AND THE ANGEL WORE A COWBOY HAT
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
*What the heck is goin' on? Oh, no. I'm on one of them weird trips again, aren't I? One of them trips that seems real when it's happening, but always turns out to be a dream. Or at least that's what Mom and A.J. are always tryin' to convince me of.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* ‘Rick’s weird trips that always turn out to be dreams,’ refers to several alternate universe stories I’ve written including Ashes To Ashes And Dust To Dust, as well as, California Dreamin.’ So, is Rick dreaming, or does he occasionally travel to an alternate universe? And The Angel Wore A Cowboy Hat is based on that question.
"Ricky. . .Ricky! Ricky!”
Rick Simon groaned. He didn't appreciate being so rudely, not to mention so loudly, hailed this early in the morning. Especially not when he was hung-over.
Without opening his eyes, Rick turned away from the persistent voice calling his name. He burrowed into his brother's den sofa cushions like a mole, hiding his face in the dark space where the back of the couch met the seat.
"Ricky! Ricky, come on. I’m not going to call you again! Breakfast is ready."
Rick's grumbled reply was muffled from where his mouth was buried in a plush cushion.
"Don' wan any breakfast! Juz leave me 'lone, will ya', A.J.? I'm tired, and I feel like shit."
"Ricky! Ricky, that's it now! I mean business!"
Rick's disheveled head emerged from its hiding place, his thinning hair sprung up in wispy tuffs. Through bloodshot eyes he peered over the arm of the couch. A.J. stood sternly at the French doors in the living room, his back to Rick.
"Would you keep it down?" Rick growled. "I already told ya' I don't want any breakfast. And what is it with you callin' me Ricky this morning? You haven't called me that since you were four years old."
A.J. didn't turn around. He didn't acknowledge his brother in any way, but rather remained standing where he was, staring intently out the doors.
Rick watched as A.J. held the screen wide open as though he was going to let someone in the house.
pushed himself up on his arms, balancing precariously on the unstable cushions
like a trained seal. A.J.? A.J., what's goin' on? What are ya' doin'?"
A.J.'s total lack of acknowledgment began to unnerve the older man. For some eerie reason, he got the impression A.J. wasn't ignoring him, but rather A.J. actually wasn't hearing him. But that was foolish, wasn't it? Of course A.J. could hear him. He was only standing across the room from Rick.
"A.J.?" Despite the throbbing in his head, Rick's voice grew louder and more insistent. "A.J.! A.J.! A.J., knock it off! Whatever you're up to it isn't funny. If you're tryin' to make a point here then you've made it. You're right, I shouldn't have gone out last night with Carlos. You told me we had to get an early start today. Meet Darnstorf at the crack of dawn. I blew it. I'm sorry, I blew it."
With a groan, Rick swung his body around until he was in a seated position. Despite the jackhammer battering concrete in his head, he started to push his butt off the couch. He was determined to put an end to A.J.'s little game, even if it meant picking his brother up and dunking him head first in the canal.
"Man, are you gonna be sorry when I get through with you," Rick vowed. He struggled to stand on teetering legs that weren't quite past the effects of an all-nighter with Carlos. I’ll teach you to wake up a man with a hang..."
Rick sagged back against the couch, mouth agape. "Over."
For in through the wide open door, skipped a little girl who looked to be six or seven years old. Her chestnut hair was pulled up in a ponytail that hung neatly from the middle of her head, and came to a stop somewhere in the vicinity of her shoulder blades. A tiny pair of Levi's blue jeans hugged her thin form. A pale blue polo shirt completed her outfit.
She gave A.J. a wave as she tried to scurry past him. "Hi, Daddy."
"Daddy?" Rick whispered.
A.J.'s hands rested on his hips. His stern tone made the little girl stop and rethink her original plan of a hasty retreat to her bedroom.
you been, young lady?"
With all the honesty a young child possesses, the little imp didn't hesitate to confess, "Playing in the canal."
bent down on one knee to remove the little girl's soaking wet tennis shoes and
socks. "I can see
that." The child steadied herself
by wrapping her arms around the blond man's neck. "Didn't you hear me calling you?"
Two huge eyes innocently cast themselves upon A.J. "No, Daddy, I didn't."
"Oh, you didn't, did you? And your sudden loss of hearing wouldn't have anything to do with the math paper that's supposed to be complete that I found unfinished under your pillow, would it?"
