A.J. finished feeding the barn, then stood for a minute in front of Nellie's crate, giving the sow that had farrowed sometime in the middle of the night, a little extra attention. The detective had been surprised to discover on the previous day that because most of the older pigs were accustomed to being around humans, they were as friendly and affectionate as dogs.
Nellie had taken a shine to A.J. when he and John had put her in the crate on the previous afternoon. Now she stood for the first time since giving birth, eating out of her feed pan and letting A.J. scratch behind her ears. The five hundred pound Nellie kept up a steady rhythm of contented grunts, only stopping when A.J. ceased the gentle scratching.
"Well, Nellie, I see you had four babies last night. Keith said that's not too good - that you should have had ten or twelve. I hope you do better next time or I'm afraid it'll be bacon for you."
Nellie grunted loudly, as if she understood A.J.'s words.
The blond man chuckled, patting the big sow on her hard bony head. "You just tell Keith you're getting old. He can't expect a sow who's had twelve litters to have ten pigs all the time."
Nellie lifted her head, pushing at A.J.'s hand with her snout. The detective gave the old sow a final pat as Bill and John entered the barn.
"Good morning," A.J. greeted.
"Morning," John returned cheerfully.
"Good morning, A.J. I see scooping hog shit yesterday didn't keep from coming back for more this morning," Bill teased.
A.J. smiled. "No, it didn’t. I'm ready to go back to work. Though I hope today I'll get to learn something new. I think I've got scooping manure down to a fine art."
Both Bill and John laughed. John clapped A.J. on the back. "Yeah, that job's usually mastered fairly quickly by even the most novice farmer. And because Bill and I have agreed that you did pass Shit Shoveling 101, we're gonna move on to something else today."
Bill held up a package of razor blades, eyes twinkling. "Castration 101, will be your lesson for today."
A.J. looked from one amused face to the others. He swallowed hard. "Castration on the pigs I assume you mean."
The two men laughed again at the blond's words, and the dubious expression on his face.
"Yep, on the pigs," John confirmed.
"That makes me feel a little better," A.J. said. "Though not much."
"Aw, there's nothin’ to it," Bill dismissed.
A.J. was led to a pen of young boars that the men had just weaned from their mothers the day before.
"All these boars are junkers," John explained. "For various reasons their looks don't suit Keith for either breeding stock for himself, or to sell to someone else. They're going to market, so we have to castrate them."
John reached in the pen, grabbed a piglet by its hind leg, lifted it out and held it upside down. He spread its legs for Bill. The older man moved in with the razor blade.
A.J. wasn't so sure he wanted to watch this, but curiosity got the best of him. With just three movements of the razor blade Bill had the job done. He reached for the iodine bottle and sprayed it on the fresh wound.
A.J. was surprised at the fact that the little pig hadn't made a sound throughout this whole procedure.
"That's all there is to it," Bill told A.J.
"I can't believe it didn't squeal or anything," A.J. remarked. "That had to have hurt."
"I imagine it did a little bit, but the smaller the pig is when you do it the less it seems to hurt them. And some of them do squeal up a storm," Bill informed the blond. Bill held the razor blade out to A.J. "Now it's your turn."
A.J.'s eyes grew wide. He backed away stammering, "I...uh...I don't think so. I...uh...I'm afraid I'll hurt them."
Bill and John laughed at the squeamish detective.
"We're only kiddin’ you, A.J.," John said. "I don't expect you to be ready to tackle this job just yet. But Keith's got some things he wants Bill to do outside, so how about if you hold the pigs like I just did and I do the castrating?"
That was still a little closer to the whole process than A.J. preferred to be, but in an effort to be a good sport he agreed weakly, "Sure."
For the next half hour A.J. held piglets upside down while John cut and sprayed. Bill had been correct, some the piglets squealed and squawked and put up a valiant fight. A.J. wasn't sure if that was because someone was taking a razor blade to a very sensitive area, or if it was simply because they didn't like being held upside down. He imagined it was a little bit of both. John wasn't nearly as proficient at the job as Bill had been and readily admitted it.
"I'm still learning about pigs myself. I've been a dairy man all my life," he explained to A.J. after one especially wild pig that A.J. had struggled to hold onto.
When the two men were all done they had a bucket full of little pig nuts.
"Now if these were a little bigger we could clean 'em up, fry 'em, and have ourselves a supper of Rocky Mountain Oysters," John said.
"What?" A.J. asked, not sure if he was being teased again or not.
"Rocky Mountain Oysters. You batter ‘em fry 'em in a little oil. They're pretty good – or at least they are if you don't spend to much time thinkin' about what they are."
"You're not kidding, are you?"
"No, not at all. They make 'em from bull nuts as well."
"I like a lot of different foods," A.J. remarked, “but I don’t think I’d ever have a desire to try Rocky Mountain Oysters now that I know what they are.”
"Well, these are too small to use anyway," John said. "Watch this."
A.J. watched as John walked over to the dishes used by the barn cats. He dumped the bucket's contents in several of the dishes and called, "Here, kitty, kitty."
Cats started jumping down from the rafters and the farrowing crates where they had been sleeping.
A.J. counted ten cats and two kittens partaking in this early morning feast.
"The cats love these things," John commented.
"Better them than me."
A.J. and John worked together for the remainder of that morning. John showed A.J. how to clip needle teeth and notch ears on the newly born pigs. The needle teeth the piglets possessed reminded A.J. of human eye-teeth, and were in the same spot as the eye-teeth a human possesses. John explained that these were clipped as soon as possible after birth because the piglets would bite their mother with these teeth when they were nursing, causing her to jump up and discontinue the feeding process.
A.J. decided he preferred clipping needle teeth to castrating hogs any day. It wasn't that much different than clipping toenails. The instrument used was only a little larger than a toenail clipper. It didn't seem to bother the little piglets much, so A.J. took care of Nellie's piglets while John did Foxy's.
Old Nellie looked up at A.J. with complete trust in her eyes as he reached in her crate, taking out the piglets one by one, clipping their teeth, then returning them to her. She nudged his hand again with her nose, begging him to scratch her ears once more.
"Nellie, you sure know how to flirt with a guy," A.J. informed the sow. "It's no wonder the boar always has you pregnant."
Nellie grunted, more than happy to be receiving undivided attention from a human.
Although A.J. never did quite get the hang of notching ears, he watched John do it. John explained that you mentally divide the pig's ear into quarters, each quarter representing a different number. The notches put in the right ear tells the hog farmer what litter number the pig was born in, the notches in the left ear are the numbers assigned to it based on how many pigs were in the litter.
John lifted out of the crate one of Nellie's piglets. With a tool that looked like a hand held paper punch, he went about notching the piglet's ears.
He looked at a registration book kept in the barn.
"Let's see, this is the sixty-sixth litter Keith's had born this year, so in its right ear we'll notch sixty-six. It's the first pig I picked up, so I'll notch the other ear with a one."
A.J. watched as John did this with all four of Nellie's piglets.
"Now when Keith registers these they'll be registered with whatever name he gives them, as well as by their ear notches - sixty-six dash one, sixty-six dash two, and so on."
A.J. was amazed that someone could identify a pig by notches cut out of its ear.
"And this is a universal thing?” A.J. asked. “Among anyone who raises hogs, I mean?"
"Anyone who raises purebreds and registers them," John confirmed. "We had to do something similar to cattle, only we used numbered ear tags that were attached permanently to the calf's ear. The bad thing about that is, that sometimes the tags come out. You don't have to worry about that with the hogs since once their ears are notched it's permanent."
Again the little pigs didn't put up too much of a fuss as John notched all the newborns' ears, although A.J. did notice some small amounts of blood with this procedure. But then again, he supposed if someone actually took pieces out of his ears there'd be blood too. It wasn't lost on the observant detective either, that the minute the piglets were put back in with their mother they immediately began nursing, as if seeking comfort from her.
The two men finished up in the barn at noon. They walked down the aisle to the sink to wash up, John saying, "This afternoon you'll work with Bill for a while mending some fences."
"That sounds fine," A.J. agreed. The detective was glad he'd had the opportunity to work alone with John all morning, and now with Bill in the upcoming afternoon. It gave him a chance to get to know both men better. He hoped he'd be able to come to more solid conclusions on both of them before he and Rick met again to discuss the case that evening.
Rick was busy that day doing his own learning and observing while he worked in a field on the farm on Trinity road. Once again he spent most of the day discing in the wake of Rod's plow. Perry was plowing another field nearby. Greg and Keith were working the fields on another farm. Rick was happy to be alone with the two men he had a multitude of suspicions about.
