The Call Of The Open Road


By:  Kenda





     Cecilia Simon addressed the boys before her.  "I remember the first time Rick was arrested."


     Cricket's dark eyes grew round with shock.  "Rick was arrested?


     "Oh," Cecilia scoffed,  "they said he stole Old McDoogal's car and took it for a joyride, just because he had the reputation of getting in trouble."


     From where he sat on a bale of straw Rick hung his head and mumbled,  "Mom..."


     Cecilia continued as though her son hadn't spoken.  "And after an entire day at the police station, his father and I convinced them that Rick couldn't possibly have done it."


     "Mom..." Rick interrupted to confess,   "I did it."


     Over the laughter of the campers Cecilia stated firmly,  "That's not the point.  The point is we stuck together and had faith in each other no matter how bad things looked."


     Rick and A.J. exchanged thoughtful glances at their mother's words, and the long ago memory they evoked.*


*The above scene and conversation taken from the aired episode - Sunrise At Camp Apollo




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     "Hey, Rick!  Whattya' doin'?"


     Rick Simon turned his head from where he sat on the bumper of his mother's second-hand Chevy station wagon.  The chrome was warm beneath the seat of his blue jeans, and just wide enough to be a comfortable perch for a lanky fourteen-year-old boy.  And a comfortable perch for that boys’s almost nine-year-old brother.  Rick scooted over to make room for A.J.


     "Just watchin' Ole' Man McDoogal polish his Thunderbird."


     A.J. bit into the glossy red apple he held in his right hand, then passed it to Rick. 


     "Thanks," Rick said as he, too, took a bite of the crisp sweet fruit.


He handed the apple back to A.J., then returned his attention to the neighbor who was waxing his brand new car.  Unrestrained admiration shone from the teen's eyes.


     "That is one cool car.  Take a look at that baby, will ya', A.J.  And the color...that's the neatest color I've ever seen on a car."


     A.J. followed Rick's gaze to the driveway across the street. 


     Mr. McDoogal had brought the 1958 Ford Thunderbird home three weeks earlier.  And in that three week time span, he'd given the car more attention than a mother gives her newborn baby.  He washed it every day, waxed it once a week, and could often be seen running his hands over its gleaming surface as though it was a cherished lover.


     A.J. wrinkled his nose in answer to Rick's question.  "I don't think the color's so hot."


     Rick looked at his brother with disbelief.  "What's wrong with it?"


     "I don't know," A.J. shrugged his shoulders, "I just don't like it."


     Rick's gaze returned to the turquoise beauty.  "You're crazy, ya' know that?  That is the neatest color I've ever seen on a car.  Not like Mom's boring black station wagon, that's for sure."


     A.J. looked down at the car they were sitting on.  "Black's a good color for a car."


     "But not as good as turquoise.  And besides, McDoogal's car has white leather seats inside.  Real leather.  Not the fake stuff like our car has."


     "How do you know that?"  A.J. gnawed his way around the apple's core.  "Mr. McDoogal told you to stay away from his car."


     That was true.  Old Man McDoogal had chased Rick away from the automobile four times since bringing it home.  He wasn't exactly a friendly sort of man to begin with.  Things had been better when his wife was living. At least she made an effort to be neighborly.  But the woman had died two years earlier, leaving behind her seventy-two year old husband, and three grown sons who never came to visit the man.  Not that Rick could blame them.  Mr. McDoogal never spoke to anyone unless he was complaining about some minor problem in the neighborhood, or threatening someone with a lawsuit if he or she didn't stay off his property or away from his new car.


     In answer to A.J.'s question Rick answered succinctly.  "I just know."


     "You better stay away from that car, Rick," A.J. advised.  "Like Dad says, Mr. McDoogal's a crabby old coot.  He'll get you in trouble for sure."


     "Ah, I can handle the ole' goat.  Besides, I wasn't hurtin' nothin.’  I was just lookin’."


     "Yeah, but Mom and Dad told us to stay off his property and to stay away from him."


     "I know, I know.  Don't worry about it, little brother.  I can take care of myself."


     A.J. bowed to his brother's sensibilities.  "Okay."  He eyed the empty garbage can sitting at the end of the driveway Rick had yet to carry it to the garage as part of his summer-vacation chores.  The lid lay in the grass beside the can, where the garbage man had thrown it before the crack of dawn.   A.J. cocked his arm back with the intention of lobbing his apple core into the empty can.


     Mr. McDoogal straightened from where he was bent scrubbing the thick whitewalls of his tires.  "Don't you dare throw that in my yard, Andrew Simon, or I'll bend you over my knee and tan your hide for you!"


     A.J. dropped his arm to his side and scooted off the station wagon's bumper.  Before he could escape into the house Rick grabbed the browning core from him. 


     "He wasn't gonna throw it in your yard, you ole' coot!  He was gonna throw it in our garbage can!"


     "Rick..." A.J. hissed under his breath.  He followed his brother as Rick took three steps toward the curb - three steps that were countered by Mr. McDoogal.


     "I don't intend to put up with your smart mouth, Richard Simon!  If you were my boy my belt would be a permanent fixture on your backside!"


     "Well, I'm not your boy, you ole' fart!"


     "Rick!"  A.J. exclaimed his shock over what Rick had just called their neighbor.  "Rick, he'll tell Mom and Dad what you just said for sure."


     "Let him," Rick scoffed.  He turned to their neighbor and yelled,  "Let him tell Mom and Dad that I called him an old fart!  See what I care!  And now I'm gonna throw this apple core on his yard!"


     Rick darted across the quiet residential street.  He easily dodged the elderly Mr. McDoogal, who chased after him with an uneven gait.  Rick danced and jumped and twirled and laughed and shouted, as time and time again he pretended to throw the apple core onto the old man's lawn.  Mr. McDoogal shot from place to place in search of the offending piece of fruit like a pinball being ricocheted inside a machine.   A.J. ran up behind his brother and grabbed his shirt.


     "Come on, Rick!  Leave him alone!  Come on, let's go home!"


     Mr. McDoogal waved a thick fist in the air.  "You'll pay for this, Richard Simon!  You'll pay!  When I find that apple core I'm coming over to speak with your father!"


     Rick laughed and held the core up between thumb and forefinger.  "I don't know what you're talkin' about, you crazy ole' man.  I got the apple right here in my hand!"


     "Why you little..." Mr. McDoogal's fist pounded thin air with frustration.  "You tell your father I'm coming to see him, Mr. Smarty Pants!  When you can't sit down for the next week we'll see how funny you think tormenting an old man is."


     Mr. McDoogal turned on his heel and stomped off into his house.  Rick laughed as he walked back to his own yard and deposited the apple in the garbage can.  "Did you see him running around like a chicken with his head cut off lookin' for this stupid apple core?  Man, what an idiot."


     "You shouldn't have done that, Rick," A.J. stated with grave seriousness.  "You're gonna be in big trouble when Dad finds out."


     Rick waved a carefree hand.     "Nah. Dad can't stand Ole' McDoogal either.  I've heard him tell Mom that lots of times when he thinks we're sleeping."


     "But still, I don't think he'll like it when he finds out what you did today."


     Knowing how their father expected them to treat every adult with respect, regardless of the person's disposition, Rick knew A.J. was right.  He probably was going to be in trouble.  But Dad was at work right now, so why worry about it?  By the time Jack Simon did find out about the altercation, Rick was sure to have embellished his side of the story enough to keep himself out of major trouble.