The child swallowed hard. No matter what was going on, what kind of a practical joke A.J. was pulling on him, or what kind of lesson he was trying to teach him, Rick found the scene playing out before him greatly amusing. For some odd reason, A.J. suddenly reminded Rick of their father. And the little girl standing so contritely before his brother reminded Rick of himself at the same age.
The child wrinkled her nose. That endearing expression was familiar in a nagging sort of way. And her eyes – they were familiar, too. Their color was as clear and bright as the summer sky.
She looks...she kinda looks like A.J.! And like someone else I know, too. But who the heck is it?
Rick studied the waif's features. She was a beautiful child with long slender arms and legs, and a heart shaped face. Even at such a tender age Rick could tell this lithe colt was a Thoroughbred in the making.
"Oh, Dad," the little girl scoffed, "you know how much I hate math."
"That may be true, but obviously you lied to Mommy and me last night when we asked you if all your homework was done."
didn't ask if all my homework was done.
You and Mommy only asked if my homework was done. If you'd said all, I would have known you meant
everything. When I said yes, I just
meant the homework I had worked on was done.
I didn't mean--"
"Okay, okay. Enough." A.J. commanded of his barefoot daughter. "You can argue the finer points of your case with your mother. She's the attorney. Right now we need to put dry socks and shoes on these feet." The little girl giggled as A.J. ran a ticklish finger over the bottom of one pink foot. "And then you need to eat your breakfast. You can do that math paper in the car on the way to school."
The child rolled her eyes and flirted with her handsome father, planting a kiss on his clean-shaven cheek. "Oh, Daaaaaady."
A.J. disengaged her small hands from around his neck. "Don't 'Oh, Daddy,' me. I know your tricks, Rickie Cecilia."
It was then that Rick Simon was brought back to reality. Or at least what he perceived to be reality. He had been so caught up in the whimsical scene that for just a few moments, he forgot that it couldn't really be happening.
Rickie Cecilia! He just called that little girl Rickie Cecilia. And she's calling him Daddy! What the...
The dumbfounded Rick pushed himself off the couch. The little girl whizzed by him, brushing so close he could smell the fresh scent of baby shampoo in her glossy hair.
A.J. trailed along behind his daughter, her wet shoes and socks in hand, intent on seeing his instructions carried out. He knew his Rickie could easily be sidetracked. Especially when her ultimate destination was her first grade classroom.
Rick stepped in front of his brother, blocking his path.
"Okay, A.J. The joke's up. The kid's cute and all, but who does she really belong to?"
When Rick realized A.J. was going to plow him right over he jumped aside. "A.J., knock it off! This isn't funny any more. If you're tryin' to give me the message that you're pissed 'cause I came home tanked to the gills at three o'clock this morning, then just tell me that."
Rick reached out and snared his brother by the arm. Although the well-muscled appendage felt as solid to Rick as it always did, A.J. didn't seem to feel his touch. And although Rick's grip was firm, even bruising in its intensity, A.J. kept on walking as though nothing hindered his path. Rick's hand fell to his side. He lifted it, studying both front and back.
What the heck is goin' on? Oh, no. I'm on one of them weird trips again, aren't I? One of them trips that seems real when it's happening, but always turns out to be a dream. Or at least that's what Mom and A.J. are always tryin' to convince me of.
Rick heaved a sigh.
Oh well. I guess I don't have any choice but to see where my travels take me. Somehow, I always end up back in the right place, or right time zone, or right dimension, or however a guy would refer to it. But always before, everyone I encountered could see me. They always knew who I was and seemed to think I was part of their world. This time it's obvious neither A.J. nor his...daughter, are aware I'm here.
Rick took a moment to get his bearings. Now that A.J. and the little girl weren’t present to provide distractions, Rick noticed all that was different about the familiar rooms. He was indeed, still in A.J.'s house on the Grand Canal, but there were changes here and there. No longer did the house have a strictly masculine air about it. The sedate beige carpet A.J. preferred that ran from the living room through the dining area and on into the den, was now a deep shade of forest green. The furniture in the living room was new. Or at least new to Rick. It was considerably more formal than the overstuffed chairs and couch that once sat there. Rick thought the style was what he'd heard referred to as French Provincial. Rick just referred to it as ‘damn uncomfortable.’ Not the kind of furniture a man could feel at home on while watching a football game and tossing back a few beers. The chairs were two shades lighter than the carpet, the upholstery on the couch was multi-patterned in all colors of greens and pinks. A swag valance that matched the couch hung from the sill above the French doors. Forest green blinds were drawn back from the big glass doors allowing the morning sun to spill in. A big silk spray of flowers in pinks and greens was arranged in a basket and sitting in the middle of the coffee table. Another basket of flowers in the same colors sat on the stone hearth of the fireplace.