When the three broke for lunch and spread out with their sandwiches under a shade tree, Rick found the atmosphere to be much like it had been the day before. Rod carried on a steady stream of light, cheerful conversation, while Perry simply sat eyeing Rick in a disdainful manner. Rick had no idea what he'd done to cause the man to dislike him. He doubted that he'd done anything. He had observed Perry looking at A.J. in the same way earlier that morning when his brother walked by the field hands on his way to the farrowing barn. So far the only contact A.J. had had with Perry was the brief five minutes the morning before when the blond had been introduced to him. There would be no reason for Perry to have an opinion of A.J. one way or another as far as Rick was concerned.
There's somethin' not quite right about this guy, Rick thought in between bites of a ham sandwich.
Rick acted out the part of the visiting cousin from California, dutifully and knowledgeably answering all Rod's questions regarding the charter boat business.
"And what's your brother do?" Perry asked suddenly.
That's a first. The guy hasn't talked to me directly since I met him yesterday morning.
"He's a lawyer," Rick informed the two.
"Seems kinda strange to me,” Perry commented with misgiving. “A lawyer and a charter boat captain all the way from California out here workin' on a farm and callin' it a vacation."
Rick shrugged nonchalantly. "What's so strange about it? It's relaxing for my brother and me to get outta the city. Keith and I have always been close, so when he called askin' if me and A.J. wanted to come here and help out during his busy season, we both jumped at the chance to get away for a few weeks."
"Oh, yeah?” Perrry said. “And who's runnin' your business?"
"I have plenty of good help who can take over while I'm gone," Rick answered. "Even charter boat captains need a vacation every so often."
Rod stepped in, evidently trying to put an end to Perry's questioning. "Yeah, come on, Perry, everyone needs a vacation now and then."
"Still, I don't think his brother is no farmer."
Rick was beginning to lose his temper with this type of interrogation. Tersely, he replied, "I never said he was a farmer. He's a lawyer. All I said was that we're both on a working vacation. There aren't many farms in Southern California. This is a new experience for us."
Rod prevented things from going any further between the two men by starting to ask Rick questions about his charter boat business.
Rick wasn't sure if the guy was just being nice, or if he was suspicious that Rick wasn't who he claimed to be.
If Rod's intention was to trap Rick he didn't succeed. Rick had lived near the ocean all his life, and had run a water salvage business during his years in Florida. There wasn't a question that Rod asked that Rick didn't easily have an honest answer for.
Eventually the conversation wound down. There was still a half hour to go on the lunch break. A groggy Rick stretched out under the maple tree and closed his eyes, dozing for the rest of his break period.
The detective didn't immediately open his eyes when he heard Rod and Perry rise and walk away. The two men were several hundred yards from him before Rick opened his eyes to slits and observed the direction they were taking. He unobtrusively watched the two enter the barn where Keith's market hogs were.
Now what would they be goin' in there for? They don't have any reason to be around those hogs. Bill and A.J. will be over here later today to feed them. These two guys are only hired to do field work, not mess with the hogs.
At one o'clock Rick rose, gathered up his discarded lunch bag and jug of lemonade, and walked back toward his tractor. As he approached a thick grove of trees at the edge of the field he got a whiff of a heavy sweet odor.
This time neither Rod nor Perry tried to hide the fact that they were smoking marijuana. It seemed to Rick as if they were being openly defiant, baiting him to see what he'd do.
Perry held his joint out to Rick. "Wanna take a hit, Captain?"
Rick waved the joint aside. "No thanks."
"Oh, you guys don't do this kind of stuff in California, huh?" Perry taunted.
"Look, Perry, you're a little too old to be actin' like a teenage drug pusher, and I'm a little too old to play your game. I don't give a crap what you guys do on your own time, but don't be usin' that shit and operating machinery."
"What makes you so high and mighty, Mr. Charter Boat Captain?" Perry asked with disdain.
"Nothin' makes me high and mighty. I already told you I don't give a crap what you do on your own time. But I've seen enough of what that shit can do to people to know you guys are playing with fire when you're smokin' that and workin' with farm equipment. I don't give a shit about your sorry asses, but I don't want to get hurt 'cause you're doin' somethin' foolish, and I especially don't want to see one of Keith's kids get hurt."
Perry wasn't about to give up. "And how do you know so much about it?"
"Perry, just drop it," Rod intervened.
"No, I want to know how he knows so much about it. Maybe Keith's cousin is a cop."
"I'm not a cop. I already told you who I am. And as far as how I know so much about it, I saw plenty of guys get their brains blown out in Nam because they were smokin' that crap before they went on patrol. More grunts died over there because of their own stupidity than most people know. But I shouldn't have to tell you that, should I, Perry?"
Perry's eyes narrowed to slits. "What do ya' mean by that?"
"I saw the tattoo on your arm with the flag that says Nam Vet. I don't imagine you'd get something like that engraved permanently in your skin if you weren't there."
"I was there," Perry confirmed.
"Good, then we can both stop playin' games with each other. Like I said before, you're askin' for trouble if you're smokin' that crap and operating this kind of machinery. I just don't wanna see anyone get hurt."
"No one will get hurt, Rick," Rod attempted to pacify.
"Let's hope not, 'cause if they do I'll know exactly who to come lookin' for," was how Rick ended the conversation before walking away and climbing into the cab of the big John Deere.
It was almost eight-thirty that evening before a tired Rick Simon entered the house he and A.J. were sharing. The smell of roast beef hit him the minute he entered the back door.
A.J. was already in for the night. The blond man had showered earlier, and was now relaxing in the easy chair in the living room reading a book.
"I may have stunk last night, but you're filthy," A.J. said upon catching sight of his brother's dirt caked face and clothes.
"Yeah, I know," Rick acknowledged. "I've been eatin' field dust all day."
Rick went upstairs and retrieved clean clothes for himself, then headed for the shower.
"I threw our dirty clothes from the past couple of days in the washing machine! A.J. called through the closed bathroom door. “Add yours when you're through in the shower and turn it on!"
"Yes, Mother," Rick dutifully answered.
Twenty minutes later, the brothers sat down to a long awaited meal. While they ate, A.J. filled Rick in on his day, including learning to castrate little pigs.
Rick gave a shudder of sympathy for the pigs. "That makes me tingle in places I don't wanna mention."
A.J. laughed. "It had the same affect on me."
The blond man concluded by telling his brother that he was fairly certain neither John nor Bill were involved in any way with the missing hogs.
"That doesn't surprise me,” Rick stated. “I think I know who is."
Rick now took his turn at filling A.J. in on his day, including his little run in with Perry.
"You think the guy's stealing from Keith to support a dope habit?" A.J. asked.
"I don't know why he's doin' it, I just think he is. Rod too. They're strange characters, let me tell you."
"Are you going to say anything about this to Keith?"
"No, not yet. We gotta have proof."
"Speaking of proof, Keith told me he wants us to stakeout the farm where you were today, tomorrow night. He said prices will be high for the next three days."
"Sounds good," Rick said between mouthfuls of roast beef.
"He told me to tell you to knock off tomorrow afternoon when Matt comes out to the field so you can get some rest before we have to stay up all night," A.J. informed his brother. "I'm going to call it quits then, too."
"I hope me quittin' for the day that early doesn't arouse Rod and Perry's suspicions," Rick said.
"Talk to Keith about it. I'm sure he can come up with some story to give them, as well as Bill and John. Maybe we can say we're going sightseeing or something. After all, this is supposed to be a vacation for us."
that sounds okay. I'll run it by Keith
in the morning. I just don't want our
cover blown. I think without realizin’
it, we're getting mighty close to finding out who's rippin' Keith off."
The tired brothers hurried through the kitchen duties that night. Once things were cleaned up Rick retreated to the living room and the television set.
A.J. said good night and headed up stairs, this time with the intention of actually reading a few pages of his book before he fell asleep.
The blond man moved around the bedroom, stripping off his clothes and putting his pajama bottoms on, then turning down the bed he was using. As he bent to put his jeans in a dresser drawer he noticed something out of place.
A.J. walked to the head of the stairs. "Hey, Rick!"
"Were you in my wallet today?"
"Why would I have been in your wallet?"
"Oh, for the usual reasons, to take money out of it without telling me, to pickpocket one of my credit cards, to--"
"No, I wasn't in your wallet!"
"Are you sure?"
Rick got out of the chair and came to the bottom of the stairs, looking up at his brother. "Yes, I'm sure. Why?"
"I know I left it in the top dresser drawer this morning when I went out to work. Now it's on the dresser."
"Is anything missing out of it?"
"Then I think all that pig manure you've been smellin' has finally killed a few of your brain cells, A.J. You musta' left it on the dresser, and just thought you put it in the drawer."
