By:  Kenda


*This story was inspired by a Current Case Assignment in the June, 1994 issue of the letterzine, Brothers, Partners, and Friends.   


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



     Cecilia Simon was seated at her kitchen table, engrossed in colorful brochures that had just arrived in that morning's mail from an Alaskan cruise line.


      "This looks even better than it sounded," the woman said as she studied the pictures of glaciers, wildlife, and Eskimo villages the brochure contained.


     The sound of the doorbell chiming pulled Cecilia away from her vacation plans.  She walked into the living room and opened the door just a crack, seeing the familiar back of an immaculately dressed blond man.


     With a warm smile, Cecilia opened the door widely.   "Did you forget your key, hon--"


     Cecilia's sentence trailed off when the man turned around. 


     "Oh...excuse me.  I thought you were someone else," she apologized.  "May I help you?"


     "Mom?"  The handsome blond man questioned.


     "I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else," Cecilia corrected as an uncomfortable feeling began to overtake her.


     "This is 794 Bay Street, isn't it?" 


     "Well...yes, yes it is."


     "And you are Cecilia Simon, aren't you?"


     Cecilia looked up at the man with confusion.  "Yes, I am, but--"


     "Then you're my mother."


     "I'm your who?" 


     "My mother."


     "Young man, I can assure you I am not your mother.  I'm sorry that you seem to have me mixed up with someone else, but..."


     The man grabbed onto the big oak door, preventing Cecilia from closing it in his face.


     "Let go of the door!"  The frightened woman shouted.


     "Please...please, I'm not going to hurt you.  I could never hurt you.  You're my mother."


     Cecilia's fright turned to anger.  "I already told you I am not your mother.  Now look here, I don't know what you're trying to pull, but I want you to leave right now or I'll call the police."


Tears welled up in the man's eyes. "No...no, don't call the police.  I've been trying to contact you for so long.  Please don't call the police."


     Cecilia tried to wrench the door from the disturbed man's grasp.  "I'm about two seconds away from screaming bloody murder and summoning the entire neighborhood, so you'd better go."


     "But, Mom, don't you know who I am?"


     "I already told you, I'm not your mother."


     "Yes, you are.   I'm your son A.J."


     Now Cecilia was more confused than ever.  "Look, young man, I don't know what kind of a joke you and my sons are trying to play on me, but you can tell them that I'm not finding it to be the least bit funny."


     "It's not a joke," the man insisted.  "Please.  Just look at this."


     Cecilia waited as the man fumbled in his pocket for his wallet.  He held it open so she could read the California driver's license that identified him as Andrew Jackson Simon.  In numbed shock she went on to read and confirm the accuracy of A.J.'s date of birth, height, weight, hair, and eye color.  The only thing different about it was the picture it contained.  The smiling face was that of this man, and not that of her son A.J. 


     She looked up into the man's face.  "What's going on here? Where did you get that?"


     "It's mine."


     "It might be yours, but that information is false."


     The man grew more agitated as he pleaded, "Mom...please, why won't you believe me?  I'm your son A.J."                 


     "I want you to leave now," Cecilia insisted.


     "No, please, just let me come in for a--"


     Cecilia gasped in fright as the stranger tried to force the door open wider.


     "I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry," he immediately apologized.  "I didn't mean to scare you.  I could never harm you.  You've got to believe that."


     "Then go."


     With reluctance, the man let his hand fall from the door.  "Okay, I'll go for now.  But I'll be back.  I have to talk to you, Mom.  I just have to."


     With that, the man turned from Cecilia's doorway.  It was then that she noticed a red Camaro parked in the driveway.  The man climbed in it, backed out onto the street, and after one last lingering look in Cecilia's direction, drove away.


     The shaken Cecilia watched until the car was out of sight.  She stepped back in her house, shutting and locking the door.  When she had calmed down somewhat she hurried to the phone and dialed a familiar number.


     On the second ring a voice on the other end answered with, "Simon and Simon Investigations."




     "Hi, Mom," came Rick Simon's cheerful greeting.


     "Rick, is everything okay there?"




     "Yes, with your brother.  Is he okay?"


     Rick's hesitation in answering clearly broadcast his confusion.  "Well...yeah.  Do you wanna talk to him?"


     "No, not right now.  I need to talk to you though."


     "All right."


     "Please don't let on to A.J. as to what we're discussing."


     Rick looked over at his preoccupied brother, who was busy typing up a report on their office computer.


     "Okay," he acknowledged to his mother.  "But what are we discussing?"


     "I just had a rather disturbing incident occur here at the house."




     "A man...well a man who looked very much like A.J. was just here and...this is going to sound rather strange I guess..."


     "Go ahead," Rick urged.


     "Well, he said he was A.J., Rick.  He kept insisting I was his mother.  He even showed me a driver's license that said he was Andrew Jackson Simon."


     "I see.  Well maybe I'd better come over and take a look at the spark plugs.  It sounds like that's the problem," Rick bluffed.


     "Yes...that would be a very good idea.  I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I'm a little shaken up over what just happened."


     "I'm sure you are," Rick agreed.  "I'll leave the office now.  I'll see you in a few minutes."


     "Okay, honey.  Thank you.  Bye."


     "Bye, Mom."


     Rick hung up the phone. He walked over to the coat rack to retrieve his jacket. 


     A.J. looked up from the computer.  "What'd Mom want?"


     "Oh, she's having a problem getting her car started.  I'm going over there and take a look at it.  I'll be back in a little while."


     "You need a hand?"


     "No.  No, you go ahead and finish what you're workin' on."


     "Are you sure?"


     "Yeah, I'm sure.  I'll stop somewhere on my way back and pick us up something for lunch." 


     A.J. was already hard at work once again. He acknowledged his brother with a distracted, "Fine."






     Over coffee, Cecilia relayed to her eldest what had occurred on her front step less than an hour earlier.


     "Could you give Abby a description of the guy if you had to?"  Rick asked.


     "Yes, I'm sure I could.  He was built almost exactly like A.J., though a bit shorter and thinner.  Not nearly as broad through the chest and shoulders.  His hair was cut like A.J.'s, it was the same color, right down to a bit of graying at the temples.  His eyes were blue--"


     "Sounds like this guy is a dead ringer for A.J.," Rick commented.


     "From the back he was.  If you saw his face you'd know he wasn't A.J.   The scary thing is, Rick, he had a suit and tie on that I'm sure are twins to ones A.J. owns."


     "You're certain about that?"


     "Yes.  Positive."


     "And he was drivin' a red Camaro?"




     "I don't know, Mom.  This is weird."


     "What do you think we should do?"


