"Good morning, San Diego. It's seven-thirty! Rise and shine! None of us will be shining much today. It's cloudy and the forecast calls for overcast skies, with the possibility of rain moving in by noon. Better take those umbrellas when you leave the house this morning. Now let's return to today’s hot, country favorites. Maybe a tune by Garth Brooks will chase those clouds on outta here."
"I doubt it," Rick Simon groaned, while rolling over to turn the volume down on his clock radio. He contemplated drifting back to sleep for another half hour but quickly decided against it, fearing he'd be late for work.
"You're gettin' old, Rick," the detective chastised himself. "There was a time in your life when you didn't care if you were late for work. Hell, there was a time when you didn't work at all. Man, sometimes it sounds pretty good to just chuck it all and hit the road again on a Harley, only workin' for a few days at a time when my wallet gets thin. Geez, what's happened to me?"
What's happened to you, Richard, is that you've grown up. Become responsible. You're an equal partner in a successful business, you have this houseboat you make payments on, that new truck you make payments on, the electric bill, the gas bill, the phone bill, then there's that new washing machine you had to buy, and you're saving for a big screen T.V., and--
"All right, all right. Shut up, will ya'?" Rick ordered that menacing voice inside his head. The voice that pointed out to Rick, that somewhere along the line, without even realizing it, he'd grown materialistic.
"There was a time in my life when I didn't own anything but a motorcycle and the clothes I could fit into my knapsack," Rick frowned at his image that was reflected down from the mirrors above his bed. "Even when I had the Hole In The Water at A.J.'s, I didn't own much of anything else. But now look at me. I've turned into a regular ole’ middle class kinda joe."
The detective cast a sleepy glance around his bedroom. He took in its comforts of the oak dresser and nightstand, the large closet, the rich oak paneling on the walls, and the plush beige carpeting on the floor.
"On the other hand, materialism isn't as bad as some people make it out to be,” Rick commented wryly. “This sure beats sleepin' in a flimsy pup tent on a cold night in Montana."
Rick lay against his pillow with his head cradled comfortably in his hands for another fifteen minutes. He forced himself to move when his dog, Rex, whined from the doorway, indicating that it was time to start the day.
"Morning, boy." Rick pushed himself to a seated position and stretched. Rex padded over to his master's bedside, receiving a pat on his golden head and a long scratch behind the ears. "Do ya’ need to go out?"
Upon hearing the word 'out,’ Rex dashed for the patio doors.
Rick padded from the bedroom and into the boat's living area. He opened the blinds covering the sliding glass doors, then fumbled with the lock. As he did so, he asked Rex, "So, what's your opinion? Do you think I've become a materialistic?"
Rex didn't give Rick an answer. Instead, ran out the open door, heading straight for the marina's lawn and his favorite tree.
"I'll take that as a no," Rick smiled, before making his way to the coffee pot. He filled a mug with the steaming liquid, looking out the window as he took his first cautious sip. "What a crappy day. Matches my mood perfectly."
The lanky detective was soon engrossed with the morning tasks of preparing breakfast, showering, shaving, and making the bed.
As if suddenly realizing what he was doing, Rick exclaimed to Rex, who was lying on the bedroom floor, "I'm makin' the bed! Can you believe I'm makin' the bed? That I've made my bed every morning for the last five years?"
Rex favored his master with the opening of one eye, decided that whatever Rick was upset about wasn't worth a dog's time, then went back to his nap.
Rick pulled at the covers and bedspread, still talking to the dog that was paying him no heed.
"You didn't know me when I didn't make my bed, Rex. You weren't around yet. But let me tell you, I was one fun guy back then. A guy who didn't live his life within the confines of middle class America. A guy who did his own thing, regardless of what others thought. Now look at me, I'm makin' my bed!"
A corner of the blanket Rick was tugging on got stuck between the bedpost and mattress. When a couple of strong pulls failed to loosen it, he threw the covers down in a heap, mumbled, "Oh, screw it," grabbed his hat off the dresser, and headed out the door for work.
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"Ha, ha!" Rick cried triumphantly, racking up another high score on the pinball machine in the Simon and Simon office.
A.J. sat at his desk, rubbing his temples, trying to soothe away the headache he was getting from the insistent clanging of bells and whistles emanating from Rick's toy.
Rick started his tenth straight game, prompting his annoyed brother to ask, "Are you planning on working here sometime today, or is it your new ambition to be an overage pinball wizard?"
Rick’s eyes didn’t leave the game. "I'm just taking a little break, A.J. Don't be so uptight."
"You've been taking a little break all morning."
"Hey, sometimes a guy just needs a little R&R, ya’ know."
Rick couldn't see his brother's face, therefore the blond man allowed himself a fond smile of well-practiced tolerance. "Yes, Rick, I know."
"Besides, we've got that repo job after lunch. We'll be workin' then."
A.J. turned back to his computer screen. "I'm already working. What you mean is, you'll be working then."
"Whatever," Rick vaguely replied, his full concentration on his game.
"All right!” Rick shouted a few minutes later, when he once again topped his previous high score. “Yes!”
The satisfied man turned from his game then and leaned against the machine. He watched as the forecasted rain beat against the windows behind A.J.'s desk.
"A.J., have you ever thought about what you'd do if you weren't doing this?"
A.J. didn't look up from his computer screen, his fingers keeping up a steady rhythm on the keyboard.
"Sure. I'd be typing this report on that old manual typewriter we used to have, swearing every time I made a mistake."
"Which was quite often, I might point out," Rick quipped. "But that's not what I mean. So, have you?"
"Have I what?"
"Have you ever thought about what you'd be doing if you weren't doing this?"
