Miami Bound is a sequel to the story, The Reasons Why. The Reasons Why can be found under The Sixities: Alive And Well, in the Simon and Simon Library.
Thank you, Kara, for your suggestion of a sequel to The Reasons Why.
This story follows the time-line mentioned in the aired episode Revolution Number 9 1/2 , where it’s indicated through a conversation with Ray Simon about Little League baseball, that A.J. was a boy of nine or ten years old when Jack Simon died. Several years later, the aired episode, May The Road Rise Up, led the viewer to conclude A.J. was only four years old when his father died. So, as with many TV shows, occasionally there was an inconsistency here and there that allows the fan fiction writer open interpretation.
He'd forgotten how humid southern Florida could be. Even in January. But then, he hadn't been here in what - five years now? Not since Grandpa Simon had passed away.
Twenty-four-year-old A.J. had left his mother's home on December 26th, bound for Miami. Because of its high mileage, he'd sold the white Mustang convertible that he'd bought used while still in college. He'd replaced it with a brand new convertible Mustang, though this one was light blue.
The young man had a lot of time to think as he made the solitary drive across the country. In a way, he was leaving everything behind he had worked for. He’d graduated with honors from law school the previous June, and had then passed the bar exam with flying colors. If it were up to his mother, A.J. would already be working for Michael Wells, a successful San Diego attorney, and long time family friend. But it wasn't up to his mother, and A.J.'s life seemed bent on taking a different path. One even he hadn't envisioned for himself until recently.
A.J. had worked part-time for a private detective throughout his college years. When he had first taken the job at age nineteen, his only two goals were to make money for the upcoming school year, and to learn everything he could from a business that offered him experiences in various aspects of the law.
It took A.J. a long time to acknowledge to himself that without intending to, he'd fallen headlong in love with the career that would eventually prove to be his life's calling. By the time he graduated from college, he was having second thoughts about going on to law school. His sights had been set on that ambition for so long though, as had his mother's, that he quietly made the decision to go ahead and complete his education. He thought that maybe the excitement of law school, and the future career it promised, would soon outweigh the often unstable life...and income, of a gumshoe. A.J. had hoped for his sake it would. If not, he sure didn't look forward to the day he had to break that news to his mother.
But, for as good of a student as A.J. was, and for as promising of an attorney that his professors claimed he'd someday be, he chose to continue working for Neil DeBell as a private investigator upon graduation. And he probably would have continued to work for Neil until his apprenticeship was up, and he got his investigator's license. Possibly he would have continued to work for Neil long after that, and eventually taken over his small operation. Neil had mentioned it on several occasions, though the former police officer had fourteen years to go yet before retirement and social security benefits. And that future might have been fine with A.J. Neil was a great guy. He'd learned a lot from him. A.J. was easily able to picture himself going into partnership with Neil, with a long-term goal of the business someday being his own.
Except for one thing. Rick.
A.J.'s older brother had been back from Vietnam for two years now. And in those two years, he'd almost completely turned away from the family he'd once been so much a part of. He'd stayed at their mother's home for just three weeks upon his return from overseas, before hitting the road on his Harley Davidson Chopper. Neither A.J. nor Cecilia had seen him since.
Rick had traveled the country at first. He went wherever his bike took him...and wherever he could pick up an odd job for a few weeks before moving onto the next town, or county, or state. Much to the relief of both A.J. and his mother, Rick had finally settled on Pirate's Key eight months earlier. He moved into the small home he and A.J. had inherited from Grandpa and Grandma Simon. The elderly couple had retired there from San Diego back in 1957. Grandma had passed away in 1968. Grandpa had followed suddenly and unexpectedly in '69. The house had sat empty in the intervening years until Rick moved in, swept out the cobwebs, set a few mousetraps, and began calling it home.
And now Rick was the reason A.J. made this solitary journey to Florida. He was worried about his older brother. More worried than he could ever remember being in his entire life about anyone he loved. Rick hadn't made the effort to come home for Christmas...for the second year in a row. He hadn't even offered a worthwhile excuse - more or less just said he didn't want to. Okay, maybe Rick hadn't put it quite that bluntly, but he might as well have. And in doing so he had hurt their mother terribly. Though for some reason, A.J. knew that was not Rick's intention. Somehow he knew that whatever was going on inside Rick, was keeping him from being close to those he held dearest to his heart. That somehow Vietnam, and what Rick had experienced there, had caused him to cut himself off from the family who loved and missed him.
Things had gone from bad to worse in recent months. No longer did Rick pick up the phone and call home. And more often than not if A.J. or Cecilia called him it was obvious he was drunk. When that wasn't the case, Rick’s abrupt manner made it clear that he simply didn't want to talk to either his mother or brother. And as far as letters went, well they were nonexistent, too.
It came to a point that A.J. didn't know how many more sleepless nights he or his mother could take as they lay awake in their rooms worrying about Rick. It was then that A.J. knew he had to do something. Knew he had to see his brother...be near his brother, and not just for a two-week vacation, but rather for as long as it took. Permanently if need be...and if Rick would have him.
So the blond made his plans. First he talked to Neil. The man hated to see A.J. go, but understood his reasons. He knew how much the young man loved his brother. Neil called an investigator he knew in Miami by the name of Myron Fowler. In ten minutes time he had a job lined up for A.J. at Fowler's Peerless Detective Agency.
"The guy's a gruff old pain-in-the-ass," Neil had warned A.J. honestly. "But he's the best in the business. The best. You'll learn more from him in a week than you could learn from most guys in six months."
The next hurdle A.J. had to jump was telling his mother of, not only his plans to continue working as a private investigator, but also of his plans to move to Florida and the reasons behind them. She had balked at first, been down right angry actually. But once she had calmed down and thought through all he had said, she sent him off with her blessing. She was so concerned about Rick. She knew if anyone could help her eldest it was his beloved baby brother.
Cecilia hid her tears as she waved goodbye to her youngest that December morning. She had no idea how long he'd be gone - a week, a month, or a year. Maybe he'd settle in Florida permanently, as Rick seemed to have done. Cecilia wasn't sure she could go on living in San Diego without at least one of her boys nearby. But for now that's the way it was going to have to be. Rick needed A.J. more than she did.
It was late Wednesday afternoon, the second day of January 1974, when A.J. arrived on the outskirts of Miami. He'd taken his time driving this past week, even stopping along the way to visit a college buddy who had relocated to Texas, and a cousin who had moved to Louisiana. He wasn't scheduled to report to work at Peerless until Monday morning.
A.J. didn't have the foggiest notion as to what type of a reception he'd receive from the older brother who had no idea his sibling was in the process of moving to, and taking a job in, Miami. Keeping that in mind, A.J. decided to stop at a motel and reserve a room.
Though it was nothing fancy, and painted an ungodly shade of pink, The Flamingo Inn was just what the young man was looking for. Clean, cheap, and quiet. After registering with the desk clerk, A.J. pulled his car up in front of the lime green door numbered 10. He stayed only long enough to unpack his car and place a call to his mother. He let her know he'd arrived safely, and told her he was on his way to see Rick.
A.J. was headed back outside, when on an afterthought, he turned around and reentered the room. He walked across the gold shag carpeting to where he'd left his two suitcases next to the bed. He quickly pulled out a change of clothing before walking into the bathroom to pick up his shaving kit.
Who knows? The blond man thought as he placed everything in the back seat of the Mustang. Maybe Rick will be more receptive to my surprise visit than I think. At least I'll be prepared if I do end up staying at the house with him tonight. It would sure beat driving back here.
It was an hour drive from Miami to Pirate's Key. Because he stopped for supper, it was two hours before A.J. was crossing the narrow isthmus that would get him from the mainland to the small island.
As Simon family history went, it was rumored that two hundred years earlier a pirate by the name of John Weston Simon, Black Jack as he was more commonly known, commandeered the small key for his own. Thus the name, Pirate's Key. Whether that old folklore was true, or was just a tall tale Grandpa Simon had enjoyed regaling the grandchildren with, A.J. didn't know. He did know that at one time the entire key, all five square miles of it, had belonged to the Simon family. Over the years the majority of the land had been sold off. Grandpa had always laughed and said it was because the Simon siblings, going all the way back to Black Jack and his brother, Sir Francis, were notoriously known for not getting along. At least not getting along well enough to all live together on a tiny island. Supposedly the handsome, aristocratic, Sir Francis had been murdered by his ruthless older brother, though A.J. himself didn't put a lot of credence into that particular part of Grandpa's story.
As A.J. drove down the gravel road that would lead him to Rick's home, he noted that the tiny island hadn't changed at all since the last time he'd been here. The small business district, if one could call it that, was the same. A ramshackle building in need of paint served as an old-fashioned general store, gas station, and post office. The three-businesses-in-one had been owned and run for the past forty years by Eldon Winslow, and his wife Lena. Eldon had also made a living as a fisherman until he'd lost one hand to a shark that had inadvertently gotten tangled in his net.
The houses A.J. passed on occasion were spaced far apart from each other and secluded by overgrowth. All were within a few hundred yards of the water, and build up high on stilts to protect them from flooding during the hurricane season. Like Grandpa Simon's old house, they all had a dock that led out to the ocean.
The key's children, of which there weren't more than twelve, attended school on the mainland. The boat that brought in the morning mail and supplies, took the kids to the mainland on it. Their parents took turns ferrying the kids home in the afternoon, either by boat or car.
As a boy, A.J. had always loved visiting the key. He and Rick had romped, and roughhoused, and roamed freely without the parental restrictions imposed on them at home in San Diego. After all, short of falling in the water and drowning, there wasn't much harm that could come to a kid on an isolated island. Rick had always said he'd love to live here someday. A.J. didn't think he'd quite want to go that far. Even at the tender age of nine, A.J. knew it was just a little too desolate for his taste.
The January sun had long set when A.J. pulled onto the dirt lane that would lead to his grandparents' old place. He was glad the key hadn't been blessed with rain lately. Had it, the dirt lane would be pure mud, and A.J. would have had to hike the last half mile to the house.
The Mustang's lights momentarily swept over the front porch. In that moment, A.J. caught sight of his brother slumped in an old wicker chair. Rick's posture didn't change as A.J. killed the engine and climbed out of the car. A.J. didn't know if Rick wasn't aware he had a visitor, or if he just didn't care.
As A.J. walked toward the porch, a dog began to bark. The animal rose from where it had been laying by Rick's feet and loped down the stairs, barking the entire time.
"Cool it, Marlowe," Rick ordered gruffly.