"No, I didn't. I know I put it in the dresser."
"Well, I'm not gonna stand here and argue with you about it, but I think you're wrong. You probably left it on the dresser this morning."
A.J. wasn't going to argue with his brother either, although he was almost one hundred percent positive he'd left it in the dresser drawer that morning.
A.J. walked back into the bedroom. His private investigator's eye scanned the room, trying to determine if anything else was out of place. When A.J. came to the conclusion that everything seemed to be how he and Rick had left it that morning, he began to wonder if he had left the wallet on the dresser like Rick had suggested.
I'll never admit it to Rick if I did, was A.J.'s last thought on the matter before settling back against his pillows with the novel he had brought along.
The next day didn't bring any great changes or revelations to either Simon brother. A.J. workrf along side Bill and John, while Rick spent his day with Rod, Perry, and Greg. If anything, Perry's attitude toward Rick had grown more hostile. Even Greg noticed it. As the men were walking back to their machinery after lunch Greg asked Rick, "What's with Perry?"
Rick shrugged. "Don't know. The guy's kinda strange if you ask me."
"Yeah, I've noticed," Greg agreed before climbing onto his tractor and resuming his work.
Matt was sent out to the field where Rick was working at three-thirty.
"Dad says I'm supposed to relieve you."
"Thanks," Rick said to the boy. The older man walked toward the farmyard and houses, as Matt began plowing up the rich dark earth.
As Rick approached the settlement of barns he heard Seth's cry of, "Pigs are out! Pigs are out!"
The sight that greeted Rick when he turned the corner of the finishing barn was pure bedlam. Thirty pigs ranging in weight from sixty to one hundred pounds were running in thirty different directions, with Seth and A.J. chasing after them.
"Pigs are out! Pigs are out!" Seth yelled again in a way that indicated to Rick this was like yelling ‘fire.’ Bill raced from the farrowing barn as fast as his elderly legs would carry him. Sue ran from the brooder house where she’d been feeding chickens, having heard her son's cry, as well.
Rick watched the chaos with great amusement. It didn't take him long to come to the conclusion that pigs are smarter than they seem - and can run with considerable speed. Just as A.J., or Seth, or Sue, or Bill, got close to grabbing one of the animals, it would dodge away, leaving the pursuer with nothing but a handful of air. Rick laughed, watching A.J. chase a group of little pigs 'round and 'round the corncrib. The pigs stayed together as a herd, snorting and kicking up their heels at the blond man who was panting with exertion.
I wish I had a video camera right about now, Rick thought, watching as A.J. made another round of the building without success.
A.J. caught sight of his smiling brother. “Hey, you could give us a hand here you know!"
"Sorry. I'm a field hand. I don't know anything about pigs!"
"You'll learn! Now get over here!"
Eventually, as the pigs tired from their running, they became easier to grab. The smallest ones the men picked up by their hind legs and carried back to their pens. The bigger ones were herded toward the barn, sometimes being dragged by their ears if they got stubborn. Twenty minutes later Bill counted twenty-five penned pigs, then announced that everyone needed to fan out and look for the missing five.
Rick found one rooting in the grass behind the brooder house. Seth found one underneath his mother's car. Sue found one rooting in her garden. And A.J. found the last two wallowing in a mud hole.
all the runaway hogs were finally penned everyone took a moment to catch their
"Man,” the winded Rick panted as he bent over at the waist and rested his hands on his knees, “I didn't know those buggers could run so fast."
"Yeah, they can really move when they get a mind too," Bill agreed, wiping the sweat from his brow.
The little group of conquerors soon broke apart, returning to what they'd been doing before they were interrupted.
"I'm goin' to the house to take a nap," Rick informed his brother.
"I'll be there in a little while," A.J. returned. "I'm going to help Bill fix this gate so we don't have to chase these stupid things again."
"The funniest thing I've ever seen was you runnin' 'round and 'round that corn crib, little brother. I wish I'd had a video camera, let me tell you."
"Well, I'm glad you didn't. It's humiliating being outsmarted by a bunch of pigs. Boy, can those things run."
"No kidding," the still winded Rick agreed as he walked away.
It was over an hour later before A.J. managed to call his work day finished. He entered the silent house and quietly made his way up the stairs. Rick was napping on his bed and didn’t wake up as A.J. retrieved clean clothes. Fifteen minutes later, the blond man returned to the bedroom. He laid down on his own bed and immediately fell asleep.
Rick woke at seven. A.J. was still asleep, so he didn't disturb his brother.
The older detective made himself a sandwich from the leftover beef roast. When he was done eating he packed a bag with four sandwiches and filled a thermos with coffee in preparation for that evening's stakeout.
It was close to eight o'clock before a tousled A.J. appeared. The blond made himself a roast beef sandwich as well, then joined his brother in front of the T.V. set.
By nine o'clock it had grown dark. At nine-thirty the brothers left the house, got in their Jeep, and headed for the Trinity Road farm.
Rick pulled the Jeep into the thicket of trees where he, Rod, and Perry had eaten lunch the previous day. The black Jeep was well hidden by pine tree boughs. There was just enough of a clearing by the windshield that enabled the brothers to have an excellent view of the barn.
The night was long, quiet, and unadventuresome. Both brothers stayed awake until midnight. Rick climbed into the back of the Jeep then, put the rear seat down, and slept until three. A.J. woke him up at that time and they switched places.
As the sun tried to break through a heavy layer of clouds at dawn Rick knew it was time to call it quits. A.J. woke when Rick started the vehicle. The blond man climbed in beside his brother once again and they headed back to Keith's farm.
Over eggs and multiple cups of coffee the Simons discussed their unsuccessful night, deciding they'd keep trying until Keith indicated they should stop.
It rained on and off that day, sometimes heavily, while at other times quitting completely for a period of time, only to start up again. Because of the weather, there was no working in the fields, so Keith and his hired men caught up on a variety of jobs. Some of the machinery that had been used heavily over the last three days already needed minor repairs. Keith instructed Rod and Perry to work on that. He had Greg mending fences in one pasture, and Rick working on restringing an electric fence in another.
After Keith got the other men going on their assigned tasks, he walked the electric fence line with Rick and A.J. under the pretense of telling Rick what he needed him to do.
The brothers filled Keith in on their all-nighter, trying to quell his disappointment by assuring him they'd really only begun.
"Something's gonna break loose here, Keith,” Rick said. “I'm sure of it."
"How can you be so certain?"
"I just...I don't know, I've just got a feeling."
While walking along the fence line, Rick reached out and grabbed his brother by the arm. At the same time, he grabbed the live electric fence wire with his own hand. Therefore, Rick was the unaffected conductor of the electricity as it flowed through him to A.J.
The startled blond received a light shock. He struggled out of Rick's grasp.
Rick and Keith laughed at A.J.'s expression.
"For God's sake will you grow up," the indignant A.J. scolded.
"Just more fun on the farm," Keith commented. "My brother and sisters and I used to do that to each other all the time."
"I imagine you were a little younger than Rick when you did it though," A.J. pointed out.
"True,” Keith smiled. “But you know your brother, A.J."
"Yes,” the long-suffering A.J. agreed. “I sure do."
Rick caught A.J. off-guard with that little trick two more times before the blond man wisely stayed out of arm's reach.
A.J. returned to work in the farrowing barn, while Keith and Rick went back to the barn where the power source for the electric fence was mounted. Keith cut the power at the breaker box while Rick gathered the tools he'd need to restring the fence.
For the rest of that morning all the men went about their assigned jobs. A.J. drove by his brother on a tractor several times as he spread manure in the pasture.
A.J. was on his way back to the barn from on of these trips when he looked up to see Rick hanging stiffly onto the electric fence. At first A.J. didn't think anything was amiss, but as he got closer, it looked like Rick was being shocked. Even then, the blond thought his brother was goofing around by pretending to receive a shock as A.J. drove by.
From the tractor A.J. yelled, "Rick, knock it off!"
Rick didn't turn to look at his brother.
"Rick, I said quit goofing around! You shouldn't cry wolf!"
Still, there was no change in Rick's attitude or posture. A.J. began to wonder if something really was wrong. The blond man threw the tractor in neutral and jumped down, running toward his brother.
If this is another one of his stupid practical jokes I'll kill him.
But it wasn't a practical joke. When A.J. came abreast of his brother he could see that, indeed, Rick was receiving a shock that wasn't allowing him to break his hold of the wire.
A.J. looked around, frantically trying to locate something that would enable him to get Rick away from the source of the electricity. He caught sight of the wooden handled shovel Rick had brought with him. The blond scooped it up, worked it between Rick's flannel shirt and bare chest, and pulled. It took A.J. several tries before he was finally able to break Rick's hold on the wire.
