*This story makes reference to the aired episodes, Beauty and Deceased, Shadows, and Tanner, P.I. For Hire.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A.J. Simon was whistling a nondescript tune as he entered the Simon and Simon office on Wednesday afternoon. Rick was seated behind his desk, leaning back in his chair. His hands were folded behind his head, and his feet were propped up on one corner of the desk’s surface.
A.J. came to a halt in the center of the office. He studied his sibling, who was smiling broadly. "Why do you look like the cat who just ate the canary?"
Rick continued to smile. He offered no reply to his brother as A.J. walked to his desk. The blond man sat down and began leafing through the mail he’d carried in.
When the mail had been looked over and sorted into various piles, A.J. looked at his brother once again. The silly grin Rick had been wearing when A.J. had first entered was still present on the older detective’s face.
"Okay, Rick. What's up?"
"Whatta’ ya’ mean, what's up?"
"I haven't been your brother for forty years--"
"Almost forty-one," Rick interrupted, in light of the fact that A.J.'s July 29th birthday was only three weeks away.
“I haven't been your brother for a good number of years, without knowing when you're up to something. It's in the air. I can smell it. And even if I couldn't, that stupid smile on your face gives you away."
"You won’t think it's so stupid once you find out the reason for it."
"Don't count on it," A.J. assured as he returned his attention to the stacks of mail on his desk.
"If that's gonna be your attitude, I'm tempted not to tell you about the new job we've been hired for. Unfortunately, I can't do it by myself, it's gonna take two guys. But, on the other hand, I suppose I could hire Carlos. Yeah, come to think of it, that would work out pretty good. I could pay him a small salary, and keep the rest of the money for myself...including the five thousand dollar bonus that was offered."
A.J. tuned into the words, “five thousand dollar bonus.” He looked up from the mail. "What job?"
"Oh, never mind. Just forget the fact that while you were tying up loose ends on the Prat case today, runnin’ your tail off chasing all over San Diego for a guy who’s gonna have to pay us in about forty monthly installments, I managed to get us a job that looks like it will guarantee at least one week's work, which at five hundred dollars a day comes to twenty-five hundred dollars. Plus the five thousand dollar bonus we've been offered if we can crack this case in five days, which I'm sure we will. So let's see...that's about seventy-five hundred dollars, isn't it?"
A.J. clapped his hands together in applause. "Very good, Rick. You can add. After all these years, Mom will be so pleased."
"Don't be such a wisenheimer, or I really will hire Carlos."
"What exactly does this dream job that's awaiting me involve?"
"Well, let's just say it won't involve any stake-outs standing in a pouring rain."
"Okay. So what's the job?"
"And it won't involve sleeping all night in my truck, which you hate, I might add."
"All right, fine. What's the job?"
"And it doesn't involve having to ask questions of anyone in the seedier parts of town, which means our chances of gettin' beat up, or havin’ the office destroyed, are slim to none."
“Sounds good.” A.J.’s jaw clenched as his patience with Rick’s game began to wear thin. “Now what’s the job, Rick?"
”Oh, yeah, and we get to work with all kinds of classy, beautiful women. Just your style, little brother."
A.J. stood up, placed his knuckles on his desk, and leaned forward. "Rick, for the last time, what’s the job?
Rick put his hand over his mouth. "Well...hum...mmmmmm.”
A.J. took one step toward his brother and warned, "Rick..."
Rick let his feet drop to the floor and sat up straight, prepared to make a dash for the door if necessary.
"Well, it's uh...we've been hired by...uh...well see, A.J., it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up on, and I thought you'd probably overlook the fact that I didn't consult you before takin' the job 'cause of the bonus money and all, and then she wanted an answer right away, so--"
"Rick, just tell me what you've gotten us into now, please."
"Well...uh...well... we've been hired by Marion St. Clair to--"
"Marion St. Clair! Marion St. Clair of Nouveau Chic Magazine?"
Rick smiled. "Yep, that's the one. Your girlfriend."
“Marion St. Clair is not, nor was she ever, my girlfriend!"
"I don't know about that, A.J. You two looked like you were gettin' mighty friendly when Beth and I left here to go to dinner that night."
"We were not getting friendly," the blushing blond man stated firmly. "Well, maybe she was getting friendly, but I was definitely not reciprocating in any way, shape, or form. That woman's a runaway train loaded with raging hormones."
"Sounds like your kind of woman to me, little brother," Rick teased. "Raging hormones, huh? What was it like? No, no, don't tell me. I don't think I'm up to hearin’ your tale of a night filled with wild sex."
"There was no wild sex. There was no sex period, so get that idea out of your dirty little mind right now. I do not engage in...anything, with a woman who tells me I need to drop five pounds off my ass."
Rick laughed. "Maybe not, but that remark musta made an impression of some kind on you, 'cause for three weeks after that all I saw you eat was yogurt, and you worked out on that weight machine over there about five times a day."
"I did not!"
"Did too," Rick replied with the truth, then changed the subject before A.J. could debate it further. "By the way, I never did ask how you got rid of Marion that day."
A.J. smiled sheepishly as he reluctantly admitted, "I hid behind Mom."
“Just as Marion was about to...rip my clothes off, or so it seemed anyway, Mom walked in. I ran over and stood behind her while I introduced her to Marion. Then I gave Marion some line of bull about how I had promised Mom that I'd help her canvas the neighborhood collecting for one of her charity organizations, and how we had to get going."
"What'd Mom say?"
“Ah, you know Mom. She did a fantastic job of playing along with the whole thing, and rescuing me from Marion's clutches in the process. I guess she'd seen enough of what was going on to know that I needed help, especially since you had abandoned me."
"Unlike Mom, A.J., I know you can take care of yourself."
"No, Rick, unlike you, Mom doesn't like to see older women molesting me."
"Don't flatter yourself, little brother. Marion's not that much older than you."
"Fifteen years if she's a day!"
"Oh, give me a break! She might be fifty, but even that's pushin' it. And let me remind you, that you're no spring chicken, blondie. Let's see, if I remember correctly, it's birthday number forty-one in three weeks."
"She's at least fifty-five,” A.J. countered. “Believe me, if you take away the plastic surgery, the make-up, and the designer clothes, it wouldn't be a pretty sight."
"Isn't it that way with every woman?" Rick pondered.
A.J. ignored that question as he got the conversation back on track. "No. No way. There is absolutely no way that will I work for that woman."
"A.J., come on.”
"No, Rick. You go ahead and hire Carlos. I don't care. I'll stay here and work on other cases."
"A.J., come on, I need you. I can't do this one alone," Rick pleaded. "And besides, I've already told Marion we'd take the job."
"We will be taking the job," A.J. emphasized. "The only difference is, Marion’s getting one Simon instead of two. We've done cases that way before."
"Yeah, but I can't do this one without you."
"Not ten minutes ago you told me you could. With glee, you informed me that you'd hire Carlos if I kept giving you a hard time. So, I'm giving you a hard time. Go ahead, hire Carlos."
Rick looked down at his feet and mumbled, "I can't."
"What was that?"
“I...” the detective cleared his throat and met his brother’s eyes. “I can't hire Carlos."
" 'Cause he doesn't...well he's just not...oh hell, A.J., Carlos doesn't have the looks for this job, and you do."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"See, it's like this. Marion's company, Nouveau Chic, publishes four magazines now. Nouveau Chic, Elegance, Beautiful Woman, and her newest one - the one you had a chance to star in a few years back - Mature Lady."
"Someone who works for Marion is stealing negatives from her various photo shoots and selling them to other magazines before she gets a chance to publish them. So far twelve pictures that by rights belonged to Marion, have appeared in Vogue and Glamour in the past three months."
A.J. forgot his opposition to working for Marion St. Clair as he listened with interest. "I thought all those types of pictures were taken by free-lance photographers, then sold to the highest bidder."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too, but Marion said that's not always the case. She employs her own staff of photographers and developers. Only the models that come and go are what you might call free-lancers, although she did say that she even employs some of them exclusively."