     "I don't know what we can do for the time being except keep our eyes open.  I want you to keep every door and window in this house locked at all times, do you understand me?"




     "In the meantime, I'm gonna stop by the station and talk to Abby.  There's not much she can do at this point, but it might be wise to let her know there seems to be some guy goin' around San Diego claimin' to be A.J.  If he comes by here again, don't open the door for him, but see if you can get the license number on the car."


     "Okay," Cecilia nodded.  "Do you think we should tell A.J.?"


     "Yeah, I think we'd better.  Especially since we don't know what this guy is up to.  I'll talk to him when I get back to the office."


     "Okay.  Tell him not to worry about it though.  Maybe it was just some freak thing that won't happen again."


     "Maybe.  Whatever's goin' on, I know A.J.’s not gonna like the fact that the guy came here and upset you any more than I like that fact."


     "Well, no harm was done, so that's all that matters," Cecilia bravely stated.  "Something wasn't right with him though.  He started crying when I told him I wasn't his mother."




     "Yes.  Tears just began running down his face.  He practically...begged me to believe him.  To believe that he was my son.  It seemed very important to him."


     "This whole thing is strange," Rick commented more to himself than to his mother.  Once again he firmly cautioned her, "You be careful.  I don't want you goin' out at night and then comin' back to this house alone.  If you have to go somewhere you call me or A.J. and we'll take--"


     "Rick--" Cecilia began to protest with exasperation.


     "Mom, I'm serious here.  Until we know what this guy is up to, or if he's gonna show up again, you need to be extra careful.  Please."


     "Okay," Cecilia reluctantly agreed.  "If I have an evening engagement I'll let one of you boys know."


     Rick stood up from the kitchen table, leaning over to kiss his mother on the cheek.  "Thanks."


     Cecilia walked her son to the door.  "Thank you for coming by, sweetheart."


     "No problem, Mom.  And lock the--"


     "Door behind you.  I know," Cecilia smiled.


     Rick didn't head for his truck until he heard the satisfying sound of the dead bolt lock being thrown into place on the big oak door.






     At six that evening Cecilia's doorbell rang once again.  She hit the mute button on the television's remote control, silencing the local news broadcast.


     "Who is it?" Cecilia called through the closed door.


"It's A.J., Mom,"  Cecilia heard.  "Your real son A.J."


     Cecilia couldn't help but chuckle as she opened the door to admit her youngest.  She gave him a hug, hanging on a little longer than usual.


     Still holding his mother in his arms, A.J. looked down asking, "Are you okay?"


     "Yes, A.J., I'm fine."


     The two moved into the living room, Cecilia telling her son to seat himself on the sofa while she shut off the T.V.


     At A.J.'s urging Cecilia repeated the story she had told Rick earlier in the day.


     "I hope you're not angry with me, honey, for talking to your brother about this incident this morning.  I was just...hoping there'd be some simple explanation and that we wouldn't have to worry you with it."


     A.J. shook his head.  "No, Mom, I'm not angry.  Not at you anyway.  I'm not too happy with the jerk who scared you, however."


     "Do you have any ideas as to who he might be?" 


     A.J. ran his hands through his thick hair in frustration.  "No.  Not a clue.  Rick and I went and talked to Abby about it.  She's going to give you a call later this evening.  She wants to hear what you have to say about what happened."


     "Good.  I'd like to talk to her about it," Cecilia confirmed.  "I wish you boys had some leads as to who this person might be."


     "If we're lucky, we'll have some soon.  Abby's running some checks for us to see if anyone we've helped send to prison has been recently paroled.  Rick and I went through some old files at work this afternoon, hoping that something would click with one of us.  Unfortunately, neither one of us came up with anything.  I've got a stack of files in my car to look through at home tonight.  Rick's got some as well. He's going to do the same thing.  Maybe one of us will come up with something yet."


     Cecilia gave an involuntary shudder.  "I certainly hope this doesn't turn out to be another Jeremiah Quint incident."


     A.J. reached over and pulled his mother to his chest, hugging her tightly.  "I hope not either, Mom.  I hope not either."


     A.J. got up to leave shortly after that.  Cecilia saw her son to the door, accepting his kiss on the cheek and nodding her head in acknowledgment of his instruction to, "Call me if you need me for any reason."


     A.J. turned around as Cecilia was in the process of closing the door.


     "Make sure you keep the door--"


     "Locked," Cecilia finished for her son with a smile.


     A.J. gave his mother a sheepish grin.  "I don't suppose

I have to remind you to set the--"


     "Home security system?"  Cecilia again finished her

son's sentence.


     With a smile, A.J. nodded.  "Right."


     "No, dear, you don't need to remind me.  I set it every evening when I'm in the house to stay."


     A.J. was once again glad that he and Rick had purchased and installed the alarm system for their mother several weeks after she had been raped.  It was an investment that went a long way in giving the blond man peace of mind in situations just like this.


     "It wouldn't hurt you to keep it set during the day, too.  At least until we figure out what's going on."


     "I'll do that," Cecilia promised her concerned son.  "And you be careful too, A.J."

     "I will be," A.J. said as he turned and headed for his car.





     At nine o'clock that evening Cecilia's phone rang.  She had already talked to Abby, so fully expected this to be one her sons calling to check up on her.






     Cecilia hesitated for just a moment before saying with trepidation, "Yes."


     "Mom, it's A.J."


     Cecilia knew immediately that it wasn't A.J.  She could tell the man was trying to copy the tonal quality of her youngest son’s voice, but trying was all he was doing.  The pitch was too high, and behind the pitch Cecilia could sense nervous agitation.


     "What do you want?"


     "Please, Mom...I have to talk to you.  I have to talk to you face to face.  Can we meet somewhere?  Can I come over to the--"


     "No.  Absolutely not.  You may not come over here," Cecilia stated firmly.  She was surprised at the strength and determination in her voice.  She was keeping her fear well hidden, though her hands were trembling uncontrollably.


     "Please...please just tell me what I've done to upset you like this.  Please, Mom."


     "I don't want you calling here any more.  I've talked to the police.  They're looking for you." 


     "But why?  I haven't done anything wrong," the man whined. 


     It sounded to Cecilia as if he was crying again. 


     "Please, Mom...please don't do this to me.  I want to see you.  I want to be your son."


     "But that's the problem, isn't it?  You're not my son," Cecilia informed her caller.


     Upon hearing those words of rejection, the man's tone bordered on hysteria.  "But I am!"  He screamed through his tears.  "I am your son!  I'm A.J.!  Andrew Jackson Simon!  I am!"


     As the man went on wailing, insisting that he was A.J. Simon, Cecilia hung up the phone. 