Rick toppled down to the ground, his body as limp as a rag doll's.
Keith was coming over the hill on another tractor just as Rick fell. He shut the tractor off and jumped down from the seat.
The farmer ran toward the brothers. “What happened?”
"He's been electrocuted," A.J. stated succinctly. He bent to check Rick's pulse and respiration.
"But I cut the power to the fence!" Keith cried.
"Then someone evidently turned it back on! Don't worry about it right now! He's got a pulse, but he's not breathing!"
A.J. started mouth to mouth on his brother. Keith yelled until he caught the attention of John, who was coming out of one of the distant barns. John ran toward the men, turning away when he was able to understand Keith's words of, "Call for an ambulance!"
Keith stood by ready to help A.J. in anyway he could. No help was necessary though. Within seconds of A.J. having started mouth-to-mouth, Rick began to breathe on his own. Soon the detective was moaning and moving his head back and forth on the damp ground.
Rick opened his eyes to find himself staring up at the worried faces of his brother and friend.
"What...what happened?" came Rick's disoriented question.
A.J. laid a hand on his brother's shoulder. "You were electrocuted, but you're going to be okay. Just stay quiet."
Rick tried to sit up, only to have his brother gently push him back down.
"Stay put," A.J. commanded firmly. "An ambulance will be here in a few minutes."
"Ambulance? I don't need an ambulance,” Rick insisted while trying to rise again. “I'm fine."
"Rick, you're going to the hospital, and you're going to let a doctor check you out. Thoroughly. You weren't breathing as of two minutes ago. That's nothing to fool around with. Not that I think any more brain damage could have occurred than what's been present all your life," A.J. added in jest.
"Ha, ha," Rick shot back weakly. "Come on you, guys. At least let me get up. The ground is cold."
Keith and A.J. finally agreed to help Rick sit up, then, found themselves helping him stand upon his stubborn insistence.
A.J. ran over to his tractor and grabbed a denim coat he had thrown over the seat. He ran back and wrapped the warm coat around his sibling's shoulders.
Despite the protests of both A.J. and Keith, Rick insisted they walk toward the farmyard and meet the ambulance there when it arrived.
With A.J. and Keith hanging onto each elbow, a shaky Rick made his way slowly and unsteadily toward the barns.
The ambulance arrived soon thereafter. The volunteer emergency medical technicians listened to A.J.'s explanation of what had happened, then took Rick's pulse and blood pressure. Although all the detective's vital signs were strong, the E.M.T.'s agreed that Rick needed to be examined by a doctor. Over Rick's protests, he was loaded into the back of the ambulance. A.J. climbed in after his brother and ordered him to shut up and cooperate. Keith followed the ambulance to the hospital in his pickup truck.
Two hours later, all three men returned home in Keith's truck. The fortunate Rick was none the worse for wear with the exception of a "whopper of a headache" as he put it, and a persistent tingling sensation in his legs and feet.
Rick spent the remainder of the afternoon resting as the doctor had ordered. He ate the lunch A.J. prepared for him, then went upstairs and promptly fell asleep. With his brother resting comfortably, A.J. went back outside. He and Keith walked over to the barn where the breaker box was located for the electric fence.
"Look," Keith said with disgust. "Not only did someone throw the switch, but they pumped up the voltage. I never have it this high. It's only strong enough to give the pigs a little shock if they get their noses on it. Like the kind you got this morning when Rick was goofing around."
"But it goes up higher, too," A.J. pointed out.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that if someone did this on purpose, they could have killed Rick if they had wanted to. Evidently they didn't want to."
"You think it was done deliberately?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I suppose it could have been an accident, but why would anyone have come in here and messed with it?"
"That's what I've been wondering, too," Keith reluctantly admitted. "I'm going to question the other men."
"No...no not right now," A.J. insisted.
"Because I don't want to scare off any of our leads. Let's just act like we think this was a freak accident and that we're not too concerned about finding out what happened."
"Do you and Rick really think someone that works for me is behind all of this? The stolen pigs, and now this...accident?"
"We've talked about it being a strong possibility with the pigs. Rick's got some suspicions he'll share with you when he's ready. As far as the other, I don't know. It's obvious someone turned the power back on to that fence, but whether it was an accident, or on purpose, is anybody's guess at this point. I haven't talked to Rick about it yet, but I will when he's feeling up to it."
Keith bowed to A.J.'s wishes, though he wasn't too sure of the motive behind them. A.J. spent the rest of the afternoon going about his farm chores, occasionally stopping in the house to check on his slumbering brother. Whenever he had the opportunity, A.J. worked near Perry and Rod. Unfortunately, the blond was never able to overhear anything substantial.
A.J. entered the house at six o'clock that night, greeted by the smell of chicken roasting in the oven. Rick was puttering around the kitchen finishing up dinner preparations.
"What are you doing up?"
"Rick, you're supposed to be resting."
"I slept all afternoon. How much rest does that dumb doctor think I need anyway? I'm fine."
"Is your headache gone?"
"Not entirely, but it's not that bad."
"How about your legs and feet?"
"They're still kinda tingly, and I found out I glow in the dark, but other than that--"
A.J. shook his head at his brother’s humor. "I don't know about you."
The blond took a quick shower, then assumed the supper preparations while insisting that his brother sit in a kitchen chair.
Over supper the men discussed the day's events. A.J. relayed the conversation he'd had with Keith earlier that afternoon. Rick agreed with his brother's decision about acting as though the accident had been nothing more than that, an accident. Like A.J., Rick didn't want any of their possible suspects disappearing.
Over A.J.'s protests Rick insisted on going with his brother on stakeout duty that night, though he slept through most of it. But once again, the long night was uneventful. A.J. drove them home at four-thirty the next morning. The tired blond man went upstairs and laid on his bed in an attempt to catch a few hours of badly needed sleep. Rick made a pot of coffee, poured himself a cup, then went outside and sat on the back step. The detective's busy mind played through a thousand possible scenarios regarding the case as he drank his coffee and watched the sun come up.
Although Rick tried to insist to Keith that he was fine and ready to go back to work in the fields that Friday morning, the farmer wouldn't hear of it.
"The doctor told you to take it easy for a few days. I'm insulating one of the barns; you can help me do that. If you start feeling tired or whatever, you can go in the house and call it a day."
"Keith, come on, you hired me and A.J. to do a job. I can't do that job if I'm workin' with you. I already know you're not stealing pigs."
Keith wouldn’t give in to Rick's demands, and for that A.J. was grateful. He could tell just by looking at his older brother that Rick was still being bothered by the headache the doctor said he might have for a few days.
It was getting close to noon as A.J. stood outside the farrowing barn operating the barn cleaner. The automatic cleaner slowly went around the barn's gutter, its paddles pushing manure along the way. Eventually those metal paddles that were attached to a long continuous chain, pushed the manure out the back door and up a metal ramp. The manure was pushed off the ramp and into the manure spreader. A.J.'s job was to shut the cleaner's controls off when the manure spreader was full. He then took the spreader out into the pasture or an unplowed field and spread the manure.
A.J. had just returned from one of the fields, parked the empty spreader underneath the ramp, climbed off the tractor, and walked into the barn and turned the cleaner back on. The paddles and chains began to move in the gutter much like a train moves on a track.
The blond detective went back outside, watching as manure began to dump into the spreader once again. Suddenly the cleaner jammed, the chain bucking up into the air. A.J. ran for the barn, shutting the controls off like he'd been taught. He came back out and climbed up the ramp, guessing he'd find a hard clump of manure jamming the paddles.
Sure enough there were large clumps of dirt and manure that had been too heavy for the paddles to push. A.J. went about clearing the jam, trying his best to pretend that it wasn't manure that his hands were now covered with. The blond man lifted several of the metal paddles, working his right hand underneath them and the chain as he fought to free the obstruction.
A.J. was caught by surprise when the barn cleaner suddenly began to move again.
"Ah!" the blond man cried, his right hand caught underneath a heavy metal paddle and the chain. A.J. tried to pull his hand free but couldn't. It was wedged tightly underneath the paddle, and was now being dragged along with the forward motion of the chain. The blond man could feel the back of his hand scraping against the rough metal surface of the ramp.
A.J. tried unsuccessfully to pull his hand free again, crying out in pain once more as the paddle scraped his palm raw. The blond man looked ahead, trying to decide how to free himself before the sections of paddles he was caught in made their way into the small opening that allowed the cleaner in the barn. The opening wasn't any bigger than a ‘doggy door.’ A.J. knew he'd never fit into it. He feared his hand, or even arm, would be amputated when the cleaner went through there and his body caught against the outside barn wall.