"Doing what?" Came the preoccupied question.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud. Are you retarded today or something? Being a detective! What you'd be doing if you weren't a detective."
“I don’t know,” A.J. shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose I have a time or two."
"So?" Rick prompted, after several seconds passed and his brother didn’t elaborated any further.
A.J. pressed a command on his terminal. Over the sound of the small printer, he asked, "So what?"
"A.J., you are the most frustrating person to carry on a conversation with today!"
A.J. looked at his brother. "Me?" He questioned with a hand to his chest. "This from the man who has spent the past three hours with his back to me while engaged in a pinball marathon."
"Don't try to throw me off track here. Just answer the question."
"What was the question?"
A.J. laughed at the brother whose patience he was trying.
"Okay, okay. Have I thought about what I'd do if I wasn't a detective?"
"The answer is yes, I have, but no, I don't really know what I'd do."
"That's no answer," Rick scowled.
"Sorry, it's the best one I've got," A.J. replied while proofreading his printed report. "What brought all this on anyway?"
Rick pushed himself away from the pinball machine, walking over to collect his coat and hat off the rack. "Oh, nothing. Forget it. Let's get some lunch before we have to head to Vicker's place. Why are we doin' a repo job anyway? I thought we gave those up years ago."
"Because Brad down at the bank asked us to."
A.J. rose to gather up his own jacket. "So, he holds the mortgage on my house, the mortgage on your boat, the note on your new truck, the loan for the copy and fax machine we bought,
"Okay, okay, I get the picture. He's not a guy we say no to."
"Not if we want to continue to live in the style to which we are accustomed," A.J. said while zipping up his jacket.
As the brothers headed for the door Rick said, "Maybe a change in lifestyles wouldn't be so bad."
A.J. stopped his progress. "Rick...is there something you want to tell me?"
"You've been making comments like that for the past month now."
"Wanting a change, asking me if I thought a business this size could be run by just one person, asking me what I'd do if I wasn't a detective..."
Rick gave his brother a push out the door, dismissing A.J.'s concerns with, "It's nothing. Let's get moving. I'm hungry."
"When aren't you?" Was the comment made before the elevator began its descent.
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"Geez, will you look at this rain," Rick observed, squinting through the windshield of this truck.
The brothers were parked outside a home in an upper middle class section of San Diego. A.J. squinted to see through the downpour as well, double-checking the address on the home with the slip of paper he had in his hand.
"This it?" Rick asked.
"Yep. The car's supposed to be in that big building around back."
"And no one's home?"
"No. Not according to Brad. The guy lives here alone and he's away on business all week."
Rick eyed the front of the house a moment longer, taking in the closed door on the attached garage and the drawn draperies at the living room window.
"Looks deserted to me," Rick observed. He pulled his cowboy hat down lower on his head. "As much as I hate the thought of going out in this stuff, are you ready?"
A.J., as well, prepared for a dash through the rain by pulling his jacket collar up around his neck. "As ready as I'll ever be," he replied before opening the truck door and running for the building behind the house.
The two men stood in the rain, Rick working at picking the lock on the side door, A.J. keeping watch.
"At least with the way it's raining no one's going to be paying any attention to what we're doing!" the dripping wet A.J. shouted over a roll of thunder.
"That's 'cause no one in their right mind would be out in this stuff!" Rick shouted back as he continued to fumble with the lock. "Tell me again. Why are we out in this stuff?"
"Because we owe it to Brad, and his bank is paying us five
hundred bucks to do this job."
"Oh...I guess that's a good reason," Rick agreed as the lock finally popped.
Both brothers quickly stepped inside the warm, dry, building. Rick winced, rubbing the knuckles of his right hand.
"Yeah, my hand's just a little stiff. This cold rain doesn't help it any. That's why it took me so long to get the door unlocked."
"Oh,” Rick groaned, “don't start that again."
"Well, it is. The doctor told you that's what it is."
"A.J., old people get arthritis. I'm not old."
"No, but you're not a kid anymore either, though you do still act like one on most days."
"Oh shut...wow! Would you look at these cars?" Rick whistled in admiration at the three classic sports cars before them. "Which one is it?"
"The '64 Corvette."
"Nice.” Rick ran his hand over the gleaming white body of the car. “Very nice.”
"Hey, it's mine," the blond man reminded Rick of the fact that they had previously agreed A.J. would be the one to drive the car back to the bank.
"Yeah, but you didn't tell me it was a Vette. And a classic one at that. I thought it was just some everyday, ordinary Chevy or something," Rick argued while admiring the car's bright red leather interior.
"I'm the one that agreed to take this job, I'm the one who drives it," A.J. informed his brother, doing a little car admiring of his own. "Besides, you had your fun all morning reliving your childhood on that pinball machine. Now it's my turn to relive my youth. I've always wanted a car like this."
"So, get yourself one."
"Get myself one? Do you know how much one of these babies costs?"
"So. You only live once, A.J. If you want one, you should get it. Talk to Brad about it when we get it back to the bank. I bet he'll make you a good deal on this one."
A.J. eyed the vehicle critically, walking a full circle around it. "I don't know. I just got my car paid off last month. I was looking forward to not having a car payment for a few years now."
Rick circled the car as well. "What are you going to do with the extra money?"
A.J. crouched down, studying the car's white wall tires. "What extra money?"
"The extra money you'll have from not making a car payment."
"Save it for the down payment on my next car."
"A.J., you're really boring, you know that? You've got some extra cash, you've been wanting a car like this, go for it."
A.J. was always amused, and sometimes annoyed, by Rick's attitude toward money - if you want something, go for it regardless of the cost. The blond man shook his head, "No, I don't need it that bad."
"Geez, A.J., you're just like a little old lady when it comes to your wallet."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Frugal, frugal, frugal."
