated as he pulled out into afternoon traffic.
"Because if you decide that what I got Mom is better than what you got Mom, I know you'll go to a store and get exactly the same thing for her that I did."
"I will not. How would I even have time to do that? It's already quarter to two."
"I don't know, but you'd figure out a way."
“You’re paranoid, A.J., ya’ know that?”
“Where you’re concerned I have to be,” the blond said as he made a left hand turn, and headed the Camaro toward another movie theatre.
A case the Simon brothers thought would have them working over the upcoming weekend to try and solve, finally came to a head at the at the Plaza Theatre. Once there, they talked to the young manager who told them, "Sure, I knew Mr. Tesar. He came in here every couple of days to empty the money out of his machines, and service them if they needed it. We were one of the few places where he still had a pinball machine. He always made a big deal over that."
Rick looked around the small lobby area, seeing two modern video games that were, at the moment, sitting idle. "When did he take the pinball machine out?" Rick asked the nineteen-year-old.
The young man glanced up as he started making a batch of popcorn. "He didn't."
"But you just said he had one here. "
"Yeah, he did. But two guys came in here on Tuesday night and took it away."
"Did they work for Mr. Tesar?" A. J. asked.
"I don't know. I don't think so. Not on a regular basis anyway. I never saw them before, and I'm pretty sure Mr. Tesar didn't have anyone who worked for him."
Rick and A.J. exchanged glances, then Rick asked, "What'd these guys look like?"
The youth thought a moment and then pointed at A.J. "One was built a lot like you, and his hair was so blond it was almost white. The other guy had dark hair and he was really tall. Maybe six-six or six-seven and...I don't know...around two hundred and fifty pounds I guess. Maybe more.”
Rick whistled. "Big guy."
"Yeah, he was."
"Do you remember anything else?" A.J. asked.
“Okay,” A.J. pulled a business card out of his wallet. “Thanks for your time. If you think of anything else, please give us a call at the number listed on this card.”
“I will,” the young man promised as he took the card from A.J. and put it in the pocket of his uniform jacket.
As the Simons headed for the lobby doors, the teenager’s
voice brought them to a halt. "You know, there is one more thing now that I think about it."
"What's that?" Rick asked.
"Well, when those two guys were in here that night one of them...the big one, said he had just talked to Mr. Tesar on the phone, and that he had told them to come get the machine and junk it."
"Junk it?" A.J. asked. "Was it broken?"
"No, that's what was so strange. It was working fine. And besides, even if it wasn't, I don't think Mr. Tesar would have junked it. He had a thing for that machine. It was the oldest one he owned. He told me it was forty years old. I guess that kind of made it an antique. Forty's pretty old you know."
A.J. grinned as he looked at his brother who had turned forty in April. "Yeah, I know."
Rick shot A.J. a dirty look. "Did they say where they were taking the machine?"
"No, they just said they were junking it. The other funny thing, is that they said they had just talked to Mr. Tesar a few minutes earlier, but the next day I found out that Mr. Tesar had died on Monday night."
"Did you tell anyone else this?" A.J. asked.
"No. Nobody has asked me. My boss wanted to know what happened to the machine, but he didn't seem too concerned when I told him. He just thought it was kinda strange, like I did."
Rick and A.J. told the young man thank you one last time, while A.J. handed him a ten dollar bill for his cooperation and good memory.
As the Simons walked outside A.J. asked, "Well, what do you think? Did we learn anything worthwhile?"
"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. Tesar could have hired those guys to get rid of the thing, I guess. The kid could be mistaken about the time they said they talked to Tesar."
"Yes, but it seems pretty strange that Tesar would want it junked. The kid said Tesar had a thing for that machine. Wouldn't you think he'd put it in storage, or try to sell it to an antique dealer or something?"
"Yeah, you'd think so."
"And remember, about the only thing Tesar's wife told us was that he had a great love for those old pinball machines. How many were in his garage?"
"I counted six," Rick said, as they approached the Camaro. "And they all looked to be in mint condition."
"I wonder if there's something special about this particular machine? I mean, something other than the fact that it's forty years old?"
The brothers lapsed while A.J. unlocked his car. As they climbed in, Rick suggested, "Maybe there was something in it they wanted. Maybe Tesar hid something in it.”