Rick and Keith were working in a nearby barn. Without realizing it they had heard A.J.'s first cry of pain. The sound had been lost among all the other barnyard noises, neither man paying much attention to it. When A.J. cried out in pain a second, and then a third time, the two men finally put their hammers down and cocked their heads.
"We'd better go check that out," Keith said.
The two men walked out of the barn. They started running when they saw what was happening to Rick's brother.
Keith ran into the barn, heading for the switch that would turn the cleaner off.
Rick jumped on the ramp in one leap. He grabbed A.J.'s right wrist and pulled. Although the pain A.J. was experiencing was close to making him pass out, he tried to help his brother, pulling as Rick pulled.
Damn, he's really caught, Rick thought. The detective looked up, seeing that his brother was slowly being pulled toward the opening for the cleaner.
Shit! If I don't get him loose, he'll lose his arm when this thing tries to go in there.
Rick kept one hand on A.J.'s wrist and wrapped the other one around his waist. "I'm gonna pull, A.J., and you pull too! Ready?"
"Okay. One, two, three, pull!"
A.J. pulled with all the strength he had left, but to no avail. He was still caught.
"Keith, shut the damn thing off!" Rick yelled.
"I'm trying!" the brothers vaguely heard from inside the barn.
A cold sweat broke out along Rick's spine as he began to
fear he wouldn't get his brother loose in time.
"Don't pass out on me, A.J.! Pull!" Rick commanded his weakening sibling. "Pull!"
Just when Rick thought it was too late, when he thought A.J. was going to indeed lose his hand or arm, the barn cleaner shut off. As its forward motion stopped, A.J. sank to his knees on the ramp. Keith jumped up next to Rick, and with the older detective supporting his brother, Keith began to quickly disassemble the paddle A.J.'s hand was caught under.
Keith's fear for A.J. manifested itself as anger. "What were you doing?" he demanded of the injured blond.
A.J.'s eyes were squeezed shut against the searing pain. "Clearing a jam."
"Why the hell didn't you shut the controls off? I told you that was the number one rule of safety with all jammed equipment the first day you were here!"
"I did shut the controls off."
"Are you sure?" Keith questioned.
Despite the pain he was in, A.J.'s answer was a firm, "Yes, I'm sure,"
Keith and Rick exchanged glances, but anything they had to say regarding this ‘accident’ and the one from the previous day, they kept to themselves for the time being. Taking care of A.J.'s injuries had to be their first priority.
Using a screwdriver and wrench, Keith finally got A.J. free. He jumped down onto the ground, reaching out to support the detective as Rick eased the blond man down off the ramp.
Rick climbed down last, then stood beside his brother, gently probing the injured hand A.J. was painfully cradling.
A.J. jerked his hand away shouting, "Ouch!" when Rick touched a particularly painful spot.
"How bad is it?" Keith asked.
Rick shook his head grimly. "I don't know. It's covered with pig shit. Let's get it washed off."
Rick and Keith ushered A.J. toward the sink in the barn. The blond gave a sharp suck of air in-between his teeth as hot water and soap stung the raw open wounds on his hand. Rick cleaned the injuries as gently and thoroughly as he could.
Keith peered over A.J.'s shoulder. "What do you think?" he asked Rick when they were finally able to better see the extent of the injury.
"I think we're gonna be makin' another trip to the emergency room," came Rick's answer. "It's still bleedin' pretty heavily, and I'd say he's gonna need stitches."
"I don't need stitches. It'll stop in a few minutes. I don't need to go to the hospital," A.J.'s words echoed Rick's from the previous day.
Rick gently held the hand up in front of his brother's face. "A.J., look at this. It looks like a piece of raw meat. We need to have a doctor look at it. I can't get all the pig shit outta these cuts. They're too deep. We're gonna have to have a doctor clean it up for you."
Over A.J.'s protests the hand was wrapped tightly in a clean towel, then he was led to Keith's pickup.
Rick kept pressure on the bleeding wound the entire trip to the emergency room. Although he was in pain, A.J. repeatedly cautioned Keith to slow down, while at the same time assuring his concerned brother that he was okay.
Twenty stitches, a tetanus shot, and one heavily bandaged hand later A.J. was released to go home. The only further concern the doctor had was to caution to watch the hand carefully.
` "There was a lot of manure embedded in those lacerations, Mr. Simon. We got the wounds cleaned as best we could, but if any swelling or redness occurs I want you back here immediately."
The doctor handed A.J. a piece of paper from a prescription pad. "Have this filled today. It's an antibiotic. I want you to take three a day until they're all gone. Wounds like you had can become infected very easily. Hopefully, that medication will prevent another trip to the emergency room. I'm also including a mild painkiller on here. You might need it once the Novocain starts to wear off."
Rick spoke for his brother, assuring the doctor they'd be back if there were any further problems, and that the medication would be taken as it should be.
"If you haven't left for California by next week come back here and we'll decide if the stitches are ready to be removed. Otherwise, see your own physician when you get home," were the doctor's final instructions.
It was after three o'clock that afternoon before the men returned to the farm. Rick insisted that his brother go in the house and rest, Keith echoing that sentiment.
A.J. settled himself on the couch with a couple of pillows while Rick made sandwiches. He handed a plate to his reclining brother.
"I know it's late, but I guess we'll call this lunch considering we haven't eaten since seven this morning."
A.J. didn't care what they called it, despite the trauma of the day he was past hungry and rapidly approaching starvation.
When the brothers had finished eating Rick asked, "How's the hand?"
"It smarts like hell, but I'll live."
"The cleaner jammed so I went in the barn to shut off the controls. Once that was done, I went back outside and was fixing the problem when suddenly the thing started moving."
"And you didn't see anyone around?"
The brothers were lost in their own thoughts for a moment before A.J. said, "I never had any doubts yesterday that what happened to you was done deliberately. I feel the same way about what happened to me today."
"I know,” Rick nodded. “Someone's trying to send us a message."
"Yeah, like a ‘go back to where you came from’ message."
"Exactly," Rick agreed. "The only thing I don’t know is how someone figured out who we are."
"I don't...my wallet!"
"My wallet. I told you the other night that I knew I'd left it in the dresser drawer."
"Aw, A.J., I don't think--"
A.J. sat up straighter on the couch. "No, listen to me. I know I left it in the dresser when I went out to work the other morning. If someone was in here snooping around, someone like Rod or Perry, all they would have had to do is open that wallet to find out who we are. My P.I. license is in there, and right underneath it is a handful of our business cards."
"And you're sure you left it in the dresser?"
"Okay, okay. You left it in the dresser. It does make sense if that's how they found out who we are. Do you think it's worth stakin' out the barn anymore?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if they know who we are, then they've figured out why we're here. There's no way they'd be dumb enough to steal those hogs now. Maybe we should just call it quits and not take any more of Keith's money. We could go with him to interview some local P.I.’s. Maybe we can find one that can do the job for him after we're gone."
A.J. shook his head. "I'm not ready to give up yet. Let's try for at least a couple of more days. Maybe they'll get careless and slip up soon. Besides, I don't particularly like being threatened."
"No, neither do I," Rick agreed. "Since it's Friday, let's give it through the weekend. If nothing comes of all this by then, I don't think we're gonna have any choice but to call it quits. We can't work if our cover's been blown."
A.J. was agreeable to that suggestion. Like his brother the evening before, A.J. was insistent that they go through with that night's stakeout. He was also insistent on being a part of it regardless of how much his hand might be hurting him.
Rick made sure his brother took his prescribed medications, then left his sibling dozing on the couch and went in search of Keith. He told his old friend all that he and A.J. had discussed, and shared with him the suspicions he harbored regarding Perry and Rod. Rick also told Keith about having caught them smoking pot.
Keith was surprised at this news, then upset. As Rick had guessed, Keith had no desire to have men like that working around his kids. The farmer agreed to play along with Rick and A.J. for the time being, however, and pretend nothing out of the ordinary was going on.
"If we're gonna catch these guys we gotta fool them into believin' we've had enough," Rick stated. "I want you to tell everyone what happened to A.J., only lead them to believe that he was hurt pretty bad. Bad enough that Perry and Rod will have doubts as to whether we'll be watching them. Tell them his hand was pretty torn up and that he lost a lot of blood. Tell them we're going home as soon as A.J.'s well enough to travel."
"Do you think it will work?" Keith asked skeptically.
"I don't know. All we can do at this point is give it one last try."
"If someone's going to steal hogs, tonight will be the last night they can do it until Monday," Keith commented.