     She sat for a few minutes, willing her limbs to stop trembling.  When her hands had steadied she picked up the phone again, relieved that her caller had broken the connection. 


     Ten minutes later Cecilia ended her conversation with Abby.  The police lieutenant noted all Cecilia relayed to her, then promised her friend a squad car would make frequent passes by the large house on Bay Street throughout the night.


     Cecilia then debated whether or not to call Rick or A.J.  She finally decided not to, feeling relatively secure with her alarm system set and the house locked up tightly.


     I hate to call either one of them.  This will just cause more worry and concern.  I'll go to the office in the morning and tell them about it.


     It was a long time before Cecilia Simon fell asleep that night.  When she did, it was with almost every light in the house left on.






     The next morning in the Simon and Simon office Cecilia received a stern scolding from both her sons for not having contacted them after her telephone call from the mystery man the previous evening.


     Cecilia had been expecting her sons' admonishments so took them in stride.  She sat in the chair across from A.J.'s desk, listening as her sons debated back and forth over the man's identity.


     "What I can't figure out is why has he only contacted, Mom?” Rick asked.  “Why not me for instance?" 


     " 'Cause Mom's better looking than you," A.J. quipped.


     Rick gave his brother a pained look.  "This isn't funny.  I don't like the fact that this guy's harassing our mother--"


     "I don't like that fact either," A.J. quietly interrupted.


     Rick waved a hand in apology for snapping at his brother.  "I know you don't.  I sure wish we had some kinda clues as to who he is."


     "You don't have any ideas?"  Cecilia asked.


     A.J. shook his head.  "I was up until midnight going through old case files and came up with nothing."


     "Same here," Rick said.


     "What about Abby?  Did she come up with anything?"  


     Rick answered his mother with, "Nah, nothin.’  Nobody that might even remotely harbor a vendetta against us has been released from prison recently."


     "We just keep running into dead ends," A.J. stated with defeat.


     "Well, don't worry about it," Cecilia attempted to soothe with more calmness than she was feeling.  "Something will turn up."


     "It'd better," A.J. said firmly.  "I don't want somebody getting hurt before it does."


     The three Simons fell silent then, A.J.'s grim words casting an ominous feeling over the room.


     When someone spoke again it was Cecilia asking, "What are we going to do now?"


     "We aren't going to do anything," A.J. emphasized pointedly.  "Rick and I are going to stake out the house."

A.J. turned to his brother.  "Unless you have a better idea."


     Rick shook his head.  "No.  A stake out is what I was thinkin' too."


     A.J. reached in the pocket of his pants, pulling out a quarter.  "Okay.  Heads says I stay in Mom's house and you stay in the car, tails says the opposite."


     A.J. flipped the coin in the air.  Before it fell back into his open palm, Rick reached out and snared it in mid-flight.


     "Not this time," he negated.


     "What do you mean?"  A.J. asked.


     "I mean this time I'm stayin' in the house and you get the car."


     "Hey!” A.J. protested.  What's the big idea?" 


     "Look, A.J., if this guy is tryin' to get at you through Mom, I think it would be better if you stay out in the car and watch the house.  If by some chance he gets in Mom's house then all he'll find is me."


     A.J. opened his mouth to protest, a protest that was halted by his mother before it began.


     "I think Rick's right, honey."


     "For the first time in his entire life," A.J. muttered.


     "Well now, that's true," Cecilia agreed.


     Rick shook his head. "Would you two please knock it off."


     "Okay, cowboy, what's the plan?"  Cecilia asked.


     "I'll walk down the street to the mall when A.J. and I get off work at five.  You pick me up there, Mom.  I'll be waiting inside Sears by that side entrance they have that faces west.  I'll get in the car, hunker down in the back seat, then you drive us to your place.  A.J.'ll be behind us to make sure no one follows you.  When we get to your place park the car in the garage, shut the garage door and go in the house.  I'll go out the back door, and you can let me into the kitchen through the patio doors."


     Seeing in his mind's eye the way the back of his mother's garage faced her backyard and a large row of privacy hedges, as did her kitchen patio doors, A.J. nodded in agreement.  "Sounds like a good plan."


     "You can get a car from Carlos and come back after dark and watch Mom's house," Rick went on to inform his brother. “I’ll call Carlos after Mom leaves and make the arrangements.”


     All three Simons agreed to Rick's plan.  Cecilia was soon saying goodbye, telling her sons she'd better stock up on groceries if Rick was going to be her overnight house guest for a few days.


     A.J. chuckled at Cecilia's remark, while Rick warned their mother to be cautious in her day's travels.





     For the next four nights Rick stayed at his mother's house while A.J. alternated between cruising her neighborhood after dark, and parking unobtrusively in a willing neighbor's driveway across the street.  The Simons varied their routine, with Cecilia picking Rick up at various busy locations around San Diego, while A.J. borrowed a different car every evening from Carlos so as not to be spotted in the red Camaro.


     All the careful planning didn't bring the desired results, however.  All was quiet at Cecilia Simon's home throughout the next four days and nights.  On the fifth night the Simons agreed that Rick might as well sleep on his boat at the marina, and A.J. might as well get a good night's sleep in his own bed, too.


     At nine o'clock that evening Cecilia's phone rang.






     Cecilia's heart began to race and her throat closed up with fear, making it impossible to answer the stranger on the other end.


     "Mom?  Mom...are you there?"  Came the frantic query.


     Cecilia swallowed hard and took a deep breath.  She willed her hands to stop trembling, saying quietly, "I've told you before, I'm not your mother."


     "Please, Mom, I have to talk to you.  Please just let me meet you somewhere and talk to--"


     Before the entreaties could go on any longer Cecilia hung up the phone.  She immediately picked it back up to dial Rick, only to find out the person on the other end hadn't broken the connection.


     "Mom?  Mom, are you there?"


     Without answering, Cecilia hung up the phone again.  This time she let a full minute pass before picking it up again.


     "Mom?  Mom, please don't hang up on me.  Listen to me, please.  Mom--"


     Again Cecilia replaced the phone in its cradle.  This time she left it there, getting up to check the doors only to find them firmly bolted, and the security system on as she knew she would.


     Cecilia was both frightened and angry.  Frightened by the man who seemed to be watching her every move, and angry over the fact that he was doing so.  And now even angrier that he was tying up her phone line and making her a prisoner in her own home.


     Cecilia nervously paced the downstairs of her home.  Time seemed to drag, ten minutes seemed like two hours to the frightened woman.  When she had waited as long as her nerves would allow, she cautiously picked up the phone again.