The big dog that, upon closer observation A.J. guessed wasn't much over a year old, calmed down on Rick's command. He seemed content to sniff A.J.'s open palm, then allowed the blond man to stroke his head several times.
Because blackness of night had settled over the key for good, A.J. couldn't clearly see his brother's face as he mounted the stairs. Nor could Rick see his.
"Somethin' I can do for ya', mister?" Rick slurred.
It was then that A.J. caught a strong whiff of alcohol.
"Just thought I'd stop by for a visit," came A.J.'s even reply.
Rick snorted, while squinting into the darkness. "Ya' know somethin' real weird, mister? Ya' sound juz like my baby brother when ya' talk."
A.J. stepped up onto the porch. A dim light was on in the living room. It faintly shined through one of the windows. It's soft glow allowed A.J.'s features to come into clearer view.
Candidly, A.J. responded, "That's because I am your baby brother."
"Well...shit," Rick drawled amiably. "How the hell are ya,’ A.J.?"
Although A.J. hadn't been sure what type of greeting to expect, none of the scenarios he had gone over in his mind prior to his arrival even came close to this.
"I'm fine, Rick. I'm just...fine."
Rick looked down at the big yellow dog that had returned to his side.
"Marlowe...thiz here's my little brother come ta' visit us all the way from San Diego." Rick looked up at A.J. "A.J., thiz here's Marlowe."
"We've already met."
"Oh...ya' have?" Rick slurred. His face screwed up in puzzlement. "When'd ya' meet 'im?"
"Just now. In your driveway."
Rick laughed at the joke only he found amusing. "Oh, yeah. Thaz right." The older man rose on unsteady legs and pulled another wicker chair over from the far corner of the porch. He took a handkerchief out of the back pocket of his blue jeans and made an uncoordinated production of dusting off the little used piece of furniture.
"Have yerself a seat there, Aaay Jaay," Rick drawled slowly as he plopped his butt back in his own chair. "I suppose ya' want to rest up some 'fore ya' head back home."
A.J. sat down. "Head back home?" He questioned, trying to see just how much his brother's alcohol laden brain was assimilating.
"Yeah, head back home. To San...San..." Rick leaned forward and questioned with drunken intensity, "Where is it we're from, A.J.?"
If the situation hadn't been so sad, A.J. would have laughed at the comical expression on his brother's face. Instead, he supplied helpfully, "San Diego."
Rick smiled, quite pleased with himself. "Yeah. Thaz right. San Diego. 'Fore you head back home to...to...to San Diego."
"Rick...I'm not going back to San Diego tonight."
"No? How come?"
"Well, because it's a twenty-three-hundred mile drive for one thing."
Rick laughed a silly drunken laugh that was totally unfamiliar to A.J.
"Oh, yeah. Two thousan’ three hun’red miles," Rick echoed, while carelessly tossing one leg over the side of his chair. "Guess that would be kinda far fer ya' to drive in one night. Well, you might as well stay here with me and Marlowe then."
"Do you mean that?" A.J. questioned cautiously.
Rick leaned forward to give his brother's knee an affectionate pat, almost toppling his chair over in the process. "Whoa," he stated as he weaved back and forth before righting himself. " ‘Course I mean it. I've been missin' you somethin' fierce, A.J."
A full thirty seconds passed before Rick questioned for clarification, "Ya' haven't been around much lately...have ya'?"
A.J. gave a soft, sad smile. "No, Rick. I...I haven't been around much lately."
Rick fished about the side of his chair until he came up with a bottle of Jack Daniels. "I didn't think so. I mean...I don't remember seein' much of ya' recently. That's probably why I've been missin' ya' so bad."
Rick began to laugh again at the way this sudden revelation made perfect sense to him. He tipped the bottle up and took a long drink. He wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve, then held the bottle out to A.J.
Rick moved a clumsy hand to pet his dog. "See there, Marlowe. A.J. ain't much of a drinker. Never was. But then he don't have nothin' to drink over. The Golden Boy's always had things his way."
A.J. bristled at his sibling's words, and the bitter tone behind them, but didn't say anything. Rick went on talking to Marlowe as if his brother wasn't present. And with as drunk as Rick was, it was possible that to him, A.J. was no longer present.
“Yep.” Rick ran his hand over the big dog's head. "He was Dad's favorite. And Mom's too. Her baby. Always will be Mom's baby. That'll never change. Her special boy."
"Rick--" A.J. started to say, but was ignored.
Rick tipped the bottle to his mouth once more. He didn't so much as wince when the hard liquor burnt the back of his throat.
"He was always taggin' along behind me, Marlowe. Always wanted to be juz like me." Rick lifted an index finger and wagged it in the darkness as if making an important point. "Ya' know, I could never figure that out. Why in the world would that kid wanna be like me? I waz always screwin' everything up. Always in trouble with Dad. A big disappointment to Mom. Not exactly the kinda big brother a little guy should look up to. But he did, Marlowe. That crazy kid always looked up to me. And hell...I let 'im down so many damn times. But no matter what, he loved me. No matter how many times I let 'im down, the kid still loved me."
"Rick," A.J. beckoned softly.
Rick's eyes slowly blinked before he turned his attention to the familiar voice.
"You never let me down."
"I've let lots of people down, Aaay Jaay," Rick countered drunkenly. "Hundreds of people. Hell, maybe even thousands."
"Don't cha' see? I was never good enough. Just never good enough. Those guys...my buddies, they got killed 'cause of me."
A.J. leaned forward in his chair. "What guys? Who are you talking about?"
Rick waved one hand in the air, as if gesturing to a far off place. "Those guys depended on me. They looked up to me. But they died, A.J. They died. Every single one of 'em. They frickin' died 'cause I wasn't there for ‘em."
It was dark, but not so dark that A.J. couldn't see the tears that had begun to trickle down Rick's face.
"I tried, A.J. I really tried," Rick pleaded in a tone that sounded like he was begging for A.J.'s forgiveness. "I remember thinkin' that if I'd just gotten there five minutes earlier, I coulda saved 'em. If I'da been with 'em I coulda protected 'em. Maybe it wouldn't have happened."
With that, the bottle slipped from Rick's hand to land with a thud on the porch. It fell over on its side, whiskey slowly leaking out and seeping into the floorboards.
Rick leaned forward in his chair and hid his face in his hands. His shoulders shook with the force of his drunken sobs.
"It's my fault, A.J. It's my fault. I don't deserve to ever have anyone look up to me again. I don't deserve to be alive. How I wish to God I had died that day right along with 'em. I can still hear them...hear their screams. Oh, God, A.J. What am I gonna do?"
A.J. slid out of his chair and knelt in front of his brother. Without thinking about whether or not Rick would accept comfort from him, A.J. folded the sobbing man into his arms. Rather than push him away, however, Rick leaned more heavily into his younger brother. He cried until the alcohol in his system left him no choice but to pass out in A.J.'s arms.
Dawn was just starting to break when Rick Simon rolled over in bed with an audible groan. The inside of his mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton. He licked at his dry lips, only to taste stale whiskey.
When his stiff limbs would allow it, Rick lifted himself up on his elbows. Funny, he didn't remember staggering to bed last night. The last thing he remembered was being out on the porch talking to Marlowe. He looked down at the floor to see the dog slumbering heavily on the brightly colored throw rug.
As Rick pushed the blanket back he took note that he hadn't stripped down to his boxer shorts before climbing in bed. That in itself was odd. No matter how drunk Rick was, he somehow always managed to follow his normal nocturnal habits. Yet he was still wearing his jeans and work shirt, though evidently had managed to remove his deck shoes and socks.
Something else that was odd, now that Rick stood and took notice, was that he hadn't turned down the bed. By the way the old, white chenille spread was wrinkled, it was evident that he'd slept on top of it all night. The blanket that had been covering him had come out of the linen closet.
Man, I musta really tied one on last night. Rick padded painfully to the bathroom. His head pounded in rhythm with his footsteps. I sure don't remember gettin' that blanket outta the closet.
Rick felt somewhat better after standing under the hot shower for ten minutes. He slowly dried off, brushed his teeth, downed three aspirin, and shaved. The only telltale sign now left of last night's binge was the blood shot eyes that greeted him when he looked in the mirror.
Rick walked naked back to his bedroom where he pulled on a clean pair of boxers, cutoff shorts, and a T-shirt. He put his deck shoes back on minus the socks. It only took him a few minutes to straighten up the bedspread, fold and return the blanket to the closet, and deposit his dirty clothes in the hamper.
As he worked a feeling of uneasiness crept over Rick. The
same feeling he had in the shower twenty minutes earlier. He'd had those dreams again. Those unsettling dreams about Vietnam. Yet, were they dreams? This time it seemed like he'd been talking to someone. Someone other than Marlowe, that is. And then to top it off, he'd dreamed A.J. was here.
Rick hadn't let himself think, really think of his mother and brother, in a long time now. He decided it was best to keep it that way, as he headed for the kitchen. It made his heart hurt too much to do otherwise.
The bedroom Rick now called his had been his grandparents’. Right next-door was the tiny bathroom. The bedroom and bathroom both opened into the living room. Grandma and Grandpa's furniture still sat in the room, in the exact same places each piece had sat when Rick was a boy. Granted, it all looked a bit worse for wear. Time...and twenty-five grandchildren, will do that to furniture. It didn't matter to Rick though. All he needed was a comfortable sofa to recline on after a long, tiring day on the ocean. The old battered couch that sat in front of the stone fireplace served that purpose.
The fireplace was the only way Rick had to heat the house. A person didn't need much more than that this far south off the Florida coast. On the off chance that one of those rare nippy nights invaded the area, when more warmth was needed than the old fireplace could provide, Rick had an electric space heater in his bedroom.
In back of the living room was the kitchen. It was small, and the table and appliances were outdated, again being the same ones Rick's grandparents had used. Nonetheless, it was clean and serviceable, and just what Rick needed. The front porch ran the length of the house. Another porch ran along the back and was screened in. From there a person could get to the dock where Rick's boat was tied.
As Rick started pulling a package of bacon and a carton of eggs out of the refrigerator, that nagging feeling that something wasn't right prevailed. He laid the items on the countertop next to the stove, then stood there for a moment in the quiet of the early morning. A crane called somewhere in the distance, and he could faintly hear the sound of water lapping gently against the dock.
Nothing unusual about that. Those are the same things I hear every morning.
Yet that nagging feeling persisted, causing Rick to walk back into the living room and look out the front window. Parked in his driveway was a blue Ford Mustang. At first Rick was puzzled. He hadn't heard a car drive up, and didn't know of anyone who drove a blue Mustang to begin with. He stepped out on the porch for a closer look.