"'Cause the yards aren't open on Sunday."
"How do the prices look?" Rick asked.
"They're the highest they've been in a couple of years. Sixty-five cents a pound."
“And what does that mean in terms of the cash these guys might get for a full trailer of hogs?”
“Around four thousand dollars.”
"It might be difficult for a couple guys supportin' a drug habit to resist that kinda money."
"Look, Rick, I don't want you and A.J. getting hurt because of me. Enough has happened already. If you don't think it's safe for you guys to do this job anymore, if you're afraid your cover's been blown, then let's just forget it. It'd rather lose a few hogs than lose my sergeant and his brother."
Rick smiled. "Don't worry about it. We'll be okay. We're not ready to give up yet. I've still got a whopper of a headache that's tellin' me I owe somebody a pay back, and my brother's got a hand that hurts like hell and is tellin' him the same thing."
"Neither one of you has any sense, you know that?"
"Yeah, we know that. It's like our mother always says, you can always tell a Simon, but you can't tell him much."
"How appropriate," Keith agreed dryly.
At nine-thirty that night, the Simons could once again be found hidden in the grove of trees on the Trinity Road farm. Tonight they had a bag full of sandwiches, a thermos full of coffee, and a bottle of extra strength Tylenol.
"I know we're gettin' old when Tylenol becomes part of our stakeout routine," Rick grumbled.
"Old, or careless," A.J. quipped in reference to their recent ‘accidents.’
It was getting close to two a.m. with no sign of any activity around the barn. Rick was just about to suggest to his dozing brother that they might as well pack it in and consider this case unsolved, when distant headlights caught his attention.
Might as well wait around and see if this turns into anything. It's probably just a car goin' past, but I suppose it's not gonna hurt to hang around a couple more minutes.
The vehicle slowed down in front of the farm's driveway. Rick sat up straighter, leaning over the steering wheel for a better look.
Rick swatted the slumbering A.J.'s thigh.
"A.J., wake up! We got some activity goin' on here."
A.J. raised his seat from a reclining position.
"Look," Rick pointed.
Under the bright glow of the floodlight in the driveway, A.J. saw a pickup truck and trailer slowly backing up to the barn's door.
"I guess Rod and Perry fell for Keith's little story about my injury being serious, and us leaving as soon as I'm ready to travel," A.J. observed.
"Looks that way."
The brothers sat patiently, watching as the driver of the pickup maneuvered back and forth until he got the trailer parked just as he wanted it. The driver's door opened and a person jumped out. Rick and A.J. couldn't clearly see him until he walked underneath the floodlight illuminating the front of the barn.
"It's a kid," A.J. said with confusion.
Another teenager walked around from the truck's passenger side and underneath the floodlight.
"Oh, shit,” Rick said. “That's Matt."
"What do you want to do now?"
"Let's just sit here a minute and see what they do."
"Rick...you know perfectly well what they're going to do."
"I know, I'm just hopin' they don't."
"Look, I know you like the kid and--"
"It's not just that, A.J. There's a lot more to it than likin' him. He's had a rough row to hoe, and maybe he hasn't always been given a fair shake."
"Fine. I can understand that. But still, we don't have any other choice but to tell his father...do we?"
Rick was silent for a moment, then sighed heavily. "No...no we don't."
A.J. kept his peace from there on out. He let Rick decide when the time was right to make the next move.
As soon as the two teens started loading hogs on the trailer Rick said, "I'd better go talk to him."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
"No...no I'll do this by myself."
Because of the darkness and the noise of the hogs, the boys didn't see or hear Rick approach. The detective was standing next to the trailer before he said, "Matt."
The startled teen jumped, then saw who had hailed him. His friend slammed the trailer’s gate shut and ran for the driver's side of the truck.
"Come on, let's get out of here!"
For just a moment there was a look of indecision on Matt's face before he whirled and ran for the truck. Gravel flew as the boys took off down the driveway, hogs squealing as they were bounced roughly from side to side in the trailer.
A.J. got out of the Jeep and ran over to help his brother round up the hogs that had gotten loose during the boys’ hasty escape. Once the barn door was firmly shut, the blond asked, "Why'd you let him go? You could have grabbed him."
"He's gotta face his dad on his own, A.J. We can't make him. Besides, where's he gonna run to? Sooner or later he'll show up at home. Come on, let's go tell Keith and Sue."
Over coffee at four on Saturday morning Rick and A.J. told Sue and Keith all they had witnessed earlier that morning. Matt's parents were understandably upset.
"That's not the kind of child we raised," Sue declared as the foursome sat around her kitchen table. "None of our kids have ever given us problems like this before."
Keith slammed a fist on the table. "I'll get to the bottom of this, and when I do I'll--"
"Keith, just wait a minute here,” Rick attempted to calm the man. “Wait until you get a chance to talk to Matt."
"Talk to him? I plan on doing more than talking to him!"
"Rick, do we need to call the police?" Sue asked.
"That's up to the two of you. He's your son. You said you think you know who the other boy is?"
Keith nodded. "From the description you gave us of the truck and trailer, I'm almost positive it's Jeff Torrence. He's a good friend of Matt's."
"If I were you two, I think I'd hold off on callin' the cops until you've talked to Matt,” Rick advised. “From there, you can decide how you want to deal with the boys."
"He's going to have to do some mighty fast talking to keep me from calling in the police," Keith declared. "He deserves to sit in jail for a day or two. Maybe that will straighten him out. God knows I don't know what to do with him anymore."
"Try listening to him," Rick said quietly.
Keith looked across the table at the detective. "What?"
"Look, this isn't any of my business, and I don't wanna overstep my bounds and risk our friendship, but it seems to me that all you and Matt do is yell at one another."
Rick ignored the kick to his shins A.J. delivered under the table.
"I've had a few opportunities to talk with Matt over the past four days, and he's really not a bad kid. The only problem is, he's feeling pressured to be like his brothers and sister. He doesn't like the same things they do, doesn't excel at the same things they do, and he just wants that fact to be recognized. He referred to himself in a conversation I had with him as 'just Matt, the kid in the middle.'"
"I don't have much use for a kid who spends his days feeling sorry for himself," Keith said.
"Keith...please," Sue pleaded. "Please try to understand where Matty's coming from. I'm not happy with what he's done either, but let's try to get to the bottom of it. Let's try to figure out why he's done it. Let's try to have a conversation with him for once without it escalating to a shouting match between the two of you."
Keith sat grim faced staring into his coffee mug.
"Keith...listen, I'm no expert when it comes to raisin' kids, and I don't claim to be," Rick said. "But I think I know a basically decent kid when I see one. Matt's not a bad kid, he's just a misunderstood kid. All he wants is for you to respect who he is. He doesn't like farming--"
"That's because he's lazy," Keith interrupted.
Rick shook his head. "No, he's not. He's just being made to do things he doesn't like. He wants to get a job in town, maybe at McDonald’s, or at a gas station, or something like that. He wants a chance at something besides farming. He wants a chance to be who he is, and not who you want him to be."
Keith started to open his mouth, then closed it. Rick got the impression his friend was at least considering all that had been exchanged in these early hours before dawn.
Just as the sun was coming up Matt walked in the kitchen door. The teen kept his head bent, hands shoved deeply in the pockets of his jeans.
Before any confrontation could take place, Sue ushered everyone into the family room.
"Where have you been?" was the first thing Keith demanded.
"Out with Jeff," the boy replied.
"Out with Jeff stealing my hogs is more like it."
"Why, Matt?” Sue asked. “Why did you want to steal from your father and me?"
The teen sat silently on the sofa, his parents towering over him.
"If you don't want to give me and your mother an explanation, then maybe you'll talk to the police,” Keith stated.
"Keith, no," Sue pleaded.
"Don't tell me no, Sue!" Keith yelled. "For God's sake he was stealing from us! Not to mention what he did to Rick and A.J."
Keith turned to his son. "It's bad enough that you stole from me, but those other stunts you pulled could have caused a tragedy! Rick could have been killed the other day, and A.J. could have lost his hand!"
Matt looked up at his dad wide-eyed. "What...what do you mean?"
"You know perfectly well what I mean, young man!"
"I do not!"
"Keith, I don't think Matt had anything to do with those things," Rick offered quietly from the chair he was seated in. "He woulda' been in school."
"I didn't do anything to hurt Rick and A.J., Dad. Honest I didn't," Matt declared, finally catching sight of A.J.'s bandaged hand.
"And you didn't go in the house and rifle through A.J.'s wallet?" Keith questioned.
The Simons exchanged glances, both believing the teen.
Keith took a deep breath, calming himself long enough to request from his son, "Then please, tell us what this is all about? Why are you stealing from your own family?"