     Cecilia breathed a sigh of relief when all she heard on the other end was a dial tone.  She quickly dialed Rick's number.  Just when she thought there was no one home, she heard her son's, "Hello?"


     "Rick, he just called."


     "Mom, slow down.  Who just called?"


     "That man.  The one who says he's A.J."


     Cecilia heard Rick's muttered, "Damn," then he told her, "I'll be right there.  You got me outta the shower so just let me get dried off and get some clothes on.  Did you call A.J.?"




     "Call him.  He'll make it there faster than I will."




     "Is everything locked up?"


     "Yes," Cecilia replied.


     "Good.  Just sit tight.  I'll be there as soon as I can be."


     "All right.  Be careful."


     "I will, Mom.  Bye."




     Cecilia hung up the phone, then dialed her youngest son as Rick had requested of her.





     A half hour later the Simon family was sitting in Cecilia's living room, her sons discussing the phone call she had received an hour earlier. 


     "The guy's seen every move we've made for the last four days,"  Rick said with disgust.


     "But how?"  A.J. wondered.  "I never saw anyone following Mom. You never saw anyone. We were more than careful.  I never used the same car. Mom picked you up in four different locations. We--"


     "I don't know how," Rick dismissed.  "And I know we were careful.  I'm not blamin' either of us for this.  Somehow he slipped through on us.  And you know as well as I do how he did that."


     A.J. nodded grimly.


     Cecilia looked from one son to the other, awaiting an explanation.  When none was forthcoming, she asked, "How?  What do you mean by that, Rick?"


     A.J. answered his mother.  "It means he's watching us all the time.  He knows our every move.  Not just yours, Mom, like we first suspected, but mine and Rick's too.  That's the only possible way he could have known what we were doing.  He didn't call here for the past four nights, but suddenly tonight he calls.  He knew you were alone tonight.  He knew Rick wasn't here, and he knew I wasn't parked across the street."


     Cecilia shuddered at the thought that someone - some deranged stranger - was watching her and her sons that closely.


     "What are we going to do now?"  Cecilia asked.


     "First of all, you're not stayin' in this house alone at night until we catch this guy," Rick said firmly.  With a smile he asked, "Did you put my favorite pillow away in the closet this morning?"


     Cecilia managed to smile back.  "I'll get it out."


     "And I'll take another thermos of your coffee and some of those cookies you baked yesterday if Rick didn't eat them all," A.J. said.


     "No, he didn't.  I hid some," Cecilia told her blond son.  "But you don't need to stay out in the car tonight.  You might as well sleep in here, too."


     A.J. shook his head.  "No.  At least not for a while.  Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll show up yet tonight.  Obviously, up until an hour ago, he knew you were home alone.  If Rick parks his truck in the garage, and I get my car out of here, maybe we'll be able to fool him."


     "Do you really think so?"  Cecilia questioned skeptically.


     A.J. answered honestly. "No.  But we've come this far so it's worth a try."


     Rick nodded his head in agreement with his brother.  "We'll go with it this way for tonight, Mom.  Then tomorrow A.J. and I will talk to Abby again.  I think it's time for a bit more participation from the cops on this one."


     Thirty minutes later Cecilia's home was dark except for the dim light left on over the kitchen sink.  Cecilia lay awake for a long time after that until the sound of Rick's soft snores coming from the boys' old bedroom down the hall finally lulled her to sleep.





     At eight o'clock the next morning Rick was sitting at his mother's kitchen table drinking coffee and eating scrambled eggs.


     "Everything's great, Mom.  Thanks," Rick complimented between mouthfuls of eggs, toast, and bacon.


     "You're welcome, honey," Cecilia answered in between her own bites of food.  "What time did A.J. come in this morning?"


     "Around five." 


     "Why so late?  I thought he was only going to stay out there a few hours."


     "He said something about seeing a car go past the house real slow throughout most of the night.  He was watching it, trying to figure out what the driver was up to.  Turned out to be a false alarm though.  Just two teenagers lookin' for a secluded place to neck."


     "Oh, I see," Cecilia replied, her tone full of disappointment.  She didn't know if she could take another day of wondering if someone was watching her, worrying that every time the phone rang it was him.


     Rick easily read his mother's thoughts.  "Don't worry, Mom, we'll get this guy."


     Cecilia shot her eldest a wry grin.  "Don't worry.  Easy for you to say.  You're not the person this man keeps contacting.  Nor is it your son he's impersonating for some unknown reason."


     "No, but it is my mother he's contactin', and it is my brother he's impersonating."


     Cecilia couldn't help but smile slightly.  "Point well taken.  Should I tell you not to worry, too?"


     "I suppose you could.  But it wouldn't do you any more good than it just did me," Rick admitted with chagrin.


     Rick buttered himself a second piece of toast while his mother stared thoughtfully into her coffee cup. 


     "Rick, has A.J. said anything to you about this?"


     Rick's eyebrows met in puzzlement.  "What do you mean?"


     "He seems...awfully calm about it.  He doesn't seem worried, or angry, or fearful, or any of the emotions I would expect of a person who's experiencing something this unsettling."


     Rick considered his mother's words for a moment.  "I think he's all those things, Mom.  Worried, angry, probably even a little scared, but no, he's not showin' it.  Oh, he's made it clear to me that he's real pissed at this guy for harrassin' you, but as far as sayin' anything about himself, he hasn't.  I think he's working hard on being in control for all our sake's."


     "Well, I just hope it comes to an end very soon.  I almost wish this man would make some kind of a move, do something that would give the police reason to arrest him, or at least give you boys a good lead as to who he is and what his motives are."


     Rick nodded.  "Unfortunately, that's just about what it's gonna take at this point.  As long as he keeps playin' cat and mouse with us, we're at a big disadvantage.  Especially since, at this point, he seems to be the cat and we're stuck playin' the part of the mice."


     "Aptly put, dear," Cecilia agreed.  "Very aptly put."


     Rick rose to help his mother clear the table.  When the last dish was stacked in the dishwasher the detective said, "I'm gonna head over to the marina.  I need to let Rex out and feed him.  Then I've got an appointment with a friend of Carlos's who wants to hire A.J. and me.  I'm supposed to meet him at nine thirty.  When A.J. wakes up tell him that I'll see him at the office sometime later this morning."


     "Okay, I'll give him the message.  Bye."


     "Bye, Mom," Rick called as he quietly shut the kitchen door in consideration of his still slumbering brother.


     Cecilia turned from the sink, startled when the door opened again a few minutes later.


     Breathless, and with her hand over her racing heart, she exclaimed, "Rick!  Goodness, you scared me!" 