Rick whirled around and rushed into the living room.
There! That's what had been bothering him. That's what he must have noticed subconsciously when he'd walked out of his bedroom a half hour earlier. The door to the second bedroom, the one that was on the other side of the massive fireplace from Rick's and half hidden by the structure, was closed.
A.J. Damn, it has to be A.J.! It wasn't a dream after all. He's really here!
Rick stood undecided in the middle of the room. He was torn between running into that bedroom and hugging his brother for all he was worth, or yelling at him to get his butt back home to San Diego, while at the same time throwing him out on his ear.
It musta' been A.J. I was talkin' to last night. There's no other explanation. I musta' passed out and he put me to bed.
Rick didn't like that. He didn't like it one bit. He wasn't used to being vulnerable in front of anyone, most especially not in front of his kid brother. That was half the reason he'd settled in Florida. It was a continent away from the expectations...and smothering love, of his family.
God, what did I say to him? Rick frantically wondered. What the hell did I say?
He thought he remembered crying. And even if he didn't remember it, Rick knew when he and Jack Daniels got to visiting, he generally woke up with dried tears on his face.
Damn you, A.J. Damn you to hell and back!
Before Rick had a chance to decide just what he was going to do about his unexpected guest, the bedroom door opened. A tousled and barefoot A.J. shuffled out. The blond man, clad only in pajama bottoms, was in the middle of a yawn when he noticed his older brother staring at him from across the room.
The men's eyes met and held. A.J.'s broadcast a depth of warm emotions. Rick's were hard and cold. Without so much as a hello, Rick turned sharply on his heel and stalked back into the kitchen.
He's not quite as amiable to my presence as he was last night, the blond thought with chagrin before continuing his journey to the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, a freshly showered and dressed A.J. appeared in the kitchen. Rick didn't turn from where he was frying eggs at the stove, even when his brother had to reach around him to retrieve a coffee mug from the rack.
A.J. sat down at the table, perfectly willing to put up with Rick's angry silence. He sipped at the hot coffee while looking about the old room with nostalgia. He was startled out of his thoughts by his brother's voice.
"I don't remember issuin' any invitations."
Rick's tone was distant and impersonal, as if the man sitting at his table was an unwanted intruder, and not the brother he had once been closer to than any other person on the face of the earth.
"You didn't," A.J. replied evenly to Rick's back. "But this is my house, too. Or at least that's what Grandpa's will said."
Rick couldn't argue that fact with his brother, nor did he try. Instead, he turned from the stove and carried his full plate, three fried eggs, bacon, and toast, to the table. Marlowe lumbered in from the bedroom and settled at his master's side, ready to accept whatever morsels came his way.
Rick ate several forkfuls of food before indicating with a jerk of his head to the stove. "There's a couple more eggs and some extra bacon in the pan if you want it," the older man growled. "I guess I'm not as hungry this morning as I first thought."
A.J. hid his smile as he rose to fill a plate. Obviously that extra food Rick was claiming he couldn't eat had been made for A.J. to begin with. Rick's pride just wasn't going to allow him to admit it.
Breakfast was completed in silence. Rick rose to clear their plates, a gesture A.J. negated.
"You cooked," he stated, as he rose, too. "I'll clean up."
The older man reseated himself without protest. Nor did he protest when A.J. refilled his coffee cup. He leaned his lanky frame back in his chair and lit his first cigarette of the day.
"How long is this little...visit of yours gonna last?" Rick finally snarled over the sound of the running water at the sink.
With his back to his brother, A.J. gave a casual shrug.
"Oh...a while maybe. I've got a job in Miami. I start Monday."
"A job?" Came the surprised question. "Doin' what?"
"Working as an investigator for Peerless Detectives."
"The private dick place?"
"Does Mom know?"
"And she didn't say anything about it?"
A.J. smiled to himself as he looked out of the window over the sink. "She had plenty to say about it, that’s for certain. But there wasn't much she could do to stop me."
you passed the bar," Rick pointed out.
"You're supposed to be practicing law. Why the hell do you want to throw all that away?"
As the last of the water drained down the sink A.J. turned to face his brother. He wiped his wet hands on a dishtowel.
"I'm not throwing it away. It's just not right for me. At least not now. Maybe someday I'll go back to it. But I've really enjoyed the work I've done for Neil these past few years, so decided I'd give it a whirl on a more permanent basis."
Rick pinned his brother with an intense gaze. "And Miami's the only place in this entire country where you can do that, huh? How convenient."
A.J. ignored Rick's sarcasm. "No, I suppose it's not the only place in this entire country where I can do that. But it is the only place with Myron Fowler."
"The guy who owns Peerless. He's supposed to be the best in the business. Getting a chance to work with him...well, let's just say it's like an aspiring baseball player getting the chance to work with Mickey Mantel. It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down."
Rick mumbled, "I'll just bet it wasn't," before taking another drag from his cigarette.
Rick finally pushed himself away from the table. He shoved his matches and pack of Marlboro's in his shirt pocket. He grabbed his hat from the hook by the door.
"Come on, Marlowe," he hailed as he walked onto the back porch. He pushed open the screen door and trotted down the stairs that led to the dock.
Halfway to his boat, Rick realized he was being followed by someone other than his dog. He turned around to confront his younger brother.
The older man scowled. "You don't even know where I'm goin'."
"Doesn't matter," A.J. shrugged. "I'll come anyway."
"Well, maybe I don't want you to come," Rick imparted in a tone he hadn't used on his brother since they were kids.
"And maybe you don't have a choice," A.J. shot back.
The two men squared off, studying each other. Rick's hands were planted firmly on his hips, while A.J.'s arms were steadfastly crossed over his chest. Finally Rick gave a heavy sigh.
"Oh, all right. Come on then." He tried to sound angry when he turned once more and headed for the boat. "You're still the same stubborn pain-in-the-ass you were fifteen years ago. I'd have thought by now you woulda’ gained some sense in that damn hard head of yours."
A.J. smiled fondly at his brother's back, and the words that he knew, despite how they sounded, were filled with affection.
The sun was slowly sinking in the Florida sky when the weary fishermen returned to port that evening. It had been a good day as far as A.J. was concerned. Rick's nets were full, and had brought him a fair price at the market in Miami. And although Rick had made very little conversation with A.J. throughout the day, other than to growl orders at him in regards to the fishing lines, the blond didn't miss the hint of pride in the older man's voice when he introduced A.J. to a couple of his acquaintances in Miami as, "My kid brother from California."
While Rick fed Marlowe A.J. took a hot shower. He was glad to wash the pungent fish odor out of his hair and skin, and to put on a clean pair of blue jeans and a polo shirt.
Rick took his turn in the shower while A.J. snooped around in the cupboards and refrigerator. By the time Rick entered the kitchen his younger brother had supper cooking on the stove.
Rick began pulling dishes out of the cabinets. "You didn't have to do that."
A.J. flashed his sibling a brief smile, before returning his attention to the chicken he had frying. "I don't mind."
Although dinner was eaten in silence, it was a companionable silence. A good silence. The silence of two men who had worked together in harmony throughout the long day, and who had been justly rewarded for all their hard labor. It wasn't like the tense and uncomfortable silence that had hung over the breakfast table that morning.
Whether he realized it or not, A.J. was already making progress.
This time it was Rick who did the dishes while A.J. took Marlowe out on the front porch. Rick joined them a few minutes later, sitting in the same wicker chair A.J. had found him in the previous evening. The brothers conversed about things in general as darkness blanketed the key. A.J. caught Rick up on all the family news and other happenings back home in San Diego. The two called it a night at ten o'clock since Rick wanted to be out on the water at five-thirty the next morning.
Rick never took notice of the fact that, for the first time in many months, he hadn't felt the need that evening to uncap his old friend Jack Daniels.
Friday was similar to Thursday. The brothers rose to start their day just as the sun was peeking its head over the horizon. Once again the two men spent the day on the water emptying Rick's many nets before recasting them. Conversation between the two flowed easier than it had the day before. The snarls and growls Rick had readily thrown in A.J.'s direction on Thursday, began to be replaced with the lighthearted teasing and familiar banter that dated back to their shared childhood. Without discussing it the brothers had as well, divided up the household tasks and traded off meal preparation and cleanup.
Once again the two men passed the remainder of the evening on the front porch. Rick made no mention of A.J. leaving any time soon, and seemed to be under the impression that his little brother was there to stay. It wasn't until noon the next day that A.J. told Rick otherwise.
A.J. jumped out of the boat and tied it to the dock. He and Rick had called it quits early, in part because Rick's catch was slim that day, and in part because the lanky man generally spent Saturday afternoons in Miami purchasing necessities that weren't available in the key's tiny general store.
Rick showered first, then relinquished the bathroom to his brother. A.J. appeared bare-chested in Rick's bedroom doorway ten minutes later.
"Can I borrow another one of your shirts again?"
"Sure," Rick agreed. "Help yourself."
As A.J. crossed to the small closet in the corner of the room Rick questioned, "Where's all your stuff? If you're movin' down here you musta brought more with you than two pairs of jeans and two shirts."
"I did," A.J. acknowledged, as he buttoned up the front of one of his older brother's shirts. "My suitcases are in a motel room in Miami."
Rick pocketed his wallet and picked up some change from the top of the dresser. He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled on his socks and cowboy boots.
"What are they doin' there?"
A.J. hesitated a moment before replying. "I...I wasn't exactly sure if you'd let me stay here. I got a room just in case."
Rick looked up from his task. He met his brother's solemn, almost reluctant gaze, with an intense one of his own. When he spoke, it was to tease lightly, "As far as you stayin' here goes, you more or less indicated to me that I didn't have a choice. If I remember correctly you pointed out that this was your house, too."
A.J. turned away, smiling. "Well...you know, you were here first. Squatter's rights and all."
"Oh...I see." Rick brushed by his brother on the way out the bedroom door. "Some lawyer you turned out to be. You neglected to mention that."
A.J.'s smile broadened as he shook his head fondly and followed his brother out to Rick's beat up '65 Chevy pickup.
"Come on, Marlowe!" Rick called. The agile young dog jumped up in the truck's bed as the brothers climbed in the cab.
Once they hit the mainland, Rick weaved in and out of Saturday traffic until they were in Miami. He stopped first at a hardware store, then drove a few blocks to a grocery store. A.J. insisted on paying for the week's worth of groceries Rick deposited in the shopping cart.
When the two men climbed back in the truck Rick turned to his brother. "What's the name of the motel where your stuff is at?"