Matt looked at the carpeting a long time before finally confessing, "Because I hate it here. Because I don't fit in. Because I'm not like the other kids, but you want me to be. Nobody ever listens to me. Nobody ever tries to figure out what it is that will make me happy. I...I guess I thought if I could cause enough trouble with the pigs you'd get rid of them. It wasn't for the money. It was never for the money. I just hate those damn hogs. I just hate it 'cause I don't fit in here. I don't fit in and I don't know why.” The teen swiped at the tears in his eyes. “I wish I knew why.”
Sue was the first to approach her child. She sat down on the couch next to him and enfolded him in her arms. It took Keith a while longer to make the same move. When he did, Rick and A.J. got up and quietly exited the room, leaving the family alone to begin mending the broken pieces.
Rick and A.J. returned to their living quarters at seven that morning, ate breakfast, then climbed the stairs to bed. Both men fell asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows.
Sue left the farm long enough to take Seth to baseball practice. Upon her return the sober discussion she and Keith were having with Matt continued. By the time the teen retreated to his room to try to get some sleep at ten a.m., Sue was on the phone to various agencies attempting to find some type of counseling for herself, her husband, and her son.
Rick woke up at one that afternoon. He got dressed, then made his way down the stairs leaving the slumbering A.J. to finish out his rest.
The older detective ate two bowls of cereal before wandering outside to see what was going on.
The Russo house was quiet, with no activity occurring around it.
Rick proceeded through the farmyard, chickens scattering as he headed toward the machine shed. Bill and John walked out of one of the barns, engaging Rick in conversation for several minutes. The two men had assumed they hadn't seen either Simon brother that day because of the severity of A.J.'s injury.
"How's A.J.'s hand?" Bill asked.
"Okay," Rick replied. "It's pretty sore though. He's sleepin' right now."
"Keith said it was pretty bad," John said. "He told us you guys would probably be goin' home as soon as A.J. can travel."
"Uh...yeah, we will," Rick confirmed. "Probably tomorrow or Monday, whenever we can get a flight."
"Tell A.J. to make sure he comes out and tells us goodbye," Bill requested. "We enjoyed workin' with him. It's too bad such a stupid accident had to happen. I just don't understand it."
"You guys didn't see anyone around when it happened, did you?"
"No," John replied. "But we were cleaning out the chicken coop. We had the tractor running, which is why we never heard him yell. It's a good thing you and Keith heard him. I know a guy who lost his arm the same way A.J. got hurt."
"Yeah, it's a good thing we heard him," Rick agreed.
The three men talked a while longer, John and Bill finally ending the conversation when they climbed into Bill's pickup and headed to feed the hogs on the other farms.
Rick continued to tour the farmyard, for what reason he didn't exactly know. Keith had already told him he planned to fire Rod and Perry as soon as he got a chance. He asked Rick if he thought the police should be called regarding the two of them and their pot habit, but Rick said no. He thought the best thing to do at this point was to get rid of them as quickly and quietly as possible. The detective knew the cops wouldn't do much anyway unless large amounts of drugs were found on the two men.
Rick walked into one of the big machine sheds, nosing around among the equipment, not looking for anything in particular.
"Simon! Hey, Simon!"
The detective spun around to be by a wild eyed Perry. The stocky man had a pitchfork raised, aimed at Rick's chest.
Rick didn't know what Perry had mixed with his pot that day at noon, but by the blood shot eyes and disheveled appearance he guessed it was something stronger than 7UP.
Rick raised his hands slowly. "Just take it easy."
"Take it easy? Sure, Simon, I'll take it easy! I'm gonna take it so easy that I'm gonna run this pitchfork right through you and not even blink! You and that brother of yours couldn't take the hint, could you? You couldn't leave when we warned you to. You're still snoopin' around here! Don't you get it, idiot? We want you outta here!"
"Okay. Fine. We're going. We're leaving in a couple of—“
"That's not good enough, asshole! You shoulda' left when you got yourself zapped! You shoulda left when your brother almost got his hand tore off! How stupid can you be? We don't want no private dicks snoopin' around here!"
Rick tried to subtly take a step backwards. "What we were here for has nothing to do with you."
"The hell it doesn't! And don't move! Stay right there!" Perry moved forward, pinning Rick against the wall of the building. The tines of the pitchfork were pressed sharply into Rick's abdomen.
Taking a cautious shallow breath, Rick began,"Look,
"No, you look, Simon! I ain't gonna be narked on! I ain't gonna spend more time in jail 'cause a couple of do-good detectives had their noses where they don't belong!"
Evidently there's more to this than just smokin' a little grass at lunchtime. I wonder what the story is? Do he and Rod deal dope, or are they just heavy users?
"So you're gonna kill me," Rick stated.
"Yeah, I am."
"And what do you think my brother's gonna do when he finds me? Don't you think he'll go right to the police and tell them all he knows about you? You'll be the first person they coming looking for, Perry."
"That's a nice thought, Simon, but it ain't gonna happen. Rod's takin' care of your brother right now."
Oh, no, Rick thought with despair, his mind's eye seeing A.J. as he had left him, sleeping soundly in his bed. Even if he does hear someone come in the house or up the stairs, he'll think it's me. A.J. won't try to defend himself until it's too late, if he even gets the chance.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," came a voice from behind Perry.
The startled man turned, stunned by the presence of A.J. Simon.
A.J. had his stub nosed .38 held firmly in his left hand, finger on the trigger.
"Let my brother go," the blond detective ordered.
"No!" the crazed man shouted, not moving the pitchfork from Rick's middle even a fraction of an inch.
"You know, Perry, the neat thing about this predicament we're in is that I'm not left handed. I've never shot a gun with my left hand," A.J. informed the man. "Now, if you did force me to shoot you and I was able to use my right hand, I'd aim for your shoulder or leg, some place where I knew I couldn't do any fatal damage. But I don't know what will happen if I'm forced to shoot you using my left hand. I have no doubt I'll hit you. I'm standing too close to miss. But I don't think my aim will be very good. I just might hit you in the head, or maybe the chest, it's hard to say. Or gosh, maybe even some place no man likes to think about. I've gotten pretty good at castrating pigs this week, you know. How about it, Rick? Would you like me to see where I can hit ole' Perry here if he forces me to shoot?"
A.J.'s face bore the same goofy smile Rick had first seen years ago in their encounter with Stoney. That smile alone was enough to make anyone believe that the blond man was half nuts.
Rick gave a casual shrug. "Sure. Why not? This could be kinda fun."
Perry was torn by indecision for a moment. He glanced from A.J. to Rick, then back to A.J. His shoulders finally slumped with defeat as he let the pitchfork drop.
Rick grabbed the man, holding him tightly while A.J. looked for a sturdy piece of rope. The Simons tied Rick's captor to the wheel of a hay wagon, leaving him there until the police could arrive.
The brothers walked toward Keith's house to phone the cops.
"Where's the other one?" Rick asked.
"Handcuffed to some pipes in our laundry room."
"Geez, A.J., I thought you were a goner for sure when Perry said Rod was takin' care of you. I was afraid you were still sleepin,’ and that he'd be able to walk right in the house and up the stairs, and shoot you or whatever."
"Stab me actually. He had a butcher knife."
"Did he hurt you?" Rick asked, looking for signs of blood.
"No. I was lying awake in bed and heard someone sneaking up the stairs. The way he was creeping along...well I knew it wasn't you. I reached in the nightstand for my gun, then laid there waiting for him. He wasn't stupid enough to try anything when he saw a loaded gun pointed between his eyes."
"Thank God you heard him," was all Rick could think to say.
"He wouldn't talk, but I guessed if he was after me then Perry was after you. I cuffed him, then came out here to find you."
"I'm glad you did," Rick said gratefully. "Even if you didn't take the time to put on a pair of pants or shoes."
A.J. looked down at himself, for the first time realizing how silly he must look walking barefoot around a farmyard in nothing but pajama bottoms.
"I wasn't too concerned about my attire at the time," the blond replied.
Rick reached over and looped an arm around his brother's neck, pulling his sibling to him. "I'm glad you weren't, little brother. I'm glad you weren't."
One month later, A.J. could be found in the kitchen of his comfortable home on the Grand Canal. His hand was completely healed; the only visible sign of injury remaining was a small scar so light that it could only be observed under the closest scrutiny.
The blond man was getting dressed for his working day, lacing up a pair of brand new boots for the latest undercover job he and Rick were going on. Within five minutes A.J. heard Rick's truck door slam. His sibling entered the house, going immediately to the coffee pot and pouring himself a big mug.