"I don't know about valuable in terms of money, but maybe valuable as in something of value to someone."
"Where to next, then?"
"We could try some of the junk yards. Who knows if they really did junk it, but it's about the only lead we have to go on."
A.J. looked skeptical. "Finding that pinball machine is not going to help us find Tesar's body."
"Unless you have some other bright idea, we don't have much else to work with here. If you hadn't noticed yet, we're not exactly makin' great progress. I don't know where else we have left to look."
A.J. looked at his watch and saw it was three o’clock. "Okay, okay, let's make the rounds to a couple of the salvage yards that are close by. Isn't there a big one about five miles from here?"
"Yeah, and I think there's a small one a few miles beyond it."
As A.J. pulled into traffic he said, "All right, let's go to the big one first. Just remember, we've got to call it quits at four o'clock - four-thirty at the latest - because I've still got to make Mom's cake and you've still got to get the ice cream."
"Don't worry, kid, we're even gonna have time to spare tonight."
"That ought to make Mom's day."
“Yeah, it oughta, ‘cause God knows it doesn’t happen very often when it comes to Mom’s birthday celebrations.”
“That’s for sure,” A.J. agreed as he turned right at the next intersection and headed for the closest junkyard.
The first salvage yard the brothers walked through was filled with junk ranging from old cars, to broken washing machines, to rusty bicycles. But if there was a pinball machine anywhere on the vast grounds, the detectives never ran across it.
The second salvage yard proved to be a waste of time, too. The men were headed for home in rush hour traffic when Rick instructed, "Turn right at the next corner."
“ ‘Cause there's a junk yard a few blocks down, I think."
"Rick, it's four twenty-three."
"Don't worry. We've got plenty of time. This will only take a few minutes."
"Okay," A.J. sighed as he mentally reviewed how long it would take a cake to bake. If worse came to worse one made from a box mix, as opposed to one made from scratch, would do he supposed.
Once the detectives arrived at the large salvage yard they sought out the man in charge. He laughed when he told them, no, he didn't think he had any pinball machines amongst his rows and rows of cars and piles of scrap metal, but they were welcome to walk around and look for themselves.
It was a few minutes after five by the time the brothers had walked through most of the yard. A far corner was the only area that remained to be covered.
"Come on, Rick, let's go. I've got to get that cake baked."
"Yeah, yeah, in a minute. Let's just have a look over here, then we'll go."
As the two men walked through the final rows of discarded cars, washing machines, and refrigerators, A.J. stopped. He sniffed, grimaced, and resisted the urge to gag.
Rick was two rows from his brother and answered with a distracted, "What?"
"Do you remember how you said our noses might lead us in the right direction on this one?"
"Can't you smell it?"
"Smell, Rick. Sniff. Sniff!"
Rick wondered if his brother had been out in the sun for too long, but did as his agitated sibling requested. After taking one deep sniff, and then another, Rick said, "Aw oh. I think we've found Mr. Tesar...or someone else.”
The brothers moved amongst the cars, peering inside each one as they passed. When A.J. spotted four metal legs on the other side of an old Impala he said, "Rick, I have a feeling I've found the missing pinball machine."
The detectives got as close to the machine as the rancid smell would allow.
“Gotta screwdriver?” Rick asked as he eyes the machine with a good deal of trepidation.
“In the car.”
“Get it for me, will ya’?”
“Maybe we should just call Town instead.”
“Get the screwdriver for me, A.J.”
“Listen, we’re gonna look like a couple of fools if this is just a dead raccoon in here or something. Now before we get the cops involved, I wanna know what we’re dealing with.”
A.J. sighed. “All right.” He turned and ran to his car where he retrieved a screwdriver from the toolbox he kept in the trunk.
The blond man ran to where his brother was waiting and handed the tool to Rick, then took several steps back.
"I still think we should call Town. That smells a lot stronger than something the size of a dead raccoon if you ask me."
"Well, I didn't ask you," Rick growled. "And how come you handed me the screwdriver, and you're standin' way the hell back there?"
"Because you’re the one who insisted we should open the thing up before we call Town, so be my guest, big brother. Go on, open it."