"Well, at least when I am old, I won't be living out on a street corner like some people I know. My frugalness will have paid off."
"Frugalness? Is that word?"
A.J. simply shot his brother a look of annoyance before beginning to hot wire the car.
Rick leaned against the automobile while his brother worked. "Besides, I won't be living on a street corner. If worse comes to worse, I can always live with you."
"Don't bet on it," came A.J.'s muffled response from underneath the dashboard.
"Aw, sure, A.J.," Rick scoffed. "You're gonna have all that money you've saved all these years, you're gonna be lonely. Let's face it, you're life's gonna be a real drag without me in it."
"What fairy tale have you been reading?"
Before Rick could respond A.J. had the car started. Rick unlocked and lifted the garage door. A.J. slowly backed the Corvette onto the long driveway that ran alongside the house.
Rick wandered back in the building for a moment. He took the time to admire the two remaining cars, a '66 Ford Mustang and a 1960 G.T.O.
Because of the sound of the wind, rain, and thunder, and because he was so far inside the big structure, Rick didn't hear A.J. calling for his help. Therefore, Rick wasn't aware anything was amiss until he turned to exit the garage. He had to look twice to make sure he was seeing clearly through the downpour. Two large men, both over six foot four and built like wrestlers, had dragged A.J. out of the car and were beating him with their thick fists.
Rick ran out of the garage at full speed, landing a vicious kick to the side of the man who had his brother by the throat. Once A.J. had some help things improved a bit, but the free-for- all of fists and legs continued for several minutes until Rick disabled one of the assailants with a kick to the groin landed by the very pointy toe of his right cowboy boot. He and A.J. then fought together to overpower the other hulk, finally depositing an empty garbage can over the big man's head and shoulders.
The Simons made their getaway as one man lay moaning in the middle of the driveway, and the other circled around in a daze trying to dislodge himself from the garbage can.
Rick grabbed his battered brother by the arm, leading him toward the pickup.
"No...no," A.J. gasped, stopping by the still running Corvette.
"A.J--" Rick urged with a pull on his sibling's arm.
"No, I can drive. I wanna get this car to the bank," A.J. insisted, clutching his rib cage and carefully maneuvering himself into the car's front seat.
"Are you sure you can drive?" Rick shouted skeptically, watching blood stream out of A.J.'s nose.
"Yeah, I'm sure. Let's get out of here before Samson and Goliath come at us again."
A.J. backed the car out of the driveway while Rick limped off to his truck. For just a brief moment the older Simon rested his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes. He grimaced when he finally turned the key in the ignition, pain flaring from his knuckles again. He slowly pulled the truck away from the curve, following A.J. down the street and to the bank.
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"Oh, thank God," A.J. muttered in the way of prayer as he and Rick entered the blond's home later that afternoon.
The bruised, battered, and soaking wet brothers stood leaning against A.J.'s kitchen counter for a moment. Both gathered their strength, and for the first time surveyed their injuries. Or at least A.J. was surveying his injuries.
He touched his tender rib cage. "Nope, I don't think anything's broken," he said lightly. He then raised a hand to his aching nose and the cut above his left eye. "Not too bad." He decided after a moment. "The nose is still straight, and I don't need any stitches."
A.J. tuned into the fact that Rick wasn't joining in the banter, but rather was staring out the window over the sink.
When there was no answer, A.J. tried again, "Rick?"
Still Rick didn't reply. A.J. grew concerned, moving over to his brother and laying a hand on his wet back. "Rick, are you okay?"
Rick slowly turned to look at A.J., blinking a few times as if to orient himself from whatever daydream he had just been lost in.
"Are you okay?" A.J. repeated.
"Uh...yeah. Yeah, I'm okay."
A.J. reached up to grasp his brother's jaw, turning his older brother’s head to get a better look at the large cut and bruise over Rick's right temple.
Rick jerked his head out of A.J.'s hand, not wanting any part of the solicitous ministrations. "What are you doin'?" He asked gruffly.
"Just taking a look at that bruise. You're going to have quite a goose egg tomorrow."
Rick moved away from A.J. "It's nothin.’"
A.J. wasn't sure what to make of it when Rick crossed into the living room and came to a stop in front of the French doors, once again staring out at the rain.
"Rick...?" The concerned A.J. inquired.
Rick silenced his brother with an abrupt wave of his hand. He remained where he was, watching lightening flash over the canal.
A.J. studied his brother from the kitchen, recalling that Rick had been oddly quiet ever since they arrived at the bank. A.J.'s older brother hadn't taken part in the banter between A.J. and their loan officer, Brad, when the banker teased them about their soaking wet, disheveled appearance. Nor had Rick tried to goad A.J. once again into buying the repossessed Corvette.
A.J. decided it was well past time to get Rick out of this strange mood.
"I'm going up to take a hot shower. You've still got a change of clothes in the guest room. You're welcome to soak in the whirlpool."
Rick gave an involuntary shudder, while continuing to stare out the French doors. "No, that's okay. I'll just head back to the marina."
Again, A.J. was puzzled. Rick never, ever refused an invitation to soak in the big whirlpool tub A.J. had installed a few years back.
Gently, A.J. pointed out, "It's pouring rain out there. There's no need for you to rush off. After I get out of the shower I'll throw a couple of steaks in the broiler, make some baked potatoes--"
"Nh, that's okay."
"Rick, come on. You're standing there shivering and rubbing your hand. I know the cold bothers your knuckles. Take a soak and get warmed up. There's a basketball game on T.V. at seven. Stick around a while and watch it with me."
Rick contemplated A.J.'s offer for a moment. He seemed to reach a decision when another strong shiver coursed through his body.