     Rick put an arm around A.J.'s shoulders.   "You worry too much, kid, ya' know that?  I'll handle Dad when the time comes.  For now, let's go down to the park and see if anyone's started a game of football we can get in on."


     Despite the fact A.J. thought it would be in their best interest to go in the house and tell their mother about what had just happened, he allowed Rick to guide him in the direction of the park.   A half hour later the brothers were engrossed in a game of football with their friends, and the volatile encounter with their unpleasant neighbor was pushed to the back of their minds.



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     Rick saw his father through the glass of the kitchen door before his father saw him.  By his stance alone, and by the stance of Rick's mother, whom Jack Simon was talking to, Rick could tell his parents had been spoken to by Mr. McDoogal.


     The teen rubbed his palms over the thighs of his blue jeans and spared A.J. a brief glance of encouragement before opening the kitchen door.


     Jack crossed his arms over his chest.  "It's about time you two return to the scene of the crime."  He gave his sons a stern look.  "Take a seat at the table, both of you."


     Rick began to plead his case.  "Dad--"


     All Rick got for his effort was a firm,  "Now, Richard."  


     Rick and A.J. did as they were instructed.  Cecilia sat down beside them with her lips pursed tightly together.  Their father remained looming over them.


     "I think you two have some explaining to do regarding what occurred with Mr. McDoogal earlier this afternoon," Jack said.


     As much as Rick knew he should have prepared himself for this moment, and as much as he'd assured A.J. he had on their walk home from the park, the truth is he'd been negligent in doing so.  He'd counted on his father's own dislike of Mr. McDoogal to keep him out of trouble.  Hazarding a glance at Jack's face now, told Rick he'd greatly underestimated what his father's wrath would be upon hearing the news.


     "Richard," Jack prompted, "what happened between you boys and Mr. McDoogal?"

     Rick's mind cast about for a viable explanation for his behavior toward the elderly gentleman.   When his words came they sounded gravely sincere, even to his own ears. 


"He was gonna hit A.J., Dad."


     "He was going to what?"


     "He was gonna hit A.J.  See, me and A.J. were sittin' on the bumper of Mom's car just mindin' our own business and watchin' Ole' Ma...watchin' Mr. McDoogal polish his new Thunderbird.  A.J. was eatin' an apple, and when he was done he pitched his arm back to throw it in our garbage can.  That's when Mr. McDoogal went nuts and started runnin' toward A.J. with his fists in the air and threatening to hit him."


     Jack turned to his youngest son.  "Andy, is that true?  Was Mr. McDoogal going to hit you?"


     A.J., whose morals in regards to lying to his parents were considerably higher than Rick's, thought a long moment before replying.  That wasn't exactly how the events unfolded, but then again, Mr. McDoogal had threatened to tan his hide, hadn't he?  Therefore, A.J. supposed Rick's story was accurate enough to go along with.  


     Knowing how sensitive his youngest could be at times, Jack took A.J.'s silence as a reflection of how upset he was over the event.   He sat down at the table next to the boy and laid a gentle hand on his arm.  "Was Mr. McDoogal going to hit you, Andy?"

     Rick loved his little brother right at that moment for those big, innocent clear blue eyes, and that cherubic face of an angel that no parent could believe would ever tell a lie, or even a half-truth.  "Yes, Dad, he was," A.J. declared with heartfelt conviction.  "He said he was going to hit me, and he...he came after me like Rick said."


     "But were you going to throw your apple core in his yard?"  Cecilia asked.


     A.J. gave his head an emphatic negative shake.  At least about this he could tell the honest truth.  "No, I wasn't.  I was going to throw it in our garbage can just like Rick said.  I don't know why Mr. McDoogal thought I was going to throw it in his yard.  It's just like Rick told you.  We were sitting on our car, in our own driveway, minding our own business.  We weren't talking to Mr. McDoogal, or bothering him at all, just like you

said we aren't supposed to."


     Jack turned to Rick.  "But did you call him names, Rick?  Did you call Mr. McDoogal an old fart?"


     Rick hung his head as though in great shame.  "Yeah, I did."


     "Rick..." Cecilia's tone spoke her disappointment.


     Rick's head shot up.  "I'm sorry, Mom.  I really am.  But he made me mad.  Me and A.J. weren't botherin' him at all.  He had no reason to threaten A.J. like that."


     "No, he didn't."  Jack loosened his tie and undid the first two buttons on the collar of his dress shirt.  "But nonetheless, calling an adult names is wrong.  I commend you for protecting your brother, Rick.  That was the right thing to do.  But you should have walked away from the situation rather than enticing Mr. McDoogal further.  He also claims you came over onto his lawn and pretended to throw the apple core on it and then continuously teased him about it.  Is that true?"


     Rick's mind wavered back and forth with his answer.  Yes, he had pretended to throw the apple core on Old Man McDoogal's lawn, but technically he had never stepped foot in the guy's yard.  He took a deep internal breath, not quite sure as to where this lie would lead him.  It depended on how much of Mr. McDoogal's story Jack Simon believed.


     "No, I didn't do that.  I didn't go near his yard."


     Jack's eyes met those of his oldest son's.  When he was satisfied that Rick was telling him the truth, he nodded his head.  "All right."  Jack leaned back in his chair and took in both his sons.  "Once again your mother and I want to remind you boys to stay away from Mr. McDoogal."


     "But Dad," Rick protested,  "we didn't go near him.  We were mindin' our own--"


     Jack held up a hand in a gesture of silence.  "I realize that, Rick.  I'm simply reminding you to stay away from him.  The man is nasty and causes trouble."


     "Jack," Cecilia admonished at what she didn't think Jack should say in front of their sons about their neighbor.


     "For heaven's sake, Cece, I can't sit across the table from the boys and say McDoogal's a nice guy, because he's not."  Jack's attention returned to his sons.  "Nonetheless, he is our neighbor, and we need to make an effort to get along with him.  I don't want you boys going near him except for tomorrow morning."


     "Tomorrow morning?"  Rick questioned.


     "Yes, tomorrow morning.  You'll go over there tomorrow morning, Rick, and apologize to him for calling him an old fart."




     "You'll do it, Richard, or you'll be grounded for a week."


     Rick gave a heavy sigh and rolled his eyes.   Summer vacation had just started.  He had no intention of spending part of it grounded.


     "All right, all right.  I'll do it."

     "Good.   Now you boys go wash up, then come down and set the table for dinner."


     Rick knew he was getting off easy, so didn't protest either directive.  He stood and made a hasty retreat from the room, a relieved A.J. at his heels.       


     When their footsteps could be heard on the stairs Cecilia said to her husband, "Do you think Rick's telling us the whole story, Jack?"


     "I think so.  Besides, Andy confirms it."


     Cecilia chuckled.  "If you haven't figured it out by now, dear, A.J. will lie to protect his brother."


     "I know, but I just have a feeling they're telling us the truth."


     Cecilia arched a skeptical eyebrow.  "You have a feeling?  Or you're willing to let the incident drop here because of your strong dislike for Mr. McDoogal?"


     The fair skinned Jack blushed at how easily his wife could read his thoughts.  "I have a feeling," he stated with mock indignation.  "Besides, Rick needs to know we take his word to heart.  There's been too many times when people are quick to pin the blame on him for some incident or another just because he has a bit of a...reputation."