     "Sorry, Mom.  But that's exactly why I told you to keep the door locked,"  the detective scolded.


     "You didn't give me a chance to get over there to lock it," Cecilia defended.  "You just walked out the door two minutes ago.  I was going to do it as soon as I finished rinsing off this pan."


     "You should have done it right away."


     "You should have done it when you walked out," Cecilia tossed back.


     Rick put his hands up in surrender.  "Okay, okay, it was my fault.  You're right, I should have locked it on my way out."


     With victory in her tone, Cecilia agreed, "Yes, you should have.  Now, what did you forget?"


     "I didn't forget anything.  The truck's got a flat tire.  A.J. and I were out at a construction site yesterday doin' an interview for a case.   I musta' ran over a nail or something.   I don't have time to change it right now so would you tell A.J. I took his car, and can you take him to the office when he's ready to go?"


     "Sure, honey.  I don't have any plans today, so he can just take my car when he's ready to leave."


     Rick headed for the door once more.  "Thanks, Mom.  You're a life saver.  I'll be back later to change that tire."


     "Shut the garage door again when you leave, Rick.  There's been a stray cat in the neighborhood looking for a place to have her kittens.  I don't want her making herself at home in my garage."


     "Okay, Mom," Rick acknowledged as he stopped to turn the lock on the door before he shut it securely behind him.






     It was shortly after ten a.m. when a tousle haired A.J. appeared in his mother's kitchen.  The blond man padded across the floor barefoot and bare chested, dressed in just the blue jeans he'd had on the evening before. 


     Cecilia felt the rough beard stubble on her cheek before she felt her son's kiss.


     "Morning, Mom," the tired man mumbled, heading straight for the coffee pot.


     Cecilia set aside the packages of flower seeds she was sorting through and rose from the kitchen table. "Good morning, honey.  Did you sleep well?"


     A.J. leaned back against the counter top, taking his first sip of hot coffee.  "Like a log."


     "You look tired," Cecilia observed. 


     "I am.  Yesterday was a long day."


     "Then go back to bed for a few more hours.  Don't feel like you can't just because you're here.  I don't mind."


     A.J. shook his head.  "No, that's okay.  I've got things to do at the office, and Rick and I want to see Abby right after lunch.  Speaking of Rick, is he gone?"


     "Yes, he left around eight thirty to go feed Rex, then he said something about meeting a friend of Carlos's for a job the man wants to hire you two for."


     "Oh yeah, I forgot about that," a bleary eyed A.J. acknowledged. 


     "He said he'd meet you at the office later this morning.  You'll have to take my car when you're ready to go."




     "Rick took yours.  His truck has a flat tire.  He's going to come back here and change it sometime today.  In the meantime, you can use my car.  I don't need to go anywhere today."


     "Oh, okay.  Thanks."


     "Just no funny business with it, mister," Cecilia playfully scolded.  "No high speed chases, or chimpanzees in the front seat, or hookers in the back seat, nor do I want anyone shooting at it."


     A.J. smiled at all the things that, at one time or another, had been a part of his and Rick's illustrious career as private detectives.  "No, Mom, none of those things today.  I promise."


     "Good.  Now, what do you want for breakfast?"


     "I'll just have some cereal and toast," A.J. replied, already moving to the familiar cabinets where the requested items were kept.


     "Are you sure you don't want anything else?  I made Rick eggs and bacon."


     "And your grocery bill probably went up twenty five dollars too," A.J. quipped.  "No, you sit back down and work on whatever you were doing.  I'll get my own breakfast."


     "But I don't mind.  I enjoy it when I have the opportunity to cook for my sons."


     A.J. smiled with affection.  "I know you do. But it's not necessary.  Cereal's fine.  Now get back to work," A.J. instructed his mother, giving her a little push in the direction of the table.


     "No wonder Rick says you're a slave driver," Cecilia teased her youngest.


     "Sometimes Rick needs a slave driver, Mom, believe me."


     Cecilia chuckled as she went back to work on her project.  She and A.J. made light, pleasant conversation as the blond ate his breakfast, both avoiding the reason he was there for breakfast in the first place.


     When A.J. had his fill he rose and added his dishes to the ones already stacked in the dishwasher.  He turned the appliance on for his mother so the wash cycle could begin, then turned around. "Do you mind if I shower here before I go to work, Mom?"


     "No, hon, go right ahead.  You know where the clean towels and washcloths are.  The toothbrushes, razors and shaving cream I have here for you and Rick are in the second drawer of the vanity."


     "Thanks, Mom.  You're a life saver."


     Cecilia smiled.  "Seems to me I heard that from someone else earlier this morning."




     "Never mind.  Go on up and take your shower. You'll chase clients away if you go to work looking like that."


     "Thanks a lot!"  A.J. exclaimed with mock indignation before turning for the stairway.


     Chuckling at her son, Cecilia rose from the table as well.  She gathered up her flower seeds and headed outside through the patio doors.  






     Cecilia was on both knees in her backyard, busy digging in a barren area of her flower garden with a hand spade.  The brightly colored seed packets were spread out on the ground around her, the sprinkling can nearby.  The woman had her gardening gloves on, engrossed in pulling stubborn weeds from the bed she was cultivating.


     A man's shadow fell across Cecilia's garden. 


     "Oh, I suppose you need my car keys so you..."


     The woman's voice trailed off with a frightened gasp as she squinted up into the face of the stranger.


     With a hesitant smile, the man greeted, "Hi, Mom."


     "I've already told you, I'm not your mother," Cecilia stated with conviction.


     "Please...please don't chase me away.  I just want to talk to you.  Please.  I promise that's all.  Just talk."


     Cecilia felt very vulnerable kneeling at the feet of this deranged man.  She began to rise. "I have nothing to talk to you about.  I want you to go...don't touch me!"


     "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry," the man apologized in a rush, removing his hand from Cecilia's upper arm.  "I was only helping you up."


     Standing her full five feet two inches, Cecilia declared vehmently, "I don't need your help."


     "Please...I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to upset you.  I just came here to talk."


     Cecilia attempted to subtly back toward the unlocked patio doors.  "I already told you I don't have any intention of talking to you."


     "But I have to talk to you.  I have to talk to you right now.  There's no other time.  It's got to be now when Rick's not here."


     So he doesn't realize A.J.'s in the house, Cecilia thought.  I can't let him find that out.  I don't know what he'll do.  I have to keep him talking.  Keep him outside.  Oh please, A.J., take an extra long shower this morning.  Give me a chance to get rid of him.


     "Why does it have to be when Rick's not here?"  Cecilia asked.


     "Because he'll interfere."