The dining room table was the one Rick was familiar with, though green quilted mats and cloth napkins sat permanently at each place, once again lending a more formal air to A.J.'s house. Gone was the brass kettle A.J. used as a centerpiece, replaced by a cut-glass crystal bowl that Rick guessed was worth several hundred dollars.
The den furniture was slightly different from what Rick was used to seeing there, but not overly so. The couch and chair were upholstered in neutral beiges with just a hint of green here and there to stay with the color scheme. Unlike in the living room, these two pieces of furniture looked comfortable and well-used.
Kid proof, Rick thought with an ironic grin.
A wooden rocking chair with a wide seat sat in the far corner. Rick slowly approached it. He hesitated before reaching out two fingers and pushing them against a wooden arm. The chair slowly swayed back and forth.
This is the same chair Mom used to rock A.J. and me in. Or an exact replica of it rather. I never remember it bein' anywhere but in her and Dad's bedroom in my world. Did she give it to A.J...this A.J., when Rickie was born? When A.J...my A.J., was a baby, I used to climb up in this old chair with her as she fed and rocked him. No matter how tight a fit, she always made room for me. I wonder if I ever told her how special those times were to me? How, without any of us being aware of it, those times helped form the bond that would tie A.J. and me together for the rest of our lives.
Rick finally tore his eyes away from the chair that held so many precious memories. He continued his inventory of the room. A.J.'s gun cabinet was missing, as was the familiar shelving unit. In its place sat a home entertainment center. Most of the videos that lined its shelves were Disney classics and Warner Brothers cartoons, indicating to visitors a child was a much-loved part of this household.
Rick couldn't resist lifting the lid of the wooden chest that served as a coffee table in the den. It was the same wooden chest Rick was familiar with from what he thought of as 'his' world. But rather than it being filled with A.J.'s favorite books and magazines, this chest was filled with toys. Trucks, and balls, and hand held electronic games, and G.I. Joes, and Ninja Turtles. Rick rummaged through it looking for Barbie dolls, or makeup kits, or plastic jewelry, but didn't come across any such feminine items. He wondered then if there was another child somewhere in the house, a boy, but then he remembered the precocious little Rickie in her worn sneakers and Levi's jeans, and the polo shirt that looked more like a little boy's than a little girl's.
A tomboy no doubt.
Rick quietly closed the chest's lid. He straightened and looked into the kitchen. It was the one room on the main floor that had gone through the least transition. Except for the wallpaper the room was unchanged. That didn't bother Rick too much. He had never liked A.J.'s kitchen wallpaper anyway. This pattern was homier, and once again picked up the green tones that prevailed throughout the rest of the downstairs. But it also included blues and pinks and beiges, and depicted hens setting in baskets of eggs. It lent a cozy, country air to the kitchen, that Rick found satisfying.
He placed his hands on his hips and surveyed the rooms surrounding him one last time.
Other than that God-awful uncomfortable lookin' living room furniture, I like it, kid. It's warm, and friendly, and somehow conveys that this is a home full of a lotta love. And speaking of love, I wonder who your decorator is?
Before Rick had a chance to ponder that thought any further, running footsteps pounded down the stairs.
Rickie giggled as she ran for all she was worth. "Last one there's a rotten egg!"
Rick smiled at the sight of the little girl racing by him, her ponytail flying out behind her. His grin broadened as A.J. followed at her heels, the blond's necktie imitating his daughter's hair.
Right before Rickie reached the kitchen A.J. swooped her up in his arms. "You're not going to beat me this time! This time you're the one who's stuck being the rotten egg."
Rickie squealed with laughter as her dad's fingers gently raked over sensitive ribs.
"No fair, Dad! You picked me up and you're tickling besides!" Ricky arched her back, squirming and squealing. "It's not fair if you have to cheat to win!"
Rick watched the father and his daughter playfully scuffle until A.J. put an end to their fun by carrying Rickie over to her seat at the breakfast table.
