By: Anne & Kenda
*Party Pranks was inspired by the aired episode Divorce, and was written to explain just why Rick and A.J. were on probation with the Chamber of Commerce.
A.J. Simon, dressed in gray sweat pants and a gray sweat shirt, stood on the track's infield stretching in preparation for the upcoming race.
A.J. felt the pull of tight muscles in his calves as he warned his sibling and 'coach', "We're gonna get bounced out of the Chamber of Commerce for this. We're on probation already."
Rick looked out over the field at the competitors entered in the San Diego Corporate Olympics. "Aw, so there was a little weirdness to the city hall banquet. Big deal. If they can't handle a lady in a fish suit, what are they doing in business to begin with?"
A.J. ceased his stretching and looked up at his brother. "They did handle the lady in the fish suit. They handled her all night. That was the problem if I recall."
"You're the only one who wound up swimming with her in the fountain," Rick pointed out.
"What'd you expect?" Came A.J.'s indignant question. "She'd have drowned in the suds if I hadn't."
Rick ignored his brother to point out, "Hey, there's our boy. Let's get crackin'."
A.J. caught sight of the overweight man Rick was staring at.
As he began removing his sweat pants, the blond warned, "Rick, this is it. This is it. I mean, I just don't care how much she's paying."
Rick reached out to steady his brother with a hand on A.J.'s upper arm so the blond could remove of his warm-up pants. "Aw, A.J., think of the piece of mind we'll be giving her."
"A piece of the rock is more like it," A.J. scoffed. "She'll get custody of the car, visiting rights to the country club, and we'll get kicked out of the Chamber."
"They oughta' give us an award for our ingenuity. This is business at its finest."
Visions of their precarious position in the Chamber of Commerce danced in A.J.'s head. He begged, "Couldn't we come up with something else? I mean, we could catch him in the shower, or in--"
"A.J., we've been trackin' this weasel for three weeks. Now, come on, Rick commanded. “Get ready."
* The above conversation was taken from the 5th season aired episode – Divorce.
Six Months Earlier
It was a rather unusual event when A.J. Simon sat idly at his desk for any length of time. It was such an unusual event, that Rick immediately took notice of it. For quite some time Rick simply observed his preoccupied sibling. A.J. stared off into space, his thoughts seemingly a thousand miles away, while the pencil he held tapped out a steady rhythm against the blank piece of paper lying on his desk.
When Rick could no longer take the annoying rapping he intervened in his brother's daydream.
"Tryin' to send a message in Morse code there, A.J.?"
The blond started as if awakened from sleep. "Huh...what?" Suddenly realizing what he had been doing, A.J. laid the pencil aside. "Sorry."
"Hey, no big deal,” Rick shrugged. “Everyone has a right to slack off work now and again."
"Some of us more than others."
Rick chose to ignore that pointed comment. "So, what's wrong? Are you tired? Or do you just have something on your mind?"
"Something on my mind, I guess. I've got to come up with some type of entertainment for the city hall banquet in two weeks."
A.J. was the president of the Chamber of Commerce this year. The Chamber was made up of San Diego businessmen and women whose prominent goal was to promote their city and the businesses and services it had to offer. The Simon brothers had been members of the Chamber since the day they had opened their first office across from Peerless Detectives, and had found it a good way to network among their own kind - the small business owners of San Diego. Through their contacts within the Chamber the brothers had gotten more jobs than they could recall, and had likewise done favors for some of the friends they had made within the organization. Each year new officers were elected, and though he had held positions in the past, this was the first year A.J. had served as president. While the job brought the blond man a lot of satisfaction, it also gave him a number of unwanted headaches. Deciding upon and contracting entertainment for the upcoming banquet was but one of them.
about a dance? You know, with a band, or
D.J., or something like that."
"It's been done," A.J. glumly reported.
"Okay, let me think here a minute," Rick said, staring off into space. "I’ve got it! A magician. People love that kind of thing."
"No, it hasn't."
"Yes, it has."
"When?" Rick challenged.
"Two years ago. You were in the hospital recovering from that bullet wound in your shoulder."
"Oh. Well...what about a comedian? I bet that would go over big."
"That’s been done, too."
"Four years ago. You were on a fishing trip with Carlos."
"Oh." Rick thought harder. "Hey, I know! How about those dogs that bark out Jingle Bells? You hear it all the time on the radio at Christmas."
A.J. gave his brother a pained look. "I don't think so, Rick."
"Come on, A.J. It'll be neat. And, you know, it takes a pretty talented dog to do that. I've been trying to teach that to Marlowe for years, but he hasn't quite gotten the hang of it yet. I think we do have a shot at Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer though. He knows about half of it. Someday, when Marlowe finally gets it all down, that's gonna be my Christmas present to you and Mom."
"I can hardly wait," came the dry retort.
"So anyway, what do you think?"
"About what we were just talking about. About the barking dogs?"
“No.” A.J. shook his head. "No barking dogs."
"Because this is a formal affair, Rick, not a day at the circus. I just don't think dogs that bark out Jingle Bells is appropriate entertainment for a dinner that's costing people seventy-five dollars a plate. Besides, Jingle Bells is out of season."
"Minor technicality," Rick scoffed.
A.J. ran his hand through his thick hair in frustration. "I have to come up with something. And it has to be different from anything that's been done previously." Before Rick could speak up the blond man hastily added, "But it also has to be done with good taste. People are going to be in tuxedos and evening gowns. They're going to be expecting a little something more than what you get on a Saturday night at the Beer and Steer."
"I like the Saturday night entertainment at the Beer and Steer."