     "I don't think so.  I think Rick would like to hear what you have to say.  Why don't you let me talk to Rick about setting up a time when you can meet with him and I'll--"


     The man was visibly panicked by that suggestion.  "No!  Absolutely not!  I'm not ready to talk to Rick!"


     Cecilia took another step back toward the sliding doors.  "But if I am your mother like you claim, then Rick's your brother.  Why would you be afraid to talk to him?  Why won't you talk to both Rick and me?"


     The man's eyes darted wildly about.  "Because...because, because I'm not ready to talk to him like I just told you.  I only want to talk to you.  You're my mother!  Why won't you talk to me?"


     "Because you frighten me," Cecilia confessed candidly.  "Because you're not really my son.  Yes, I do have a son named A.J., but you're not him.  I'm sorry, but there's nothing either you or I can do to change that fact.  I am not your mother."


     Cecilia's words only served to rile the man further.  He began to wail hysterically, "But you are!  You are my mother!  Yes, you are!"


     Before Cecilia could react, the man had her by the upper arm again, only this time his grip was strong and painful.  He pushed her backwards toward the sliding doors causing her to cry out as she stumbled over a wrought iron chair and a flowerpot.  He held firmly onto Cecilia with one hand while sliding the door open with the other.  Cecilia bumped her right heel hard against the door track as she was roughly manhandled inside.


     Cecilia's anger won out over her fright as she accused, "You said you weren't going to hurt me!  That you didn't want to hurt me!  But now that's exactly what you're doing."


     The blond's mood changed swiftly at Cecilia's words.  Tears sprang to his eyes as he apologized, "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry it has to be this way.  But you won't talk to me any other way.  I don't know what else to do."


     With his hand still gripping her arm tightly, Cecilia said, "Let me get you the help you need.  I have a friend I can call who will--"


     "No!  No, I don't need any help!  I only need to talk to you.  That's all I want."


     Against her will Cecilia was propelled into her living room, her captor never letting go of her arm.  They came to a halt by the sofa where he released her, indicating that she seat herself.


     Cecilia was just about to try reasoning with the man again, when what she had been dreading occurred.  She could hear A.J.'s footsteps in the upstairs hallway, then his voice as he started to descend to the living room.


     "Mom!  Hey, Mom!  I'm ready to go!  Are you sure it's okay that I take your car?  If it's going to be a problem you could just drop me off at the office then--"


     A.J. was halfway down the stairs before he realized something was wrong.  At the same time, the stranger pulled a snub nosed revolver out of his jacket pocket. 


     "No," the man hissed.  "Not you.  I don't want you here.  I want you to go away."


     The stranger pointed the gun squarely at A.J.'s chest.  The detective stopped where he was, standing motionless, waiting for instructions from the intruder.


     When the gun continued to be aimed at him and no instructions were forthcoming, A.J. asked, "What do you want?"


     "I want you to go away.  I want to talk to my mother."


     A.J. slowly shook his head.  "She's not your mother, mister."


     The man's hands began to shake and hysteria filled his voice.   "Yes, she is!  She is my mother!  She's my mother and I'm going to make you go away!  If you go away, she'll be my mother!  You're the one that's keeping it from happening.  It's you!  You're the one that's keeping me from my mother!"


     "Put the gun down and we'll talk about this," A.J. attempted to pacify.  He moved one foot slowly down to the next step.  "Just put it--"


     "Shut up!  Shut up and don't move!  I don't want you here! Can't you understand that!" 


     Cecilia could see that the situation was rapidly escalating out of control.   "Please," she begged softly.  "Please put your gun down and we'll talk.  Just you and me."


     The man risked a quick glance at Cecilia, then turned his gaze back to A.J.  "Not until he's taken care of."


     Cecilia didn't like what that sentence implied.  "Then I'll tell him to leave.  He'll go, and then you and I can sit and talk.  We can--"


     "Mom.  No."  A.J. stated from his perch on the stairs. 


     The stranger began waving the gun erratically. "Don't you call her Mom!  Do you hear me? Don't you dare call her Mom!  She's not your mother so don't call her that!  You...you...you're ruining everything!  You're ruining everything for me! It's you! You're keeping it from happening!  You can't be here anymore!"


     With that, the gun was aimed at A.J.'s chest once more, a finger posed on the trigger.


     Cecilia sprang off the couch. "No!  No!" 


     She darted around the stranger, eluding his grasp, and ran for the stairway.  Cecilia came to halt on the step below A.J.  She threw her arms up, that gesture enabling the petite woman to cover all her son's body with her own save for his head.


     Cecilia was only vaguely aware of A.J.'s frantic whispers coming from behind her.


     "Mom, no.  Get away from me."


     Cecilia ignored her youngest, saying instead to the intruder, "If you're going to hurt him, you're going to have to go through me to do it."


     The wild-eyed man was confused by this sudden turn of events.  He seemed to be at a loss as to how to proceed.


     With the gun now pointed at Cecilia and A.J. both, he shook his head and began to whimper.  "No...no...I don't want to hurt you, Mom.  I told you...I told you over and over again that I wouldn't hurt you.  But you have to get away from him.  Please.  Please get away from him.  Don't make me have to hurt you, too.  Please, just move away from him.  Come down here by me."


     Cecilia firmly stood her ground.  She spoke to the man in the same tone she had often used on her sons when they were boys and were disobeying her.  "I will not.  I will stand here in front of my son until you put that gun down.  Do you hear me, young man?  Put that gun down."


     The gun began to waver unsteadily in the man's hand.  "But...but I can't.  I have to...I have to get rid of him.  You're my mother.  Not his.  He's ruining it.  He's ruining everything.  If he weren’t here it would all work out just fine.  You're my mother.  Please...please be my mother."


     In a tone of steel, a voice from the kitchen doorway announced, "You've made a big mistake here, pal, 'cause that's my mother you've got that gun pointed at, and my brother you're threatening to kill.  I suggest you drop it right now."


     The man wheeled around. Rick Simon had a loaded .357 Magnum aimed at his forehead. 


     "If you so much as put a scratch on either one of them, I swear I'll blow your goddamn head off without so much as blinking."


      The stranger wavered for just a moment, looking from Rick to Cecilia.  He whispered, "Mom?" right before he slumped in defeat to the carpeting. 


     Rick rushed over and disarmed the weeping man.  He gripped him by the upper arm, lifted him to his feet, and roughly propelled him to the kitchen.  The detective pushed him toward a chair, barking, "Sit down and don't move."  Keeping his gun trained on the now compliant man, Rick picked up the phone and dialed Abigail Marsh.