I always knew you'd make a helluva daddy someday, kid.
It took Rickie a few minutes to settle down and start eating. Again, his brother reminded Rick of their father as A.J. had to alternately admonish the child to quit dawdling, to sit up straight, and to move her juice glass away from her elbow.
Sounds like you've got this parenting business down pat, little brother. Or at least in this world you do. Wherever this world may be, that is.
Rick walked over and parked his lanky frame on a stool at the snack bar. It was strange to be sitting there like that and longing to be so much a part of what was happening. To be so much a part of A.J.'s life, and the life of this little girl his brother called Rickie.
It was that longing that prompted Rick to try one more time. "A.J.?" He questioned.
A.J. and Rickie went on talking about their upcoming day as if no one had spoken.
Again no response to Rick's louder beckoning.
Rick took a deep breath. As he expelled it he roared, "Aaaay Jaaay!"
A.J. didn't even blink, let alone so much as glance in Rick's direction. Instead, he rose from the table and began gathering up the dishes. "Put your glass and bowl in the dishwasher, Rickie, then run up and get your backpack. We're going to leave in five minutes."
Rickie stood and did as she was instructed. "Okay, Dad."
if this is some kind of an elaborate joke my brother's playin' on me, then him
and that little girl are two of the best actors I've ever run across.
By the time A.J. had the dishwasher cycling Rickie had returned to his side. The blond man gathered up his wallet, car keys, and sport coat from the kitchen counter top. "Do you have your math paper and a pencil?"
Rickie sighed. "Yes."
A.J.'s blue eyes twinkled. "Thought I forgot, didn't you?"
The little girl's eyes matched her dad's as she looked up at him. "I was hoping."
A.J. chuckled while opening the kitchen door. "Let's get a move on then. Don't forget, Grandma's going to pick you up after school, so wait for her out front. Mom's going to be in court all day. It’ll be after five o'clock before one of us is able to get you."
"I know. Mom already told me that before she left for work. Maybe Grandma can bring me by your office and I can just stay there until you're ready to come home. Or I can work on a case with you."
A.J. shook his head with regret. "I don't think so, slugger. Last time you ended up 'working' on a case with me we were both in hot water with your mother."
"But it was just a stake-out. I told Mom it was perfectly safe. That nothing happened."
A.J. chuckled. "I know. I told Mom that, too. Let's just say she wasn't very understanding about the situation and leave it at that."
"But I wanna be a private investigator like you, Dad. Like you and Grandpa Myron."
Grandpa Myron! Grandpa Myron! Now I know why she looks so familiar. She's the spittin' image of Janet with a little bit of A.J. thrown in here and there.
Rick tuned back into the conversation as Rickie went on to plead her case.
"And how am I gonna do that if Mom won't let me go on stake-outs, and car chases, and shoot-outs, and black bag jobs, and--"
A.J. put a hand on his daughter's back and ushered her out the door. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, Rickie. For the time being, we need to concentrate on getting you out of the first grade. That in itself will please your mother to no end."
The rest of the conversation was lost on Rick as the kitchen door was closed and locked.
Grandpa Myron, huh? Boy, A.J., I'm glad it's you and not me. Rickie's a heck of a cute kid, but jeez, Myron as a father-in-law? No thank you.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
It was a strange day to say the least, even by Rick Simon's unorthodox standards. He found that simply by thinking of a person, simply by desiring to be a certain place, he was somehow transported there without any conscious movement on his part.
Just like a ghost.
Time seemed to have no relevance for Rick either. The day seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.
Kinda like how you hear Heaven described.
Rick's curiosity got the best of him after A.J. and Rickie had left. He set out to learn as much about this new universe he suddenly found himself in, starting with the second level of A.J.'s house.
Like the downstairs, some aspects of the upstairs rooms were hauntingly familiar while others were completely new. Rickie's room, of course, being the most changed. It was the first bedroom at the top of the stairs. It had been a guest room in the house that was Rick's second home, but now it definitely housed a child. Oak shelves lined the wall opposite the doorway and were filled with books and stuffed animals. A large toy chest stood in one corner, an easel in the other complete with paints and markers of every color in its plastic tray. The tall, sturdy single bed Rickie slept in was what Rick had heard referred to as a Captain's bed, because of the bureau drawers that were built into the bottom of its frame. Rick smiled at the San Diego Padres bedspread on the bed, and the matching curtains at the windows. A wallpaper border in antique ivory circled the room depicting men in baggy knickers, circa 1900, playing baseball. No doubt in 'his' world, Rick and his niece would have been the best of friends.