"You would,” was A.J.'s comment. "Fortunately, the majority of the people in the Chamber are considerably more suave than you. Nude women wrestling in a vat of lime gelatin is not going to be acceptable."
"It was cherry gelatin. And it was quite entertaining."
A.J. decided it was best to let the subject drop there. One thing he and his brother were never going to agree on was what they each chose to call entertainment. The blond man rose from his desk and grabbed his suit coat off the back of his chair.
"It's five-thirty. I'm calling it a day. Maybe something will come to me tonight after I've had a chance to eat dinner and unwind a bit."
"Could be." Rick stood to call it a day as well. He clapped his downtrodden brother on the shoulder as they walked out the door together. "Don't worry about it, A.J. You'll come up with something. You always do."
A.J.'s fervent reply of, "I hope so," was the last thing said on the subject.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
Over the course of the next four days the Simon brothers were kept busy working overtime on two cases. A.J. barely had time to eat and sleep, let alone pursue acquiring entertainment for the upcoming banquet. The blond hoped that the rapidly approaching weekend would enable him the time he needed to get the banquet preparations out of the way. The best intentions often go astray, however. One of the cases the brothers had taken on kept them busy right on through Sunday. A.J. wouldn't normally have minded the extra work. After all, more work meant more profit at the end of the year. On this particular weekend, though, he could have done without it.
It was eleven p.m. on Sunday night when the brothers were wrapping up successful surveillance on an executive who was sleeping with his boss's wife.
Outside the pretentious home, hidden in ornamental bushes, A.J. asked his sibling in a hushed, nasally tone, "Did you get the pictures?"
Rick moved away from the window whispering, "Yeah. You know, A.J., if you think about it, we could probably make a fortune by sellin' all the pictures we've taken over the years of cheating spouses in the act of makin' love. There's a lotta dirty magazines that would kill for this kind of stuff."
"And our mother would kill you if she ever heard you say such a thing," A.J. reminded while stifling a cough. "Come on, let's get out of here."
The brothers slipped quietly through the dark neighborhood to Rick's truck parked several blocks away.
As soon as they were in the vehicle, A.J. started coughing and sneezing in earnest.
"You've been doing that all weekend. Are you okay?"
A.J. waved his brother's concerns aside. "I'm fine. It's just because we've been out in the damp air for so long. I get in the warm truck and it bothers me."
Rick gave his brother a look of disbelief. He’d never known such a thing to bother A.J. before. "You don't sound so good either. Are you gettin' a cold?"
"I don't have time for a cold,” A.J. stated with firm conviction. “I've got to get things finished up for the banquet. Speaking of which, I'm not working on any cases tomorrow. I'm going to get everything done that I need to for next Saturday night, even if it means that I don't work on any cases all week."
"Fine by me. I'll pick up the slack if need be."
A.J. voiced his appreciation between sneezes. "Thanks."
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
In another unusual occurrence, Rick beat his brother to the office the next morning. It was nine-fifteen before A.J. arrived.
Rick looked up from a file greeting, "Morning."
"Morning," A.J. croaked as he made his way to the coffee pot.
"You sound terrible," Rick said. The elder Simon took a closer look at his brother, seeing watery eyes and an irritated red nose. "You look terrible, too."
A.J. dropped wearily into his seat. "Thanks," he replied hoarsely, before being overtaken by a coughing spasm. The coughs were dry and tight, and sounded painful to Rick.
"I think you'd better go home and get right back in bed," Rick advised.
A.J. shook his head. "Don't have time for that. I've got to get things done for the Chamber."
Exasperated with his sick sibling Rick said, "A.J., it can wait."
A.J.'s throat was so raw and sore he could hardly get out, "No, it can't."
Rick threw up his hands in defeat and let his stubborn brother be. "Well, in my opinion you have no business being here today, but you do what you want."
A.J.'s attempt to forcefully insist, "I intend to," lost most of its effectiveness when he was overcome with another spasm of dry coughs.
The blond man pulled a folder out of his desk drawer that he had filled with phone numbers and other information pertaining to Saturday night's banquet. Rick watched his brother for a moment, shook his head in disgust, then returned his attention to the work on his own desk.
A.J. started when he felt a cool hand rest on the side of his face. The disoriented blond blinked several times, surprised to find his head cradled in his arms and resting on his desk.
The large hand that had brought him awake belonged to Rick. "A.J., for God's sake! You're burnin' up! Come on, I'm takin' you home."
A.J. had no idea how long he'd been asleep. It could have been five minutes, or five hours. "What timez it?" He mumbled.
"Quarter to ten."
"Quarter to ten? At night?"
"No. Not at night. In the morning! You've only been here a half hour."
It took supreme effort for A.J. to lift his heavy, stuffy head off the desk. "I feel better now," he croaked.
"Yeah, sure you do," Rick agreed knowingly. He moved his hand to his brother's forehead.
A.J. attempted to brush the hand aside, but to no avail.
"If I were a bettin' man I'd lay odds on the fact that you've got a temperature of at least one hundred and two." Rick hooked a hand underneath his brother's upper arm. "Come on, let's go. I'm takin' you home and puttin' you to bed."
A.J. shagged his arm from Rick's grasp. "Rick, no. I can't. I have too many things to do before Saturday night."
"A.J., in the condition you're in, you'll be dead before Saturday night if you don't take care of yourself."
"It's just a cold," A.J. dismissed.
"No, it's not just a cold and you know it. I bet it's that new flu bug that's goin' around. Nobody runs a temperature like you have with just a cold. You've heard the news reports on this flu. If you don't rest and take care of yourself you'll end up in the hospital. This is nothing to fool around with."