     As soon as Cecilia saw that Rick had the situation under control she turned around and fell against her younger son's chest.  A.J. stepped down to the step his mother was standing on. He enfolded her in a tight embrace and held onto her for a few moments.


     When the blond man finally spoke it was to scold, "What the hell did you do that for?  You could have gotten yourself killed!"


     Cecilia looked up at A.J., not about to submit to a scolding over this matter.  "And just what do you think I was going to do, Andrew?  Sit there and watch as he shot you?  Maybe even killed you? I had to do whatever I could to prevent that from happening."


     A.J. couldn't say anything to that.  From his many years of private investigation work with Rick, he knew exactly how his mother had been feeling.  Sometimes a person just had to do something, regardless of how reckless the act might seem to others.


     Therefore, all A.J. could do was hug his mother all the more tightly and tell her, "I love you."


     Cecilia reciprocated the tight hug with one of her own.  "I love you, too, son.  I love you, too."






     Two days later the entire Simon family could be found in the Simon and Simon office.  A.J. was clearing off his desk while Rick clicked the answering machine on.  Cecilia stood patiently, waiting for her sons to finish up their last minute business.


     Before the family could exit the room there was a rap on the door.  It opened as Abigail Marsh peered in. 


     "I hope I'm not interrupting anything.  The three of you look like you're getting ready to leave."


     Cecilia smiled at her friend.  "My sons are treating me to lunch at the new restaurant down the block."


     "Oh, how nice.  I've heard only good things about it," Abby commented.  "It's a little too rich for your wallet though, wouldn't you say, Richard?" 


     "It's a little too rich for your wallet though, wouldn't you say, Richard?"  Rick mimicked. "Abigail, is there a reason you came by here today other than to harrass me?"


     "How's it feel for the shoe to be on the other foot for a change?"  Abby asked with a sly smile, referring to all the times the Simon brothers interrupted her work day with annoying requests, problems, and smart aleck remarks.


     In an effort to try to get to the heart of Abby's visit A.J. smiled, "And what can we do for you, Lieutenant Ma'am?"


     Abby saw right through A.J.'s dimples.  "Can the charm, A.J."


     Cecilia was the one who finally put an end to the nonsense.  "Would the three of you please quit picking on each other like tired children in bad need of naps."


     "I guess we can call a truce for a few minutes," Abby agreed.


     A.J. nodded.  "Truce."


     When there was no promise heard from the other corner Cecilia emphasized, "Rick."


     "Okay, okay.  Truce."


     "Actually, I came by on business," Abby said.  "I think we have most of the pieces put together to the puzzle surrounding our mystery man who claimed he was A.J."


     Turning to the blond man Abby asked, "Do you remember a guy by the name of Kevin Hunt?"


     A.J. thought hard for a moment before shrugging his shoulders.  "No, I don't.  Should I?"


     "I don't know if you should or not, but you went to high school and college with him."


     Now that he had a reference point for the name, A.J. thought again.  Still, he came up blank.  "No, I can't place him."


     "Well regardless, he's the guy that showed up at your mother's house the other day with the gun, claiming to be you."


     A.J. moved back to sit on the corner of his desk.  "But why would some guy I don't even know go around claiming to be me?  And why did he have such an infatuation for my mother?"


     "He didn't have an infatuation for your mother per se.  His infatuation was more with your entire family."


     "What?"  A.J. asked.


     "First of all, this is not the first time Mr. Hunt has tried to push his way into a family by claiming to be someone he's not.  Do remember a guy by the name of Rod Cliffton?"


     A.J.'s face lit up in recognition at that name.  "Sure I do.  He and I were co-captains of the baseball team our senior year in high school.  We also ran track and played football together.  I only see him at high school reunions now, but back then we were pretty good buddies."


     "Mr. Cliffton was Kevin Hunt's first victim, so to speak.  Or maybe I should say, his family members were the first victims."


     "What do you mean by that?"  Rick asked.


     "It seems Hunt showed up at Cliffton's sisters' homes claiming to be their brother Rod.  Much like with A.J., he had false I.D. to back that claim, and had altered his appearance as much as he could in order to look like Cliffton.  He drove the same kind of car Cliffton drove, copied his mannerisms, his choice of clothing, his--"


     "But why?"  A.J. asked.


     "There are several reasons.  But basically it boils down to mental health problems."


     "The guy's a kook,"  Rick supplied.


     "Said with your usual tact, Richard," Abby commented dryly.


     "Well, what do you want me to say?  The guy spent weeks goin' around claimin' to be my brother and harassing my mother.  Now we find out he did the same thing to someone else.  He's nuts."


     "According to his psychiatrist, you're right," Abby admitted.  "Though he didn't state it in quite that fashion."


     "But that's what it boils down to," Rick said.


     "That's about the size of it," Abby agreed.


     "But that still doesn't explain why he'd do such a thing," Cecilia said.


     "Maybe it does," Abby told her friend.  "I'm not surprised A.J. doesn't remember Hunt.  Neither did Cliffton, nor the other man he did this same thing to last year.  A bank president by the name of Michael Van Patten."


     "If that's the Mike Van Patten I'm thinking of, I went to college with him," A.J. said.


     "One and the same," Abby informed the blond.  "During his college days Van Patten was a popular guy, president of a lot of clubs, good student, a bit of a ladies man."


     "That's him," A.J. said.


     "Apparently Hunt was always very quiet and shy.  A loner who never fit in no matter how hard he tried.  Someone we would have referred to back then as being square.  Evidently he wanted nothing more than to be like some of the more popular boys in his class.  A.J. was one of those boys.  He comes from a wealthy family.  You may have heard of them.  His father owns Hunt Manufacturing."


     An impressed Rick whistled.  "Wealthy is an understatement when you're referring to Arthur Hunt.  Carlos has done some work on his cars.  I was out to the Hunt estate one time with him.  The place is built right on the ocean.  I swear six families could live in the house and never cross paths."


     "And that's exactly what Kevin's growing up years were like according to his doctor.  He's got an older sister and brother, but evidently the family was never close.  All the children had high expectations placed upon them at early ages.  Hunt's sister and brother were able to live up to those expectations, but Hunt wasn't.  Evidently he felt like a misfit within his own family from a very young age.  And his mother, the person he most wanted love and affection from, was unable to give it to him."


     "Was she ill?"  Cecilia asked, that being the only way she could imagine a mother not having the time or energy to give her child the love and attention he needed.


     "Not physically.  But Kevin's doctor alluded to mentally.  Whatever the problem was, Hunt apparently grew up in a very sterile, demanding environment."


     "So what's all this have to do with A.J. and those two other guys?"  Rick asked.