Rick took several pensive steps toward the machine. "Oh yeah, big brother's always got to do the dirty work. Who had to bury Fluffy when she died? Me. Who had to flush Molly, Polly, and Dolly down the toilet when they died? Me. Who had to give your turtle, whatever his name was, a proper burial at sea? Me. Who had to--”
"Okay, Okay, just get on with it," A.J. interrupted. "I don't have time to stand here and listen to the traumatic moments of your childhood."
Rick cast his brother one more glance before he advanced on the pinball machine. "They were your traumatic moments, A.J. I was only helpin' you through them."
With A.J. peering cautiously over Rick's left shoulder, and with Rick breathing through his mouth in order to avoid the smell, the oldest Simon brother loosened four screws on the metal panel on the bottom of the machine.
Rick pried the panel down with the screwdriver, peered inside, and jumped backwards. "Holy shit!"
As Rick backpedaled into him, A.J. managed to keep them both upright by grabbing Rick's upper arms.
By the time Rick came to a halt, the brothers were forty feet from the pinball machine. Between gulps of fresh air, Rick said, "I think we found Mr. Tesar."
“He's in there, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. Though not in quite the same way he left the morgue.”
do you mean?”
“Let me put it this way. Jerry lost a body, but what he’ll be gettin’ back is body parts.”
A.J. paled and nodded. “I see. Well...I...I uh think I'll go find a phone and call Town."
Rick’s eyes traveled to the pinball machine, then to his brother’s retreating back. “Hey, A.J., wait up! I’d better go with. You know...in case Town has any questions while you’ve got him on the phone.”
“What’s the matter, Ricky, are you afraid of a dead body?”
“No, I’m not afraid,” Rick said as the brothers walked toward the junk yard’s office. “I just figured I’d better be with you in case Town wants to talk to me. Besides, it’s hot standing out here in the sun.”
A.J. bowed his head in order to hide his smile. “Whatever you say.”
"You know, I've been wanting one of those old pinball machines for a long time now. I've been thinkin' of putting one in the
A.J. grinned and snapped his fingers. "Hey, I bet Mr. Tesar would give you a good deal on the one we just ran across."
"Very funny, A.J.,” Rick said as the brothers entered the office. “Very funny."
The Simon brothers lost all track of time that evening as a police investigation led by Downtown Brown ensued in the salvage yard.
Town, as well as Rick and A.J., suspected that Tesar's dismembered body secreted in an antique pinball machine was a message to someone. Who that someone was they didn't know, and they realized they probably never would. Mob related activity did not normally lend to an easy trail to follow. Town suspected that when Jerry was finally able to do the autopsy on Michael Tesar's body, or what was left of it, he would indeed find that the man had died of a heart attack. Town theorized that this body snatching and dismemberment was someone's way of getting back at Tesar for the murder of Gene Vos so many years earlier, or at least someone's way of letting the Skarpelli family know that the murder hadn't been forgotten. It wasn't a great theory, or one that was necessarily going to get the police anywhere when it came to solving this mystery, but it was the best one Town had.
The Simon brothers believed that Town’s theory was probably right, or as close to being right as any of them would ever get. Either way, A.J. didn't care. As he told Rick, "We've done what the coroner's office hired us to do, find Tesar's body. As to who took it and why, I don't care. If this is mob related, it's in our best interest to stay out of it now."
For once, Rick and A.J. were in total agreement with each other since Rick, too, felt it was best to bow out of the Tesar case at this point. He didn't want to deal with the mob in any way, shape, or form. Therefore, the only unexplained happening that occurred as a result of this case, came three weeks later when a pinball machine was delivered to their office with an unsigned note that read; Thanks for finding Mike.
Rick assumed the gift was from Mrs. Tesar. He called the woman to thank her, only to be informed that she hadn't sent it. After Rick described the machine to her, Mrs. Tesar told him that her husband had given one just like it to a Skarpelli brother several years back. A.J. teased Rick for days afterwards, asking if he was going to call the Skarpelli's next to thank them. All Rick would say is, "No, I think this one is better left alone, A.J."
By the time the police were through with the Simons that Friday night it was seven forty-five. Even A.J. didn't realize how late it was until Town said, "I think we've got enough from you guys. You can go. I know you're planning to be at your mom's sometime yet tonight."