"So she thinks whoever is selling her negatives is a photographer, or one of the photo lab people?"
Rick shrugged. "She really has no idea. She employs a hundred people, and said it could be anyone from a lab tech, to a photographer, to one of the layout people, to a janitor. Anyone would have fairly easy access to the negatives."
"She doesn't have security procedures in place?"
"No, none to speak of really. I told Marion not to initiate any for the time being, since leavin’ things as they are won't arouse suspicions, and will make our jobs easier."
"Our jobs? I don't recall agreeing to accompany you on this little adventure."
"Come on, A.J.," Rick begged. "She really wants to hire you...I mean us, and she's willing to pay a good bonus, and it's gonna be easy work. Let's face it, at least half the jobs we do involve crappy conditions. Besides which, we're only offered a bonus like this about once a year if we're lucky."
"I don't know--"
"Come on, A.J. We could really use that bonus money."
A.J. thought Rick's arguments over for a few seconds, then against his better judgment reluctantly agreed.
"Okay, okay. I'll do it."
Rick's smile lit up his whole face. "I knew I could count on you, little brother. Thanks."
"Don’t thank me yet, because if Marion is too annoying I might get in my car and head right back here.”
“Aw, she’ll be too busy running her business to bother you.”
A.J. wished he were as confident of that fact as Rick. Not having the desire to be given false promises from his brother, A.J. moved on with his next inquiry. “I have a feeling I'm going to hate the answer to this question, but I'll ask it anyway. Exactly how are we working our way into Marion's organization?"
"I’ve been waitin’ for you to ask that.”
“You have, huh?”
“Oh, yeah. And you’re gonna love it.”
“I’m going to love what?”
“Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like this job nearly as much as you seem to believe?”
“Because you have a negative attitude before you even know the facts.”
“With good reason. You’re the one who set this job up. Now what is it that I’m going to be doing?”
“Well see...I...I uh...I'm gonna be a photographer...and you...you’re uh...”
“You’re gonna be a model, A.J."
"Absolutely not! No! I’ll be the photographer, and you’ll be the model."
"A.J., no. It'll never work. I don't have the looks to be a model."
In an uncharacteristic brotherly compliment, A.J. assured, "You do too."
"No, I don't. Well, maybe as the Marlboro man, or some outdoors type like for Field and Stream, but Marion's magazines aren't like that. They're classy. They require someone with a certain...finesse. Someone like you, who looks good in a suit and tie, or a tuxedo, or one of those expensive shirts with the little alligator on the pocket." Rick's eyes twinkled as he teased, "Or in a pair of skimpy Speedos like you wore for the Faces of the 90s pageant."
"Against my will!" A.J. stated emphatically. "I wore them against my will, Rick, and if you think for one minute that I'm going to wear them again, and have my picture taken for a magazine while I'm more than half naked, you're nuts!"
“This isn’t exactly the first time you’ve accused me of that, you know.”
Through clenched teeth, the blond detective said, “And I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
“Come on, A.J., look at the bright side. This is gonna be a simple job. Nothin' to it. We drive up to L.A. where Marion's main office is at, spend enough time there to catch her thief, then come back home seventy-five hundred dollars richer."
The look A.J. shot his brother said, "If only it could be that simple."
Rick rose from his desk. He walked over to A.J. and draped an arm around his shoulders. "Kid, this could be your lucky break. Fame and fortune as a male model might be just around the corner. Think about it. When half the women in California over the age forty see you in Mature Lady, there's no telling what might happen. Your phone will be ringing off the hook."
A.J. slid out from under the solicitous arm. "No, it won't be, because I'm not going to appear in any magazine. I'll take this job, I'll even be the model, but I will not have my picture in anything Marion St. Clair produces."
Rick sighed with resignation. "All right. Have it your way. But I'm tellin' ya’, you're passing up on a helluva opportunity here. "
"I’ll decide which opportunities I want to take advantage of and which ones I don't, thank you very much." A.J. glanced at his watch and saw it was twenty minutes after five. “Come on. Let’s call it a day. God knows I’ll need all the sleep I can get before I have to face Marion’s quick hands again.”
“Yeah, and without Mom around to protect your virtue,” Rick quipped, as he grabbed his cowboy hat off an arm of the coat rack and followed his brother out of the office.
The following Sunday afternoon, the Simon brothers drove up to L.A. in A.J.'s Camaro and rented a modest, clean motel room a few blocks from the Nouveau Chic office complex.
At nine on Monday morning, the detectives were shown in to Marion's suave chrome and glass office. A.J. made a face at the decor he found distasteful as he studied the all white surroundings. The only splash of color came from the rich black carpet that was under his feet, and the modern art paintings on the walls. As Rick was greeting Marion, A.J. thought, This is just her style. Overbearing decor for an overbearing broad. A.J. tuned back into what was happening when he saw Marion zeroing in on him with a huge smile on her face.
"And A.J.! It's so nice to see you again!"
A.J. backed away as Marion tried to kiss him on the cheek. He thrust his right hand between their bodies, in part because it was the only gesture of greeting he was willing to give her, and in part because he wanted keep as much distance as possible between himself and the woman.
Marion graciously accepted the offered hand in place of a cheek. She shook it while Rick looked on with amusement. The stylish redhead was dressed in a tailored yellow blazer and short black skirt. She eyed A.J. from head to toe as she continued to hold on to his hand. She took in his pleated gray dress slacks, gray dress shoes, navy blue sport coat, light gray shirt, and navy, gray, and mauve silk tie.
"Clothes do make the man, A.J.," Marion cooed with a smile and a wink.
Before A.J. realized what she was up to, Marion reached around with her left hand and patted his rear end.
"Ah!" A.J. yelped. He extracted his hand from Marion's grasp and jumped back out of her reach.
"I see you've lost that five pounds I wanted you to. Perfect. Just perfect, A.J.!"
A.J.'s face turned red as he glared at his brother over Marion's shoulder. It was obvious to the blond man that Rick was deriving great enjoyment from Marion’s antics.
Based on the look he was getting, Rick knew he'd better save A.J. from Marion's clutches unless he wanted to be locked out of their motel room that evening. He walked up behind Marion, laid his hands on her shoulders, and gently steered her away from A.J.
"Marion, why don't you tell us exactly what you'll need us to do," Rick requested.
The woman gave a nod of agreement as she sat behind her desk. Rick sat in one of the chairs across from her, while A.J. chose to keep his distance and stand several feet behind the empty chair meant for him. Rick threw his brother a look that asked, "Aren't you taking this a bit too far?" but didn't say anything. He returned his attention to Marion, as she began to detail the roles the brothers would be playing at Nouveau Chic.
After a secretary had brought in coffee for the trio, Marion briefed Rick and A.J. about their jobs as photographer and model. She then showed them a blueprint of the building's interior, as well as gave them information on various employees whom she thought would have the easiest access to the negatives.
When Marion was finished telling all she could think to tell, and the detectives had asked all they could think to ask, the woman rose from her seat.
“Rick, I’ll introduce you to some of my photographers in a few minutes, and then I’ll show A.J. the sets where the models work.” The woman crossed to a filing cabinet. “A.J., before we go, I need you sign something for me."
"What's this?" A. J. asked, as he was handed a lengthy form in triplicate.
"It's just a standard release allowing me to use pictures from your photo shoots. You'll be paid for them, of course."
A.J. thrust the paper back at the woman. "No!"
"But, A.J..." Marion pouted.
"No, Marion," A.J. reiterated. "I'm a private investigator, not a model."
"And that's a damn shame, too. I can forge a new career for you, A.J., just like I told you two years ago. You'd still make a hell of a Mr. October."
"I'm very happy not being Mr. October, and very happy being a private investigator," A.J. replied, as he turned on one heel and briskly strode from the office.
Rick put an arm around Marion’s shoulders as he escorted her from the office. "He's a little grumpy today, darlin.’ Don't worry, A.J. may come around yet and see that he has a future at Nouveau Chic."
Marion didn’t know Rick was teasing her when she replied with determination. "I'll do everything in my power to make him realize that, Rick."