"No, Rick, I--"
"Look, whatever you have to do for Saturday night I'll take care of."
A.J. shook his head. "No, I--"
Rick's stance was unyielding. "That's the only option open to you, A.J. Take it or leave it."
A.J. looked up at his brother, about to protest again, but finally had to admit to himself that he was too sick to fight with Rick on the issue any longer. "All right," the blond reluctantly agreed.
In order to get A.J. to go home to bed Rick was uncharacteristically efficient. He walked around to the front of A.J.'s desk, sat in one of the chairs, and reached for a pen and a piece of paper. "Okay, tell me what needs to be done yet."
A.J. spent the next few minutes going over the necessary details with Rick. When the blond finished Rick assured, "Don't worry. There won't be anything to this."
"Well, there won't be. You've got half a dozen people here in charge of all the important things like food and decorations. All I have to do is check in with them later today to make sure things are running smoothly, right?"
A.J. nodded in weary agreement. "Basically, yes."
"So other than making sure all those things are goin' okay, the main job I have to do is come up with some form of entertainment by Saturday night. No problem."
A.J.'s voice was almost gone when he pointed out, "I've been trying to come up with some form of entertainment for three weeks now with no luck."
"Yeah, well, you're just not as creative as me. I promise you, little brother, by Wednesday I'll have it all sewn up."
"Rick, please, just keep it mild. If worse comes to worse just hire a band and we'll have another dance. Call Wayne Emerson. He tentatively penciled this date in for me in the event that I didn't come up with another idea. He's going to keep it open until Thursday morning."
"I shouldn't have to do that, but I'll keep it in mind."
Rick walked over to his brother, got a firm grip under his right arm, and lifted him out of his seat. "I just got through telling you, don't worry. I'll handle it."
As he was led to the office door, A.J. pleaded, "Please, just keep it sane."
Ever solicitous of his sick brother Rick soothed, "I will. Whatever I do will meet your approval, I promise."
A.J. was so hot, and so congested, and his joints ached so much, that he was beyond the point of caring about Saturday night anymore. The last protest he gave his brother was, "I can drive myself home. I don't want to leave my car in the lot overnight."
"You're not drivin' yourself anywhere," Rick countered. "And as for your car, I'll get Mom to bring me down here after work tonight so I can drive it back to your place. Fair enough?"
A.J. allowed himself to be led to the elevator. "Yeah, I guess so."
"Good. Now quit givin' me a hard time over every little thing or I'll send Mom to take care of you. I know she'll make sure you rest."
A.J. leaned his head back against the elevator car and closed his eyes. "That won't be necessary," he managed in-between coughs.
"Glad to hear it," Rick confirmed as the elevator came to a halt on the ground floor.
Two hours later Rick was back at the Simon and Simon office. He had gotten his brother to take two aspirin and drink a glass of orange juice, then convinced him to go upstairs to bed. Rick saw to it that A.J. was comfortably settled, then laid in a supply of cold water, aspirin, and Kleenex on the nightstand. He gingerly positioned an ice cold compress on the hot man's forehead and one behind his neck, before promising to be back at the end of the working day to make supper for him.
Although food, especially food that Rick prepared, didn't sound at all appealing to A.J. at that particular moment, he knew better than to argue. He simply nodded his head wearily from where it was cradled within three pillows and told Rick he'd see him later.
It was a few minutes after five when Rick hung up the phone from the last Chamber member he had to contact. Overall, things seemed to be going well in preparation for Saturday night's banquet. A few of the committee members had run into a snag or two, but Rick had done an effective job of calming them down and then assured them he'd be by their places of business the next morning to give them a hand.
At quarter to six Rick parked the Power Wagon right next to his mother's Mercedes in A.J.'s driveway. The oldest Simon wasn't at all surprised at this turn of events. He had contacted his mother earlier in the afternoon in regards to the two of them getting A.J.'s car home that evening. Rick knew how willing Cecilia Simon was to pamper her sons if they were sick or injured. More than likely they had barely hung up from their phone conversation before his mother had gathered up her purse and arrived at her youngest son's house, arms laden with groceries.
Savory aromas assaulted Rick's nostrils the minute he walked in the back door. His mother was standing at the stove putting the last minute touches on her dinner.
Rick leaned down to kiss Cecilia's cheek. "Mmmm. That smells great. I'm glad I called ya' to tell ya' A.J. was sick."
Cecilia turned and looked up at her son. "Why's that?"
"If I hadn't, I woulda' been cookin' tonight, which means the only kind of soup we woulda' had comes out of a can."
Cecilia smiled fondly. "Then I imagine you'll also enjoy the roast beef that's in the oven for sandwiches and the brownies that are cooling over there by the sink."
Rick looked over at the dessert. He reached for a chocolate treat only to have his hand slapped. "Don't touch those until after you've eaten your supper," his mother scolded. "Now wash your hands and set the table for me please."
Rick chuckled while doing as he was instructed. "You'll never change, Mom."
"And neither will you. You always wanted your dessert before dinner."
Cecilia began ladling homemade cream of chicken soup into bowls. "You can call your brother to the table for me, honey."
Rick walked toward the stairs. "Is he awake?"
"Yes. He's up there reading the newspaper."
"How's he feelin?"
Cecilia looked up from the roast she was pulling from the oven. "Pretty rotten. He's running a temperature of a hundred and one. But I guess with this particular flu bug that's normal. I offered to carry a tray up for him, but he said he'd rather come down and eat at the table with us."
"A.J.! Hey, A.J.! Soup's on!"