"We haven't had to get up this early for a job since we left Keith's place a month ago," Rick commented. "Speaking of which, are those brand new boots?"
A.J. rose from finishing with the laces. "Yes."
"How come? Your others were perfectly good yet."
"My others smelled like pig shit, that's how come."
"So what'd you do with them?"
"I threw them out."
"Threw them out! A.J., those boots cost sixty-five dollars! I can't believe you threw them out! When'd you do that?"
"The day we left Keith's place."
"Because I wasn't going to stink up my luggage with them, that's why. And I wasn't going to stink up my closet with them either, for that matter."
Rick shook his head in astonishment. "I can't believe you."
"Well, believe it. I did it. Besides which, it's my sixty- five dollars so don't worry about it."
"I won't," Rick assured. "Speaking of Keith, I got a letter from him yesterday addressed to both of us. Do ya’ want me to read it to you?"
Rick pulled the letter out of his back pocket and began,
"Dear Rick and A.J.,
“Things have been sure been different around here since the two of you left. They've been quiet! Ha! Seriously, we miss having you guys around. The whole family enjoyed your company. We'd love to have you come back anytime for another visit. The next time we won't make you work with the pigs, A.J.
"Slowly but surely Matt and I are learning to communicate with each other without shouting. The entire family seems the better for it. We're still going to counseling, and though I resisted that at first, I have to admit it's helped all of us. Matt got a summer job in town working at one of the restaurants. He loves it and is thriving at it. I regret now that he and I were so far apart for so many years on so many issues. He has promised me he's going to dedicate himself to his schoolwork this coming fall. He wants to go to college now and is even talking of studying psychology. He's been impressed with how much our counselor has been able to help us. He says he'd like to give that help back to other teenagers some day. I'm very proud of him.
"Sue and I hope to visit San Diego this summer as you urged, Rick. Maybe in late July. We'll call you when our plans are cemented. Sue says now that I've made you guys work on the farm for a week, I should have to be a P.I. for a week. I have a feeling A.J. would give me all the dirty jobs."
A.J. chuckled as Rick continued reading.
"Seth was disappointed when he found out you weren't my cousins, but was thrilled to discover we had "real life private detectives" on our farm. He's still bragging about it to all his friends.
"Perry is in jail, awaiting trial on charges of cocaine and heroin possession. Rod was released on a ten thousand dollar bond. The local cops tell me they suspect the two of being leaders of an area drug ring, but as of right now have no proof. If you and A.J. end up having to fly back here for the trial, we want you to stay with us. This time we'll treat you like guests, not farmhands.
"Sue and I can't thank you enough for all you did for us. I owe you a lot of thanks as well, Rick, for giving me a better understanding of my son. You told me you understood so well, because the relationship between Matt and me, reminded you of the one that existed between you and your father. All the help you gave my family is a fitting legacy to the man who died before you were old enough to mend fences with him, my old friend. Thank you.
"Both of you take care. We hope to see you this summer. Thanks again.
"It’s good to hear things are working out between Keith and Matt," A.J. commented. "I hope Keith and Sue do get a chance to visit us in July. They're nice people."
"Yes, they are," Rick agreed. "So nice, in fact, that Keith sent us a bonus for all the work we did for him."
"He didn't have to do that. I don't know if I feel right about taking any more money from him. We were paid quite fairly for the work we did."
"It's not money."
"No. It's a pig."
Rick headed out the kitchen door. "Yeah, hang on a second and I'll bring it in."
"Uh...Rick!" A.J. called after his sibling. "I don't know what you and Keith are trying to pull here, but I don't want a pig in my house!"
Rick stepped back in the kitchen. "How about one in a box?" he asked, setting his load on the countertop.
"What's in here?" A.J. questioned, lifting the flaps on the box's lid.
"Keep your hands out of there!” Rick warned as he carried in a second box equally as big as the first. “It’s packed in dry ice.”
"What's packed in dry ice?"
Rick reached into his back pocket and pulled out a pair of gloves. He put them on, then rummaged around in one of the boxes until he came up with a package wrapped in white freezer paper.
"I repeat,” A.J. asked, “what's packed in dry ice?"
The blond man took a step back. "Nellie? My Nellie? The Nellie who nosed my hand every morning when I fed her? The Nellie who liked me to scratch behind her ears? The Nellie--"
"Yeah, Nellie. And look, A.J., she's paying you back tenfold."
Rick began digging out wrapped packages of pork chops, bacon, bratwurst, and spareribs.
"Man, we can fire up the barbecue and have one hell of a cookout this summer."
"We most certainly will not! Not with my Nellie. I don't want her here. Take her home with you."
"A.J., I can't eat all this meat by myself! Half of it's yours."
"I don't want it. Give it away to Carlos, or see if Mom wants my half. I don't care who you give it to, just get it out of my sight. I refuse to have Nellie in my freezer. She was my friend."
Rick couldn't help but laugh at his sibling.
"It's not funny, Rick. I can't eat Nellie," A.J. insisted. "If I'd have known Keith was going to have her killed I would have--"
"You would have what?" Rick asked with amusement.
"I...I don't know. I would have bought her from him and seen if some zoo wanted her or something."
"You could have brought her home and put her in your back yard," Rick teased. "She would have loved wallowing in the canal. Though the neighbors woulda' complained I suppose."
"Not anymore than they complained when your boat sat in my yard," A.J. tossed back.
Rick began repacking the boxes. "You're sure you don't want any of this? Not even a ham?"
"No. She loved it when I rubbed her hams."
Rick laughed at his brother. "Sometimes you still surprise me. I never thought I'd see the day when you became attached to a five hundred pound sow."
"Nellie was special," was all A.J. would say.
Rick carried the boxes back out to his truck, A.J. following his brother.
"Oh, by the way, I've got another case for us as soon as we finish this one," Rick informed his brother.
"Good," A.J. agreed, loving it when his business prospered. "What is it?"
"Well see, Keith's got this friend who's a dairy farmer, and he's having a few problems with calves disappearing so--"
"Now I'm told there's not much to this dairy farmin' stuff once you get the hang of it," Rick went on. "Granted, you gotta get up at about four o'clock in the morning and spend your time pullin' on a cow's tits, but after Liz, that shouldn't be too difficult for you."
"Rick! Rick, I'm going to kill you one of these days, you know that? First of all I haven't seen Liz in eight years, so would you just leave Liz out of this? Second of all, she wasn't a cow."
"In your opinion," Rick muttered. "Anyway, as I was sayin,’ I think we should take this job. The money will be good, it'll get us back out in the country--"
"Oh, come on, A.J. I already promised the guy."
"Then unpromise him because I'm not going."
"Sure ya' are," Rick insisted. "After all, you're the one that always says we should expand our horizons, never turn down an opportunity to increase our knowledge of the world, and all that crapola. So, in light of that fact, I figured we just had to take this job."
A.J. crossed his arms in front of his chest, standing defiantly before his scheming sibling. "And why's that?"
Rick climbed in the cab of the pickup, A.J. following.
"Well, I figure we now know all about sheep, and pigs, so to round that out we should learn about cows. Now I've been doin' some readin' on this subject just like you'd want me to, A.J., and I found out--"
"I don't care what you found out! I'm not going."
"Now a cow that's had a calf is called a heifer. A male cow is, of course, called a bull, and a--"
"Rick, I don't want to hear any of this because I'm not going!"
"And a bull that's been castrated is called a steer. I already told the guy you were good at castrating animals, so he's gonna let you do that job. Now--"
"Rick, this better be a line of bull you're feeding me, 'cause if it's not, I'm going to castrate you. I am not going to get up at four o'clock in the morning to milk a bunch of cows."
"A herd of cows, A.J.” Rick corrected as he backed out of his brother's driveway. “Not a bunch.”
"I don't care what they're called. I'm not going!"
Rick went on tormenting his brother all the way to the job site. "Sure ya’ are."
"No, I'm not! I ended up chaperoning a bunch of kids and their sheep because of a favor to one of your old friends. I also ended up feeding hogs and almost getting my hand cut off because of a favor to one of your old friends. That's where I draw the line. My farming days are officially over."
"Well...okay...if you insist," the downtrodden Rick reluctantly agreed. "And here I thought I'd end up with some nice T-bone steaks to put next to Nellie in my freezer."
"Leave Nellie out of this!" A.J. ordered. The blond detective turned and looked out the passenger window, signaling to Rick the conversation was over.
Rick sighed heavily, pretending to be greatly disappointed in his brother's refusal to participate in this latest job offer.
did his best to ignore his sibling for the rest of the drive, as Rick felt the
need to serenade him with a rousing chorus of Old McDonald Had A Farm.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~