“I’m sure you will, Marion,” Rick agreed, as he caught sight of his brother waiting for them by the elevator at the end of the hall. “I’m sure you will.”
The Simon brothers didn't get much done in the way of detective work Monday. Their time was taken up with getting introduced to their ‘co-workers’ and familiarizing themselves with their surroundings. Tuesday was a different story, however. Rick and A.J. started their workday at Nouveau Chic at eight in the morning, and didn't quit until almost eight that night.
Although neither brother came up with any solid leads, in-between their ‘jobs’ they both managed to do some first class snooping, and ask some seemingly innocent questions of several of Marion's employees. Since the brothers didn't want to be seen riding together in A.J.'s Camaro, Rick had left work at seven-fifteen and walked the four blocks back to their motel room, leaving A.J. the car to drive. At five minutes to eight A.J. walked in, threw his room key and car keys onto the dresser, then collapsed across his double bed.
Rick was sitting on his own bed, propped up against the pillows. He was reading the newspaper while occasionally glancing at the TV, where he had a baseball game playing at low volume.
When a minute of silence passed, Rick looked over the top of his paper at his inert brother. "What's wrong with you?"
"I'm tired," the blond uttered with his eyes closed. "Not only is modeling boring, it's exhausting as well. I'm not sure if it's so exhausting because of all the clothing changes and posing, or if it's exhausting because of how boring it is just hanging around waiting for everyone to be ready for you."
Rick nodded as he thought of his own day as a photographer. It seemed as though he had spent more time arranging the sets the way he wanted them, as opposed to actually shooting pictures of the model.
A.J. moved to sit back against his pillows, as well. He kicked off his shoes, allowing them to drop to the carpeting with a soft ‘plunk.’ "Remember when we were kids, and Mom used to drag us from store to store for an entire day right before school started and make us try on about a million clothes?"
"Yeah. It was a pain in the ass."
"Take it from me, it’s still a pain in the ass. I must have changed clothes thirty times today."
"To the delight of all the ladies, I'm sure," Rick deadpanned.
"Not hardly, Rick. I was in a dressing room. By myself. With the door closed."
Rick let the subject of clothing changes end there. He and A.J. spent a few minutes discussing what little information they had each gathered that day, then walked across the street to a restaurant for a late supper.
The following day, Rick and A.J. were able to make some headway when it came to getting better acquainted with the Nouveau Chic company, and her employees.
Rick was busy throughout that Wednesday taking photos of various models, both male and female. Not being much of a photographer, he had to bluff his way through most situations. Rick relied on what little knowledge he had obtained regarding the profession from his talk with Marion, as well as on his observations of the other photographers she employed. As usual, Rick's confidence had been high when he had told A.J. over lunch on Monday, "How hard can it be making your living taking pictures all day? All you gotta do is snap 'em and say, ‘Smile real big, babe.’ and ‘Lookin' good, Darlin’."
A.J. hadn’t hesitated to remind Rick that he wasn't even a good amateur photographer, and that the job would likely be harder than Rick thought.
Rick had ignored his brother's warning and answered him with, "You worry too much."
Early on Wednesday morning, Rick found himself with the freedom to arrange a set the way he wanted it for a spread that would advertise beach wear. He spent a lengthy amount of time moving a lounge chair and beach umbrella from one side of the set to the other, then back again, while not being able to make up his mind as to where he wanted them. Each time Rick moved the furniture the lighting technician had to move all his equipment as well. The man quickly got fed up with Rick's multiple moves and grumbled to the detective, "Let me know when you're ready." Then he walked over to one of the set designers and whispered with disgust, "Has this guy got a furniture fetish or what? I wish he'd make up his mind. He's driving me nuts."
The female set designer nodded in sympathy. "He was like this yesterday, too. It takes him longer to decide how he wants everything, than it takes him to do the actual shoot. "
"Where'd he come from anyway?"
"I don't know. But he seems to be a friend of Marion's, so I guess we're stuck putting up with him."
Rick's presence interrupted the pair. The light tech glared at the detective.
"Are you done now?"
Rick gave a sheepish grin, sensing the man's disgust with him. "Uh...yeah, I think so. I like it this way."
As he walked over to rearrange his lights for the eighth time, the technician muttered, "You had it this way four times already. You could have made all our lives easier by liking it this way the first time."
"Kinda touchy, isn't he?" Rick commented to the set designer, as the light tech cursed under his breath while moving his equipment.
Before Rick got an answer from the woman, a sultry voice from the doorway captured his attention.
"Are you ready for me?"
Rick turned around to see what he deemed the most gorgeous woman he had ever encountered. Her long, thick, sun-kissed blond hair fell below her waist. Her facial features couldn't have been more perfect had an artist chiseled them. Long blond eyelashes framed big baby blue eyes, and full pink lips outlined a dazzling white smile. The beauty was wearing a white terry cloth robe that barely came to mid-thigh level, and accented her slim, tan legs.
As Rick's eyes traveled up those enticing legs, the young woman let the robe inch off her body and drop to the floor. Rick stared at the bikini-clad figure, only breaking his hypnotic state when the girl approached him and purred, "I don't believe we've met. I'm Kandy - with a K. And you're--?"
"Uh...Rick...with an R," the befuddled detective introduced. "Rick Marlowe."
The woman bumped her right hip against Rick's and winked. "I think I'm going to like working with you, Ricky."
Rick stared at the model's full bust line and stammered, "Uh...yeah, I think...I...uh...I’m gonna like workin’ with you, too."
The girl smiled. "Well now, since we’ve both agreed that we’re going to like working together, shouldn't we get started?"
"Yeah...yeah, I think that would be a good idea."
Rick spent the next few minutes telling the young woman what types of shots he needed to get. She knew her job well, and quickly assumed each pose Rick requested while he clicked off picture after picture.
When they had all the shots Rick needed, Kandy began to with the detective.
"Come on, Ricky. Take a few more."
"No, I've got all I need. Thanks."
"Oh, come on. You didn't even get my best angle,” Kandy complained as she jutted her barely covered breasts toward Rick. “How’s this?”
Without intending to, Rick's finger pressed down on the camera's shutter button, causing several pictures to be taken.
"Or how about this?" she asked playfully as she swiveled and jutted her shapely rear end toward him. "Or how about this?"
Kandy straightened and began to undo the ties that held up her swimsuit top.
That last action got Rick moving. Just as the top fell to the floor and he got an eye full of voluptuous female flesh, Rick grabbed his cowboy hat off his head and covered Kandy's nakedness. The model laughed at Rick’s red face and said, "Ride ‘em, cowboy."
A.J.'s day wasn’t going much better than his brother's, though he did get some investigating in prior to his ten a.m. call to the set. Based on what little information he was gathering, A.J. was rapidly coming to the conclusion that a few evening stake-outs were going to be necessary if they hoped to solve this case by Friday night, despite Rick's promise to the contrary. By ten-thirty that morning, A.J.'s role as private investigator had taken a back seat to his role as model.
The detective was standing on a bare set with nothing but a smoky gray backdrop behind him. He was dressed in a black tuxedo and white tailored shirt. The female crewmembers gave him appreciative looks, as they took in the elegantly dressed man whose blue bow tie and cummerbund matched the color of his eyes.
The only prop A.J. was using for this shoot was a portable oak staircase. The photographer had A.J. stand on the steps for numerous shots, sit on them for more shots, and lean against the railing for yet more shots.
As the last photos were shot A.J. had his left foot planted on the third step, while his left arm rested casually on that bent knee. A.J.'s right hand was at his waist, the tuxedo jacket pushed away from his hip so the image was one of a stylishly attired man at ease with himself and his world.
"Great. Good. Love it," the photographer encouraged as A.J. smiled and turned in numerous directions based on the instructions given by the man taking the pictures. "Got 'em all. We're done."
As the photographer left the set for a coffee break, A.J. breathed a sigh of relief and took off the tuxedo jacket. He was relieved to get out from underneath the hot lights. The woman in charge of wardrobe, a petite, curly headed brunette named Sara, approached A.J.