Rick heard his brother's faint scratchy, "Okay," then the sounds of shuffling feet from above.
The blond was belting his blue bathrobe when he appeared in the kitchen a few moments later.
"You still look terrible," Rick observed.
"I still feel terrible," the watery eyed A.J. tossed back.
"Well, maybe Mom's good cookin' will help remedy that situation. Come on, let's eat. I'm starvin'."
The family took their seats around A.J.'s kitchen table. "Although I can't smell much of anything right at the moment, Mom, everything looks wonderful. I appreciate you saving me from a week's worth of Rick's idea of nutritious meals."
Rick looked up from his soup bowl. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that frozen burritos and T.V. dinners aren't exactly my idea of an appealing supper."
"You didn't complain last year when you were sick and that's what I fed you."
"That's because I didn't have a choice. Mom was in Texas."
"Okay, you two, enough with the arguing now. Eat before the soup gets cold," Cecilia ordered.
The brothers exchanged smiles of amused remembrance at their mother's words. They both, however, did as she requested.
Rick brought A.J. up to date in regards to the phone calls he had made that afternoon. He purposefully made no mention of the minor problems some of the committee members were encountering. "Everything's taken care of. Don't worry about a thing. Everyone I talked to said to tell you to rest and get better so you can be healthy for Saturday night."
"I won't want to be healthy for Saturday night if I don't have any entertainment," came the nasally complaint.
Rick reached for a roast beef sandwich. "Haven't I told ya' about a hundred times to quit worrin' about it? I promised you that I'd take care of it."
A.J. looked up from his soup. "That's what worries me."
"What kind of entertainment are you looking for, honey?" Cecilia asked.
"Anything that doesn't involve a dance, a magician, a comedian, or dogs that bark out Jingle Bells," A.J. answered.
Cecilia contemplated that a moment. "You know, some of the girls in my bridge club do a little act for charity events and such. They dress up in top hats and tails and do a soft shoe routine, then sing a few of the big band hits from the forties. If you're interested, I could give you Harriett's phone number."
"Uh...thanks, Mom. But I don't really think that's quite what I'm looking for."
Cecilia rose to gather up Rick's empty soup bowl. She walked over to the stove to refill it while stating, "Well now, that's a shame. They really are quite good, too."
Rick leaned toward his brother whispering, "Maybe we should take Mom up on that, A.J."
Whispering back, A.J. negated, "Rick, believe me, we don't want to do that. I saw those ladies perform once at some benefit or another. Not only can none of them dance a step or sing a note to save their souls, there's not a one of them under seventy five years old."
“Oh.” Rick leaned back in his chair. "So you're looking for someone younger?"
"Someone who appeals to a younger crowd, yes."
"Okay. I kinda got a better feel for what you want. I can take care of this. No problem."
A.J. rose from the table, too tired and sick at the moment to discuss or worry about the matter any further. "Do what you want. Just remember what I said earlier today."
"I know. I know. Keep it sane, and I can call Wayne if I don't come up with anything else."
"By Thursday morning," A.J. reminded. "If he hasn't heard from me by Thursday morning, he's going to take another job."
Rick waved a hand in dismissal. "I remember. But it won't be necessary. I've got a couple of ideas. I'm gonna make some phone calls tomorrow."
"Whatever. Just let me know what you come up with," A.J. instructed. With that, the blond man thanked his mother once again for the supper then bid his family good night.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
A.J.'s flu ran its course over the next few days. By Thursday afternoon he had begun to feel considerably better, and took an interest in the world around him once again. Unbeknownst to Rick, the blond man called the various Chamber members who had duties for the upcoming banquet just to verify that things were as they should be. Not only was A.J. pleased to find out that plans were, indeed, running smoothly and on schedule, but that as well, Rick had taken an active role in overseeing such matters.
At five-thirty that evening a key was turned in A.J.'s kitchen doorknob. Rick entered the home to see his brother lounging on the sofa in blue jeans and a sweater.
The lanky man opened the refrigerator door and popped the top on a beer can. "You must be feelin' a lot better," he observed as he rounded the snack bar. "This is the first time all week I've seen you in something other than pajamas and a robe."
A.J. looked up from the TV news broadcast as Rick plopped down into the easy chair. "I do. I plan on returning to work tomorrow."
Rick nodded and took a swig of beer. "As long as you feel up to it," he said after he had swallowed.
"Is there anything I need to do for Saturday night?"
"Nope. Nothing. I took care of everything, just like I told you I would."
I...heard," A.J. reluctantly confessed.
Rick smiled. "Been checkin' up on me, huh?"
A.J.'s face colored a bit with guilt. "Well...no...not exactly."
"Aw, come on, A.J., just admit it. You don't trust big brother, do ya'?"
"No, it's not that really. It's just that...well, sometimes you're not the most responsible person on the face of this earth."
"That's true," Rick agreed. He reached over and clapped his brother on the knee. "But not this time, A.J. This time you put the right guy in charge."
"That's what I've been told," A.J. agreed.
"And because of that fact this year's banquet is going to be the best ever. The entertainment I got is gonna knock your socks off."
A.J.'s eyes narrowed. "What is it?"
"Not what. Who."
"Okay. Who is it?"
Rick grinned like a five-year-old with a secret. "It's a surprise."
A.J. started to voice his trepidation. "Rick..."
"Trust me on this one, A.J. You're gonna love it. Everyone's gonna love it. But I want it to be a surprise."
"Don't you think you could at least tell me?" A.J. attempted to entice. "After all, I am in charge of hiring the entertainment."
Rick shook his head as he emptied his beer can. "Nope. I promised you I'd take care of it and I did. Enough said. You'll see on Saturday night."