"The Flamingo Inn. It's just a few miles from here."
"I know where it is," Rick acknowledged, turning the truck in that direction. "I've spent a few memorable nights there on occasion."
A.J. arched an inquiring eyebrow at his sibling. "Anyone special?"
Rick gave a sly smile. "Oh...they were all special, little brother. Every single one of them."
A.J. laughed, happy to hear that Rick hadn't completely left behind his old ways.
For lack of anything better to do, Rick walked into the motel's office with his brother.
"I'd like to pay for another week's rent," A.J. told the desk clerk while pulling out his wallet.
Rick laid a hand on his brother's arm to stop the motion.
"Hey...what are you doin'?"
"Paying for another week's rent."
"I know that. But why?"
"Because I start my job on Monday, and I have to have a place to live."
"I thought you were gonna stay with me out on the key."
A.J. shook his head. "Not permanently."
"Oh." With supreme effort, the lanky man managed to keep the disappointment out of his tone at this unexpected news.
"I'm planning on buying myself a houseboat," A.J. stated practically. "I've got some money saved. It's time I make some type of an investment with it. A guy I went to high school with is working down here for his grandfather at Maritime Marina."
"I know the place," Rick nodded.
"I was planning on going over there tomorrow to look at boats. But in the meantime, I was going to stay here."
"You don't have to do that," Rick negated quietly, as the clerk took care of another customer who had walked in behind the brothers. "You can stay down on the key until you get a boat, or whatever."
"I didn't intend to intrude on you, Rick,” A.J. pointed out.
"Well, for a guy that didn't intend to intrude you've pretty well takin' over my guest room, and you've been wearin' my clothes for the last two days, and you've been eaten my food, so I guess it won't really matter if it lasts a little while longer."
A.J. smiled at the teasing. "You're sure?"
"Yeah,” Rick nodded. “I'm sure."
With that assurance, A.J. turned and settled up his bill. Rick waited by the truck while A.J. walked down to number 10 where he retrieved the four business suits he'd hung in the room's closet, and the two suitcases he’d set on the closet’s floor.
As the truck's engine roared to life once more A.J. asked, "Do you mind if we run over to the marina and have a look around? Do you have time?"
"Sure," Rick agreed. "I don't have any place special I have to be."
Though A.J. hadn't intended on buying a boat that day, that's exactly what he did. He met up with his high school buddy, Scott Klen, who was managing the marina for his grandfather. A.J. was grateful for his brother's vast knowledge of boats, and trusted Rick's advice as they looked at vessel after vessel. Finally the young man settled on a modest sized, fully furnished, used cabin cruiser that Rick said was a gem, and a good buy for the money.
A.J. haggled with Scott over the price for a few minutes, until they both agreed on what they thought was fair. Scott promised the boat would be gone over in the coming week, and as well, the interior living area would be scrubbed and polished.
They went back to Scott's office to sign the papers. A.J. wrote the man a check for the down payment. The remainder of the payment would come the following weekend when A.J. moved on the boat for good. As luck would have it, the marina had several open docking slots. A.J. immediately took advantage of that good fortune and signed the necessary papers to lease a slip for the coming year.
Two hours later the brothers and Marlowe returned to Rick's truck.
"Got yourself a pretty good deal there, little brother."
"Thanks for your help," A.J. smiled in appreciation. "She is a pretty nice little boat."
"That she is," Rick agreed. "And the resale on those things down here is terrific. Especially if they're taken care of."
"Which I fully intend to do," A.J. stated. He was already taking pride in being a first time homeowner, even if that home was a boat with very limited space. The bathroom wasn't any bigger than a small closet. The bedroom was large enough to hold the double bed and dresser it included, but there wasn't much space left to move around in. And the living room shared its area with the small galley. But A.J. didn't care. Once he had it fixed up the way he wanted it, he'd feel right at home. Besides, he had a feeling he'd only be on the boat during the workweek. He planned to be down on the key as much as possible on the weekends. Or at least as often as Rick would have him.
Rick looked both ways before pulling out of the marina's parking lot and onto the busy street. "Hey, have you been to Peerless yet?"
"No," A.J. shook his head. "I was planning to try and find it tomorrow."
"I know where it is. You want me to take you by there?"
"Sure. If it isn't any trouble."
"It's no trouble."
A.J. took note of the street names and landmarks as Rick drove him to the Peerless office. From the outside it looked like a nice place. It was located in an old, but well kept two story building on a relatively quiet street surrounded by other offices, restaurants and specialty shops. Rick gave A.J. a tour of Miami after that, helping his brother get his bearings in a city A.J. hadn't been to in several years.
It was growing dark when A.J. offered to buy Rick supper at the restaurant of his choice. Rather than picking a noisy, seedy bar like A.J. half expected him to, Rick chose a quiet little place off the beaten path where they could get a good steak and a beer.
By the glow of A.J.'s Timex it was ten thirty-five when the brothers pulled up in front of Rick's house. Marlowe jumped out of the truck's bed and dashed for the nearest tree. A.J. climbed out juggling his suitcases and suits, while Rick walked ahead with the bags of groceries in his arms.
A.J. gave a strangled yell and jumped backwards when a figure dressed in black stepped out from the shadows of the house.
Rick turned from where he was climbing the porch steps.
Rick," came the soft greeting laced with a Cuban accent. "How ya' doin'?"
doin' fine. How 'bout yourself?"
"Okay. But I'm afraid I startled your visitor."
A.J. stood in the driveway yet, willing his racing heart back to its normal rate.
"That's my kid brother - A.J. He just moved here from San Diego." Rick introduced, "A.J., Raul Nelecro."
"Hey, A.J.," Raul nodded in greeting.
"Hi, Raul," A.J. returned, before bending to retrieve the suitcases and clothes he'd dropped when Raul's sudden appearance had put him on the defensive.
Rick and Raul moved on into the dark house. Lights came on as A.J. struggled in with his burdens. The blond man went immediately to his bedroom, while Rick went to the kitchen and retrieved a six-pack of beer and set it on the coffee table. A.J. unpacked, hanging up some clothes while depositing others in dresser drawers. When he discerned the conversation between his brother and Raul seemed to center around business of some sort he made no special effort to go out and join the two men.
Fifteen minutes later, A.J. shoved his now empty suitcases under the bed. He surveyed the room with a critical eye, pleased to see it back in the immaculate condition he preferred.
When he joined his brother and Raul there was only one beer left. A.J. reached for it as he sat in what had been Grandpa's favorite easy chair.
The conversation didn't last much longer. Rick and Raul stood and shook hands over whatever deal it was they had just made. Rick walked the Cuban to the door and turned on the porch light.
"I'll let you know what I come up with," Rick promised.
"I'll be waiting to hear from you." Raul looked around Rick. "Nice meeting you, A.J."
Politely, A.J. returned, "Nice meeting you, Raul."
In less than a minute after Raul walked out the door, A.J. heard an outboard motor roar to life. Now he understood why he hadn't seen any other vehicle parked outside the house when he and Rick pulled up, other than his Mustang. He also understood why he hadn't recognized Raul as one of the familiar faces who resided on Pirate's Key.
A.J. followed his brother into the kitchen. The two men began putting the groceries away that Rick had left setting on the counter.
"How do you know him?"
"I met him a few months ago," was all Rick would say. "I do business for him once ‘n’ a while."
"What kind of business?"
"The same kind I do for other people on occasion," Rick replied from where his head was buried in a cabinet. "Not that much different from what you do, I guess."
A.J. looked up from where he'd been bent down depositing fruit in the refrigerator.
"From what I do? You mean private investigation work?"
"Something like that. I find stuff for people."
A.J. stood, shutting the refrigerator door and leaning back against it. "What kind of stuff?"
"Oh...just this and that. Whatever they've lost."
A.J. still had no idea what his brother was up to. He prayed Rick hadn't gotten involved with drug dealers, though deep inside he thought Rick had better sense than that.
"Why don't they go to the police if they've...lost something?"
"Cause they can't," Rick stated, as he began unpacking the last bag of groceries. "Most of what they've lost...or had stolen, was stolen to begin with."
A.J. gave a slow, thoughtful nod. "I see. And just what do you get out of all this?"
"Thirty percent of the value of the missing item."
"Rick, could this...service you provide, be a bit on the dangerous side? Not to mention the fact that if the cops ever caught you with these recovered items, you could be implicated as the person who stole them in the first place."
"I suppose that could happen," Rick acknowledged. "But I'm careful. Besides, I don't ask any questions of my clientele. I never do know the true stories behind their missing objects."
"The police won't care one way or another," A.J. pointed out.
"I guess not. But I haven't been caught yet. And anyway, not everything I recover is hot. Sometimes I'm returning legitimate items to their rightful owners."
"Then how come these so-called rightful owners aren't willing to go to the police and report these legitimate items missing in the first place?"
Rick glared at his sibling as he put the last can of Campbell’s Soup away and shut the cabinet door.
"You know, A.J., you ask too many damn questions, just like you did when we were kids. I don't have all the answers, you know, and I never will. Besides, it's just business for me. Just plain, good old-fashioned business. I have to supplement my income. Fishing doesn’t always make me enough to live on. And I like doing it."
"Private investigation work?"
"Yeah. It's fun. Kinda exciting sometimes even."
"Then why don't you look into it on a full-time basis? Maybe you could even get hired on at Peerless with me."
Rick laughed. "Sorry to burst your bubble, kid, but I'm just not cut out to work the nine to five routine for some old air-bag private dick like Fowler. I like what I do just fine."
be careful then," A.J. cautioned.
"Don't get in over your head on these jobs of yours."
Rick headed for his bedroom. He reached out a hand to tousle the blond locks as he passed his sibling.
"You worry too much, kid, you know that?"
"Yeah, I know," A.J. muttered under his breath as he stood alone in the kitchen. "It's all that worrying I do that brought me here in the first place."
A.J. opened one eye and glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table. It was five a.m. He could hear Rick shuffling around the kitchen, but didn't bother getting up to join him. A.J. wouldn't be going out on the boat with his brother this morning. It was Monday, and A.J. was due to report to Myron Fowler's office promptly at nine a.m. He fell back into a heavy sleep, knowing the alarm would wake him at six.
When the clang of the alarm interrupted A.J.'s slumber an hour later Rick was long gone. The blond man allowed himself five more minutes of quiet luxury, then rose and headed for the bathroom. Ten minutes later he was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. He headed out the door, intent on resuming the daily exercise routine he'd neglected since leaving San Diego.