"Okay...I guess I'll stay for a while. But you don't have to make dinner. I don't want you goin’ to any trouble."
Again, another oddity for Rick, A.J. noted. His older brother never turned down a free meal.
"It won't be any trouble," A.J. assured. "Whether you stay or not, I'm doing to have to make dinner."
Rick finally conceded, "Okay, but only if you let me help."
"You want to help?” A.J. teased. “Will wonders never cease?"
Rick looked at his brother for the first time during the course of their conversation. "Can it, A.J. I wanna help."
"Fine by me. I'm sure I can find something for you to do," A.J. readily agreed as he headed for the stairway. "You can shower in the guest bathroom if you're not going to use the whirlpool."
"Uh...maybe I will use the whirlpool after all, if you don't mind."
"No. I don't mind. It's all yours."
"I'll be up in a minute then," was how Rick left things before turning back to stare out the doors.
A.J. stood in the den a moment longer, studying Rick's shivering back. He shook his head in puzzlement before finally turning and heading up the stairs to the shower.
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Once Rick finally did get in the whirlpool tub, he didn't seem inclined get out. A.J. puttered around the kitchen, not rushing dinner preparations, allowing Rick all the time he wanted to soak away the aches and pains of the day.
The steaks were sizzling in the broiler, and the potatoes were done baking, when the blond man headed up the stairs in search of his brother.
He knocked twice on the closed bathroom door.
"Yeah, A.J., come on in," Rick's tired voice beckoned.
A.J. opened the door only wide enough to poke his head and shoulders in the room. Rick was still submerged in the warm bubbling water. His head rested wearily back against the wide lip of the tub.
Rick lifted his head, scowling. "I told you I'd help."
"That was over an hour ago," A.J. lightly informed his sibling.
"I've been in here that long? What time is it?"
"Okay. I'll be right down."
"There's no rush. I just need to know how much longer you're going to be so I don't burn the steaks."
"I'm ready to get out," Rick said, his stomach growling as the tempting smells from the kitchen wafted in through the open bathroom door.
"Good enough," A.J. agreed before closing the door and going back downstairs.
Forty-five minutes later supper was finished. Rick helped his brother carry the dirty dishes to the dishwasher, then accepted A.J.'s offer of a glass of brandy.
The two men walked into the den, A.J. going over to turn the T.V. on.
"Don't turn that on yet," Rick requested from the easy chair.
"I thought you wanted to watch the game."
"Not right now," Rick dismissed. "Um...A.J., I need to talk to you for a minute."
"Okay," a bewildered A.J. agreed.
A.J. moved to the couch. "This is an 'A.J. sit down' kind of talk? Okay, Rick, what have you done now?"
Rick smiled slightly. "Nothing."
"Just give it to me straight. You haven't made another batch of those T.V. commercials advertising the business and declaring yourself the president of Simon and Simon, have you?
Rick couldn't help but smile again as he recalled how mad his brother had been over that little stunt. "No, it's nothing like that. It's..."
When Rick stopped there, A.J. had to prompt, "It's what, Rick?"
"It's...well, you know when I asked you today if you'd ever thought about what you'd do if you weren't a P.I.?"
"Well, I've been thinkin' a lot about it lately."
"About what I'd do if I wasn't a P.I.?"
Rick rolled his eyes at the familiar turn this conversation was taking. "No, about what I'd do if I wasn't a P.I."
"Oh. And what brought all this on?"
Rick looked down at the floor. "I...don't really know, I guess."
A.J. wasn't going to let his brother off the hook that easily. "You must know. You've mentioned it often enough lately.”
There was a long pause before Rick confessed, "I just sometimes wonder if there's somethin' more between here and retirement."
“I don’t know,” Rick shrugged while taking a sip of his brandy. "But have you noticed lately how middle class I've become?"
A.J.'s eyebrows rose. "How middle class you've become?"
"Rick, I'm not exactly sure I know what you mean."
"For cryin' out loud, A.J., isn't it obvious?"
"Not to me, it's not."
"Ah, that's just 'cause you're the epitome of middle class America," Rick scowled.
"What's that supposed to--"
"Forget it.” Rick waved a hand in dismissal. “Just forget I said anything. This is about me anyway, not you."
"Rick, come on, you started this conversation. What's about you?"
“It's just that. . .that I'm gonna be fifty in April, you know."
"Yes, I know," A.J. nodded, thinking of the party plans that were already in motion.
"And...well...I'm just not sure I want to stay in this business until I retire."
"The P.I. business?"
Rick looked down at the floor again. "Yeah."
"Oh...I see," came A.J.'s quiet reply.
Rick looked over at his brother, his face screwing up in regret. "Now don't go gettin' like that."
"All upset and everything 'cause of what I just said."
"I'm not upset," A.J. negated. "Just a little...surprised. What's brought all this on?"
"I've just...I don't know. I've just been realizin' lately how dependent I've become on...things,” Rick spat out that last word with distaste.
"Yeah, you know. The stereo, the T.V., the microwave, the VCR--"
"So?" A.J. questioned. "You've worked hard for those 'things,’ as you refer to them. You deserve to have them, Rick. You enjoy them."
"You just don't understand."
"Explain it to me then, please," A.J. gently requested.
Rick leaned his head back against the chair, staring up at the ceiling and taking a moment to gather his thoughts. When he was ready to offer more, he looked over at his brother.
"It's like this. There was a time in my life, a long time, when I wasn't tied to anything. I didn't have a mortgage payment, or a car payment - heck, when I lived in Grandpa's house in Florida I didn't have anything but a couple pieces of furniture and a second hand refrigerator and stove. Everything was paid for free and clear. Hell, some of that stuff was so junky I hadn't paid a cent for it. I was...free back then. I could just pack up and go anytime I pleased. I wasn't dependent on earnin' a certain amount of money every week in order to pay the bills, or worrin' that if I was gone too long I'd have to get someone to take care of my 'things.’ I didn't have anything that needed to be taken care of back then."