Under normal circumstances, A.J. would have pressed the matter further. Rarely did the blond man find any of his brother's surprises to his liking. But in this instance A.J. found himself making a reluctant exception to the rule. A.J. didn't want to insult Rick or hurt his feelings. After all, the older Simon had graciously taken on and accomplished all the things on A.J.'s agenda that week. And surprisingly enough, with patience and good humor to boot. Being on any type of a committee was not usually Rick Simon's style. A.J. had half expected to be inundated with phone calls from irate Chamber members regarding disagreements had with the unorthodox Rick during this week. However, much to A.J.'s delight, that didn't happen. Instead, all the committee members had sung Rick's praises, saying how helpful he had been in coordinating the last minute affairs for the banquet.
It was because of those things that A.J. let the question of the entertainment drop there. Rick had proven himself to be trustworthy and responsible as far as the upcoming banquet was concerned. Therefore, A.J. would just have to put a bit more trust in his older brother and have faith that whatever form of entertainment Rick had chosen would be in good taste. Thinking back over some of Rick's past exploits made A.J. realize that he was asking a lot of himself, but nonetheless he took a deep mental breath and did just that.
Forcing a smile the blond man agreed, "All right. It's a surprise. I guess I'll see what it's all about come Saturday."
Rick smiled in return. "That you will."
A.J. rose, beckoning his brother to follow him into the kitchen. "I've got supper in the oven. I warmed up all the leftovers from this week. Have what you want."
While A.J. removed pots and pans from the warm oven, Rick began pulling plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware from the cabinets.
Rick's stomach growled at the tantalizing aromas filling the air. "I think I'll have a little bit of everything. The good thing about one of us bein' sick, is that if Mom's around we usually eat like kings for about two weeks afterwards."
"That's true," A.J. agreed as the two men filled their plates.
The brothers lingered over their supper, sitting around A.J.'s kitchen table long after their plates were clean and their stomachs full. Rick caught his brother up on the happenings at the office that week, telling A.J. about a case he had taken on, and about an interview with a prospective client scheduled for the next morning. When the table was finally cleared and the dishes loaded in the dishwasher, the two men retired to the den with a plate full of Cecilia's brownies. They watched a boxing match on ESPN before A.J. called it a night and went up to bed. Nothing more was discussed about the city hall banquet, A.J. being at least fairly secure in the knowledge that this time Rick did indeed, have everything under control.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
On Saturday night A.J. arrived at the hall that had been rented for the banquet thirty minutes before the start of cocktail hour. He was heartily greeted by the handful of committee members that were already in attendance. Two women in elegant evening gowns bustled about in their stocking feet putting centerpieces on tables, their high heeled shoes having been kicked off in a corner of the room. Another woman steadied a ladder while a man in a tuxedo, minus his jacket, hung decorations from the high ceiling.
A.J. offered his services to anyone in need, but was repeatedly told that everything was under control and that he should just relax. A.J. laughed at that and assured everyone that he was perfectly healthy and could help do whatever was necessary. He received a peck on the cheek from one of the shoeless women as she scurried past him, and was told to save his still somewhat hoarse voice for the short speech he was to give later in the evening. Since no one would take the blond man up on his offers of assistance A.J. gracefully bowed to their wishes, got himself a drink from the bar, then toured the room one final time before the remainder of the guests arrived.
A.J. wandered over to the French doors that led out onto a wide patio with lush gardens beyond. A huge fountain had been set up out there, as well as a portable bar.
The detective turned to the people behind him. "Does anyone know what this fountain is doing here?"
"It has something to do with tonight's entertainment according to your brother," A.J. was informed by one woman. "He said to tell everyone to leave it alone."
A.J. shrugged and moved away from the doors. "All right."
Before A.J. could give further thought to the purpose of the fountain, the other Chamber members and their guests began to arrive, signaling the start of cocktail hour.
It didn't take A.J. long to locate his brother and Carlos. All the blond man had to do was follow the noise that led him to the rowdiest crowd in the room. As usual, Rick was holding court with a dozen or so attentive listeners as he told anecdote after anecdote, each one a bit more exaggerated than the previous.
"Hey, A.J.! How ya' feelin'?" Carlos greeted as the blond detective joined Rick's gathering.
"Fine, Carlos. Thanks," A.J. acknowledged. It wasn't lost on the blond that while a good number of people gravitated toward Rick and his Hispanic friend, a good number also steered clear of the pair. Although no one had ever come right out and said so, A.J. knew that some of the more prestigious business people that were Chamber members did not exactly find the informal, boisterous style of Rick and Carlos to be to their liking. As president, A.J. had often had to walk a fine line between keeping the upper-crust business people happy, while at the same time not offending or insulting some of those with a less rigid style of administration. Since he took office, A.J. often found himself reminding various Chamber members that all the businesses in San Diego contributed to making the community thrive. As the blond detective had often said, a person can't be judged by how large or small his or her business is, what purpose it serves, or what personal style he or she chooses to use to run that business. If anything, that issue had been A.J.'s greatest challenge in the year he had served as the Chamber's president.
As Rick's story wound down and people began to move away in order to refresh their drinks, A.J. subtly pulled his brother off to the side. "Don't forget, don't spend your entire night with Carlos."
"I know. I know," Rick acknowledged while uncomfortably tugging at the hem of his rented tuxedo jacket. "You tell me that every time we come to one of these shindigs."
"And if I don't tell you that every time we come to one of these shindigs, you spend the entire night drinking with him. The two of you end up in some corner somewhere plastered, singing old rock n' roll hits in Spanish."