The blond man ran around the perimeter of the small island, making it back to the house in forty minute's time. He made his bed, then showered, shaved, and dressed. For his first day of work, A.J. chose the new black suit he'd purchased before leaving San Diego. Neil had run a very relaxed office. More often than not he and A.J. had reported to work in blue jeans or casual trousers. According to Neil, though, Fowler demanded that his detectives wear suits and ties while in the office. It didn't make much difference to A.J. one way or another. He understood Fowler ran a much bigger operation than Neil, so was bound to hold his detectives to a different code of dress and ethics.
A.J. tuned the news in on the radio while he ate his breakfast of cereal and toast. He did his dishes, as well as the ones Rick had left in the sink from his own breakfast. It was seven thirty-five when the blond man headed for the Mustang that had sat idle since his arrival. Although it shouldn't take A.J. more than an hour to make the drive to the Peerless office, he wanted to allow himself plenty of time. He had no idea what rush hour traffic in Miami was like.
The blond man pulled in the Peerless lot at eight minutes to nine. Traffic had been horrible. He was glad he had to fight it for only a week. By the next Monday A.J. would be living on his boat at the marina just ten minutes from Fowler's office.
A.J. followed other well-dressed men and women as they hurried down the sidewalk carrying briefcases, newspapers, and Styrofoam cups of coffee. He lost some of them along the way as they entered various buildings, but ended up following two men dressed very much like himself, into Peerless Detectives.
A.J. stepped in the large, central office. The buzz of animated chatter filled the room as the Peerless employees greeted one another with friendly camaraderie. They filled their coffee cups while chatting about the past weekend and the various activities they'd engaged in.
The unobserved A.J. made a quick scan of the area. There were ten desks spaced evenly throughout the room, each with its own phone. One wall was lined with black steel filing cabinets. Four small offices branched off the main room. Each of those cramped quarters contained one desk and a file cabinet. Though all the rooms were clean and looked to be freshly painted, the building was older than it appeared to be from the outside. The desks and filing cabinets all had a battered appearance about them, as if they'd long ago waged war at another office and had been retired, until Myron Fowler had bought them at some secondhand warehouse.
A.J. was so engrossed in studying what was soon to become his new work place that he didn't pay attention the person who approached from his left.
I help you?"
A.J. turned to face a strikingly beautiful young woman. The first thing he noticed about her, besides that captivating face, was her long legs. Provocatively shaped legs that seemed to go on and on, until they disappeared underneath the hemline of her navy blue dress. In her navy high heels she was as tall as he was. Without them, A.J. guessed her to be five foot ten. Her gleaming brunette hair had light streaks of auburn running through it and fell halfway down her back. She was model thin, with a tiny waist further accented today by the wide, white belt she wore. The astute blond investigator also took note that her ring finger was bare.
A.J. turned on his mega-watt smile. "Yes. I'm looking for Mr. Fowler."
"You must be the new investigator," the young lady stated. Her youth, and her knowledge of who he was, led A.J. to assume she was the receptionist. "Andrew Simon?" She questioned.
The woman pointed to the large office straight ahead. "You can go right in. Mr. Fowler is expecting you."
A.J. could see the profile of a stout man through the windows of the centrally located office. He was chewing viciously on a cigar while shouting into the phone.
"Just go on in," the young woman instructed. "He'll be with you shortly."
"Thank you," A.J. smiled. He couldn't prevent himself from allowing his eyes to travel up those long, inviting legs one more time. "I hope I'll see you again soon."
"I'm sure you will," the young lady replied indifferently before turning away from him. "This office isn't that big."
A.J. picked up on the subtle rebuff in the retreating brunette's tone.
A.J. pushed all thoughts of the attractive mystery lady out of his mind as he entered Myron Fowler's office. Within a few minutes Fowler's phone conversation came to an end. He gruffly introduced himself to A.J. and shook the hand the blond offered him.
"Park it in that chair there, kid," Fowler growled. He indicated to one of the battered chairs that sat across from his desk. A.J. did as he was ordered, while Fowler walked over to the door and barked to no one in particular in the outer office, "Hold my calls!" He swung the door shut then, allowing it to close with a bang.
An hour later A.J. emerged. He had no doubt that everything Neil had told him about Myron Fowler was true. He was going to be a gruff old pain-in-the-ass to work for, who demanded nothing less than perfection from his employees. He had been very thorough when going over with A.J. what he expected from those who were on his payroll.
"No drinking on the job," the man had stated. "Not even a beer with your lunch. And God’s sake, no drugs. And if you ever get in any kinda trouble with the cops, that's it. You're outta here. You got that?"
"Yes, sir," A.J. had nodded respectfully.
"Neil tells me you're gonna be a hell of an investigator some day. That's all good and well, but I don't give a rat's ass about lettin' someone rest on their past laurels. You're gonna have to prove yourself to me. Nothin' you did for Neil means anything to me. As of right now, you're startin' over. You got that?"
"And you can stop with the sir crap. It's nice to know your mama raised such a polite boy, but everyone around here just calls me Myron. Okay?"
Myron then covered with A.J. the types of cases he would be working on in the months to come. Though none of them sounded very challenging to the twenty-four-year-old, who had been doing this type of work since he was nineteen, A.J. already knew better than to argue. Instead he would quietly prove his worth to Myron Fowler. That in itself should bring rewards A.J.'s way.
"I've got four senior investigators," Myron went on to say. "They work in the offices out there. The rest of you work on the floor. Each of my junior investigators works directly for one of the seniors. Your boss will be Bob Hoskins. He's in the corner office out there."
A.J. turned to see a balding, dark headed, paunchy man of about forty in the little office closest to the door.
"At various times Hoskins will assign you cases, I'll assign you cases, and my office manager will assign you cases. You'll get used to the routine after a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Elsbarry...Bart Elsbarry, will show you the ropes. He's been here about a year and works for Hoskins, too."
Myron next went over A.J.'s salary and benefits with him. That discussion didn't take too long as those things had already been worked out over the phone prior to A.J.'s arrival.
Myron nodded toward a gray haired, grandmotherly woman who was sitting at a desk in the outer office.
"You get together with Clara some time today. She's got all the papers ready that you need to sign for the insurance company, social security, and all the rest a' that crap."
"Okay," A.J. nodded, following Myron's gaze out the window. His eyes bypassed the sixty-year-old Clara, however, as well as the other secretary who appeared to be in her mid-forties. Instead, A.J.'s eyes came to rest upon the bent head of the sexy brunette. She was furiously writing something down on a yellow legal pad while talking on the phone.
A.J. quickly turned his attention back to his new boss as Myron wrapped up their meeting.
"I guess that's about it, kid. Unless you have any other questions."
"No," A.J. shook his head. "I can't think of anything else."
"Okay then, I'm gonna turn you over to Elsbarry. He's gonna introduce you to everyone, show you around, that kind of stuff."
A.J. stood as Myron walked to the door.
"Hey, Elsbarry! Get your butt in here for a minute."
A.J. was quickly introduced to the junior investigator and only black man Myron employed. He was a broad shouldered, compact handsome man of five foot eight. Though A.J. guessed him to weigh two hundred pounds, there didn't appear to be an ounce of fat on his muscular frame.
Twenty-eight-year-old Bartholomew Elsbarry, dressed in a dark suit and tie just like A.J., led the blond recruit to his new desk.
"This is where you'll sit," Bart informed him. "I'm right in front of you if you need anything."
A.J. glanced ahead to Bart's desk. It was identical to the one A.J. would now call his, though adorned with pictures of a pretty black woman and two small children.
"Your wife and kids?" A.J. asked.
"Yes," Bart smiled with pride.
"Thanks. That's my wife, Lavonne, and my little girls, Kynthia and Kiana. You'll get a chance to meet them one of these days. My wife's a nurse, but when she has a day off she brings the girls in so my ladies can treat me to lunch."
"That's nice," A.J. smiled.
"And what about you, Andrew? Are you married?"
"First of all, you can call me A.J. It's only Andrew when my mother's mad at me."
Bart laughed. "Okay, A.J. Is that how you want to be introduced to everyone?"
"Yes," A.J. nodded. "That would be fine. And no, I'm not married."
The two men stood beside A.J.'s desk for a few minutes getting to know each other. Within that short amount of time A.J. had no doubt he and Bart were going to become fast friends.
From there Bart showed A.J. around the office. He introduced him to those who were present. Some of the fourteen investigators Myron employed were out of the office doing legwork. Bart promised A.J. he'd introduce him to those who were absent as they drifted in throughout the day.
A.J. wasn't too impressed with his new boss, Bob Hoskins. The man seemed full of his own self-importance, and sternly repeated the lecture Myron had already given him on the code of ethics all Peerless detectives were to adhere to.
After that A.J. was dismissed with a wave of Hoskin's hand.
"I'm rather busy today, Simon. I don't have time to be bothered. You just stick with Elsbarry. He knows how I want things done."
A.J. walked out the door with Bart, not sure what to make of this guy.
Bart summed it all up in one sentence when they were well out of Hoskin's earshot. "He's an asshole."
Although A.J. agreed, for the time being he kept his opinions to himself. "He is, huh?"
"Yeah. Be careful around him. You'll work your butt off for him, but he'll take all the credit with Fowler. And if he ever gets a chance, he'll run to Fowler and tattle on you."
"For whatever it is he thinks you're doing wrong. And if you’re not doing anything wrong, he must might make something up."
"What's with the guy?"
"I don't know," Bart shrugged. "Like I said, he's an asshole. If you want my opinion, he's not a very good investigator. How he's gotten this far I don't know. I think it's probably because he's always taking all the credit away from us."
"And you've worked for him since you started here?"
"Yeah. For the past year and a half. But I'll get my license in six months. Then I'm outta here."
"Where are you going?"
"Keep this under your hat, but I've already got an offer to work for a big law firm here in Miami, an all black firm, as their own in-house investigator. Fowler doesn't know it yet, but when I get my license I'm jumping ship."
"Considering there's only four senior investigators, I suppose a lot of guys do that?"
"Yeah," Bart agreed. "Some stay on long enough to move up, but most leave within a year or so of getting their own license. Fowler's talking of branching out though. Opening offices in other parts of the country. As a matter of fact, San Diego's one place I've heard him mention. Anyway, if he does that, maybe there will be more opportunities for new guys like you. But me...no way, man. I'll be long gone by then."
From there Bart pointed to the two women across the room who were both tied up on the phone.
"The older lady's Clara. The other one's Doris. I'll introduce them to you when they're free. Fowler probably told you that Clara takes care of employee insurance and other personnel paperwork?"