Upon hearing the words, “be at your mom’s” Rick and A.J. looked at their watches, then at each other.
"Mom!" they cried in unison.
"Don't tell me you forgot," Town said.
"We didn’t forget!" A.J. called over his shoulder as he and Rick raced for the Camaro.
Town shook his head. "Bye, guys. Tell your Mom happy birthday for me."
The Camaro was two blocks away by the time Town finished that sentence.
At nine o'clock that night, two humble looking detectives rang the doorbell of their mother's home. They had stopped at a grocery store long enough for Rick to pick up the ice cream, and for A.J. to buy a cake at the bakery.
Cecilia Simon, dressed in a pale pink blouse and light- weight beige linen skirt, opened the big oak door. She stood with her hands on her hips and glared up at the two men.
"Ah, what's this? Strangers on my doorstep bearing gifts? Or are they peace offerings?"
A.J. had a bag of presents in one hand and was balancing a large cardboard box with the other. "Sorry, Mom."
Between the bag containing the ice cream and the bag with the presents he had purchased, Rick's hands were full, too. "Sorry we're late, Mom."
Cecilia glanced at her watch. "Well, it's only nine o'clock. At least this year you're just two hours late. I suppose that's better than last year when you didn't show up until eleven-fifteen, and the year before when you didn't show up at all. Maybe next year you'll actually be on time."
Cecilia hadn't yet moved from the doorway, or indicated in any manner that she wanted her sons to enter the house. A.J. 's arms were getting tired from balancing the cake and presents.
"Mom, can we come in?"
Cecilia smiled sweetly. "No, honey, not yet. I want to make certain the neighbors see how late you two are for your mother's birthday."
Rick exchanged glances with his brother. "If I didn't know you were teasin', Mom, I'd be a little worried right now."
"I'm not teasing, sweetheart," came the dry reply as Cecilia finally moved out of her sons' way. "Come on in, you two. The pitiful looks on your faces are ruining property values."
Cake and presents were piled on top of Cecilia's dining room table. The table was set, and the brothers could smell something cooking in the kitchen.
"Uh...Mom, we're really sorry about missing the reservation at the restaurant,” A.J. said. “You didn't have to cook though. We would have taken you somewhere yet tonight."
"I suppose you could have, but I didn’t feel like celebrating my birthday at McDonald’s again this year, A.J."
Rick attempted to help his brother out. "See, Mom, it’s like this. The case we were workin’ on ended in kind of an...unusual way today. That's why we’re so late. We had to answer questions for Town. We really were trying to be on time. Honest."
Cecilia didn't make a reply. Instead, she instructed her sons to follow her into the kitchen and help her get dinner on. Cecilia wasn’t nearly as angry with her sons as she let on. She understood that, given their line of work, tardiness to family events was sometimes unavoidable. Nonetheless, she decided to milk this situation for all it was worth, and continued to pretend she was upset. Who knew what favors might be promised as a result of guilt?
In mere seconds Cecilia was seeing those results. As Rick put the bag he had been carrying in the freezer he said, "See, Mom, I brought the ice cream. And not just one flavor either. Four flavors. I got chocolate, vanilla, maple nut, and caramel swirl. And they're not just one of those grocery store brands either. These are gourmet ice creams. Expensive. You can have a little of each if you want."
Cecilia turned away from Rick and smiled while wondering how she’d manage to eat four half gallons of ice cream before they got freezer burn.
A.J. brought forth his humble offering next. "Uh...Mom...um Rick and I want to take you to dinner tomorrow night."
"And to a movie, too," Rick said.
The brothers exchanged uneasy glances as their mother continued to ignore them.
"Mom,” A.J. tentatively inquired, “is that all right?"
With that question, Cecilia turned from the stove to face her sons. "You won't be late?"
“Absolutely not, Mom.”
A.J. nodded. “Promise. We'll be here at seven on the dot."
"Yeah, Mom, right at seven on the dot. You can set an alarm clock by us."
Considering the next day was Saturday, and considering the brothers had no other case to start working on, they both knew this was one promise they could keep.
"All right,” Cecilia said while using her wooden spoon as a pointer. “I'll be ready and waiting for you at seven o'clock tomorrow evening. And if either of you is late, I swear I'll turn you both over my knee and apply this wooden spoon to your behinds."