Rick pulled on the bow tie at his throat and observed the crowd. "Beats the hell outta having to network with the rest of these snobs."
"Leave the tie alone," A.J. ordered, swatting at his brother's hand. "And unless you network with these ‘snobs,’ as you so kindly put it, we won't pick up any additional business. That's the whole point in suffering through one of these evenings."
Rick smiled. "Ah, ha! So you don't like this crap any better than I do. Wait until word gets out that the Chamber president can't stand a night of hobnobbing with the snobs either."
"Well, don't let that get out," A.J. cautioned. "And speaking of which, in an effort to keep the masses in attendance happy, is the entertainment all set to go?"
Rick nodded. "Yep. I made a phone call right before I left the house. Everything's set."
"Good. So, what is it?"
"I'm not telling you. You'll just have to wait until nine o'clock like everyone else."
"Oh, come on, Rick," A.J. coerced. "Can't you tell me now?"
Rick ignored his brother's pleas, moving off toward the center of the room. "Sorry, A.J., can't talk. I gotta go hobnob with the elite. Brother's orders, ya' know."
A.J. growled at his sibling before giving up and moving off in the opposite direction to do the same thing.
A.J. was seated at the head table with the other officers when dinner was served a short time later. To please his brother, Rick seated himself with nine strangers. Rick introduced himself, and in turn was introduced to a banker and her husband, a boutique owner and her husband, a man who was a prominent and well-known industrialist, two male city hall employees, and a woman that owned a popular cocktail lounge.
Within a short time the industrialist began to monopolize the table conversation, obnoxiously voicing loud complaints to the city hall employees. Rick ignored the debate, found himself being snubbed by the banker and boutique owner and their husbands, so occupied his time by flirting with the owner of the cocktail lounge, who flirted right back.
She leaned sideways in her seat, her breasts pressing against Rick's arm. "These things are such a bore. Maybe you and I can go somewhere afterwards and spark up the evening a bit, shall we say?"
Rick was receptive to that suggestion. "Maybe," he smiled with agreement.
Gee, I guess A.J.'s right. There is something to be said for this networking stuff.
A sumptuous meal of lobster and prime rib was washed down with the complimentary bottles of California red wine found at each table.
Rick and the lounge owner continued to flirt and trade pleasantries on through dessert. The buzz of conversation that filled the room slowly came to a halt when A.J., as the out-going president, rose to give his speech. He briefly highlighted city events the Chamber had been a successful part of during the past year, talked of goals that had been met, then thanked by name all those who had been a part of orchestrating the annual banquet, including his brother. The Chamber's secretary then rose to award A.J. a plaque that was engraved with the words, Awarded To Andrew J. Simon - In Grateful Appreciation Of The Service You Gave The San Diego Chamber Of Commerce During Your Year As President. 1985.
There was a round of hearty applause for A.J. before chairs were pushed back and everyone was encouraged to freshen their drinks out on the patio and settle in for the evening's entertainment.
A.J. caught up with his brother at the bar a few minutes later. "So, did you make any new contacts?"
"Yep, I sure did."
Rick indicated with a nod of his head to the other side of the patio. "A lounge owner by the name of Delilah."
A.J. followed Rick's gaze to the large busted woman in the skintight gown and heavy makeup application.
"And just how, pray tell, is Delilah going to help us increase our business?"
Rick smiled. "I'll let you know in the morning. I've got a feeling I'll have a better idea about that by then."
A.J. just shook his head as Rick walked away from him.
The lanky detective came to stand in front of the fountain. The lights on the patio were dimmed, causing the fountain to become a shapeless dark blur to most of the guests. Rick picked up a microphone and waited for the crowd to quiet down before saying, "I hope everyone enjoys the entertainment that we have planned for you this evening. The lady I'm about to introduce does a little act down at the Nautical Maiden that I've caught a time or two. I think she does a great job, but I'll let her prove that to you herself. Please give a warm welcome to Juliet."
A round of applause ensued, along with catcalls and cheers from some of the men who were beginning to loosen up as a result of the alcohol in their systems. The patio lights were completely shut off, while at the same time the string of small pink lights that adorned the fountain were turned on. The switch on a spotlight was also thrown, illuminating a woman sitting on a tall flat plastic rock next to the fountain.
The first notes of soft music began to play, but were drowned out by the wolf whistles and shouts of appreciation coming from many of the men. Juliet was a mermaid, or at least dressed as one for her performance tonight. She was a gorgeous young woman with a fine-boned, delicate face, and large innocent blue eyes. Her curly golden tresses fell below her slender waist. She wore a form fitting, low-cut, blue bikini top that accented her full cleavage, much to the delight of the San Diego businessmen. The tight blue and silver sequined 'tail,' that started at her waist and ended below her feet completed the outfit. Juliet used her feet to manipulate the tail slowly up and down as she began her first song. When the fountain began to bubble champagne behind the singer, the men cheered again.
A.J. stood by the bar observing the crowd for a period of time. Although he caught an occasional glimpse of disapproval on the face of one guest or another, and saw two couples leave at the start of the performance, for the most part Juliet seemed to be a big success. Aside from the obvious sexuality the woman eluded, she also possessed a lovely soprano voice. The majority of the women in the audience were enjoying the entertainment Juliet provided almost as much as the men were.
Only my brother could find a mermaid to provide entertainment, and make a success of it at that, A.J. thought with amused chagrin.
A hand descended on A.J.’s shoulder. "What's the matter, little brother? Don't ya' find the entertainment to your liking?"
A.J. turned to face his smiling older brother. "She's a very talented singer," the blond man said.