"And that's what you want now?" A.J. asked, never breaking eye contact. "The freedom to come and go as you please? To not be tied down to anything or anyone?"
Rick looked away, mumbling, "It doesn't sound the same when you say it."
"Look, Rick, I'm not trying to sound disapproving--"
Rick looked at his brother. "Or disappointed?"
"I'm not trying to sound that way either. I'm just trying to understand why you suddenly feel this way. I thought you were...content with your life as it is now - happy. I thought you were proud of your boat, of the improvements you've made to it over the last few years. And proud of the business - of the way it's grown, of the things we've been able to do together to improve it, and improve the way we earn our living."
"I am, A.J. I am," Rick said in a tone that was almost apologetic. "It's just that sometimes, I want other things, too. Sometimes I want things to be like they used to be."
"I think we all want that at times. But none of us can recapture our youth."
"Hey! I'm not that old yet!"
"I didn't say you were,” A.J. smiled. “I just don't want you throwing away everything you've worked so hard for in order to go off searching for something you won't be able to find again."
"I think I might be able to find it if I look hard enough," was all Rick said.
It was a few minutes, and a few sips of brandy later, before either brother spoke again.
"Rick, what else is bothering you?"
"What do you mean?” Rick’s eyes were hooded with caution. “I just told you what was on my mind."
"Yes, you did. But I have a feeling you're leaving something out."
Rick's guarded expression let A.J. know he was on the right track.
"Something to do with what happened at Vicker's this afternoon," A.J. guessed. "Am I right?"
Rick's answer was long in coming. When it finally did he told his brother, "A.J., I'm losin' my edge."
"What do you mean by that exactly?"
"I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not as good at this job as I used to be."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, that's not true," A.J. argued. "Just because you're going to be fifty years old in a couple of months is not a sign that you need to be put out to pasture."
"Maybe it is," Rick countered vehemently. "Take today for example."
"What about today?"
"A.J., damn it, you almost got the shit kicked outta ya' 'cause I wasn't doin' my job and--"
"No, don't say it. It's true. I wasn't payin' attention to what was going on around me. I didn't hear what was going
"Rick, no one would have heard what was going on. It was pouring rain, thundering, the wind was blowing--"
"That's no excuse. I wasn't doin' my job. You could have been hurt real bad because of it."
A.J. leaned forward on the couch, his voice tight and intense. "Rick, come on, be reasonable. We can each cite examples over the years we've worked together when one of us wasn't doing his job. We both occasionally slip up. Whether it's because of pouring rain and wind, or a bad headache, things like what happened today are bound to occur again. You've never beaten yourself up over them before."
"A.J., it's not just that, it's...well, let's face it, I am getting’ older.” Rick held up his right hand. “Hell, I’ve got arthritis.”
A.J. couldn't help but smile. "I thought you said that, and I quote, ‘quack of doctor’ didn't know what he was talking about. That it was an old football injury."
Rick wasn't in the mood to take part in the joke. "There comes a time in every man's life when he's got to face the truth. And the truth is, I don't run as fast as I used to, I don't react as fast as I used to, and I don't have the edge I used to have when it comes to things like the incident from this afternoon. Maybe it's time that we both face the fact that I can't be a P.I. until I'm sixty-five."
A.J. studied his brother long and hard. "Do you really think that's true?"
Barely above a whisper, Rick uttered, "I don't know. All I know is I don't wanna stay in a job long after I should have gotten out. . .long after you've gotten hurt and it's my fault."
“A.J., when you were shot three years ago, I stood by helplessly and watched you damn near bleed to death on that warehouse floor. For four days we didn't know if you were gonna live or die, we came so close to losin' you on Christmas Day that it's a miracle you're here at all. That was hell for me, A.J. A hell you'll never fully understand. But what could only be worse, is if you're injured or killed someday because I didn't know when to quit. Because I didn't come to you and say, 'A.J., I'm gettin' too old to do this job. I've lost my edge so it's time for me to get out.' I owe that to myself, and more importantly I owe it to you. Please try to understand that."
At the end of his spiel, Rick leaned back in his chair, drained. A.J. followed suit, leaning back against the couch, deep in thought. For a long time the only noise in the room was that of the rain beating against the window, and an occasional car passing by outside.
When A.J. was ready to speak again he said quietly, "Rick...look, I can't belittle what you're feeling, nor belittle your concerns, but I just don't think they're valid. I don't think you're losing your edge. Today was just what I told you, you went back into the garage to admire the other cars. Big deal. I would have done the same thing. It was raining, it was thundering, and you didn't hear me call for help. I wouldn't have been able to hear you either had our positions been reversed. We were told the guy wasn't home and the place looked deserted. Neither one of us is to blame for what happened. And if you think I've never given any thought to the fact that we're not the young men we were when we started Simon and Simon fifteen years ago, then you're wrong there, too. I know we're not kids anymore. I know we don't run as fast as we used to, and injuries don't heal as quickly as they used to, and getting in a fist fight doesn't appeal to my sense of adventure the way it used to, but we're not ninety years old either, and that's the way you're making it sound. For Heaven's sake Myron didn't retire until he was almost seventy. There's plenty of guys out there working as P.I.'s who are a lot older than we are. I realize that over the next ten years, there are some things we may have to change. Some cases we might have to turn down simply because we're not kids anymore, but that doesn't mean we can't still do the job we've worked so hard at for so many years."
Rick smiled at his brother. "You're sure long winded, you know that?"
A.J. chuckled at the way Rick's words broke the tension. "Sometimes I can be."