     Cecilia chuckled again as she rose from her seat.  She ran a hand through her husband's thick blond hair and bent to kiss his forehead.  "And I just wonder who he inherits that reputation from?"


     Jack's eyes were as blue and innocent as A.J.'s.  "I have no idea, sweetheart.  I have no idea."


     The couple laughed together as Jack pulled his tiny wife into his lap.  By the time the boys returned to the kitchen their parents were working to put the final touches on dinner, and the subject of Mr. McDoogal had been laid to rest.



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     Rick presented himself on Mr. McDoogal's doorstep the following morning as ordered by his father.  Although A.J. hadn't been told he had to apologize to the man, he tagged along after his brother to offer moral support.


     Rick rang the doorbell and eyed the gleaming Thunderbird while he waited.   The keys hung in the ignition as though inviting any admirers to take her for a spin around the block.


     "Oh, it's you," the elderly man growled when he opened the door.  "Whatta you want?"

     Rick smiled politely.  "I came to apologize for calling you an old fart yesterday."    


Even though I think you really are one. 


     A crooked, thick-knuckled finger was shaken under Rick's nose.  "I hope your daddy took his belt to your behind last night."


     As much as Rick wanted to gloat and tell the man that no, his father hadn't spanked him, and that in fact, his father thought McDoogal was an old fart, too, Rick refrained from such a gesture.  He knew it would only cause him further trouble, and feared it would prompt Mr. McDoogal into having another discussion with his dad.  It might be more difficult for Rick to convince his father of his innocence in the matter if Ole' McDoogal came calling on Jack again. 


     With great drama Rick rubbed his hands over his rear end and produced a teary,  "Yes, sir, he did."


     Mr. McDoogal's smile revealed his loose dentures.  "I'm glad to hear it.  If you'd been my boy you'd have felt my razor strap on you bare backside until you were crying out for mercy."


     That's probably why your kids don't come see you, you ole' goat.


     Mr. McDoogal turned his attention to A.J.  "And I hope you felt your daddy's belt, too, you little rapscallion."


     A.J. swallowed hard and stepped sideways, half hiding behind Rick's body. 


     Rick wrapped a protective arm around his little brother's body.  "Leave A.J. alone.  He didn't do anything wrong.  And no, our dad didn't spank him."


     "Well, he should have," Mr. McDoogal spat.  "That's the problem with you kids now days.  No discipline whatsoever.  Your parents let you run wild, the schools let you run wild...why in my day it was different.  In my day a boy wasn't allowed to--"


     "We gotta go, Mr. McDoogal," Rick cut the old man off.  "We got chores to do."


     Mr. McDoogal waved a hand in dismissal.  "Go on with you then.  Get outta here."  To the hastily departing brothers he called,  "And don't come back!"


     "Don't worry about it," Rick muttered under his breath, "we won't."


     When the brothers had crossed back into their own yard A.J. breathed a sigh of relief.  "I'm glad that's over with."


     "You didn't have to come with me. Dad only said I had to apologize."


     A.J. shrugged.  "I know.  But I didn't mind."  He added quickly, "Or at least not too much."  The eight-year-old looked up at his brother with a sly smile.  "Besides, I figured if you went alone, you'd only get yourself in more trouble."


     Rick laughed as he reached out and hooked an arm around his brother's neck.  He gently rubbed his knuckles across A.J.'s scalp in an Indian burn.  "Why you little twerp you.  I oughta let you have it for that remark."


     A.J. wiggled free of Rick's hold and took off running with a shout.  Rick ran after him and tackled him in the back yard. 


     Cecilia Simon shook her head with fondness as she looked out the patio doors and watched her boys playfully wrestle.  She had observed them walking across the street to Mr. McDoogal's house a few minutes earlier and had watched as Rick apologized.  She was glad that deed was done, and hoped the remainder of the summer would be uneventful in regards to their crotchety neighbor.  She had to admit Jack was right.  The man was nasty and seemed to thrive on causing trouble.     She hoped Rick had learned his lesson, and was now smart enough to stay out of Mr. McDoogal's way.




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     A week later, on a Friday evening, Jack and Cecilia were getting dressed to go out to dinner and then on to a play.  It wasn't often the couple enjoyed an evening out without their children, but once every month or so Jack insisted he and his wife go on a 'date' minus the boys.  Jack felt it was good for them as couple to spend some uninterrupted time together, and good for the boys, as well.  Now that Rick was old enough to be in charge of the household for a few hours, Jack had noticed a dramatic improvement in his levels of maturity and responsibility.


     Cecilia came downstairs with purse in hand and clutching a string of pearls around her neck.  She turned when she reached her husband.  "Would you fasten these for me?"


     Jack latched his wife's necklace as she gave last minute instructions to the sons who were sitting on the couch watching television.  "Keep the doors locked and don't open them for anyone, regardless of who it is.  If anyone calls, take a message and tell them Daddy and I will be back soon.  I left the name and number of the restaurant and the theatre by the phone in case you need us.  Otherwise, we should be home around midnight.   You boys can wait up for us if you want to, but I expect both of you to be showered and in your pajamas by then."


     "Okay, Mom," both young men dutifully replied to the drill they had long ago memorized. 


     "And I left money on the dining room table for the pizza I just ordered for you.  It should be here in half an hour.  And this time, Richard, don't pocket the change.  That's intended to be the delivery boy's tip."


     "I know, Mom.  I know," Rick acknowledged as his mother bent to kiss his cheek.  "You've told me that about a million times."


     As she kissed A.J.'s cheek she ordered Rick,  "Just make sure you give it to him."


     "I will."


     Jack gathered up his wife and headed for the door.  "Behave yourselves, boys.  Do as Rick says, Andy."


     "I will, Dad."




     As one the boys chorused,   "Bye, Mom!  Bye, Dad!" 


     The door was shut and locked firmly behind the departing parents.  The brothers remained on the sofa engrossed in their TV show until the doorbell rang forty minutes later and a loud voice announced,  "Pizza delivery!"


     Rick shot off the couch and paid the young man, including his tip, and accepted the warm box in return.  He walked it into the kitchen where he and A.J. piled paper plates full of pizza, grabbed a handful of napkins, and retrieved two cold bottles of Coke from the refrigerator.  They returned to the living room with their food.  Half the fun of Mom and Dad being gone was being able to do things that normally weren't allowed.  Like eating in Cecilia's formal living room.


     "Just don't spill anything, A.J.," Rick cautioned.  "I don't wanna have to be scrubbin' at the carpeting ten minutes before Mom comes home like I did last time they were gone and we ate in here."


     "I won't," A.J. promised.  "And besides, it was you who spilled the last time we ate in here.  I never spill."


     Rick spoke around a mouthful of pizza.  "Ya' know somethin', kid?  You gotta memory like a dang elephant."


     Around his own mouthful of pizza, A.J. laughed at the teasing.


     Two hours later grease stained paper plates, crumpled napkins, and empty soda bottles littered the living room.   Rick flipped through the television channels one last time before pushing in the knob that shut off the black and white Zenith.


     "I guess there's nothin' much on," he said to A.J. 


     "That's okay.  We need to clean up this mess anyway."


     Rick surveyed the room and was forced to agree with his brother.  Working together, it didn't take the boys long to return their mother's living room to its proper order.  While A.J. threw the paper plates and napkins away, Rick deposited the soda bottles in their returnable case in the pantry.  He wrapped the remaining pieces of pizza in foil and put them in the refrigerator, while A.J. disposed of the empty box out in one of the garbage cans by the side of the garage.            