"A little warm under those lights, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. Definitely not ideal conditions for tuxedo wearing."
"No, I imagine not," Sara agreed. "You'll be cooler during the next shoot. I promise."
"Oh? Why? What are we doing next?"
The woman looked down at the clipboard she was holding. "An ad campaign for Fruit of the Loom underwear. Marion personally picked you for this session. "
"I'll just bet she did," A.J. muttered.
Before Sara could ask A.J. what he meant, her assistant, Debbie, approached carrying a handful of skimpy men's briefs in a variety of colors. Debbie held the briefs out to the blond man.
"These are for the next shoot, A.J. Start with whatever color you prefer."
A.J. shook his head as he took two steps backwards. He already knew that the briefs the woman held in her hands were not going to cover nearly enough of him.
"No. No way."
"But, A.J., you have--"
The young assistant looked to Sara for guidance. By virtue of her years in the business, Sara had a vast amount of experience with temperamental models.
Sara took over and attempted to pacify the blond man. "Oh, A.J., don't be shy. You're perfect for this shoot. "
"No, Sara," came the emphatic reply.
Sara smiled and switched tactics. Based on past experience she knew that flattery worked wonders in situations like this.
"You've got a great body, A.J. At least what I've seen of it. It shouldn't always be hidden within tuxedos and business suits. Debbie and I would like to see a bit more of...you.”
That remark only served to make A.J. blush. The red twinge to his complexion deepened further as Debbie, whom he estimated was young enough to be his daughter, held up a pair of lime green briefs and ran her fingers over the fly area while grinning seductively.
A.J. ignored the woman and turned to Sara. "No, Sara. I want no part of this next shoot."
"But Marion said you were the only man for the job. She said--"
"I don't care what Marion said. I'm not doing it."
"I'll have to call her to the set, A.J. She'll be very upset," Sara emphasized, hoping that information would convince A.J. to change his mind, and thereby avoid further hassles.
That strategy backfired on the woman when A.J. simply shrugged. "Go ahead. Call her. I'll tell her myself."
Sarah sighed as she walked to the phone hanging on the far wall. “All right. Have it your way. But Marion’s not going to be happy.”
“Then feel free to let her know that I’m not happy,” A.J. said as he walked to the opposite side of the set.
Ten minutes later, Marion entered the big room to find A.J., still attired in his tuxedo pants and dress shirt, leaning against the wall. The detective’s arms were folded across his chest in a stance that broadcast his unwillingness to cooperate on this issue.
Marion asked Sara and Debbie to leave them alone. Once the set was empty, she advanced on A.J. with her most engaging smile while carrying a pair of Fruit of the Looms.
"A.J., they're no different than the swim suit you wore for the Faces Of The 90s pageant."
"You’re right, they’re not. The difference now is, that time I had no choice. This time I do."
"A.J...pleeeeease," Marion cooed, as she ran her fingers along A.J. 's right arm.
A.J. moved out of her reach and held his ground. "Marion, I'm a private investigator, not a model. So far I've done everything you've asked of me. I've changed my clothes fifty times a day, stood under hot lights in a tuxedo jacket, in suit jackets, in wool sweaters, not to mention a winter coat. I've worn short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, jeans, shorts, dress slacks, tennis shoes, and even no shoes. I've posed with girls half my age who've made numerous passes at me, put up with one of your male photographers making a pass at me, but this..." A.J. pointed at the briefs in Marion's hand, "I will not do. You can cry, throw a tantrum, or plead until you're blue in the face. I don't care. I will not have my picture taken while I’m wearing nothing but a pair of underwear."
"Would you do it if I got Rick to take the pictures?"
Just the thought of that suggestion caused A.J. to shout, "No!"
Marion sighed with defeat. "All right. I guess I can't make you do it. But you would have been perfect for it. You could have done for Fruit of the Loom what Jim Palmer did for Jockey."
Not for the first time since he agreed to take this job, A.J. found himself reminding Marion as to what his real purpose here was.
"Marion, I'm a private investigator. I'm not a model, a former baseball player, or an underwear salesman."
"That's too bad, A.J., because I've got a feeling you could have sold a hell of a lot of briefs. But all right. Have it your way." Marion smiled at the blond man. "Just remember though, I love a man who plays hard to get."
"Marion, I am not playing hard to get!" A.J. called after the woman who paid him no heed, as she made her way out of the door while twirling the lime green briefs on one fingertip.
A frustrated A.J. vowed to the empty room, "I'll get you for this, Rick. I don't know how or when, but I will get you for this."
Long after dark that same evening, the Simon brothers were sitting in a rental car across the street from the back door of Nouveau Chic. They had taken an educated guess and decided that no one in his right mind would enter the building at this time of night through the front doors. That area faced a busy thoroughfare and was well lit by streetlights, and by ground level ornamental lights that illuminated the face of the building.
Rick and A.J. had spent the past three days doing as much detective work as possible from the inside to little avail. Rick had agreed with A.J., when the younger man proposed they stakeout the back door of Nouveau Chic. The rear hallway that branched from the back door contained the darkroom, meaning a thief wouldn’t have to venture very far into the building.
Midnight was approaching as the brothers sat hunkered down in the vehicle. With a grumble, A.J. reminded Rick, "And you said this job wouldn't involve any stakeouts."
"So there was one minor flaw in my plan. Sue me."
"I'd like to," A.J. declared. "And not just one minor flaw, Rick. Several. Believe me, several."
Rick laughed. "Yeah, I heard you and Marion had a little run-in over a pair of skivvies today."
"How'd you hear about that?"
"Marion told me."
“Oh, no," A.J. groaned, imagining just what Marion had told Rick.
"She came to me after she had finished talkin’ to you. She was hoping that I'd be able to convince you to do that ad for her."
"What'd you tell her?"
"That you and I had made a pact when we'd gone into business together not to intrude into one another's personal lives, and that I consider your choice of underwear...and who you model them for, your personal business. Because of that, I wouldn't try to influence you on way or another on the issue."
"I can't believe I'm actually going to tell you thank you for that rather...twisted piece of help. But thank you."
"You're welcome. And that just goes to prove that you'd better be good to me until this job ends. I just may have to save your tail again from Marion's raging hormones. "
A.J. was about to make a smart comeback, when out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of movement by the back door. The shape wasn't easily discernible, but the detective raised the camera he’d been holding in his lap and began taking pictures with the silent shutter designed for these types of covert operations. While A.J. did that, Rick lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and focused them on the person picking the lock. After the perpetrator had entered the building Rick muttered, "Well, I'll be damned."
"Come on," Rick urged, as he got out of the car.
A.J. did as his brother instructed. He quietly closed his car door, and slung the camera strap over his neck. He trailed Rick across the street, and crouched down next to his brother in a row of decorative bushes thirty feet from the back door.
Twenty minutes later, the person exited the building and locked the back door, while A.J. took more pictures. The woman hurried past the bushes without realizing the detectives where concealed within them. Rick watched until she’d turned a corner. He heard a car start and pull away from the curb.
"Well, whatta’ ya’ know,” Rick said as he stood. “It's Kandy with a K."
"Who?" A.J. asked, while standing as well.
"One of the models I've worked with every day this week. Geez, I didn't think she was smart enough to tie her own shoes, let alone pick a lock and get around an alarm system. She comes off as a real air head."
"Good cover," A.J. pointed out.
"I suppose so," Rick agreed as he and A.J. crossed the street to their rental car. As Rick opened the driver’s side door he started to laugh.
"What's so funny?"
"Boy, is Miss Kandy gonna be in for a big surprise if she tries to sell the pictures I took of her."
" ‘Cause I think the only thing I focused on was her boobs."
A.J. rolled his eyes. "That figures.”
Before Rick would begin extolling the virtues of Kandy’s chest to his brother, A.J. climbed in the car and said, “Let’s go back to the motel and get what sleep we can. It’s going to be a short enough night as it is.”