"A.J, the way I'm feeling...well, it's about a lot of things, I guess. Not just wanting to be young again, or because I'm afraid I'm losin' my edge, but...a lot of things, some I can't even put into words. I hope you can accept that, even though I guess it is kind of a half-assed explanation."
"I can accept it," A.J. nodded. "Just...please don't make any decisions without really thinking them over. And on the other side of the coin, remember the promise we made to each other when we started this business fifteen years ago."
"What was that? If I remember correctly we made quite a few. Like I promised to take the trash out on Friday nights."
"A promise you haven't kept, I might add," A.J. teased. "But the one I'm thinking of is the important one. The one where we both agreed that if either one of us ever wanted out of the business for whatever reason, there wouldn't be any hard feelings. You were the one who said you didn't want this business coming between the friendship we share. So...if you want out, and you think now is the time for you to go, I want you to know up front there's no hard feelings."
Rick knew how difficult that must have been for A.J. to say. He tried to put himself in his brother's place, and feel what A.J. must be feeling right at this very moment. They had been partners a long time. That partnership had only served to cement their bond as brothers and best friends. It couldn't be easy for A.J. to now be wondering if Simon and Simon Investigations were soon to become just Simon Investigations.
Rick smiled softly. "Thanks, A.J. You're a good brother, and a good friend."
A.J. smiled back before requesting, "All I ask is that you think this over for a while. A week or two at least. Just give it that much time. If you want to take a few days off, go ahead. Maybe getting away from it all will help...clear your head. Will help give you a better perspective on what you want to do. Please, just give it that long, Rick."
After all their years in business together, Rick felt he owed his brother that much at least. "I'll give it some time, I promise. And if you don't mind, I guess I could use a few days away. Just tomorrow and Friday if things aren't too busy."
A.J. mentally reviewed their next two days worth of appointments and obligations. "No, you go ahead. We only have a meeting with Mr. Davis tomorrow afternoon, otherwise I'm planning to use the day to catch up on paperwork. I can handle what we've got going for Friday."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. You just kick back and relax for a few days. Have some fun."
Rick smiled his appreciation. "Some days I think I'm even gettin' too old for that. Right now, just catchin' up on my sleep sounds good."
"Then do it," A.J. urged.
Rick rose, walking his empty glass to the sink and rinsing it out. A.J. followed his brother, watching as Rick gathered up the bundle of clothes that A.J. had dried in his dryer during dinner.
"Thanks for the soak in your tub, and for dryin' these. I better get home before Rex has an accident on my new carpeting." A pained look crossed Rick's face, "Geez, there I go again, sounding middle class."
"What do you mean, sounding middle class?"
"I'm worried about my dog pissing on my carpeting. I never used to worry about things like that."
"That's because for the majority of years you had Marlowe you lived here, and you didn't care if he pissed on the carpeting because that carpeting was mine."
Rick laughed, reaching over to grab his brother in a headlock. "I never thought I'd live to see the day when I started sounding like you, little brother."
A.J. disentangled himself from Rick's hold. "I never thought I'd live to see that day either. It actually sounds quite nice."
"In your opinion, maybe,” Rick teased, “but not in mine."
A.J. gave his brother a little shove toward the door. “Get out of here.”
Rick's hand was resting on the doorknob when he turned around.
"Thanks, A.J. For listening. For trying to understand. It means a lot to me."
"Just do one more thing for me," A.J. requested in the muted light of the kitchen.
"Don't make your decision based on what you think I want, or based on some obligation or sense of loyalty to me. Make it for yourself. If you're truly not happy, or feel it's time for a change for whatever reason, then go for it. Life's too short, as they say."
Rick suddenly saw his brother through new eyes. The business meant everything to A.J., and Rick had no doubt their partnership did as well. It all probably meant more to A.J. than it did to him, yet A.J. was so generously offering Rick the one thing he didn't want to above all else. The termination of their partnership.
Rick impulsively hooked an arm around his brother's neck, pulling the younger man into an awkward hug. "Thanks, partner," was all he said before releasing the surprised A.J. and heading out into the rain and darkness.
For the longest time that evening, A.J. stood at the French doors staring out at the storm, trying to see what his brother had seen hours earlier, trying to find some answers. When none were forthcoming, he turned the downstairs lights out and headed for bed. Even a boring book couldn't lull the blond man to sleep that night. His busy mind finally wound reluctantly down at one a.m. Judging by how tired he felt the next day, A.J. knew the sleep he'd had during those early morning hours wasn't a restful one. He headed to the office at eight-thirty, wishing he were the one with a few vacation days.
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A.J. had no idea if he'd find his brother home on a Saturday night, but decided to take a drive to the marina and try his luck.
Rick's truck was parked in its usual spot, and the boat was lit up as A.J. approached. He'd been so preoccupied the past few days, that he hadn't even considered the fact that Rick might be entertaining his steady lady, Nancy, tonight.
Oh well, I guess if Nancy's here I can make a graceful apology and leave, A.J. decided right before he knocked on the locked patio doors.
It was only a matter of thirty seconds before Rick was peering out through the mini blinds. He unlocked the door and moved aside to let his brother in.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything. I guess I should have called first."
"Since when do you have to call first?" Rick asked candidly. "And no, you're not interrupting anything. Me and Rex were just watching an old John Wayne western."
Rick reached for the remote, shutting the T.V. off. Rex took note of their visitor at just that moment and jumped off the couch to come and greet A.J.
A.J. crouched down and gave the dog the attention he craved, talking to him quietly while stroking his luxurious coat. When Rex finally allowed A.J. to stop, the blond man stood and walked over to make himself at home on the sofa.
"No date with Nancy tonight?"