Both men chuckled, then Rick said, "Don't worry, Mom, we won't be late. I remember all too well what your wooden spoon feels like."
At ten-thirty that evening, supper was finished and the dishes had been washed and dried by Rick and A.J. The birthday girl was seated at her dining room table surrounded by wrapped packages. Even if Cecilia hadn't seen her sons take the presents out of the bags, she could have easily guessed which ones were from Rick and which ones were from A.J. A.J.'s gifts to his mother were wrapped in pastel prints of pink, lavender, and green, and tied off with delicate bows, while Rick's were wrapped in bright red paper with big gold lettering that proclaimed, Whoopee! It’s Your Birthday!
From where they stood on either side of her, each of Cecilia’s sons bent down and gave her a kiss. First A.J. on her right cheek, "Happy Birthday, Mom." Then Rick on her left, “Happy Birthday, Mom."
Rick reached for the birthday candles as he and A.J. sat at the table. Cecilia pulled the box that held the cake toward her.
“I can’t wait to have a piece of this. I’m glad I saved room for dessert.”
A.J. blushed and stammered, "I...uh...I really had planned to make a cake for you, Mom, but with this case tying us up like it did I didn't get a chance to. I had to buy this one at the bakery."
"That's okay, honey. I'm sure it's good. And we certainly have a large assortment of ice cream to go with it thanks to your brother."
Cecilia started to open the lid of the box, when just as quickly, A.J. reached over and shut it.
"Uh, Mom...um...before you look at it I...well I should tell you that...uh...well--”
Cecilia grabbed the cake box once again. "For heaven's sake, A.J., I realize you bought it in a store. I already told you it's all right. Now come on, let's get the candles lit and eat it before Rick drools all over the table."
"Yeah, come on, A.J. Let Mom cut her cake. I'm waitin' for my dessert here."
A.J. sighed as he looked from his mother to his brother, then reluctantly removed his hands so Cecilia could lift the lid. Cecilia studied the cake for a moment, and then burst out laughing while shaking her head.
"I'm sorry. That's all they had left by the time Rick and I got to the store."
Rick leaned over his mother's left elbow to look in the box. He hadn’t seen the cake yet, and just like his mom, Rick started laughing as he read the inscription.
“ ‘Happy Bar Mitzvah, David.’ No wonder you wouldn't let me see this cake when you bought it."
"I didn't have much choice. This was the only cake they had left. The bar mitzvah boy got sick and the party was canceled. It's not my fault no one with birthdays got sick."
"Don't worry about it, A.J.,” Cecilia assured as her laughter died down. “It's the thought that counts. I'm sure this cake will be delicious."
"Yeah, probably, but it's not what I had intended to do for you, Mom," A.J. apologized once more. "I promise I'll make a cake tomorrow, and then we'll celebrate your birthday again at my house after dinner and the movie."
"That fine, sweetheart. I'll bring the ice cream. I've certainly got plenty of it."
Rick placed a dozen candles on the cake and lit them with his Bic lighter. A boisterous around of ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung, and then Cecilia cut three large slices. She had chosen caramel swirl to go with the cake, so Rick scooped the ice cream up, plopped it on the plates, and then passed them around the table.
When the dessert plates were empty and had been pushed aside Cecilia reached for her packages. As he did every year, Rick urged, "Open mine first, Mom."
When A.J. didn't protest this, Cecilia did as her eldest requested. She took the envelope Rick handed her and opened it. Her brows knit together with puzzlement as the back of the card was revealed, and the price on the bottom was circled in red pen.
“That card cost me two fifty, Mom.”
“Yes, Rick, I see that.”
“I bet it cost a lot more than any other cards you got. Say like cards from Town, or Jerry, or Mr. Garwood.”
“I suppose it might have. I really don’t know.”
Rick scanned the room. “Where’s the cards they sent you? I’ll take a look and let you know.”
“Rick, it’s really not that important,” Cecilia assured as she read the card her eldest had purchased for her.
“Sure it is. You’re my mom, and I think it’s only right that my card cost more than—“
“Richard, sit down.”
Rick plopped back to his seat. “Yes, ma’am.”