Rick couldn’t disagree with his sibling regarding that thought. He started the car, put it in drive, checked for traffic, and then pulled onto the street. Given the lateness of the hour, and the long day he and A.J. had put in at Nouveau Chic, Rick was thankful the motel was only a few blocks away.
Later that morning, the Simons obtained Kandy's address from Marion’s secretary. Under the guise of Boyer and Crumset, Building Inspectors, they pulled off a black bag job of the young woman's expensive Beverly Hills apartment, but couldn't find the negatives that Kandy had stolen from the Nouveau Chic dark room. After a second complete search, the frustrated detectives left the apartment to meet with Marion in her office.
Over sandwiches at noon in a remote corner of a restaurant several miles from Nouveau Chic, Rick and A.J. had told Marion all they had seen happen the night before. They also told her that the negatives were not in Kandy's apartment, which led them to believe that she might have passed them off to someone else. After much discussion, Rick, A.J., and Marion formed a plan that they hoped would bear fruit. Kandy and a male model were scheduled to do a shoot at three o’clock that afternoon. As soon as the trio returned to Nouveau Chic, Marion arranged to have A.J. substitute for the other man, and arranged for Rick to be the photographer.
Two hours later, Rick, A.J., and Marion were waiting on a set for Kandy's arrival. The perky young blond bounded into the room dressed in white tennis shorts and a red polo shirt, her outfit matching A.J.'s exactly.
Kandy smiled at A.J. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Kandy...with a K."
"I'm A. J.,” the detective grinned while shaking the woman’s hand. “That's with an A. and a J."
Kandy giggled like a schoolgirl. "You're funny."
"Yeah,” Rick muttered with disgust, as he observed the flirting. “He's a laugh a minute. "
Kandy sidled up to Rick, "Oh, Ricky, don't be jealous. There's plenty of Kandy to go around."
Rick eyed Kandy’s chest. "I'd have to agree with that," he said under his breath while Marion supervised the placing of her “prize models,” as she referred to the two blonds.
A variety of shots were taken over the next half hour that portrayed a playful couple out for a day of fun. The last few pictures involved A.J. and Kandy posing with A.J.’s arms around the young woman - first as he stood behind her, then as they stood side by side, and now as they stood facing one another.
"OK, we're just about finished," Rick informed his models. Kandy was holding up well, like the professional she was, but Rick could tell by the forced smile A.J. wore that his younger brother was hot, uncomfortable, bored, and tired.
Just for the fun of getting A.J. riled, and to get back at him for being the lucky one whose hands were so close to Kandy's breasts, Rick egged him on. "Come on, blondie, give me a little pout."
A.J. threw Rick a look that was clearly interpreted as, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
When A.J. failed to comply with his brother’s request, Rick shook his head. "No, not the dumb blond look, the pouty look. Come on, I know you can do it. Stick that lower lip out for me."
As Kandy began to giggle, and Marion laughed, an embarrassed A.J. glared at Rick.
"No, no, not that look either. A pout! I want a pout!" Rick thought a moment. "Let's see...you've got an older brother, don't ya’, blondie?"
"Yes,” A.J. acknowledged through clenched teeth. “Unfortunately."
"Okay, then let's say you're...uh, five years old, and you're sittin’ on the front steps mindin’ your own business eatin’ a fudgesicle - your favorite, and a special treat given to you by your mom 'cause you've just helped her weed the garden. All of a sudden your big brother sneaks up behind you, grabs the fudgesicle out of your hand and takes off with it. Now, how would you look?"
Without intending to, A.J. pouted at the memory Rick's words brought forth.
Before A.J. could change his expression, Rick snapped more pictures. "Perfect! Just perfect, blondie. That was just the look I was waitin’ for."
The photo shoot ended ten minutes later. As A.J. walked past Rick on his way to the door, he grumbled just loud enough for his older brother to hear, "Stealing my fudgesicle was a pretty lousy thing to do." Louder, he added, "And don't call me blondie!"
Rick put his arm around Kandy as she came to stand beside him. "Gee, I wonder what his problem is?"
Kandy smiled up at the detective. "I guess he doesn't appreciate what a good photographer does for his models."
"No, darlin’, I guess he doesn't," Rick agreed. He gathered up the used rolls of film and coaxed, "Come on, Miss Kandy with a K, and walk me to the dark room."
"That's the best offer I've had all day, Ricky."
"Well, then, you'd better take me up on it."
Rick put an arm around Kandy’s shoulders. They exited into the hallway, and then followed the corridors until they reached the dark room. Rick dropped the film of for development with one of the technicians. When it had been logged in, Rick invited Kandy to join him for a cup of coffee in the employee lounge. Some innocent flirting took place during that afternoon break, or at least innocent on Rick’s part, before Kandy had to hurry off to her next photo shoot.
The model kissed Rick’s cheek as she stood. “See ya’ later, Ricky.”
“Yeah, darling,’ see ya’ later,” Rick promised in return, knowing full well Kandy had no idea how prophetic his words were.
Things went like clockwork from there on out for the Simon brothers. At eleven forty-five that night, they once again took photos of Kandy as she entered, then ten minutes later exited, Nouveau Chic.
Marion had arranged for Kandy to be in Malibu early the next morning for some pictures to be taken at the beach during sunrise. Rick and A.J. hoped that this early morning job would prevent Kandy from handing off the negatives she had stolen the night before.
At seven o'clock that Friday morning, Boyer and Crumset once again entered Kandy's apartment building. This time when they left the building, they had an envelope of photo negatives in hand.
That afternoon Marion had all the evidence she needed spread out on her desktop when Kandy entered the office. The model wasn’t surprised to find Rick and A.J. seated in the chairs. She assumed the foursome was getting together to discuss another photo shoot.
It didn't take the buxom blond long to find out that was not the case, however. Although she initially denied all the accusations aimed at her, Kandy finally began to wear down as the evidence against her mounted.
“Kandy, why?” Marion pleaded. “Why would you do this to me? You were one of my protégés. I had such big plans for you. I would have seen you all the way to a runway career in Paris."
At that point, a teary eyed Kandy confessed to her crime.
By that afternoon, the necessary statements had been given to the police. Marion’s secretary handed the Simon brothers a check for their services, plus the additional five thousand dollar bonus.
The secretary shook hands with each of the brothers as she apologized for her boss.
"Marion wanted me to tell you gentlemen that she's sorry she had to rush out of here while you were still speaking with the police. She had to catch a plane to New York."
“Tell her not to worry about it," Rick assured, as he accepted first the check, and then the envelope containing five thousand dollars in cash.
A.J. grabbed both items away from Rick before he had a chance to get a firm grip on them. He smiled at the woman. "Yes, Marion her not to worry, her apology is accepted. And please tell her thank you from Simon and Simon Investigations for the job, and the bonus."
With a final goodbye the brothers exited the office. Rick watched as A.J. moved down the hallway with a lighthearted bounce to his step.
"For a guy who's hated every second of this job, who I practically had to drag here kicking and screaming, you're sure happy all of a sudden."
A.J. slowed his stride, allowing his brother to catch up to him.
"I'm happy because this job is over, and because we've got a nice fat paycheck plus a bonus in cash. Not to mention the fact that Marion couldn't be here to say goodbye, which means I never have to see her again in my life. Which, by the way, doesn't hurt my feelings a bit."
"You mean the ever polite and proper Andrew Simon isn't going to call and personally thank Marion for the payment, like you would any other client that we didn't get to see on our last day on the job?"
"No. Absolutely not. If you want to call her, be my guest. But I'm done with this woman. Through. Finished. She's out of my life forever now."
"Have it your way, A.J.," Rick conceded. "But you know, she's not that bad. A little over-zealous maybe, but--"
"Well, okay. A lot overzealous. But still, she's nice. And quite a business woman, too."
"I'll admit she's a good business woman, and she might be nice, but all that doesn't outweigh the fact that she's not my type...not to mention too old for me."
Rick guffawed loudly at A.J.'s last remark, and then spent a good deal of time debating the truth of that statement with his brother.
A.J. didn't rise to the bait, however, and finally put an end to the conversation as they reached the Camaro.