"Nah, she's got a bad cold. She's home sick in bed. How about you? Where's Dianna?"
"On a business trip in New York. She won't be back until Tuesday."
"Oh. You shoulda' called me. We coulda' gone to a movie tonight, or had dinner together or something."
"We don't usually intrude on each other's vacation time. I didn't want to violate that unwritten rule."
"Doesn't matter," Rick shrugged, taking a seat on the sofa as well. "Besides, this isn't really a vacation. It's just a few days away from the grind."
"Whatever. Still, I'm sorry I just popped in tonight, but I have something for you," A.J. said as he reached into the back pocket of his blue jeans.
Rick took the small, square object encased in plastic from his brother. "What is it?"
"Open it," was the only explanation A.J. would give.
Rick took the little green book out of its protective cover and opened it. With puzzlement, he looked over at his sibling. "A.J., what is this?"
"What does it look like?"
"It looks like an IRA passbook with my name on it with twenty-five thousand dollars in it, that's what it looks like. Where'd it come from?"
"From the business's safety deposit box down at the bank."
"That's not what I meant." Rick frowned while reading the typed print on the top of the booklet, Individual Retirement Account For Richard L. Simon. "I meant, I know I didn't open this account, and I know I didn't put any money into it, so where did it come from?"
"From the business."
"Well, it's like a profit sharing program, I suppose you could call it. A business pays less taxes if it can roll a portion of its profit into some type of retirement fund for its employees. So, that's what I did."
"But how did it come to this much? I assume you've got an account like this for yourself with an equal amount of money."
"Yes, I do. As for how it came to amount to that figure, I put a portion of our profit away in those accounts each year."
Rick still couldn't believe that between the two of them, A.J. had managed to stash away fifty thousand dollars. "But those first few years in business we didn't even make a profit, A.J. We struggled just to break even."
A.J. gave a sly smile. "Well...actually we did make a profit those first couple of years, I just told you we didn't."
"What? You've gotta be kidding me! I worked my tail off in November and December of those lean years just so we could break even, and now you're tellin' me I didn't have to?"
"Trust me, we didn't make much of a profit. The year I opened those accounts I was only able to put two hundred dollars in each of them."
"So how did it come to be so much?" Rick asked, still surprised by the dollar figure in the passbook.
"All our hard work has begun to pay off, Rick. The business has made a good amount of money in recent years, you know that."
"Yeah, but this just seems like an awful lot."
"Well, I try to put a portion of any bonus money we get throughout the year in those accounts, too. How much I pack away depends on what other expenses we have at the time."
"So you mean every time we get a big bonus and you give me a measly one hundred bucks out of it, the rest of it is going in these accounts?"
A.J. laughed. "Yes, whenever possible the rest of it's going in those accounts. What did you do with the last measly one hundred dollars I gave you to play with?"
Rick cocked his head, looking off into space, deep in thought. After a moment he confessed, "I don't know. But I'm sure I had fun with it."
"I'm sure you did, too. But, the point is, you don't remember, so you probably didn't need the money. With it in here," A.J. touched the passbook Rick held, "you'll have it when the day comes that you really do need it."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. I'd be lying if I said I was much of a saver."
"Yes, you would be," A.J. agreed, though he had to give Rick credit. Over the past four or five years A.J.'s older brother had gotten better at saving money for a rainy day, and actually had more put away in his bank account than Cecilia or A.J. had ever thought they'd live to see.
Rick waved the book in A.J.'s direction. "So, why'd you decide to show this to me now? And hey, that brings another question to mind. Why haven't you ever shown it to me before?"
"Because every time you needed a few bucks you would have been reaching your hand in there, and that's not what it's for. It's for your retirement."
Rick couldn't argue that fact with his brother. "That brings us back to my original question then. Why are you showing this to me now?"
"Well...I know you've got a lot on your mind right now, and I know you're not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life...and I guess I just wanted you to know that if you do decide that now's the time for you to get out of the business, then there's some money put away for you to use if you need it. You'll have to pay a penalty on it if you draw it out before you're fifty-seven and a half, but it's yours to do with whatever you want."
Rick fingered the passbook he held in his hand, touched by A.J.'s gesture, as well as the fact that his kid brother had spent all these years thinking about his - Rick's - retirement.
The kid should worry more about himself and less about me. I don't deserve his thoughtfulness. God, you couldn't have given me a better brother, you know that?
"A.J., can I ask you a question?"
"The other day I asked you what you'd do if you weren't a P.I. You said you didn't know. Is that the truth? Haven't you ever thought of doing something else?"
A.J. smiled. "You're just not going to let me get out of answering that question, are you?"
Rick smiled in return. "Not if I can help it."
A.J. settled comfortably into Rick's sofa, stretching his legs out on the coffee table.
"Rick, I honestly don't know what I'd do if I wasn't a P.I. I know you like what we do, but I love it. There's really not an aspect of the job that I dislike. Some times I feel so lucky that I own my own business and do work I enjoy so much. But certainly on days like this past Wednesday, when my nose feels like it's gone five rounds with Mike Tyson, and my ribs feel like they've been encircled by a boa constrictor, and my shoulder feels like Hulk Hogan's tried to rip it out of the socket - on days like that I sure wonder if it's all worth it. The five hundred bucks we got paid to do that job hardly seemed worth it when I could barely crawl out of bed the next morning. And on some days, when we're sitting in court and I see some lawyer in a thousand dollar suit and a three hundred dollar pair of shoes driving off in a Jaguar to his million dollar home on the beach, certainly I wonder ‘what might have been’ had I chosen that path. But, overall I'm happy with the job I do and the business we run."
Rick nodded, accepting his brother's answer. "How about retirement? Have you ever thought about what you'll do when you retire?"