When Cecilia looked at her youngest son for a silent explanation he simply put his right index finger next to his temple, turned it in circles, and mouthed the words, “Nuts.”
Cecilia smiled at A.J.’s antics, then returned her attention to her oldest. She hadn’t been Rick’s mother for forty years without knowing how to handle him when he got like this.
“Why don’t you hand me the present you want me to open first, Rick.”
“Oh. Okay, good idea.”
As Cecilia knew would happen, Rick forgot all about seeking out his mother’s birthday cards now that she’d given something else to do. As the paper came away from the first package, a plastic smile lit Cecilia’s face.
"Oh, an electric knife. How nice, dear. Just what every woman wants for her birthday. "
“You don’t have to thank me, Mom. I bought ya’ that ‘cause I ruined your electric knife last year when I was house sittin' for you and tried to cut apart those super deluxe frozen burritos with it. Remember?"
"Yes, Rick, I remember every time I need to use my electric knife.”
Rick grinned. "So see there, now you've got a new one. And it's the best one they had. The sales lady told me so. This isn't some cheapy knife that won't last. The sales lady said you could even cut through a brick and it won’t hurt that knife one bit."
"I'll keep that in mind if I decide to become a mason a any point in the near future.”
Cecilia took the next box Rick handed her and unwrapped it. She lifted a pale blue cashmere sweater out of the box and held it up against her chest.
"Oh, honey, thank you. Thank you so much. It's beautiful."
Neither Rick nor Cecilia noticed the look on A.J.'s face as she kissed her eldest, then reached for the two packages from her youngest. Cecilia opened the light pink envelope and read the card that had been enclosed in it. She smiled at A.J. as she gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you for the lovely card, sweetheart."
Knowing her A.J. as well as she did, Cecilia knew he meant every word of the verse inside the card that told her what a wonderful mother she was and how much he loved her. And, unlike his brother’s card, the price on the back wasn’t circled in red ink.
Cecilia opened her first package from A.J. and found two hard covered novels she’d wanted to read. She thanked A.J. and then she reached for the remaining present, only to have A.J. reach for it too.
"Mom...um...maybe you don't want to open that."
Oh no, here we go again, Cecilia thought, before teasing, "Why not? Is it a T-shirt that says Happy Bar Mitzvah, David?"
A.J. blushed. "No, no, I just don't think you're going to like it. I think I'd better return it and--”
"Oh, A.J., I'm sure I'll love whatever you've picked out," Cecilia assured her youngest as she pushed his hands away and opened the gift. As she removed the lid on the box, Cecilia started to laugh.
Poor A.J. First he was late because of their case, then there was the cake, and now this.
Cecilia lifted a pale blue cashmere sweater out of the box so Rick could see it as well. Rick soon joined his mother in laughter as he, too, had the same thoughts she did.
A.J. sulked and said, "It's not funny," as he looked at the sweater that was an identical twin to the one Rick had gotten their mother, right down to the store where they had been purchased.
A.J. didn't even have the satisfaction of being angry with his brother. A.J. knew Rick had not purposely copied the gift he had chosen for their mother, as he had the year they had both purchased microwaves for her. He knew this year the twin gifts had been an honest mistake, although Rick teased him about it for a few minutes and even went so far as to accuse A.J. of spying on him while Rick was doing shopping.
After the teasing ended, Rick righted the whole affair. "Mom, how about if I pick you up tomorrow afternoon and we go exchange the sweater I gave you? You can pick out whatever you want."
"Rick, you don't have to do that,” A.J. said. “I'll take the one I bought back."
"No, Mom and I will take the one back that I gave her. After all, Mom doesn't wanna see you poutin' on her birthday."
"I'm not pouting!"
"You are too."
"Boys!" Cecilia scolded, then put an end to the discussion. "Yes, you are pouting, A.J. And yes, Rick, you and I can exchange the sweater tomorrow. This way you can make it up to your brother for that microwave stunt of a few years back."
"Sure, Mom," Rick agreed.
Peace reigned once again as Cecilia kissed her youngest
"Thank you for the beautiful sweater, A.J. I see that I've raised two sons with excellent taste."