     When they were done, Rick leaned back against the kitchen sink and looked up at the wall clock to see it was nine forty-five.   "Whatta ya' wanna do now?"  


     "I dunno know.   I guess I should take my shower and put on my pajamas like Mom said.  Then you'd better do the same."


     Rick rolled his eyes.  "A.J., loosen up, will ya'?  It's only quarter to ten.  The night is young yet, and Mom and Dad won't be home for at least a couple of hours."


     A.J. shrugged.  "So?"


     "So, let's do something."


     "Like what?"


     "I don't know.  Something fun."


     "We could play a game."


     Rick wrinkled his nose with disdain.  "Kid stuff."


     A.J. thought a little harder in order to offer a suggestion worthy of his big brother.  "Well could help me put my new model car together.  It's a Corvette."


     "Nah," Rick shook his head,  "I don't feel like doin' that."


     "How about if we go down to the basement and shoot some pool?"


     "Me and Carlos did that earlier this afternoon."


     "Okay, then about goin' through our baseball cards?  We could make some trades."


     "Nah.  I'm gettin' too old to be messin' around with baseball cards.  Besides, I'm gonna give you all mine anyway."


     A.J.'s eyes sparkled with excitement.  "Really?  You're really gonna give me yours, Rick?"

     "Sure, kid.  You can have 'em all.  Every single one of 'em."  Rick turned to look out the kitchen window.  "Remind me about it this weekend and I'll get the box they're in off my closet shelf for you." 


     "Thanks, Rick."


     "No problem, short stuff," the preoccupied teen replied as he stared across the street.  "Ole McDoogal's back from wherever it is he went earlier."


     A.J. came to stand by his brother.  He pushed himself up on his tiptoes and looked out the window at the darkness blanketing the neighborhood.  "How do you know?"


     "His Thunderbird's in the driveway.  I wonder if he leaves the keys in it all the time."


     "Beats me.  Why?"


     Rick looked down at his little brother and smiled.  "Cause I was just thinkin' that it might be fun to take 'er for a spin."


     A.J.'s short laugh came out in the form of a mocking snort.  "Yeah, right, Rick.   Dream on.   Like Mr. McDoogal's ever gonna take you for a ride in that car."


     "I didn't say McDoogal was gonna take me, now did I?"


     A.J. didn't like the mischievous glint he saw in Rick's eye.  A mischievous glint that was very familiar to the young blond, and generally meant whatever Rick was thinking of doing was only going to land them both in hot water with their parents.


     A.J. started shaking his head.  "Rick...I don't think--"


     "What?"  Rick voiced his disgust.  "You don't think what?  You don't even know what I was gonna say."


     "Whatever it is, I'm not gonna like it."


     "Sure you are."  Rick wrapped a solicitous arm around A.J.'s thin shoulders.  "It'll be fun.  You and I are goin' for a ride in a Thunderbird, A.J."


     "Oh no," A.J. shook his head with more force as he backed away from his brother.   "No, we're not.  Or at least I'm not."


     "Oh, come on, A.J.  Have some fun once in a while, will ya'?"  The teen waved an arm toward the window.  "It's pitch black outside, and Ole' Man McDoogal's house is dark, too.  Everyone knows he goes to bed at nine.  By ten he'll be sound asleep and never know the car is missing.  We'll just go for a little drive.  Just around the block a few times.  We'll have it back by eleven.  I promise."


     "He'll hear it start up," the ever-practical A.J. was quick to point out.


     "No, he won't.  His driveway's on enough of an incline that all I'll have to do is put it in neutral and push in the clutch.  It'll roll right out into the street.  And even if he does hear it start up, he'll just think it's some neighbor startin' his own car to go somewhere.  Besides, I've heard that baby's engine run and she purrs just like a kitten.  There's no way an old guy like McDoogal is ever gonna hear her come to life."


     "But you don't even know how to drive."


     "Yes, I do.  Don't tell Mom and Dad this, but Uncle Ray taught me when he was here this winter.  Every time him and me went some place alone he let me drive."


     A.J. was impressed.  "Really?"


     "Yep, really.  Once you get the hang of the clutch there's nothin' to it.  Just give 'er a little gas, steer, and take the turns nice and easy."


     Despite how simple Rick made it all sound, the youngest Simon brother remained dubious.  "I don't know, Rick.   I don't think we should."


     "Well, I don't care what you think.  I'm gonna do it.  You can come with me if you want to, or you can stay here, in the house, all by yourself if you want to.  Take your choice."


     A.J.'s eyes roamed the interior of the kitchen.  At eight years old he had yet to be left home alone without one of his parents or Rick present.  Had it been daylight, he would have simply shrugged his shoulders and told Rick to go without him.  But it wasn't daylight, and their house was big - four stories if one included the basement and attic - and made all kinds of scary noises after dark that only an eight-year-old boy seemed to hear.  




     Rick walked toward the kitchen door.  "I'll lock the door when I leave.  You'll be fine.  I'll knock three times when I wanna come back in, that way you'll know it's me."


     A.J. gave the interior of the vast house one last look, then scampered out the door behind his big brother.  Rick smiled into the night as though he'd known along what A.J.'s choice would be. 


"I see ya' decided to join me."


     "Yeah, but just for one ride," A.J. reminded.  "Just once around the block and then we come back home.  Promise?"


     "Sure, kid, I promise.   Now come on, crouch down low and follow my lead.  Don't do anything I don't do.  And for heaven's sake, don't slam the car door when you get in."


     A.J. nodded and copied his brother's posture.  He bent low at the waist and ran after Rick until they came to a clump of bushes that grew by the corner of their driveway.  Rick used the foliage for cover as he cautiously peered out at the street.  All was quiet, and he couldn't detect any automobile headlights from either the right or the left.  With a wave of his hand he whispered, "Come on."


     The boys ran across the street, their tennis shoes making no sound against the pavement.  Rick crouched down behind the big Thunderbird, A.J. following suit.  Rick motioned for his brother to go around and enter on the passenger side.  He put a finger to his lips, reminding the boy of the need for silence. 


     A.J. kept one eye on Mr. McDoogal's house, which remained dark and silent, and the other on the street.  The last thing he wanted was for a passing neighbor to see him and Rick getting in the old man's car.


     Just like Rick had cautioned, A.J. entered the vehicle without a sound.  He barely opened the passenger side door before he was slinking through the narrow space like a slithering snake.   He remained hunkered down in the front seat, not wanting his head to be visible to any passers-by.


     Rick entered the car in the same fashion A.J. had with one exception.  As soon as he opened the door, he pressed a finger against the little silver button in the car's frame so the dome light wouldn’t come on.  Like a loose-jointed contortionist, Rick shimmied into the vehicle, all the while keeping his finger in place until his body was on the driver's seat and he was able to ease the door closed.   A.J. was greatly impressed by his big brother's fortitude and was beginning to forget his fears, to instead get caught up in the excitement of this latest adventure.


     Just like Rick was hoping, the Thunderbird's keys hung in her ignition.  The teen paused a moment and sniffed the air with his eyes closed, a dreamy expression lighting his face.  "Smell that, A.J.   There's no greater smell in the world than the smell of a new car." 


     All was quiet in Mr. McDoogal's house when Rick pressed the clutch in.  He moved the on-the-column gearshift to neutral and smiled across the seat at A.J.  "Hang on, little brother.  Here we go."