A.J. laughed. "Suddenly you're making me feel very old."
"Well, you're not a kid anymore, A.J.," Rick teased. "There's gettin' to be quite a bit a’ gray at those temples."
A.J. reached up, rubbing his hands over the thick hair at his temples. "It's not that gray!"
"Yep, I'm gonna be a bald old man, but you'll be a gray headed one for sure. Just like Uncle Will. But enough of that. Seriously, have you ever thought about what you'll do when you retire?"
"No, not really," A.J. confessed. "I guess I've always kind of thought that I'd just go one being a P.I. Not necessarily own the business anymore, but maybe do free-lance work for other P.I.'s like Myron did those first few years after he retired. You know, doing a lot of the legwork, the research at the library, courthouse, going on stakeouts, things like that. Myron made his own hours when he was doing that. Or maybe I’ll do something totally different. There's a seventy-five-year-old guy that teaches tennis down at Mom's senior center, maybe I'd like to do something like that. I don't know. I've got twenty years to think it over yet. What about you?"
"I think I'd like to buy a little charter boat. I'll probably have to get a used one that needs fixing up, but I think I'd like to run fishing and sight seeing charters up and down the coast. That's kind of why I've been putting away as much money as I can these last few years, to work toward that."
A.J. nodded at what he thought sounded like a good idea for his brother's future. "I do know this, big brother, even if I can double what's already in our I.R.A. accounts over the next fifteen years, it won't be enough to retire on. I think it's a good thing that neither one of us can see ourselves just sitting around and watching the world go by."
"Yeah, you're probably right, but I think we'll do okay. My boat will be paid off in another six years, and your house is almost paid off, isn't it?"
"I've got five years to go on it," A.J. said.
"Being finished with those payments will really be a plus," Rick pointed out.
"Yeah, you're right. I'm really hoping to pack away a lot of money once my house is paid off."
Rick laughed. "I shoulda' known that."
"What? What's wrong with that?"
Rick shook his head fondly. "Nothing, little brother. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I may even follow your example once my boat's paid off."
"It would be a good idea," the ever financially aware A.J. stated.
The blond man rose from his seat. "I'd better get going. I've got an early appointment on the racquetball court tomorrow morning."
"Thanks for stopping by," Rick said. "And for bringing this," he added, holding up the passbook.
"Sure," A.J. nodded. "I'll see you at the office on Monday?"
"Yeah, I'll be there. Bright and early."
"Oh, that'll be the day," was A.J.'s sarcastic comment as he headed out the door.
Rick's high-pitched laugh was the only retort the blond man received that night.
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A.J. was seated at his desk on Monday morning when Rick walked in a few minutes before nine o'clock.
"Morning, A.J.," the older man greeted, as he poured his first cup of coffee.
"Morning," A.J. greeted in return while looking up from the newspaper he was reading.
As Rick passed by his brother's desk he tossed the I.R.A. passbook on it.
A.J. picked up the book. "What's this for?"
"You keep it for me,” Rick instructed as he sat in his chair. “Put it back in the safety deposit box."
"'Cause I don't need it. And you're right, I'll probably just spend it if I hang on to it. So you keep it for me, and when I retire I guess you can give it back to me."
"When you retire?"
A.J. smiled. "So I take it that's not going to be anytime soon?"
"Nah, I don't think so, A.J."
When Rick didn't say anymore, A.J. asked, "What made you change your mind? About leaving the business, I mean?"
"I've done a lot of heavy thinking these past four days. A lot of heavy thinking, and I guess there was some truth to your words from Wednesday night. There is a part of me that wants to go back and recapture my youth, only you're right there, too, when you say that's just not possible. I've changed too much to be the twenty-nine-year-old I was when I lived in Florida, or the nineteen-year-old I was when I toured the country on my motorcycle. Like you, on most days I really like what we do. Yeah, it's boring sometimes, and a pain-in-the-ass when we have to take jobs like the one we did on Wednesday, but I guess no job is perfect. I also came to realize that after all these years of working for myself, and if you count when I did salvage work in Florida it's close to twenty-five now, there's no way I could work for anyone else. And, you were right, too, when you said I've worked hard for my boat, my truck, my stereo system, and all the other 'things' I've accumulated over the years. I enjoy them. When I really gave it some thought, I realized I don't want to give any of it up. I do enjoy the comforts of my home, and that's nothing to be ashamed of."
"No, it's not," A.J. agreed.
Rick made a face, admitting, "So, I guess this makes me a pretty middle class kinda guy, and probably kinda boring, but--"
A.J. laughed. "Rick, I can assure you, you'll never be boring."
Rick brightened. "Really?"
“Really,” A.J. smiled. “And I'm glad two Simons will be staying on our office door."
Rick smiled back at his brother. "Yeah, A.J., me too. And hey, little brother, thanks for listenin' to me on Wednesday night. I know there was a lot of what I said that you probably didn't like hearing, but you listened anyway and offered your support. I really appreciate that."
"You'd have done the same for me," was all A.J. said in return.
A.J. went back to reading his paper then, while Rick familiarized himself with some recent case notes A.J. had left on his desk. The blond man broke his brother's concentration a few minutes later.
"You know, my life would be a real drag without you in it."
Rick looked over and saw the twinkle in his brother's eye. He chuckled, then replied, "I'll remind you of that fact the next time I have a party at your house, or borrow money out of petty cash, or take your favorite sweater without asking, or--"
"You'd better stop while I'm still feeling sentimental," A.J. warned. "If you keep reminding me of all the bad times, there just might be only one Simon on the office door yet."
With great confidence, Rick vowed, "It'll never happen, partner. It'll never happen."
The glowing smile A.J. shot his brother in return made Rick's decision worth it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~