"Yes, he did."
Over the sound of ringing telephones, Bart explained, "The investigation staff is split in half as far as secretarial duties go. Seven of us are assigned to Clara, while the other seven belong to Doris. Clara will be your secretary. She's also Fowler's secretary. She's a nice lady. Actually, she's a saint. She's been with Fowler almost since the beginning. She was the first secretary he ever hired way back in 1952 when he was a one man operation working out of a basement office in a bad part of town."
A.J. looked around the busy room. "And where's the receptionist I met this morning?"
"Receptionist?" Bart asked.
"We don't really have a receptionist. The secretaries more or less take on that duty as well. And if they're tied up, then we're expected to
answer the phones, greet new clients, and that kind of thing."
"Oh. Well, there was this young woman here this
morning. . .about twenty-one or twenty-two, who seemed to be expecting me."
"That must have been Janet,"
"Very sexy lady with legs that don't quit?" A.J. described with a grin.
"That would be her,” Bart smiled. “She's the office manager. And Fowler's daughter."
Bart caught the twinkle in A.J.'s eye.
"Take my advice and keep your distance from her, buddy. First of all, Fowler doesn't appreciate his employees hitting on his little girl. And secondly, Janet doesn't date private investigators."
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. She doesn't date P.I's. In the year
and a half I've worked here, every single guy that Fowler's hired has tried to get her to go out with him. And she's turned every one of them down flat."
A.J. smiled with confidence. "I haven't asked her yet."
"Don't bother. She'll tell you no."
"How can you be so sure?"
"It's like I said. She doesn't date P.I.'s. I don't exactly know the whole story, but it has something to do with her mother's death...Myron's wife. She died when Janet was a kid. For some reason, Janet blames this profession for putting her mother in an early grave."
"I don't know the whole story. That's just what I've been told."
A.J. thought a moment. "Seems kind of funny, don't you think? That she would work for her father – a man who still pursues the same profession she blames on her mother's death?"
"I don't know,” Bart shrugged. “I guess it's kind of weird. But maybe she's like the rest of us. Maybe she just needed a job."
"Yeah, maybe," was where A.J. let the subject end.
A.J. spent the rest of the day with Bart. He was to help the black man with his currently assigned cases until Bob Hoskins, Myron, or Janet, assigned him some of his own.
Late in the afternoon, the blond man was finally able to work his way over to Clara's desk. As Bart had said, she was a nice lady and tended to mother Myron's young protégées. She was knowledgeable in all aspects of personnel, and soon had A.J.'s employment records squared away.
A.J. paused for just a moment as he passed Janet's desk on the way back to his own. He stood over her until she was forced to look up.
"May I help you?"
don't think we were properly introduced this morning." A.J. smiled as he
held out his hand. "I'm A.J.
"Yes. I know who you are."
ignored the woman's cold tone, and the fact that she didn't offer him her hand
in return. "And you are?"
Her reply was simple and indifferent. "Janet."
A.J. smiled before walking away to rejoin Bart. "I'm looking forward to working with you, Janet."
Janet's eyes followed the retreating back of the blond man. When he and Bart became engrossed in a case file across the room Clara sidled up to Janet's desk.
"He's a very good looking young man, isn't he?"
Janet shrugged with indifference. She wasn't about to tell Clara that, from the moment she'd laid eyes on Andrew Simon that morning, she thought he was the one of the most handsome men she'd ever seen.
"He's okay, I guess. A lot of pretty boys have come and gone around here over the years. He's just another one."
"Oh, Janet, don't be so hard on him. He seems like a sweet young man. Very polite. It wouldn't hurt you to--"
"Don't say it, Clara."
Clara ignored Janet's admonishment. She went on, giving Janet advice as one would a cherished daughter.
"You haven't seen anyone since you broke up with Donald six months ago. It's time you gave someone else a chance."
"Not a P.I.," Janet firmly declared.
"Oh, come on, honey. He's young, he's far from home...and he graduated from college with a law degree."
For the first time Janet showed some interest. She glanced over at the blond man. "He did?"
"Yes, he certainly did. He passed the bar exam just this past July, as a matter of fact. On his first try."
Janet looked up at the older lady. "He told you all that?"
"It's in his employment records."
The young woman looked back over at A.J.
"I wonder what in the world he's doing here in Miami working for my father if he's passed the bar?"
"I don't know," Clara replied as she moved away. "Why don't you make a date with him and ask?"
"Clara," Janet scolded the older lady, but was dutifully ignored.
A.J. arrived back on Pirate's Key at six-thirty that evening. Marlowe ran to greet him as he stepped out of his car. The blond grabbed his discarded suit coat jacket from the back seat and flung it over his shoulder. He bent down and gave Marlowe a few seconds of undivided attention, before allowing the smell of supper cooking to lead him around to the back of the house.
Rick's hair was still damp from his recent shower as he stood at the grill flipping hamburgers.
"Hi," Rick greeted, as he caught sight of his brother. "I figured you'd be home pretty soon. I hope you're in the mood for burgers."
"That's fine," A.J. agreed. He climbed the stairs to the back porch, walked in the house, and went to his bedroom to change into blue jeans and a polo shirt.
The brothers ate their meal at the wicker table that was on the front porch. Rick asked a lot of questions about A.J.'s first day of work and seemed genuinely interested in all his brother told him. An hour after they had first sat down, A.J. rose to clear the remains of dinner. Rick started to rise as well, but A.J. waved him back to his seat.
"You cooked. I'll clean up."
"Sounds good to me," Rick nodded. He moved to sit in his favorite chair while pulling his cigarettes out of his pocket.
It didn't take A.J. long to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. When he was through, he picked up the phone and placed a long distance call. He hadn't talked to his mother since he'd arrived in Miami the previous Wednesday.
Cecilia was thrilled to hear from her youngest. A.J. caught her up on all that had happened since he had arrived. As he was in the midst of telling her about his new job, Rick entered the kitchen for a beer.
ya' talkin' to?"
A.J. didn't answer his brother, but rather just held the phone out to him.
"Who ya' talkin' to?" Rick repeated with puzzlement.
"Just say hi," A.J. urged.
Rick shrugged and took the phone.
"Hello? Oh...oh hi, Mom."
A.J. listened to the one-sided hesitant conversation.
"Yeah...yeah, I'm fine.
“Yeah...uh listen, I have to go."
Rick gave his brother an angry glare as he thrust the receiver into A.J.'s chest. Before the blond had a chance to get it back to his ear Rick had stomped out of the room.
"Rick? Rick?" A.J. could hear his mother calling through the instrument. “Rick?”
The front door slammed as A.J. put the phone back to his ear. "Mom?"
"No, Mom, it's A.J."
With that Cecilia started to cry. "Why is so angry with me?"
"Mom...Mom...don't cry," A.J. softly pleaded. "He's not angry with you. He's angry with himself."
"I don't know, Mom. I just don't know. But listen...things are going okay between us. I mean, they've gotten better with each passing day. He's slowly coming around. Just give him...and me, some time."
"But is he okay, A.J.?"
"He's far from okay," A.J. reluctantly admitted. "He's not completely the Rick we once knew. But like I said, things will get better. Even though he won't admit it, I think he's glad I'm here."
"Take care of him, A.J.," was how Cecilia ended their conversation.
"I will, Mom. I love you."
"I love you, too, sweetheart. And tell Rick...tell him I love him, as well. Very much."
"I will, Mom. That's a promise."
A.J.'s hand remained resting on the phone long after he hung it up. He finally shook his head to clear it of his muddled thoughts. He walked out to the front porch, wondering if Rick would be there, or if he'd taken off somewhere on foot.
was just pushing the screen door open when a deep voice growled, "Don't
ever do that to me again."
"What?" A.J. asked, as he stepped out onto the porch
and looked down at the seated
Rick. "Have you talk to Mom?"
"You know what I mean," Rick scowled. "Don't hand me the phone like that without tellin' me it's her."
"Why not? She's your mother for God's sake."
"Because...well just because I said so, that's why not."
"She's worried about you, Rick."
Rick averted his face. "She doesn't need to be."
"She just wants us to be a family again."
"Didn't know we stopped bein' one."
"Well, that's how it must feel to her. You took off two years ago with barely a goodbye, and she hasn't seen you since. You don't call, you don't write, you don't visit, you don't--"
Rick's head snapped around.
"Can the damn lecture, A.J.! I don't need it, and I sure as hell don't want it!"
A.J. stood there silently until Rick's rapid breathing returned to normal, and his tense body relaxed in his chair. The older Simon went back to sipping on his beer, ignoring the younger brother who was staring at him.
Finally A.J. turned and headed for the stairs. A solitary walk sounded good right now.
"Mom wanted me to tell you she loves you very much," were A.J.'s quiet words, right before the darkness swallowed him up.
Rick took a deep breath, then exhaled. He swiped at a sudden and unexpected tear, before pushing himself out of his chair.
"Come on, Marlowe. Let's go get another beer."
The brothers did a carefully orchestrated dance around one another when A.J. returned from his walk that Monday evening. By then Rick was reclining on the couch watching television. A.J. said only "Good night," as he passed through to his bedroom. If Rick made a reply the younger man didn't hear it.
Rick was up and gone by the time A.J. rose on Tuesday morning. The blond repeated his early morning rituals from the day before, and by seven-thirty was on the road to Miami. He spent another day working with Bart on the types of cases he'd been doing for Neil for the past five years. It was all rather boring, but A.J. knew better than to complain. Hopefully, by the following week, Myron would have enough confidence in him to allow him to work on his own.
A.J. had thrown a charming smile Janet's way as he entered the office that morning, but barely got a hello in return. He tried to make small talk with her several other times throughout the day when their paths happened to cross. Each time he received a polite but firm rebuff.
A.J. arrived home at six-fifteen that night. Rick was in the kitchen packing a bag with sandwiches when A.J. walked in for a cold beer.
"You're on your own for supper tonight," Rick informed his sibling.
"Why?" A.J. asked in-between swallows. "Where are you going?"
"I'm workin' that job for Raul, remember?"
A.J. thought a moment. He wasn't sure how the suggestion he was about to make would be received, especially after last night's little altercation.
"Mind if I tag along?"
Rick eyed his brother as if sizing him up.
"You might not like some of the places I'm goin'."
"And where exactly are you going?"
"Let's just say I have to ask questions of people who hang out in some pretty rough establishments."
"I don't mind."