     Like babies being rocked in a gentle cradle, the boys rolled into the street.  Rick pressed in the clutch again, pumped the gas pedal twice, and turned the key.  A.J. held his breath, half-anticipating the car to come to life with a loud roar.  But just as Rick had promised, the engine barely made a sound. 


     Rick gave a triumphant laugh as he eased the car down the road.   It took A.J. a few minutes longer to relax and begin to enjoy the ride.  Rick was right.  This Thunderbird was a beautiful car.  The blond boy got up on his knees and looked into the back seat.  There was enough room back there for at least four boys and their baseball equipment.  Not to mention that the front seat would hold two more boys plus the driver.   A.J. decided it would be pretty neat to have his mother driving him around in a new Thunderbird, as opposed to the old station wagon his dad referred to as Tired Bessie.  No one would ever call a crackerjack car like this Tired Bessie. 


     A.J. turned back around and sat down in his seat.  "Hey, Rick, what do you think our chances are of convincing Mom and Dad to buy one of these cars?"


     Rick made a careful turn at the next intersection.    "A car just like this one?"




     Rick gave his kid brother a teasing smile.  "I thought you didn't like the color."


     "I guess I could get used to it.  Plus, you're right. This is a cool car.  There's lots of room inside."


     "There sure is."  Rick reached over and turned on the radio.  He fiddled with a knob until he found a station he liked.  "And look at this instrument panel.  Man, it looks like what you see inside of airplanes.  I sure wish I could take this by and show it to Carlos."


     "No," A.J. shook his head.  "No way.  You can't do that or we'll get caught for sure.  Besides, you said we were just going to go around the block a few times."


     "I know, I know.  And we are."  Rick turned another corner that would take the boys out of their neighborhood. “Well...maybe just a little farther than that."




     "Don't panic, kid.  We're just goin' for a little ride."


     A.J. pushed himself to his knees on soft leather and looked out the front window at unfamiliar streets.   "But you prom--"


     "A.J., it's no big deal.  No one's ever gonna know."


     "But what about Mom and Dad?"


     "We'll have the car back long before Mom and Dad get home."


     "We'd better," was the best threat A.J. could come up with.


     "We will."  Rick smiled at the smooth way the car handled.  "I'm only gonna take her a few miles.  Just far enough so we can get a good feel for how she handles."


     Despite Rick's assurances, A.J. wasn't able to enjoy the ride.  He breathed a big sigh of relief when his brother finally nosed the car back into their own neighborhood.  Two blocks before reaching Mr. McDoogal's house Rick shut off the headlights. 


     "Now we're gonna get out as quietly and quickly as we got in, A.J.  Okay?"


     A.J. have an emphatic nod.  Mr. McDoogal's house remained dark and undisturbed as Rick returned the Thunderbird to her designated spot in his narrow driveway.   He hadn't even turned the engine off before A.J. was sliding out the passenger side door and scampering across the street to the safety of the Simon home.  Rick smiled and shook his head.  "Goofy, kid.  Doesn't even know how to enjoy a good adventure when one comes his way."


     The teenager scanned the interior of the car one last time to make sure neither he nor A.J. had disturbed anything, or left any type of tell-tale evidence of their ride behind.  When Rick was satisfied all was as it should be, he slinked out the driver's door as carefully as he'd slinked in an hour earlier.


     What exactly woke Abner McDoogal the old man didn't know.  He thought perhaps it was the idle of a car engine that sounded oddly close to his house.  He reached for the faded robe he'd left lying at the foot of his bed and stuffed his bare feet in his slippers, being cautious of his pronounced bunions.  He parted the curtains at his bedroom window but didn't see anything.  He limped to the living room on arthritic knees and opened the front door just in time to spot Rick Simon entering the front door of his home across the street.  Mr. McDoogal had seen the boy's parents leave earlier in the evening.  The absence of Jack's red Buick led the old man to conclude Simon and his wife hadn't returned yet.


     Mr. McDoogal belted his robe over his pajamas and padded out to his driveway.  He laid a hand on the warm hood of the Thunderbird for a long moment, then walked around and struggled to get his aged body behind the wheel.  



S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S



     The Simon brothers were working together the following morning to accomplish the last Saturday chore on their list, cleaning their room.   Rick glanced outside as he passed by the windows that looked down on the front yard and street.   He stopped and ran over to thrust the curtains aside.


     Oh no!


     The teen dropped the stack of clean clothes he'd been carrying to a dresser drawer. 


     "A.J., come here!  Quick!"


     A.J.'s upper body was hidden within the depths of his closet and his voice was muffled.  "What?"


     "Just come here!  Now!"


     The boy emerged from the closet, only to have his big brother grab him by the shoulders.   "Listen to me and listen good.  No matter what Mom and Dad ask you, or what the cops ask you, you went to bed at nine-thirty last night and fell right to sleep."

     A.J.'s tone spoke his confusion.     "What?  Whatta ya' talkin' about?"


     "Look, I don't have much--"


     Before Rick could finish his sentence a loud "Richard!" came from the bottom of the stairway.


     "Time," Rick hastily concluded.  "Ole' Man McDoogal's downstairs with a couple of cops."


     A.J.'s eyes grew round with fear, but before he was able to say anything further Rick pushed on.  "You got that?   You went to bed at nine-thirty and fell asleep.  Other than that, you don't know anything."


     A.J.'s voice came out in a frantic whisper.     "But what about Mr. McDoogal's car?" 


     "Richard!"  Jack Simon yelled again.


     "Coming, Dad!"   The teen returned his attention to his brother.  "Listen, A.J., you don't know anything about McDoogal's car.  Nothing.  No matter what they ask you, you weren't with me.  You were right here in bed the whole time."


       "But if Mom and Dad find out you took Mr. McDoogal's car, and I tell them I was here asleep, they'll think you left me in the house alone and you'll get in trouble."


     Despite the gravity of the situation, Rick gave a snort of amusement.  "Kid, if Mom and Dad do find out I took McDoogal's car, the least of my worries is gonna be gettin' in trouble for leavin' you here alone.  So just stick with the story, okay?"

     A.J. gave a tentative nod.  "Okay, but--"


     "No buts, kid.  I don't want you gettin' in trouble, too."


     Jack Simon's voice was beginning to have an impatient edge to it. "Richard Lawrence, come down here right now!"


     "Yeah, Dad, okay!   I hear you!  I was just puttin' my clothes away like Mom told me to do!"


     "Forget about that for the time being and come here!"


     The teen spoke rapidly, as though he only had a few seconds left before facing the electric chair.    "Are we clear on this, A.J.?"


     When A.J. didn't answer him, Rick gave the boy's shoulders a firm shake.  "Are we clear on this, A.J.?"


     Under Rick's intense scrutiny, A.J. nodded his head.  As the teenager turned to walk out the door the younger boy threw his arms around his big brother's waist.  "I don't want you to go to jail, Rick."


     Rick ran a quick hand through the thick blond hair.  With more assurance than he was feeling inside he stated,  "Don't worry, buddy.  I'm not goin' to jail."  The boys broke apart and Rick opened the door.   "You stay up here," he said softly.  "It'll look suspicious if you follow me down."

     A.J. nodded his agreement and remained behind as Rick walked out of the room.  When he heard his brother's footsteps on the stairs, A.J. exited as well.  The blond boy treaded softly down four steps.  With the way the stairway curved he was concealed from the adults below, but was able to hear every word being spoken.