"Say what you want to, Rick, I don't care. I've got my money, and I'm rid of her. That's all I care about. I never have to see Marion St. Clair again, and that suits me just fine."
Because Rick couldn't think of a suitable reply, he let the subject drop as he and A.J. got in the car and headed for home.
The Simon brothers had not heard from Marion St. Clair since completing her case over two months earlier now. It was a Thursday afternoon in early October. Rick and A.J. were in their office, discussing a new case they had just been hired for by a San Diego insurance firm.
A.J. was seated at his desk with Rick sitting across from him, when the office door opened and a smiling Cecilia Simon entered in a rush of excitement.
"Hello, boys!" Cecilia sang as she bounded across the room.
In a stage whisper, Rick said to his brother, "I haven't seen Mom this happy since she found out Jack Rayburn of Tanner P.I. For Hire was gonna be in town.”
Cecilia ignored Rick's remark as she bent and kissed his cheek. She breezed over to do the same to A.J., and gave her blond son a firm hug in the process.
"Oh, A.J., I'm just so proud of you."
A confused A.J. hugged his mother back, while looking over her shoulder at Rick. The equally perplexed Rick shrugged, indicating that he had no idea as to what was going on. Cecilia released her youngest as she pulled a folded magazine from the side pocket of her purse. She rapidly leafed through the magazine as though she was in search of something.
“But, honey, why didn’t you tell me?”
"Tell you what, Mom?" A. J. asked.
"Why didn't you tell me about this?"
Cecilia smiled as she unfolded a poster-sized centerfold of A.J. The detective was wearing the black tuxedo he’d been photographed in that July day at Nouveau Chic. His left leg was resting on a stair step while he posed casually for the camera. The smile A.J. wore was so broad that his dimples showed, and the light had hit his eyes just right, giving them a sparkling quality. Down in the right hand corner of the poster, A.J. was boldly proclaimed as, Mr. October.
A.J. stared at the picture with his mouth hanging open. “What...what...how...where--”
"When the mail man arrived with my latest issue of Mature Lady, imagine my surprise when I discovered that this month's centerfold is my baby! My phone's been ringing off the hook all morning! Everyone's calling to say they've seen your picture, A.J."
"Oh, no," A.J. groaned.
"And look at these, sweetheart. These are good, too," Cecilia pointed out, as she showed A.J. three other pictures that the magazine contained of him. One shot was of A.J. attired in a light gray business suit and brightly colored tie, in another he was casually dressed in a pair of blue Docker slacks and a blue and white striped shirt, while the last picture Cecilia held up was the one Rick had taken of A.J. and Kandy together in their tennis outfits.
"The only thing I don't like about this one is that you're not smiling."
In a tightly controlled voice, A.J. told his mother, "That's my pouty look." He glared at Rick. "The photographer wanted me to pose that way."
"I certainly can't understand why. You're so handsome when you smile. I don't think that photographer knew what he was doing."
Rick hunkered down in his chair as A.J. answered their mother. "No, Mom, I don’t think that photographer knew what he was doing either. I definitely don’t think he knew what he was doing, but I have a feeling that in just a few minutes he’s going to find out what a big mistake he made."
Cecilia ignored whatever it was A.J. was talking about. "I love these pictures, honey, but if you were running short on cash I would have loaned you whatever you needed. You didn't have to get a second job."
"Mother! I didn't get a second job!" an indignant A.J. exclaimed. "We were on a case - that one back in July when we were up in L.A. for a week, remember? We were hired to catch a thief by the company that produces that magazine. I was undercover! Those pictures weren't supposed to be published."
Cecilia ignored her son's outrage, nor did she seem to notice the way Rick was refusing to make eye contact with his brother.
"Well, whatever the reason," Cecilia said. "I think it's wonderful. Rick, does your friend C.W. still run the news stand on the corner?"
"Do you think he'd give me a deal if I bought...oh say, thirty or forty copies of Mature Lady?"
"Mother!" A. J. protested.
"I'm sure he would. You just tell him you're Rick Simon's mom. He'll treat ya’ right."
"Good. Now, let me think...all the girls in my bridge club will want a copy, and Aunt Marion and Aunt Pat will want copies. Your cousin Elizabeth will want one, and then--"
Again, A.J.'s outburst was ignored. "And Edie and Margaret will want at least two a piece – oh, and my cousin Bertha up in Anaheim. She used to have such a crush on your father, A.J. When I visited her last summer and showed her pictures of you boys, she just went on and on about how much you look like Jack. And I'll bet Town and Temple would like to have one, too. I'll drop a copy in the mail to them, as well.”
Cecilia paid her son no mind as she continued to list what family members and friends she needed to purchase copies of Mature Lady for. She gave each son a parting peck on the cheek and headed for the door.
"I'd better hurry. I want to get as many copies as I can before they're all gone." Cecilia paused on her way out of the office. "Rick, what did you do for this case? Why wasn't your picture taken? It would have been perfect if both of my good looking sons had been in this magazine."
"Guess I'm just not as lucky as A.J., Mom. I was too busy to get photographed. You know, someone in this business has to do all the work. As usual, it was me."
"Oh, yes, Mom. Rick was much too busy. Obviously a lot busier than I realized. Busy doing all kinds of devious things."
Cecilia overlooked what was going on between her children, as she resumed her rush for the door. "Bye, boys! I'll call you later, A.J., and let you know how many copies I was able to get."
"Wonderful," came A.J.'s sarcastic reply, as soon as his mother was out of hearing range.
Rick got up from the chair he had been sitting in and walked backwards, seeking protection behind his desk.
"Rick! Don't move. I'm going to kill you for this!"
A.J. advanced on his sibling. "You'd better have a damn good explanation, because I know I didn't sign a contract allowing those pictures to be used, and I can guess by the look on your face that you've done something I don't want to know about."
"A.J., it wasn't my fault. She was cryin’ and carryin’ on, and--”
"Who was crying?"
"Marion. She had already seen how well all those pictures had turned out, and she really wanted to use them, only you wouldn't sign the release form, so...”
“So...uh...I kinda did."
"You forged my name?"
"Well, I...uh...well, yeah, that's what I did, I guess. "
"Rick, you had no right to do that! Of all the shit you've pulled on me over the years, and you've pulled plenty, this takes the cake."
Rick, beginning to regret having given in to Marion's tears. "Look, I'm real sorry. But how was I supposed to know Mom subscribed to that magazine? I didn't think anybody we knew would see it. And I made sure Marion didn't use your name anywhere."
"Oh, that was big of you."
"Look, A. J., I'm sorry. I'll..."
Before Rick could finish his sentence the phone rang, and it continued to do so for the next two hours. During that time period, A.J. swore he talked to every woman he had ever encountered, from old high school girlfriends, to old college girlfriends, to an array of women he'd dated in his adult years, to female business clients, and even two waitresses from the Steak Pit.
Rick was enjoying himself as he watched his brother no more than hang up from one phone call, only to have to pick up another. He was also grateful to all those lady callers who were saving him from A.J.'s wrath.
The last call A.J. took caught the detective by surprise. Janet Fowler-Cassidy exclaimed over the pictures without giving A.J. a chance to explain how they ended up in Mature Lady to begin with.
"And I've shown them to all the women in my office building. I’m practically a celebrity now that everyone knows I used to be engaged to Mr. October. I also told the girls what a sweet guy you are, A.J. Why don't you drive up here to Sacramento for a visit soon? I've got two weeks worth of dates lined up for you already."
A.J. rolled his eyes at Janet's last sentence. Of all the women he knew, she was the last one he would have expected to fall for the hype those photos had created.
“Uh...listen, Janet, I have to go. Work is piling up around here that I need to get done before five.”
“But you’ll come up and visit, won’t you?”
“Um...maybe, but I don’t know when. I’m pretty busy right now.”
“I understand. Well, you call me if you think you can get away for a few days. You won’t be left without a date any evening you’re here, that’s for sure.”
“Okay. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Bye.”
“Goodbye, Mr. October.”