"All right then," Rick conceded, "get your clothes changed. I can't drag you into where I'm goin' dressed like that. Everyone will think you’re a Fed. Put on jeans and a T-shirt. Preferably grubby ones if you own such a thing."
A.J. hid his smile. "I'll be right back."
While A.J. went off to change his clothes, Rick made two more sandwiches. He grabbed a six-pack of Coke out of the refrigerator and threw it in a small cooler. In five minutes time the brothers met outside at Rick's pickup. Marlowe jumped in the back right before the engine roared to life.
The weary men returned home at one a.m. Though they hadn't found what it was Raul was missing, Rick seemed pleased to have gathered a lot of information from a talkative drunk in a seedy bar. Rick hadn't been kidding A.J. when he'd told him he'd be asking questions of people who hung out in some pretty rough places. A.J. had been witness to severeal fistfights that night, one that landed a man in the hospital with a permanently disfigured face. Not to mention that on several times throughout the evening he'd heard gunshots fired from a distance.
As he kicked his tennis shoes off at the door A.J. asked, "Rick, what exactly is it that Raul is missing?"
"Yeah, Sophie. She's a snake."
"Yeah, a snake. She's a boa constrictor."
A.J.'s tired body fell down into the easy chair, while Rick took up residence on the couch.
"A boa constrictor? I risked my life in parts of Miami tonight that I didn't even know existed for a lousy boa constrictor?"
"Not just any boa constrictor, A.J. This boa constrictor's worth fifty grand."
"Fifty grand!" A.J. exclaimed, his tired eyes coming to life. "How in the hell can a boa constrictor be worth fifty grand?"
Rick smiled. "It's not the boa constrictor herself that's worth so much money, kid. It's the little sack of diamonds she so-willingly swallowed for Raul's uncle that are worth so much money."
"The snake is hiding stolen diamonds?"
"I don't know if they're stolen or not,” Rick shrugged. “It's like I told you the other day. I don't question my clientele as to what the true stories are behind their missing objects. As far as I'm concerned, all I'm doin' is looking for a snake."
"I see," A.J. acknowledged, as he rose to head for bed. "Well, just be careful that snake doesn't turn around and bite you."
"Not a chance, A.J. I'm too ornery to be bested by one little old snake."
"That's for sure," A.J. quipped.
The pillow Rick playfully lobbed his way for that remark caught A.J. squarely in the back of his head. He laughed as he picked up the object and tossed it back. Before the brotherly playfulness could turn into a full-scale war, A.J. retreated to the safety of his bedroom. Even though it was late, and he was tired, and all too soon the alarm would be ringing, A.J. was glad he had gone with his brother. It was fun working with Rick. They were so in-sync with each other’s thoughts and moods it was almost scary. A.J. was well aware that a bond had always existed between them, but he hadn't realized that bond also extended to a working relationship. But last week on Rick's boat, and now tonight as they did P.I. work together that bond, or special chemistry, or however one would refer to it, was beginning to reveal itself to A.J. As he drifted off to sleep, A.J. wondered if Rick had noticed it too.
Over the course of the next two days A.J. worked for Peerless Detectives from nine to five, then rushed home to work with Rick on Raul's case.
By Friday Janet noticed that every time she was at a filing cabinet, or getting a cup of coffee, or at the water cooler, the new guy, A.J., was at her elbow. He invariably gave her a charming smile and acted as though his sudden appearance was a big coincidence, but she knew better.
Oh well, the young woman thought to herself. He can shower me with attention for all I care. I'm not going out with him no matter how nice. . .or how cute, he is.
A.J. and Bart found themselves working late that Friday. Bart was close to wrapping up a divorce case and wanted to stakeout the motel the cheating husband was fond of using. Hoskins instructed Bart to do just that, and to take A.J. along with him.
The night ended successfully for the two men around ten p.m. With A.J.'s help, Bart got the pictures he needed.
Bart complimented A.J. as he dropped him off at the Mustang that was sitting in the Peerless lot. "You're pretty good at this, Simon, you know that?"
A.J. gave a humble shrug from where he still sat in Bart's Impala. "I've been doing it for a while."
"I can see that. How come you don't have your license yet?"
"Because all my P.I. work has predominantly been part-time. It helped finance my way through college and law school. I just started doing the work full-time this past summer. But by moving out here those full-time hours I put in for my license don't count. They're not transferable from state to state. That's why I have to start over."
"Well, on Monday I'm going to tell Myron you're more than ready to be on your own," Bart stated. "I'd tell Hoskins, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do any good. I just think he'd keep you with me."
"Because he's jealous of you."
"Of me?" A.J. questioned with surprise.
"Sure thing. It's written all over his face. Besides, I heard him talking to a couple of the other senior guys. He's says you think you're hot stuff."
"What have I ever done to him? I haven't said more than hello to the guy since I met him Monday morning."
"I know. But you're good at what you do and he can see that. He's threatened by it. He's afraid you're going to show him up. Like I said, just be careful around him. That's why I'm going to personally tell Myron you're ready to solo."
"Thanks, Bart. Thanks a lot."
"No problem. I want you to have a good start before I kiss this job goodbye. There won't be anyone to watch over your pale, white ass then."
A.J. laughed as he climbed out of the car. "No, I guess there won't be." He leaned down as he closed the door. "Thanks again, Bart. And have a good weekend."
"You, too, A.J."
Because of the lateness of the hour traffic was light. It took A.J. just under forty-five minutes to drive to the key. He pulled up to Rick's front door at ten minutes after eleven. Much like the first night he arrived, Marlowe came down the steps to greet him with a bark. The porch light was off, but the dim light shining out of the living room allowed A.J. to see his brother's silhouette.
And much like the first night he arrived, the pungent smell of alcohol assaulted A.J.'s senses the minute his foot hit the bottom stair.
With a silly smile on his face Rick greeted, "Hi ya', Aaay Jaay. Long time no see."
"You're wasted," the tired A.J. scowled with disgust. He hadn't seen Rick like this since his arrival.
Quite pleased with himself, Rick proclaimed, "Yep, I sure the hell am."
"Why, Rick?" A.J. questioned quietly. "Why?"
Rick's tone took on a childlike quality. He slowly drawled, " 'Cauz I didn't think you were comin' back, thaz why."
A.J. moved to sit down in the chair across from his brother. Gently he asked, "What do you mean by that?"
Rick shook his head with great exaggeration. "You were gone for hours and hours, Aaay Jaay. I thought you had left for good. I thought you were mad at me. So I said to myself, well...I said, if A.J.'s gone, then nothin's important anymore."
A.J. leaned forward and laid a hand on his brother's blue jean clad knee.
"Of course things are important, Rick. A lot of things are important regardless of whether or not I'm here."
"Nope," Rick shook his head as he tilted the bottle of Jack Daniels to his lips and took a swig. "Nothin' is important without you, A.J. Nothin' at all." Rick shook a finger at his sibling. "See...without you, I'm juz no good. Without you, I'm juz another washed up drunken Nam vet. Juz a no-good-for- nothin'--"
"Rick,stop it," A.J. ordered in a quiet voice. "Stop it right now. What you're saying...well, that's just garbage. None of it's true."
"Oh yes, it is," the drunken man negated. "You might not know it, but me and Marlowe know it. But now you're back. And me and Marlowe are happy again." Rick tilted his head and asked with all the intensity his drunken brain could muster, "But where were you, A.J.?"
"I had to work late tonight. I tried to call you around six o'clock, but you weren't in yet."
"Oh. Well I thought you left. I thought maybe you went back home to San Diego. And I didn't want you to do that. And then I got to missin' you real bad, A.J. And then me and Marlowe...well, we got all tore up inside. And then me and my ole’ friend Jack here started drinkin' together."
"I can see that." A.J. stood and placed his hands under his brother's armpits. "Come on. Let's get you to bed."
Rick's legs gave out from underneath him twice before he was finally able to stand. He laughed as his brother supported his weight.
"Either I'm gettin' old, or I'm drunk."
"Take it from me," A.J. intoned, "you're drunk."
Rick laughed again, then sobered and looked his brother squarely in the eye. "Thankz, A.J. I love ya,’ kid."
A.J. was momentarily taken by surprise by this revelation so willingly voiced. He tightened his grip on his brother and pulled the drunken body into a warm embrace.
"I love you too, Rick. Don't ever forget it."
A.J.'s words were lost on his big brother. Rick had passed out in his arms before he ever heard them.
A.J. shook his with head with a mixture of worry and affection.
"What am I going to do with you, big brother? What the hell am I going to do with you?”
Despite his late night A.J. was up early the next morning. He had gotten Rick settled in bed without the older man ever waking up. A.J. had gone to bed shortly afterwards, but ended up tossing and turning until the sun came up. Today was supposed to be moving day for A.J. Now he wasn't certain that was a good idea. He wasn't certain Rick should be left here alone night after night on this isolated patch of Pirate's Key.
A.J.'s movements about the kitchen were muffled. Nonetheless, in a short amount of time, he heard Rick stirring. It was a half an hour later before the hung-over Rick appeared in the kitchen. If he wasn't feeling well he didn't let on to his younger brother. The only sign of last night's binge was the chalky pallor of Rick's face.
"Morning" .J. greeted from where he was mixing up pancake batter.
Rick poured himself a cup of coffee. "Mornin’," he grumbled.
Rick made no move to help his brother with the breakfast preparations, and A.J. didn't ask him to. The older man sat at the kitchen table sipping his coffee and smoking a cigarette.
"What time you movin' onto your boat?" Rick finally asked.
A.J. poured the batter on the hot griddle. He didn't turn around when he answered his brother.
"I'm supposed to be able to get on it any time after ten this morning. But I'm not positive that I'm going to--"
"No," came Rick's firm interruption.
This time A.J. turned around. "What do you mean, no? You don't even know what I was going to say."
"Yes, I do. And the answer is no. You're not stayin' here. You bought that boat last week, and you're movin' on it today like you planned."
"But I was just thinking that things have been working out pretty well for me staying here," A.J. casually stated. "The drive into Miami every day isn't as bad as I thought it would be. So there's really no reason for me to spend that kind of money--"
"No," Rick ordered again. "Besides, if you give the boat up now you'll lose your down payment."
A.J. shrugged as he turned to flip the pancakes. "It wasn't that much."
"Since when don't you consider a thousand bucks to be that much?"
A.J. wanted to say, "Since now. Since I've been awake all night worrying about you. Since I've realized that you're a hell of a lot more fragile than you'll ever let on." Instead of those words, however, he turned around once more and started with, "Look, Rick, I really think--"
"I don't give a shit what you think! You're going. I don't need a goddamn babysitter! Especially not my kid brother."