     Rick entered the living room to be confronted by Mr. McDoogal, two San Diego Police Officers in full uniform, and two upset parents.


     "This is my son Richard," Jack Simon introduced.  "Rick, this is Officer Barton and Officer Miller."


     Rick shook hands with the men like he'd been taught to do when introduced to adults.


     The officers kept their facial expressions neutral while sternly nodding their heads at the teen.  They allowed Jack to explain the purpose of their visit.


     "Rick, it seems as though someone took Mr. McDoogal's car for a joyride last night, and he thinks that someone is you."

     Rick shook his head.  "No, Dad, it wasn't me.  I was here babysittin' for A.J., just like I was supposed to be."


     "Who's A.J.?"  Officer Barton asked.


     "Our younger son," Cecilia answered.  "Would you like to speak with him?  I'm sure he can verify Rick's claim."


     "Maybe later, ma'am," was all the officer would say.


     "Rick," Jack said,  "please tell these officers what you did last night.  From the beginning."


     Rick looked from one man to the other, his eyes studiously avoiding Mr. McDoogal.  "My parents left around seven o'clock to go to dinner and a play.  I was in charge of my little brother for the night.  My mom had a pizza delivered a half hour later or so.  I paid the guy, me and my brother ate, and we watched TV.  That was it."


     Officer Miller looked at Cecilia and Jack.  "And you said you arrived home shortly before midnight?"


     "Yes," Cecilia nodded.  "A.J. was in bed asleep, and Rick was sitting on the couch watching the late movie on television."


     The man's attention returned to Rick.  "Did you leave the house at all last night, Rick?"



     "Did you hear anything?  Any type of suspicious noise coming from Mr. McDoogal's house?  Or perhaps you saw something going on in the neighborhood that was out of the ordinary?"


     "No, sir."


     "But I saw him," Mr. McDoogal interjected.  "I saw him coming into this house at eleven o'clock last night.  Right after I heard my car being returned to my driveway."


     Jack turned to his son.  "What were you doing outside at eleven o'clock, Rick?"

     "I was carrying the empty pizza box out to the garbage can."


     Satisfied with Rick's response, Jack looked at the officers.  "I think it's obvious my son had nothing to do with whatever the problem was at Mr. McDoogal's, gentlemen.  He was here all night babysitting for his younger brother."


     "But the hood of my car was warm, and there's twenty-five miles on the odometer that wasn't on it yesterday afternoon!  And the radio is tuned into one of those gol-darn rock and roll stations!  I surely don't listen to that kind of music!"


     Jack Simon's blood pressure began to rise and he took a step forward.  "Look, McDoogal, if my boy said he was in this house last night, then he was in this house.  I don't care what you--"


     "Oh no, Simon!   Not this time.  That young hooligan of yours is not going to get away scot-free this time!  I'm going to press charges!"


     "Charges!"  Jack exclaimed.  "Charges for what?"


     "Grand theft auto!"


     "Oh, for crying out loud!  Rick didn't do anything.  He--"


     Before the battle could escalate to the point that punches were thrown, the police stepped in-between the two men.   "That's enough," Officer Barton ordered.  "Everyone just calm down."  He looked at Mr. McDoogal.  "We'll talk about charges, if there are going to be any, in a little while."  He then turned to Jack.  "In the meantime, Mr. Simon, we're going to take your son down to the station."


     "For what?"


     "For further questioning."


     "Are you arresting him?"


     "No, not at this point we're not.  But we'd like to talk to him further."


     "On what grounds?"  Jack demanded.


     "On the grounds that someone did take your neighbor's car for a drive last night, sir, and it's quite possible that someone was your son."

     Jack's eyes narrowed in unconcealed fury.  "And just what brings you to that conclusion, Officer?"


     "We've talked to some of your neighbors, Mr. Simon.  While no one saw your boy driving the car, curiously enough, his name keeps popping up in conversation.  He has somewhat of a...reputation for trouble, shall we say?"


     "For heaven's sake," Jack moaned with disbelief,  "I'll be the first to admit Richard is mischievous, but he's not a thief.  And if you don't have any witnesses to this so-called crime, then you have no right to take him to the station for questioning."


     "That's true, sir," the man agreed.  "But this entire mess can be cleared up a lot quicker if you and your wife will cooperate with us."


     Jack looked to Cecilia before making a decision.  "All right," he finally conceded, "I'll allow this, but on one condition only."


     "What condition is that, Mr. Simon?"

     "That my wife and I are present when you question him.  If you're not charging Rick with anything, then you aren't going to question him without us present.  If you attempt to, I'll instruct my son not to speak with you and I'll immediately contact my attorney, as well as contact your superior."

     Officer Barton gave a reluctant nod of his head.  Obviously Jack Simon knew a good deal about the law and a juvenile's rights.   For if the truth was known, Officer Barton thought Rick was guilty of the crime.  He had hoped given the chance to question the teen alone, he'd frighten the boy enough that Rick would admit to the crime.


     "Fine," the policeman was forced to agree. "You can follow us to the station with your son."


     Jack nodded his head as Cecilia ran upstairs to get her purse. 


     Jack crossed to the stairs as well.  "Andy!  Andrew, get your shoes on and get down here.  Hurry!  We have to run an...errand."


     A.J. emerged from the boys' bedroom carrying his tennis shoes, at the same time Cecilia emerged from the master bedroom clutching her purse.  She gave her youngest a tight smile and put her arm around his shoulders.  "Hurry, honey.  We have to go."


     With innocence Rick would have been proud of, A.J. asked.  "What's going on?  Who's downstairs?"


     "Just some...police officers.  There's been a misunderstanding involving Rick."


     A.J. dropped to the first step and began slipping on his shoes.  "Rick?  What did he do?"


     Cecilia knelt on the step below her son and hastily put his left shoe on him while he tied the right one.  "Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  We just need to go down to the station for a few minutes and get it all straightened out."


     A.J.'s blue eyes spoke his great sincerity.     "But he was here with me all night, Mom.  I can tell them that."


     Cecilia cast a suspicious look at her son.  "What do you mean, he was here with you all night?  How do you know what's going on?"


     A.J. realized he'd almost blown it in his haste to cover for his brother.  He dropped his eyes in a gesture Cecilia interpreted as one of shame. 


"I was listening on the stairway while the police talked to you and Dad and Rick."


     "A.J.--" Cecilia began to scold.


     Before Cecilia had a chance to say anymore, her husband's impatient voice called up from below.  "Cece, come on!  We've got to go!  And tell Andy to move it!  The police are ready to leave!  Rick and I are going out to the car!"


      Cecilia called over her shoulder,  "We're coming, Jack!"  She turned and gave A.J. a quick smile and finished tying his left lace for him.  "We need to leave.  You hurry and grab a book off your shelf.  I don't know how long we'll be down there."


     "But I can help Rick, Mom.  I can tell the police officers that--"


     "I know you can, sweetie," Cecilia assured.  "And if it's necessary, we will have you talk to them."  Cecilia gave her son a light shove in the direction of his room.  "Now hurry.  Get a book and come on.  Daddy's not going to wait much longer."


     A.J. ran into his room and within seconds emerged with a Hardy Boys book he'd been reading.  Together, A.J. and his mother ran down the stairs and out the front door to the waiting Buick.