     "As I said, apparently Hunt had a bad case of hero worship for A.J., Cliffton, and Van Patten.   All three were considered big men on campus in their high school and college days."


     A.J. blushed a bit at Abby's words. 


     The lieutenant ignored the red twinge to the blond's cheeks as she continued. "The other thing A.J., Cliffton, and Van Patten have in common, is that they all come from close families.  That was the one thing Hunt was most envious of.  And as sad as it is to say, it's also the one thing he'll probably never have.  In some warped way, Hunt got it in his head that if he could do everything in his power to become one of the men he admired, then he could be that man, and in so doing, he would attain the type of family he's been wanting ever since he can remember."


     The anger Cecilia had been feeling toward the man for the past two weeks suddenly turned to pity.  "How sad," she murmured.


     "Yes, it is sad," Abby agreed. "Though that doesn't excuse the fact that he harassed you, and very likely would have killed A.J. if you hadn't intervened."


     "Do you really think he would have taken it that far?"  Cecila asked.


     "Yes, I do.  Hunt stabbed Van Patten with a butcher knife when he was confronted by him in Van Patten's parents’ home.  Fortunately, Mr. Van Patten wasn't seriously injured."


     "If the guy did that, what the hell is he doin' walkin' the streets?"  Rick asked of Abby.


     "He spent some time in a mental institution.  But you know how that works.  Suddenly some shrink decides he'd be better off in a 'normal environment among his peers,’ and he's released."   


     "So now what happens?"  A.J. asked.


     "We'll have to wait and see," Abby replied.  "He goes before a judge on Friday.  The indications I'm getting is that he'll plead no contest upon advice given to his father by their attorneys.  If Hunt pleads not guilty, then, as you know, the case will go to court and the three of you will have to testify.  I have a feeling it won't get that far though.  If he pleads no contest then I imagine he'll end up back in a mental hospital."


     "Until he gets out and does this to someone else," Rick contributed.


     Abby gave a noncommittal shrug.  "I guess we'll just have to wait and see."


     "I can tell him one thing for certain.  He'd better not ever plan on bothering my family again," Rick stated with conviction.  He added with a teasing smile, "My mom will get him if he does."


     Cecilia shook her head, laughing at her oldest.  Abby said her goodbyes among the thanks from the Simons, and declined A.J.'s invitation to join them for lunch. 


     "I doubt Richard's wallet is large enough to feed another mouth,"  she quipped as the door closed behind her.


     Rick growled after the departing woman.  "One of these days I'm gonna get her and that smart mouth of hers."


     "You'll do no such thing," Cecilia informed her son.  "She's my friend.  And yours and your brother's too, even if neither one of you will admit it."


     Cecilia knew she was right when neither of her sons contradicted that declaration.


     A.J. put one last file folder in his desk, then the trio headed out the door together for their long anticipated luncheon date.  


     Rick wrapped an arm around his mother's shoulders as the family walked to the elevator.  "You know, A.J., I've been thinkin.’  After Mom's little performance the other day at her house, maybe we should hire her to work for us.  The next time some thugs show up to beat the stuffing outta us, we'll just sic Mom on 'em."


     "Sounds like a good idea to me," A.J. agreed.  "Once the word gets out on the street as to what a tough little lady our mother is, we should be going home at night with a lot less bruises and black eyes."


     Cecilia laughed at her sons' nonsense.  "No thank you," she declined.  "I lost five years growth and added numerous gray hairs to my head while I stood on that step the other day.  What I would like is for you two to promise me you'll try, really try, to stay out of trouble.  At least for several weeks now until I've recuperated from this latest experience."


     A.J. bent down and kissed his mother's left cheek.  "We promise."


     Rick followed suit, kissing his mother's right cheek.  "We'll give it our best shot."


     Cecilia smiled up at her sons.  "Thank you.  At least maybe now I'll be able to sleep good again at night."


     The Simons entered the empty elevator car, A.J. sliding the old fashioned gate closed.  As the car began its descent Rick teased, "You know, Mom, maybe this Hunt guy pretendin' to be A.J. wasn't such a bad deal after all.  If you and I had played our cards right, we coulda' come into a heck of a lot of dough.  Do you think Abby would be willing to make a trade?  You know, swap Hunt for A.J.?  I suppose I could get used to him as a brother.  I mean, he did kinda' look like A.J., and he wore the same kinda' clothes A.J. wears, and drove the same kinda' car, and--"


     "And he was very polite and well mannered," Cecilia picked up thoughtfully.  "You know, Rick, you just might have an idea there.  Why I've heard his father is worth a half a billion dollars.  Can you just imagine what it would be like to have that kind of money?"


     "Okay, you two, stop the kidding around," A.J. interjected. 


     "Who's kidding around?"  Rick asked.  “We're serious.  You're a terrific brother, A.J., but let's face it, for a half a billion dollars I could force myself to part with you."


     "Rick!"  A.J. exclaimed.


     "It's true, honey.  Your brother always has been willing to part with you for the right price.  When you were two years old, he tried to sell you to the little girl down the street for a dollar."


     "That doesn't come as a big shock," A.J. stated as the threesome exited the office building.


     Cecilia couldn't help but laugh at the pout on the face of her youngest.  She wrapped an arm around his waist, hugging him to her.  "We're just teasing.  We wouldn't sell you for all the tea in China."


     "Though maybe we would for all the tequila in Mexico," Rick added.


     "Richard," Cecilia scolded.


     "Oh, all right, Mom, if you insist.  I guess we'll keep him."


     "That's good to hear," A.J. said.  "And by the way, big brother, you're paying for lunch today."


     "Say what?"


     "You heard me, you're paying for lunch today."


     "Why me?"


     "Because I didn't have a chance to get to the bank to cash a check this morning and I can't use my credit cards."


     "Why not?"


     "Because Hunt somehow had duplicates made of all of them.  Even though it doesn't look like he used them, Abby advised me to close out all my accounts and reopen them under new numbers.  Therefore, you have to pay for lunch today."


     Rick's eyes narrowed to a squint.  "You were plannin' this all along, weren't you?  You're the one that made the reservations at this fancy place. You're the one who's been there before and knows how expensive it is.  You set me up, you little weasel!"


     "Did not!"


     "Did too!"


     "Did not!"


     "Did too!"


     "Did not!"




     Cecilia reached up and grabbed each of her grown sons by an ear lobe. 


     "Ouch!"   A.J. yelled.


     "Ouch!” Rick echoed. “Mom, let go!"


     Dragging her bickering children to the car, the petite woman said more to herself than to anyone else,  "There's no case of mistaken identity here.  These are definitely the two boys I raised."     


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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