"A.J., if that's all you've noticed about Juliet I'll have reason to worry that you're running a temperature again."
"No, that's not all I've noticed. But for the benefit of the other Chamber members, especially the ladies present, that's all I'm going to pretend I notice."
"She seems to be going over big though, wouldn't ya' say?"
A.J. looked around at the smiling faces. "That she does. I have to admit that when you first introduced her I wasn't so sure this was such a great idea."
Rick laughed. "Yeah, I know. I saw the panic-stricken look on your face. I wasn't sure if it was 'cause of Juliet, or if you'd wet your pants or something."
A.J. rolled his eyes. "Very funny. Regardless, it looks like she's going to be a big success this evening."
Rick looked around, observing the men who were refilling their glasses by holding them under the champagne fountain while gazing at the lovely mermaid before them.
The brothers soon went their separate ways, each going off to mingle with his own group of friends.
"I'll come get you when Juliet takes a break," Rick said. "I wanna introduce you to her."
A.J. nodded as he walked over to the other side of the patio.
A.J. kept only half an eye on the proceedings around him over the next two hours. He was busy visiting with friends, and then networking among some of the business people he didn't know well. He began to notice as the night wore on, however, that the male half of the crowd was getting rowdier and more inebriated with each passing minute. A.J. began to wonder as to whether or not a fountain flowing freely with champagne was such a good idea after all. Many of the men were beginning to make song requests of the mermaid, then stuffing dollar bills down her top as a token of their appreciation. The drunker the men became, the longer their hands lingered on Juliet and her bust line.
None of this was lost on the wives and girlfriends of these men. A.J. was getting the distinct impression that what the women were enjoying two hours earlier, was rapidly being overruled by the immature and drunken behavior of their men. A.J. heard a fair amount of tongue clicking, and saw a fair amount of female heads shaking with disgust. Several women tried to convince their husbands and dates that it was time to go home, but to no avail. More than one argument broke out on the patio as drunken man after drunken man refused to leave before staggering off once more in the direction of the mermaid.
Even though Juliet had another hour of entertainment to provide according to her contract A.J. decided, based on what was happening around him, that it was time to send the mermaid out to sea and call it a night. As he moved toward the fountain A.J. realized he was probably in danger of being lynched if he so much as made such a suggestion, yet the daggers that were being thrown his way by the angry wives convinced him to take his chances.
Before A.J. even got close to the fountain, the drunken men near it formed a circle around it. They joined hands and began an uncoordinated dance in time to an old rock tune Juliet was belting out. The men's off key voices joined right in with hers. A.J. was not surprised when he caught sight of Rick and Carlos among the dancers.
Several of the men began to paw Juliet as they danced past her, their aggressions being carried too far now. Juliet's voice faltered a time or two and her hands came up to slap at the hands of the men.
The industrialist Rick had sat with at dinner grew so bold as to wrap his arms around the woman's waist and nuzzle her breasts with his mouth. Juliet squirmed and screamed, her movements and ability to defend herself hampered by her costume.
Rick broke free of the circle and rushed to her defense. He pulled the man off of her ordering, "Hey, you jerk! Leave her alone!"
The man gave Rick a hard shove. "Who’re you to make me?"
"I'm the guy who hired her, and I'm tellin' you to keep your hands off of her!"
Like a schoolyard bully, the industrialist gave Rick another hard shove and challenged, "Make me!"
Just as A.J. yelled, "Rick, no!” Rick's fist drew back and landed a fast hard punch to the man's face.
From that point on it was a drunken free-for-all. Every man in that circle joined in the fight, some because they were Rick's friends, others because they were friends of the industrialist, and the rest simply because they were too drunk to pass up on the opportunity to participate in a good old-
Some women screamed in fright and scattered like chickens, while others yelled at their husbands to stop the nonsense. Wrought iron tables and chairs toppled with loud clatters. Glasses and dishes flew off the tables onto the concrete patio. The bartender ducked down behind the bar seeking refuge there, while the caterers who had been serving the last of the dessert dumped their trays and ran. Cheesecake and chocolate mousse soon joined the fists that were flying through the air.
Each time A.J. and the few other sober men that were left in the crowd got close to the fighters in the hopes of breaking them up, they were pushed back. The blond detective was pushing his way to the front again when he heard a big splash, followed by a scream and then a call for help.
"I can't swim! I can't swim! Somebody help me!" The panicked Juliet shrieked as she floundered in the champagne bubbles. “Help me, please! I can’t swim!”
A.J. charged forward, slipping on cheesecake and dodging fists as he dashed to the fountain. He reached out and began to lift Juliet from the sticky champagne when he was shoved from behind. A.J. fell forward, landing head first in the alcohol next to Juliet.
The detective recovered quickly, grabbed Juliet, helped her over the side, then picked her up and whisked her off to safety while leaving the brawlers to their fight.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
Rick Simon was still feeling the aftereffects of his hangover on Monday morning. That fact, combined with one very angry brother and a telephone that wouldn't stop ringing, caused Rick to be reaching for the Alka-Seltzer by ten a.m.
Rick was drinking the fizzing liquid while listening to A.J.'s half of a phone conversation.
"Yes, I know.
“Yes, I understand.
“Yes, I know there will be damages that will have to be paid at the expense of the Chamber.
“Yes, I...yes...all right. Goodbye."
A.J. slammed the phone down in its cradle, causing the pounding in Rick's head to intensify.
Rick eyed his stone faced brother, then ventured forth with, "So...I uh...take it that was another Chamber member."