S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S



      A.J.'s butt was sore from sitting on the hard wooden bench all afternoon.  He looked through the picture window into the office where the policemen had Rick and his parents, and watched as his father once again raked a hand through his blond hair.  A.J. knew from experience that gesture meant his father was either angry or frustrated, possibly even both things at once.  Occasionally the boy was even able to hear his dad's voice through the closed door when Jack Simon could no longer keep his temper at bay over the accusations the officers were making about Rick.  A.J. had even heard his dad say he was two steps away from calling Michael Wells.  Mr. Wells was a close family friend, as well as being Jack and Cecilia's attorney.  And while A.J. wasn't exactly sure what the ramifications of such a phone call would be, he knew that when someone was at a police station and had to call a lawyer, things weren't good.  He worried that Rick was going to be arrested and wouldn't be allowed to come home with them.  


     Ten minutes later Jack Simon stepped out of the office.  He beckoned to his youngest by crooking two fingers.  "Andy, come in here a minute, please."


     Clutching his book to his side, A.J. swallowed hard and slid off the bench.  His father gave him a tired smile as the boy brushed past him on his way in the room.


     The two police officers sat on one side of the table, Rick and Cecilia on the other.  Mr. McDoogal sat at the head of the table with a scowl lining his already lined face.   


     Jack put a hand on A.J.'s shoulder.  "This is my younger son, Andrew."  He looked down into A.J.'s upturned face.  "Andy, Officer Barton wants to ask you a few questions."

     A.J. found the officer's smile to be cold and insincere, and he immediately decided he didn't like the man.   Barton's eyes were small and dark, as was the moustache that grew in a thin line under his pointed nose.   If Templeton the rat from the book Charlotte's Web were a real person, he'd look just like Officer Barton.  Or so A.J. thought.


     " is okay if I call you Andy, isn't it?"


     A.J. nodded from where he stood beside his father.


     "I need you to ask you a couple questions about last night, Andy.  Will you give me honest answers to those questions?"


     "Yes, sir."


     Barton's eyeteeth shone like razor sharp fangs when he gave A.J. a cunning smile.  "Do you know what happens to little boys who don't give honest answers to policemen, Andy?"


     Before A.J. could answer that question Jack interceded.  "Don't be threatening my boy, Officer.  I've had just about enough of you and your self-righteous attitude this afternoon.  If you have questions to ask him, then do so.  Otherwise, allow him to go back out to the waiting area."


     Barton's eyes held Jack's a moment before turning his phony smile on A.J. once again.


     "Andy, I want you to tell me what happened last night."


     It was all A.J. could do not to look at Rick.  "What happened last night?"


     "Yes.  After your parents left."


     A.J. shrugged his shoulders as though he couldn't understand what the uproar was all about.  "Me and Rick watched TV and ate pizza."


     "Do you remember what time you went to bed?"


     "Sure.  At nine-thirty."


     "And was your brother home when you went to bed?"


     A.J. nodded.  "Sure he was.  He's not allowed to leave the house when he's left in charge of me."


     "But if you went to bed at nine-thirty, how do you know he didn't leave the house after you were asleep?"


     A.J. mentally reviewed the story he'd been mulling over all afternoon.  He knew what Rick had done was wrong, and he knew fibbing about it himself was wrong as well.  But he was so scared Rick might go to jail if the policemen did find out the truth, that his eight-year-old mind convinced him a well-constructed lie was called for right at the moment.


     " ‘Cause I woke up twice and he was there."


     "How do you know he was there?"


     " ‘Cause the first time I went downstairs to tell him turn the TV down because I couldn't sleep.  He always has it on full blast."


     Cecilia gave a small smile of triumph at those words.  "That is something I'm forever telling Rick to do – to turn down the volume on the TV, that is."


     "Would you know what time that was, Andy?"

     A.J. acted as though he was thinking really hard.  "About ten o'clock."


     "And when was the other time you woke up?"


     "After that.  It was quarter to eleven."


     "How do you know that?"


     "Because I looked at the alarm clock in our room."


     "Why did you wake up then?"


     "Because Rick came in to check on me.  To see if I was sleeping, I guess.  I woke up when I heard the bedroom door open."


     Officer Barton turned to Rick.  "How come you didn't tell us you went upstairs to check on your brother?  You said that after he went to bed you remained downstairs all evening watching television."


     Rick couldn't quite keep the sassiness out of his tone, and for once Jack didn't blame him.  "I didn't think I had to tell ya' every time I took a bathroom break."


     "A bathroom break?"


     "Yeah.  I went upstairs to use the bathroom, and on my way back to the living room I did pop my head in our bedroom to make sure A.J. was sleeping just like he said."


     Officer Miller caught his partner's eyes and gave a tight flick of his head.  The two men rose and walked over to a corner of the room.  They conferred back and forth in whispers that rose and dropped in tone.  Officer Miller seemed to be trying to convince Officer Barton of something the man didn't want to cave into.  Jack rubbed his hands over A.J.'s shoulders while they waited, and Rick gave his brother a wink no one else saw.


     Within a few minutes time the policemen turned.  Officer Miller addressed those present.  "Mr. Simon, you can take your family and go home.  We're sorry for the incon—“


     "What?"  Abner McDoogal shouted.   A gnarled finger pointed at Rick.  "Do you mean you're going to let this juvenile delinquent back on the streets?"


     "Mr. McDoogal," Officer Miller patiently explained,  "we don't have any evidence that proves Richard had anything to do with what happened to your car last night.  Now you've heard what he has to say, and what his brother has to say.  You didn't see him in or around your car, and neither did anyone else.  I'm sorry, sir, but I think it would be in everyone's best interest if the entire incident was dropped."


     "Dropped?  Dropped you say?  I think not.  I--"


     Officer Miller held his hands up in a gesture of peace.  "Mr. McDoogal, my partner and I will increase patrols in your area over the next few weeks.  Possibly we'll catch whoever took your car for a drive last night.  In the meantime, I'd advise you not to leave the keys in it anymore, and to lock it before you go to bed at night."


     Mr. McDoogal eyed Rick.  "You're darn tootin' I'll be locking her up from now on.  And if I so much as see anyone even looking at her cross-eyed, I'll load my gun and fill his behind with buckshot."


     "I would advise against that, Mr. McDoogal," the officer stated.  "You'll have more trouble than you bargained for if you go around shooting at your neighbors."    


     The policeman turned to Jack and extended his hand.  "Thank you, Mr. Simon, for bringing your family down here today.  I apologize for the length of time it took us to get to the bottom of this."


     Jack shook the man's hand, and although angry over what he considered to be something that should have been resolved in his living room hours ago, he had the good grace to be polite. 


"Thank you, Officer Miller.  I trust this incident will not come back to haunt my son at any time in the future?"

     "No, sir," the officer assured.  "Unless, of course, we find evidence that proves Richard did, indeed, take the car.    But at this time your son has no criminal record, and is not considered to be in violation of the law."


     "Thank you.  I will have my attorney follow up on that this week."


     "That's fine, sir."


     Jack didn't bother to thank Officer Barton as he gathered up his family.  He didn't like the man any better than A.J. did, and felt things would have moved along a lot quicker had he not been present.


     As the Simons walked out the office door Cecilia stopped her husband with a low whisper.  "Jack...what about Mr. McDoogal?"


     "What about him?"


     "How's he going to get home?  The policemen brought him here, but will they take him--"


     "Cece, quite frankly I don't care how the old coot gets--"


     Cecilia's eyes flicked to the sons who were standing in front of their parents, hanging on every word.  Like a ventriloquist she mouthed without moving her lips,  "Jack...the boys."