A.J. shook his head at this uncharacteristic giddiness on Janet’s part as he broke their connection. This time he left the phone off the hook, and then headed for the door.
Rick hurried to catch up to his brother. “Where are you goin’?”
"I can't take that damn phone any more. Before Mom showed up, we were planning to go to the station to get that information from Abby, so let's do it now. I've gotta get out of here. It's almost five anyway."
"Look, A.J., I am sorry. If I had known this was gonna turn out to be such a hassle, I never would have done it."
A.J. refused to look at his brother as they walked to the elevator, nor would he make a reply to the man.
Rick attempted to patch things over as he pulled an envelope from a pocket of his field jacket. "Marion wanted me to give you this when I thought the time was right. I think it's the right time now."
A.J. stopped walking and took the envelope Rick handed him. He opened it, surprised to find a check inside made out to himself for a substantial amount of money, and signed by Marion.
"What's this for?"
"The pictures. Since Marion used ‘em, she's gotta pay you for your work."
"Blood money," A.J. growled.
"Hey, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, little brother. That's a lot of dough. You're the one who's been sayin’ that you wanna remodel your kitchen, but you can't ‘cause you don’t have the extra monel. Well, thanks to me, now you do."
A.J. thought Rick's words over. After a moment of thought the detective decided that there just might be a silver lining to this otherwise stormy cloud. He did want to have his kitchen remodeled. This check would easily cover the work that needed to be done.
"As much as I'd like to believe that you did this little favor solely for my benefit, I'm not that stupid. What was in it for you, Rick?"
"Come on, big brother, save the innocent act for Mom. What'd you get out of this?"
"Uh...well...as your agent--"
"My agent! "
"Uh...yeah. As your agent, I got ten percent of the dollar figure that's on that check."
"I thought models hired their own agents. I don't recall hiring you."
"In this case, A.J., an agent was appointed for you."
A.J. folded the check and put it in the inner pocket of his sport coat as the brothers entered the elevator.
“Rick, about this issue of being my agent?”
“Yeah?” Rick questioned, as the elevator began its descent.
Though he had several smart comebacks in mind, Rick knew he’d gotten off a lot easier than he might have where his brother’s anger was concerned, so decided it was best to keep his mouth shut. Which was exactly what Rick did, as the brothers headed to the police station in A.J.’s Camaro.
At first no one noticed the Simon brothers in the busy Homicide unit of the San Diego Police Department. They were walking toward Abby's office, when out of the corner of his eye, A.J. caught sight of a poster on the wall. Not the familiar poster that had hung on that wall ever since A.J. could remember that had read, ‘May The Force Be With You,’ but rather the poster from the latest issue of Mature Lady.
"Oh, no," A. J. gasped, as he did an about-face and headed for the door.
Rick had just caught sight of the new wall hanging, as well. He did his best to suppress a grin as various police officers took notice of the Simon brothers and began to tease A.J.
Fifteen minutes later, A.J. thought he had weathered the worst of the teasing. He found out he was wrong when Abigail Marsh entered the squad room.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't Mr. October right here in our humble little police station. You know, A.J., if you guys were that hard up for cash, you could have told me, and I would have thrown a few cases your way."
As everyone laughed, A.J. stammered out explanations that he realized were getting him nowhere, as the teasing and laughter continued to escalate.
When the room finally quieted down, Abby winked at A.J. and asked in a sultry, throaty voice, "So, blondie, where's the beefcake shots?"
"You know, the ones of you sprawled out on a bearskin rug wearing nothing but a smile."
The men in the squad room began laughing again at Abby's words, and then laughed even harder as she winked at the red-faced A.J. and blew him a kiss.
Over the noise, A.J. informed his brother through clenched teeth, "I'll wait for you in the car." The blond man exited the room, and only caused everyone to laugh harder when he yelled from the hallway, "Don't call me blondie! And take that damn picture down!"
By Friday afternoon A.J. was at the end of his rope with this incident. He had thought it was bad enough the previous day when every female he had ever said hello to had called, but today was even worse. Today all his male friends were calling to tease about the pictures their wives or girlfriends had shown them.
After A.J. hung up from the most recent phone call, he closed his eyes and rubbed his temples in a tell tale sign of a whopping headache. Rick studied his brother from where he sat behind his desk.
“A.J., I'm sorry. I really am."
"Just tell me how many more pictures Marion has in her possession."
"I suppose everything that was taken that week we were up there."
A.J. looked over at his brother. "That's got to be a couple of hundred at least! Rick, I can't take this for God knows how many more issues of that stupid magazine. I've got to get those pictures back and tear up that damn contract!"
"Are you sure that's what you want? You could make some big money here, kid."
"Okay, okay. If that's what you really wanna do, then I've got an idea."
"Oh, spare me another one of your ideas."
"Just hear me out, A.J. You're gonna like this one. How about if on Monday morning, I pick you up at your house - say around eight - and we'll drive up to L.A. and get the pictures and negatives from Marion, as well as tear up the contract?"
A.J. thought Rick's proposal over, and then agreed. "I should make you go up there and take care of this by yourself, since you're the one who got me into this mess in the first place, but Lord only knows what other kind of trouble you'll get me in if I send you alone, so all right. I'll be waiting for you at eight o’clock. But you’re going to take care of this, Rick. I don't care if Marion screams, cries, begs, or threatens to throw herself out a ten story window, I want those negatives and that contract."
"Okay, little brother. I'll take care of it."
"You'd better," A.J. warned, as the detectives stood to head home for the weekend.
A.J. was so anxious to get to L.A. on Monday morning and get the distasteful business with Marion St. Clair taken care of, that he didn't even allow his brother time to come in for a cup of coffee. Rick had no more than pulled into A.J. 's driveway, when his brother came out of the house, shut and locked the kitchen door, and climbed in the passenger side of the pickup.
"Mornin’," Rick greeted as he eyed his brother warily.
"Good morning," A.J. smiled brightly.
As Rick pulled out of the driveway he had one eye on the road, and one eye on his brother. "We are going to see Marion this morning, aren't we?"
"Oh, okay. I thought maybe I was mixed up, and we'd made plans to go fishin’ or something like that."
"Nope. We're going to see Marion."
As Rick drove through San Diego, he stole occasional glances at his brother. A.J. was attired in old worn running shoes, and wasn’t wearing any socks. His faded blue jeans had a ragged hole at the right knee, and the red boxing T-shirt he was wearing had long ago had the sleeves cut off of it. The blond man was also sporting a three-day growth of beard, and his hair looked like he had barely taken the time to run a comb through it. In no way was this how A.J. Simon ever appeared on a working weekday morning.
Fifteen minutes and a lot of thought later, Rick began to chuckle.
"What?" A.J. asked, as he looked at his laughing sibling.
"It might work, A.J., but don't count on it."
"What might work?"
"My guess is, that you're hoping Marion will find her prize model to be rather...unattractive today. Actually, just plain ugly describes it better."
Candidly, A. J. agreed. "I figure it's worth a shot."
"Considering you look like you slept in a back alley all weekend with a bad bottle of tequila, your plan just might work," Rick admitted, as his eyes slid to his brother once again. "Did you brush your teeth?"
"Of course I brushed my teeth! And I showered too, so you can relax. Although I'll admit that if I thought I was going to let Marion get within ten feet of me, I might have foregone those things this morning as well."
"I'm glad you didn't," was all Rick said as he returned his attention to his driving once again.
The Simon brothers didn't have to wait long to see Marion St. Clair that morning, although they were in her outer office long enough for A.J. to spot the Mr. October shot of himself framed and added to the wall where Marion displayed photos of her prize models.
Marion’s secretary showed the detectives into the woman’s office, and then exited the room. Marion rose from behind her desk.
“Rick! A.J.! How nice to see you.”
The woman kissed Rick on the cheek, then zeroed in on A.J., who was doing his best to stay in his big brother's shadow.