"Yes. It was. It was Ed Newman calling to inform me that the damages that were incurred by the hall totaled five thousand dollars. He says we'll be lucky if we don't get sued out of the deal."
"Aw, he's just talking,’” Rick dismissed. “As long as we pay up we won't get sued."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," A.J. grumbled. "I--”
Before A.J. could finish his sentence the phone rang again, just as it had been doing since the Simon and Simon office opened for business at nine o’clock. A.J. had heard from practically every Chamber member. A few called to offer their sympathies over the way things had turned out, assuring the blond man that what had happened was beyond his control. Most, however, called to read him the riot act, letting A.J. know that they held him and his brother personally responsible for the way the evening had ended. Among those irate callers were a good number of the drunken men who had started the brawl to begin with. A.J. had no doubt they had been in hot water with their wives and he, in turn, was the focus of their blame for that fact.
By the look on A.J.'s face Rick could tell he was getting read the riot act once again. Rick wondered if now was a good time to plead illness and make a hasty retreat for the door.
"What?" A.J. yelled into the phone. "Oh, come on! You've got to be kidding me! Don't you think that's a bit harsh?
“What? What vote? No one told me or my brother about any meeting that was being held last night, or any voting that was going to be done." Through clenched teeth, and in a voice that barely hid his seething rage, A.J. finished the conversation with, "Fine. My brother and I will have to discuss it."
The phone was slammed down so violently that Rick wondered if it would work again. On the other hand, a broken phone might not be a half bad idea today.
"Who was that?"
"The big shot industrialist you started the fight with at the fountain."
"He may be an ass, but he's also the in-coming Chamber president."
"What'd he want? And what's this vote I heard you talkin' about?"
"He wanted to inform me that the other Chamber board members met last night and voted to put us on probation for a year."
"So what's that mean?"
"It means that we can attend their meetings, but have no voting rights or say so in anything they do. It means that if our business becomes the target of any 'unsavory publicity,’ whatever the hell that means, that they may choose to revoke our membership. There's also some question as to whether or not they want us at their annual banquet next year."
"Aw, who gives a crap," Rick scoffed. "If any of 'em had any sense they'd realize that this was the best damn banquet they ever hosted."
Rick gingerly touched a hand to his black eye. "Well, A.J., you gotta admit, this was a lot more entertaining than a comedian who isn't even funny, or a magician that can't even pull a rabbit out of a hat."
"I think a few people would like to debate you on that fact."
"Let 'em. The next time the phone rings I'll be happy to pick it up and tell those snobs just where they can stuff it."
"I'll let you do that," A.J. agreed.
Rick stumbled over his next words. "I...uh...I guess I do need to apologize to you for the way the night turned out. I didn't mean for any of it to happen like it did. And up until everyone got so drunk, things were going pretty good, don't you think?"
A.J. gave a small smile. "Yes, up until everyone got so drunk, things were going pretty good."
"Still, I didn't mean to screw things up for you - what with it bein' the last night for you as president and all. I hope this doesn't ruin your chances of holding an elected position again if you want one."
A.J. waved a hand in dismissal. "Don't worry about it. Being president of the Chamber isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway. And like you said, a lot of those people are just plain snobs. If they don't understand that what happened Saturday night was beyond my control, then so be it. I'm not going to lose anymore sleep over it, I can assure you of that fact."
Despite his split lip, Rick smiled with relief. "Glad to hear it."
True to his promise, Rick took the next phone call. A.J. didn't even attempt to stop him when Rick told the complaining Chamber member on the other end to, "Stuff it, fella!"
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
Two weeks later things had died down considerably, and the eventful banquet was all but a thing of the past as far as the Simon brothers were concerned. The plumbing facilities on The Hole In The Water weren't working properly, so Rick was showering and shaving that morning in his brother's master bathroom.
Dressed for the working day, Rick exited the bathroom. As he walked through the bedroom his eye caught the corner of something sticking out from underneath A.J.'s bed. Rick bent down to observe the object. Recognition dawned as he pulled it out into plain view.
Rick entered the kitchen where A.J., with his back to his brother, was busy scrambling eggs and frying bacon.
"Hey, A.J, what are you doin' with Juliet's fish costume underneath your bed?"
A.J. turned around, snaring the lower half of the mermaid costume from Rick's hand.
"I'm glad you found this. I've been looking all over for it. I need to return it to Juliet," was all A.J. would say. He walked into the living room to drape the costume over the back of the couch.
Rick smiled. "So...uh...you and Juliet took a little sail on moonlit beaches a couple weeks back, did you? A little cruise beneath the waves, so to speak."
A.J. brushed past his brother, returning to the kitchen to turn the bacon over.
"She came here to use the shower and dry off. She was full of sticky champagne, you know."
"Oh, I just bet she was," Rick snickered.
"Hey! Somebody had to apologize to her for the way she was treated," A.J. defended his actions. "You were certainly in no condition to. And besides, she was really shaken up. She doesn't know how to swim, and that dunk in the fountain scared her."
"That fountain wasn't more than two feet deep."
"If you don't know how to swim, it doesn't matter how deep it is," A.J. pointed out.
"So how'd you end up with half her costume under your bed?"
A.J. smiled in remembrance. "Let's just say she was grateful for my chivalry, and felt the need to thank me."
Rick clapped his brother on the shoulder. "Well, little brother, this is one time when you can tell people you reeled in the big one and really mean it."
"I know,” A.J. nodded. “Believe me, I know. As a matter of fact, it almost makes being on probation worth it."
As A.J. returned his attention to the breakfast he was cooking, his big grin was the only further comment Rick received about a champagne fountain, a woman named Juliet, and a mermaid’s private serenade.