     Jack rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh.  "All right, all right," he mumbled.  He forced himself to turn around.  "Mr. McDoogal, do you need a ride home?"

     "Not from you I don't, Simon!  I'd walk before I'd get in your car!  Those kids of yours would probably snuff the life outta me first chance they got.   Why, I wouldn't--"


     Before Mr. McDoogal could finish his tirade Officer Miller interrupted.  "We'll take Mr. McDoogal home, Mr. Simon."


     Jack nodded and said,  "Thank you," as he ushered his family out the door.




S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S



     The Simons stopped for dinner on their way home from the police station late that afternoon.  Other than a candy bar Jack had bought for A.J. out of a hallway vending machine, no one had had any lunch and all agreed they were starving. 


     A.J. ran through the restaurant's parking lot ahead of his family like a frisky colt that had finally been freed from a long day in a barn stall.  Cecilia made an attempt to keep up with her son while reminding him to watch for cars.  Jack fell in step with Rick and put an arm around his oldest child’s shoulders. 


"Long day, huh, pal?"


     Rick's answer was quiet and brief.  "Yeah, kinda."


     "I'm glad it's over."


     "Me too, Dad.  Me, too."


     "I just want you to know, Rick, that your mother and I trust you, and believe you, when you say you had nothing to do with whatever monkey business went on at Mr. McDoogal's place last night."


     Rick hazarded a quick glance at his father's face.  "Thanks, Dad."


     "And now the entire mess is behind us, and won't be spoken of again.  Does that sound good?"


     "Uh...yeah, Dad.  That's sounds good.  Thanks."


     Jack gave Rick a pat on the back.  "We'd better get a move on before Andy and your mom eat everything this place has to offer.   I'm famished.  How about you?"


     "Yeah...sure.  Sure."


     Jack didn't seem to notice Rick's preoccupation throughout their meal, nor did he seem concerned over Rick's apparent lack of appetite.  Later that evening after the boys were asleep and he and Cecilia were in bed, she commented on both those things, but Jack simply chalked it up to a long, nerve-wracking day.


     The blond man leaned over on one elbow and gave his wife a final kiss good night.  "Don't worry about Rick, Cece.  He's a tough cookie.  He'll get past this.  Besides, for as angry as those cops made me, especially that Barton idiot, I think this has been a good experience for Rick."


     "Good experience?  How?"


     "Rick got a first hand look today at what can happen to someone who commits a crime.  Admittedly, our oldest has a bit of a wild streak in him.  Hopefully, Rick will now have come to the conclusion that he never wants to see the inside of police station again."


     Cecilia squeezed her husband's hand as they both sunk back into their pillows.  "I'll second that thought, Jack.  I'll second that thought."  




S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S      S&S



     Two weeks later on a Saturday afternoon, Cecilia stood at her living room window watching the activity occurring in Mr. McDoogal's yard.  After a few minutes of observing, she turned toward the downstairs bedroom her husband used as a home office.


     "Jack!  Jack, come here please."




     "Just come here a minute."


     Jack Simon emerged from his office to see his wife's gaze fixed out the living room window. 


     "What's going on?  Has there been an accident?"


     Cecilia beckoned him with a wave of her hand.   "No.  Everything's fine.  Just come here."


     The blond man came to stand at his wife's shoulder.  Cecilia pointed across the street.  "Look."


     "Well, I'll be.  What in the world is Rick doing over there?"


     "Mowing Mr. McDoogal's lawn evidently."


     "I see that.  And to think, it's all I can do to get him to mow ours."


     "And he was over there three days ago helping Mr. McDoogal clean up his yard after that storm we had.  And last week he was helping him wash windows."


     Jack shook his head in disbelief as he watched his son walk behind the push mower.  Mr. McDoogal worked nearby, using hand trimmers to clip the grass that grew along the sidewalk that led to his front door. 


     The blond man raised a skeptical eyebrow.  "How did this unlikely partnership come to be?"


     "I don't know.  All I know is that every time I see Mr. McDoogal working outside, Rick is working with him."


     "And McDoogal didn't hire him?"


     "No," Cecilia shook her head.  "I asked Rick about that the other day.   He said he just felt sorry for Mr. McDoogal, and thought he'd offer him a hand every now and again."


     "Mmmm.  Interesting."


     Cecilia nodded her agreement.  "I think so, too."  The couple stood at the window a few minutes longer observing their diligent offspring.      "Jack," Cecilia said thoughtfully,  "do you think we made a mistake when we vowed to the police that Rick couldn't have possibly been the one who took Mr. McDoogal's car?"


     "No, Cece, I don't think we made a mistake.  First of all, Rick learned what I hope will be something he remembers for the rest of his life."


Cecilia looked up at her husband.  "What's that?"


     "That no matter what the circumstances, we'll stand by him and we'll stand beside him.  That he'll never have to go through the hard times without his family."

     "That's true.  It always has been.  But still, I don't like the thought that Rick possibly did do wrong and hasn't been punished for it."


     Jack chuckled as he watched his son strain to propel the mower up an incline.  "I don't believe we need to worry about that, Cece."


     "What do you mean?"

     Jack nodded his head toward their neighbor's.  "I think Rick is doing a fine job of punishing himself, don't you?"

     Cecilia observed as Mr. McDoogal pointed a cantankerous finger at a spot in the yard Rick had missed.  "Yes, I guess you're right.  As a matter of fact, Rick seems to have settled on a punishment even you and I couldn't have dreamed up."


     The parents moved away from the window and returned to their individual pursuits.  As Jack promised, nothing was ever mentioned in the Simon household again about Mr. McDoogal's car and the afternoon spent at the police station.  That didn't keep Rick from continuing to offer Mr. McDoogal a helping hand both outside and inside his house, as the years passed.  In time, the two even formed an unlikely alliance.  Rick came to discover that Mr. McDoogal's ill-tempered personality was nothing more than a cover for a lonely old man who missed his wife, and who was deeply pained over the estrangement from his children.  After Jack Simon was killed, the bond between Rick and the man grew even stronger.  It was a connection Rick maintained even after leaving home upon high school graduation.  Whenever he returned to his mother's house, whether it be for a few days or several weeks, Rick always made time to visit Mr. McDoogal and assist the man in anyway he could. 


     It was while Rick was in Vietnam that Mr. McDoogal died.  Sergeant Simon couldn't help but smile a bit when he read his mother's letter informing him their elderly neighbor had passed away of a heart attack while waxing the beloved '58 Thunderbird.  Rick thought back to that summer night so long ago now, and how that car had brought together a cantankerous old man and a rebellious teenage boy...for the betterment of them both. 



~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



*The above story was inspired by my Simon and Simon friend, Brenda, who suggested we learn more about the ‘Ole' McDoogal incident’ as mentioned by Cecilia in Sunrise At Camp Apollo.  Thank you, Brenda!    


*The Simon and Simon writers inadvertently offered us two time lines regarding Jack Simon’s death. Based on the episode, May The Road Rise Up, we are lead to believe A.J. was approximately four years old, and Rick nine years old, when their father died.  But in the episode, Revolution Number Nine and a Half, A.J. speaks of being in Little League at the time of his father’s death, meaning he would have been somewhere between eight and twelve years old when his father died – approximately speaking.  Therefore, I have made use of both those timelines on occasion in regards to various S&S stories I’ve written. 



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