"Hello, A. - oh, I like it. I love it!" Marion exclaimed, as she caught sight of the blond stubble on A.J.'s face. Before he could stop her, Marion reached up with both of her hands and ran her palms across the detective’s cheeks. "Oh, A.J., it's perfect. Just perfect! I'm planning a new feature for Mature Lady that involves--"
"Marion, no!" A.J. removed the woman’s hands from his face.
The dangerous glint to A.J.'s eyes prompted Rick to gently disentangle Marion from his brother's grasp and lead her away from him. A.J. wanted no more encounters with Marion St. Clair, so he came directly to the point of his visit.
"Marion, I want that contract you and Rick doctored up, and I want it now. I also want all the negatives you have of me, and any developed photos as well."
"But, A. J.-- "
Marion sighed dramatically. "All right, A.J., if that's the way you want it."
Upon that confirmation, Marion walked over to her filing cabinet to retrieve the contract.
"I could have made you a big star, A.J. In the past four days we've gotten more letters and phone calls about you from our Mature Lady subscribers than any other model we've ever featured."
"The contract, Marion," was all A.J. said as he held out his right hand.
"You could have worked for me for the next ten years, and retired a wealthy man when you were barely more than fifty years old."
"Marion. The contract. Now.”
“All right, have it your way.” Marion handed A.J. the contract, then walked over to the intercom on her desk. She instructed her secretary to retrieve all the negatives and photos they had of A.J. in one of the file rooms.
“Please put them in an envelope for Mr. Simon, Lorraine, and then give the envelope to him when he leaves.”
“Yes, Marion,” Lorraine confirmed through the speaker.
Marion flipped the ‘off’ button on the intercom while looking at A.J. "Christy Hefner called this morning. She's the head of Playboy Enterprises now that her father's retired. She saw your pictures, and was hoping you'd do a session for Playgirl. You, and Rick, and I, could have made a fortune off that one, A.J."
At the word fortune, Rick's eyes lit up. "A.J., Christy Hefner! The Playboy mansion! Playgirl magazine! I bet with just a few hours of work you could make--"
"Rick, no! Forget it, I want both of you to understand that
my modeling career is over as of right this minute! I don't care who calls or what they offer!"
A.J. had no desire to deal with any more of Rick’s or Marion’s schemes. He finished his business dealings by saying, "Goodbye, Marion," and informing his brother, "I'll wait for you in the outer office. Hurry up."
Once A.J. had exited Marion's office, Rick apologized, "Sorry darlin.’ I wish I could have gotten him to change his mind for you, but there's no chance of that now, believe me."
Marion gave Rick a smile while gracefully conceding defeat.
"Rick, in this business there's an old saying, you win some, you lose some. I learned many years ago that you can't cry over spilled milk...or lost opportunities. Part of the secret to being as successful as I am, is that when I see someone I want, I go after him or her. But sometimes I get turned down, like I did with your brother today. It's part of the trade."
"Still, I'm sorry. I know you were countin’ on A.J. being your next superstar, and I guess I led you to believe that I could convince him to work for you."
"Don't worry about it. In time, A.J. will become just another pretty face to me."
Rick chuckled. "Glad to hear it. No hard feelings then?" Rick extended his right hand to the woman. Marion encased Rick's hand in a firm grasp and shook it.
"No hard feelings," she confirmed.
As Marion held on to Rick's hand, she studied him closely, eyeing his cowboy boots, long legs, and lean torso. He was dressed in his usual attire of blue jeans, blue work shirt, and khaki field jacket.
"You know, Rick, you're a handsome man, too."
"Yes, very handsome. As I started to tell A. J., I'm preparing a new feature for Mature Lady entitled, Rugged California Man." Marion said this last phrase with dramatic flair, using her left hand to pan the air as she emphasized, Rugged California Man. She looked up at Rick, eyes shining with excitement. "You, Rick, will be my Rugged California Man."
"Oh...uh, Marion, I don't think so, I've uh...already got a job and I...uh...don’t think I can take any time off right now, so--"
"It'll be wonderful. We'll go up to the mountains to do the shoot. Do you know how to ride a horse, Rick?"
"Well, yeah...but I--" Rick stammered. as he tried to back away from Marion. That action did Rick little good, since her grip on his right hand was strong and firm.
"Great! Just great! I can see it now. We'll have you
sitting bareback on a beautiful Appaloosa stallion. You'll be wearing a pair of snug fitting Levi's and a brown Stetson hat...with no shirt, of course."
"Uh, Marion, no. I don't think--"
While Rick stuttered and stammered, Marion reached around and pinched his rear end.
"Ah!" the detective rubbed the smarting cheek. “What’d you do that for?”
"Rick, could you gain five pounds on your bottom by January?"
"Look, Marion, I don't think I can do any of this. We’re booked solid with cases through--"
Marion continued to advance on the lanky detective, backing Rick right up against the far wall. She walked her red polished fingernails up his chest and started unbuttoning the buttons of his shirt. "Rick, do you have chest hair?"
"Marion, don't do that!" Rick exclaimed, as he fought to re-button each button the woman's fast hands had undone.
"Oh, you do have chest hair. Chest hair is very in right now. Women love it."
As Rick concentrated on getting his shirt back together, Marion homed in on his belt buckle. "Rick, what's your waist measurement?"
While Marion kept up a steady stream of chatter pertaining to Rick being her Rugged California Man, the detective worked his way out from the wall and began circling the room in an attempt to elude Marion's grasp. As woman continued advance on the detective and mime his every move, the wide-eyed, frantic Rick resorted to the only course of action left him. He turned toward the open office door and yelled, "A.J., help! A.J., help me!"
All Rick heard in return was his brother's laughter. Rick glared at his sibling, but quickly turned his attention back to Marion, whose hands were at his belt buckle once again.
"A.J.!” Rick panted as he danced out of Marion’s grasp. “A.J., come on. Give me some help here. A.J.!”
It was only because A.J. had the envelope in hand that Lorraine had prepared for him, and because he wanted to leave Nouveau Chic for good, that A.J. took pity on his sibling and offered assistance. As Rick passed the doorway, A.J. reached out and snared his arm. He pulled his brother from the office, calling, “Goodbye, Marion!” as he hustled Rick toward the elevator.
Marion looked out of her office window and watched the brothers run for Rick’s pickup truck. Lorraine joined her, commenting, “They sure seem to be in a hurry to get out of here. What happened?”
Marion put an arm around her secretary’s shoulders. “It’s like I always say, you win some, you lose some. Now let’s go to lunch. There’s that restaurant down on Tenth Street called the Working Man’s Hide-Out.”
Lorraine wrinkled her nose. “Why do you want to eat there? I hear the food is so full of grease you could use it to lubricate your car’s engine.”
“Exactly. Which is why that’s where I just might find my Rugged California Man.”
“Oh,” Lorraine nodded. “Okay. Sounds like a good place to start, anyway.”
“Yes, it does,” Marion agreed, as the women walked together to her car.
The Simon brothers had driven five miles from Nouveau Chic when Rick slowed his truck and pulled against the curb.
“What are we stopping here for?” A.J. asked.
“I’m hungry. Let’s eat lunch before we head home.”
“All right, but where?”
Rick pointed to a sign down the street.
“The Working Man’s Hide-Out?” A.J. questioned. “Sounds like a greasy spoon.”
“Maybe so, but where else can we go with you dressed like that?”
“Oh, like you’re dressed so much better,” A.J. said, as the brothers exited Rick’s truck and began walking toward the restaurant. “Marion homed in on you quickly enough when she realized she’d struck out with me.”
“Listen, I don’t wanna hear that woman’s name ever again, you got it? As far as I’m concerned, she’s history. We never have to see her again. Deal?”
“Deal,” A.J. nodded. “I’m glad you’re finally seeing the light where Marion is concerned.”
“Oh, believe me, A.J.,” Rick said, as he buttoned the final button on his shirt that Marion had undone, “I’ve seen the light. Your big brother has seen the light.”
As the Simon brothers entered the Working Man’s Hide-Out they were unaware of the Mercedes Benz that parked behind Rick’s truck, and unaware of the woman who exited it, determined to find her Rugged California Man before the lunch hour was over.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~