The Simon family sat around the dining room table amidst wrapping paper, boxes, empty plates, coffee cups, and a half eaten cake while visiting with one other. It was close to midnight when Cecilia noticed that both her sons were looking droopy eyed. She knew they had had a long day of chasing all over San Diego based on what they had told her about their newly completed case. She started to rise from the table to collect the dirty dishes.
"I think you two better get ready to call it a night before you're both too tired to drive home."
A.J. put his hand on his mother's arm and gently urged her to sit back down.
"Mom, Rick and I have one more present for you."
"You do?" Cecilia questioned.
"We do?" a surprised Rick echoed.
"Yes, we do," the blond man confirmed as he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a small, wrapped box that he handed to his mother.
"You boys have given me enough presents for one birthday,” Cecilia protested while opening the gift. “I certainly don't need another one. "
Rick looked at his brother from across the table with an expression of, "What's this all about?" on his face, which A.J. ignored.
Cecilia tore the last of the paper away and was left holding a red velvet jewelry box. She opened the lid on it and tears immediately sprang to her eyes.
"Oh, Rick. A.J. It's lovely. Just lovely. I've wanted one for so long. How did you know that? Thank you both. Thank you."
Cecilia leaned over and gave her youngest son a kiss and a prolonged hug, then did the same to her oldest. She then took the Mother's ring out of the box and tried it on, pleased to find that it fit perfectly.
"I can wear this when we go out tomorrow night."
Cecilia gave her sons another hug, then sat in silence and admired the ring on her finger. Cecilia decided that she couldn't have gotten a more attractive one had she picked it out herself. For the ring A.J. had chosen, with the help of Liz, was made to complement his mother's petite hand and small fingers. The brushed gold band was just wide enough to hold four stones. In the center of it was a bright green stone, a sardonyx, representing Cecilia's birth month of August. Directly below that were two stones sitting side by side, a diamond representing Rick's April birthday, and a ruby for A.J.'s July birthday. Above Cecilia's stone was another stone that was smaller than the rest and that was embedded deeply into the ring. This one was an opal and stood for Jack's October birthday.
Cecilia ran the fingers of her left hand over the ring several times before thanking her sons again with just a trace of tears as her touch lingered on her husband’s stone. After another moment passed the woman rose from the table and began to clear away the dirty dishes.
Rick and A.J. followed suit, Rick stopping their progress toward the kitchen once their mother had entered. "When did you get that ring?"
"Last January, right after Christmas, when things were on sale."
"Then how come you kept saying you didn't have a birthday present for Mom?"
"Because that wasn't supposed to be her birthday present. It was supposed to be this year's Christmas present. "
“Then why did you give it to her tonight?”
"I put it in my pocket on impulse this morning with the thought in mind that if things didn't go the way we wanted them to tonight, that maybe now would be a good time to give it to her."
"Good idea," Rick agreed.
"Yeah, it was. Without intending to, we sometimes put Mom through so much crap because of our business, so I wanted to do something special for her tonight, you know?"
"Yeah, A. J., I know," Rick acknowledged. “But how'd you know Mom wanted one of those rings, and how'd you know her size?"
A.J. wrinkled his nose at his brother and smiled. "I'm a detective. I'm good at finding out things about people."
Rick chuckled as he started toward the kitchen once again. "That you are, little brother. That you are."
"Hey, Rick," A.J. beckoned from behind.
Rick turned around. "What?"
"You owe me two hundred dollars for your half of the ring."
Rick didn't attempt to argue that point with his brother. The ring had made their mother so happy that Rick would willingly pay A.J. whatever he owed him.
"Okay, that's fine. But I can't give it all to you right now. How about if you take it outta my paycheck twenty-five dollars at a time?"
A.J. smiled and shook his head at the brother who always managed to spend three dollars after earning only two. "Sure. I can do that."
As the brothers continued toward the kitchen carrying their dirty plates, A.J. said, "Happy Mom's birthday, Rick."
Rick smiled. "Happy Mom's birthday, A.J."
"And next year we won’t be late," A.J. insisted.
"I wouldn't bet on that, little brother. "
From the kitchen, Rick and A.J. heard, "I wouldn't bet on it either!"
And with that, the detectives entered their mother's kitchen, each giving her a kiss, a bear hug, and one final heartfelt, "Happy Birthday, Mom!"