A.J.'s eyes met and held those of his sibling. "That's not exactly what you said last night."
"Forget what I said last night," Rick scowled. "Whatever it was, I didn't mean it. I was drunk."
"Oh," A.J. nodded thoughtfully. "So you didn't mean it when you told me you loved me?"
Rick propelled himself out of his chair so violently it tumbled to the floor with a clatter. The coffee in his cup sloshed out to spill on the table.
"Just get the hell out, A.J.! The sooner the better! Just move up to Miami like you planned! I don't want you here! Can't you get it through your thick head that I don't want you here?"
Rick snatched his hat off its hook on the way out the back door. Within seconds A.J. heard the rev of the boat's engine.
The blond man looked down at the dog Rick had uncharacteristically left behind.
"My feelings might actually be hurt if I didn't know better than to believe what he just said. Why won't he let me help him, Marlowe?"
All Marlowe could do in return was whine. His hurt feelings over being neglected by his master were soon soothed by Rick's share of the pancakes A.J. deposited in the dog's dish.
A.J. thought long and hard that morning before finally deciding to pack up his clothes and move as he had planned. He wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing or not. Yet, for now, maybe it was better to abide by Rick's wishes. Even if it was likely they weren't his true feelings. A.J. planned to spend most weekends on the key as it was, and would drive down two or three nights a week just to pop in to see how Rick was doing. Maybe he could even convince Rick to make a standing commitment for dinner with him in Miami one night a week. If, through A.J.’s unannounced visits, Rick gave him cause for worry, then A.J. would sell the boat and move back here. . .regardless of what Rick might have to say on the matter.
A.J. let Marlowe out for a run while he loaded his suitcases and suits into the car. He left a note on the kitchen table that told his brother he was getting settled on his new boat, and that he'd see him the following day.
A.J. whistled for the wandering Marlowe. He made sure the dog had food and water, then locked up the house and headed for Miami.
It didn't take the blond man long to get situated in his new home that day. As Scott had promised, the boat had been given a thorough cleaning and polishing both inside and out. It was already parked in its slip when A.J. arrived. He paid Scott the remainder of what he owed on the boat, then made short work of hanging his suits, ties, and dress shirts in the bedroom's small closet. The rest of his neatly folded clothes he transferred from his suitcases to the dresser drawers. He shoved the empty suitcases under the bed for lack of a better place to put them, before walking out to the Mustang and opening the trunk. A.J. removed two cardboard boxes and a twelve inch black and white portable TV. One box contained linens, bath and kitchen towels, as well as dishes. The other contained assorted kitchen utensils and a set of pots and pans. All of the above had been used by the blond when he'd been in U.C.L.A.'s law school. He had shared an apartment during those years up in Los Angeles with two other young men.
By one-thirty A.J. had his little home neat and orderly. He took a few minutes to measure the various windows. He wrote down their dimensions, then listed a multitude of other things he'd need to set up housekeeping. He left shortly after that to grab a bite of lunch before stopping at a local discount store where he purchased everything from a bedspread, to curtains, to a clock radio. From there he stopped at a grocery store in order to stock his empty refrigerator and cabinets.
A.J. worked well past seven o'clock putting the finishing touches on his new home. He had supper in the oven when he called his mother at eight-thirty Florida time to let her know he was settled, and to give her his phone number. He also recited a small list of things he wanted her to pack up from his bedroom and send him, including his stereo. Cecilia promised to ship the requested items by U.P.S. early the next week. She asked him if there was anything else he needed. A.J. said he couldn't think of anything, but would let her know if something came to mind.
They both avoided mentioning Rick. When Cecilia finally got around to bringing up his name, it was to ask A.J. if his brother had helped him move. A.J. simply replied no, that Rick had left the house early that morning to check his nets. He decided it was best not to mention the state he'd found his brother in the previous evening. Or how that prompted the angry Rick to storm out of the house that morning after telling A.J. to leave, and that he didn’t want him there.
After A.J. ended the long distance connection with his mother, he sat down and ate supper. When the dishes were washed and put away he decided to give his brother a call. The phone rang and rang and rang, but no one picked up. A.J. tried Rick on and off until he went to bed at eleven. He never did get a hold of his brother. He couldn't help but wonder if Rick was once again sitting on the porch too drunk to care about answering the phone. Or perhaps he was just out looking for the missing boa constrictor. Whichever it was, A.J. wished he had ignored Rick's angry words from early that morning. He wished he had called Scott, given up his down payment, and stayed on the key. If he had, he wouldn't be here now, staring at the ceiling of his new bedroom and worrying about his older brother.
It was a long time before the gentle rocking of the boat finally lulled the blond into a troubled sleep.
A.J. didn't know what kind of greeting to expect when he pulled up in front of Rick's home at ten o'clock on Sunday morning. He parked the Mustang next to Rick's truck. He slowly climbed out and stood for a moment, surveying the outside of the house. It was quiet. Too quiet as far as A.J. was concerned. Marlowe didn't appear to be around anywhere, and as A.J. approached the front door, the usual interior noises of either the radio or television were absent. On its own volition, A.J.'s heart began to pound uncomfortably in his chest.
The blond man entered the silent house calling loudly, "Rick! Rick!"
The living room was empty and in surprising order. No beer bottles or popcorn bowls littered the coffee table. No shoes or socks were kicked carelessly about. The morning newspaper was folded neatly and resting in the magazine rack, as opposed to being scattered all over the floor.
A.J. crossed to his brother's bedroom in three rapid strides.
This room was in immaculate condition, too. The bed was neatly made, and no dirty clothes were lying in a pile on the floor or dresser.
"Rick! " A.J. frantically called as he did a quick search of the bathroom and remaining bedroom. "Rick!"
The blond's efforts became more frenzied when he recalled learning in his college psych class that distraught people often feel the need to put their lives in flawless order right before committing suicide.
"Rick!" A.J. called as he rushed into the kitchen. He took quick note that nothing was out of place in this room either. The dishes were done and put away. Not even a stray coffee cup or piece of mail could be found sitting on the countertop. Cold sweat broke out underneath the blond's armpits.
"Rick!" A.J. yelled breathlessly as he stepped onto the back porch. With a racing pulse, he called one last time, "Rick!"
"I'm out here!"
At the sound of the familiar voice A.J.'s whole body sagged with relief. He leaned heavily on the old wringer washing machine, willing his pulse and respiration back to their normal rates.
When he felt he was sufficiently composed, A.J. walked out the back door that led down to the dock. Marlowe rose from the tall grass and loped over to greet him. The blond knelt down to accept the wet tongue that lathered the side of his face.
Under his breath A.J. muttered, "Some watchdog you are."
Rick squinted up into the morning sun as his brother approached.
you doin' here? I figured you'd be busy
getting settled in your new home."
"I already am settled," A.J. replied. "There's not much work to moving into five hundred square feet of living space."
Rick returned his attention to the task at hand. "No, I don't suppose there is."
"What are you doing?"
"Working on this motor. It started sputtering and coughing yesterday when I was out checking my nets. For a few minutes I didn't think I was going to make it back without swimming."
"Need some help?"
"That's up to you," was all Rick said.
Rick sat in the boat working on the motor. A.J. sat on the dock handing his brother various tools, while offering his suggestions in regards to the wayward engine.
He passed Rick a screwdriver. "I tried to call you last night, but I guess you weren't home."
"Nope, I wasn't. I was out lookin' for Sophie. Then I got side tracked by an...acquaintance of mine. A very attractive acquaintance."
A.J. smiled his understanding.
"Oh, I see."
As worried as A.J. had been about his brother's whereabouts the previous evening, it was a relief to hear that Rick hadn't been drowning his sorrows alone on the front porch with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Not that Rick would have told A.J. if he had been.
"So that explains why the house is so clean," A.J. guessed.
"Yeah. Shelia did some pickin' up for me before she left this morning."
Seeing his brother covered with grease, bent nonchalantly over the boat's motor, and now knowing why the house was so spotless, made A.J. suddenly feel very foolish over his wild concerns of only minutes earlier. Rick hardly looked, or sounded like a man who was suicidal.
The brothers worked together for the next two hours. The only words exchanged between them had to do with the pesky motor. It was twelve-thirty when the two men finally diagnosed the problem. Rick decided he needed to make a trip into Miami for some parts. He stood up in the boat and reached for a rag. He looked out over the water as he wiped the grease off his hands.
"About yesterday morning, A.J. I--"
A.J. glanced up briefly from where he was returning the tools to Rick's toolbox.
Rick shook his heaed.
"No, I'm not gonna do that. I...I'm sorry about what I said yesterday morning. I wasn't...I wasn’t feeling too good."
A.J. couldn't help but smile. "I'll bet."
That smile made things easier for Rick.
"I...well, I know you want to help and all, but you just gotta understand that I need my space."
A.J.'s eyes met those of his brother. "Are you sure?"
For some reason Rick couldn't hold A.J.'s steady gaze. The tone behind his words was without conviction.
"Yeah, I'm sure. I just think...well, that it's good that you bought the boat in Miami. Like you said, it's a good investment."
"I hope you don't mind if I pop in down here on weekends," A.J. replied casually. "You know, to give me a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city."
If Rick knew there was more to A.J.'s desire to 'pop in' on the weekends other than to get away from urban life, he never let on. As a matter of fact, he eagerly agreed.
"No, I don't mind. You're welcome any time."
With a smile, A.J. went on to assure, "I'll try not to cramp your style with Shelia."
Rick shrugged. "Ah, don't worry about it. Shelia and I...well, we've been known to find several out-of-the-way spots in which to engage in...conversation."
A.J. laughed. "I'm sure you have."
The blond offered a hand to his brother as Rick made the step onto the dock.
"And I was thinking that maybe you'd like to come into Miami once a week and have dinner with me. I can cook for us on the boat, or we can go out. Whatever you want."
Rick bent to pick up the toolbox. "Yeah...okay. That would be great."
"Good," A.J. smiled. "How about Wednesday nights at seven?"
“All right.” Rick nodded. "Wednesday nights at seven. I'll be there."
Rick stopped their progress for the back door by turning around and saying hesitantly, "And, uh...A.J.?"
"Uh...I know I've probably been givin' you a different impression lately, but I...uh...I'm glad you moved down here and all. It's been kinda lonely. Know what I mean?"
Rick turned and walked rapidly on, not waiting to hear A.J.'s reply. Softly, the blond stated to his brother's retreating back, "Yes, Rick, I know what you mean. Probably even more so than you'll ever realize."