The bathroom in the hallway possessed no differences from the one Rick was accustomed to showering in when he accidentally allowed the Hole In The Water's tanks to run empty. And just like in Rick's own universe, there was another smaller guest room at the end of the hall, though more often than not A.J. used it for a home office.
Rick stepped into the vacant room. Gone was the double bed that normally sat under the window. Missing as well was the desk and computer that took up most of one wall.
Mmmm, wonder what's goin' on in here?
The pale blue walls were bright and clean, and smelled of fresh paint. A white crib sat folded up in one corner, as did a baby's changing table.
I bet this was the nursery and they're redecorating it. Getting rid of the baby stuff. I guess if Rickie's in...what did A.J. say, first grade? I suppose that makes her six goin' on seven. Maybe he and Janet figure if they haven't had any more kids by now they never will. Or maybe they don't want any more. I suppose if Janet's workin' for the D.A. in this world, too, she's pretty busy. Probably doesn't have time for more than one kid. And she probably needs a home office. That must be what they're gonna use this room for.
Rick moved out of the room and continued his tour. It didn't surprise him to see the master bedroom and bath had undergone a complete transformation. They looked decidedly more feminine.
Guess a wife will do that to ya.’
The bedspread was ivory with lace, and ruffles, and throw pillows, and pink roses. Curtains to match hung at the French doors. The carpeting was pale pink and ran into the bathroom. Rick easily guessed pink was the dominate color in there, as well.
For just a moment Rick hesitated. It was one thing to walk unheeded into A.J.'s bedroom, but quite another to walk unheeded into A.J. and Janet's bedroom.
Rick chuckled to himself. What the heck. What harm can it do? It's not like anyone's gonna see me. Besides, it might give me some clues as to why I'm here. Or at least explain to me what's goin' on.
Ironically enough, the first thing Rick spotted was a picture of himself resting on a nightstand. He recalled A.J. snapping it nineteen years earlier, in the summer of '67. It was the last summer Rick had been home before going off to boot camp. He stood leaning back against his motorcycle, his long legs crossed at the ankles. He wore a field jacket similar to the kind he favored yet today, and the cowboy hat he'd won in a poker game in Mazula, Montana was perched on his head. Between the hat and the angle the picture was taken, prevented an outside observer from realizing Rick was also sporting a ponytail that hung halfway down his back. The United States Marine Corps took care of that for him less then two months afterwards.
The nightstand on the other side of the bed held a recent picture of A.J., Janet, and Rickie. Rick picked it up and studied it. This Janet looked the same as the Janet Rick was familiar with.
She's as beautiful as ever. This is weird. In my universe A.J. and Janet broke their engagement seven years ago. Back in Florida in 1979. But somehow, in this universe, she and A.J. ended up gettin' married. I wonder what's different? I wonder how come it all worked out this time?
With a shrug Rick replaced the picture. He poked his nose in the closet, then opened the dresser drawers one by one. He chuckled when he came to Janet's lingerie. Every piece was satin and sexy and skimpy, and was no doubt only worn when Rickie was out of the house or in bed asleep.
You're a lucky man, A.J. Simon. Or at least in this universe you are.
Other than confirming that A.J. did indeed, have a wife, Rick's tour of the bedroom unearthed no clues. He stopped in the hallway on his way to the stairs and eyed a large grouping of pictures. A number were familiar to him, those that depicted he and A.J. together as boys or the ones that included the two of them along with their parents. As well, there were pictures of Janet throughout her girlhood years including a family portrait shot one month before her mother was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Then a picture of an adorable bright-eyed baby girl that could only be Rickie, and more pictures that charted Rickie's growth to the present. Rick smiled when he saw a recent photo of his mother with her granddaughter. Cecilia Simon was as beautiful and ageless as ever. Or so her proud son thought. There was no doubt by the way Cecilia and Rickie were posed, grinning cheek to cheek for the camera, that grandmother and granddaughter took great delight in one another.
Rick poked around downstairs, but came up with no more clues about himself or what his role was in this particular world, or even where he...or his counterpart that is, might be. By the pictures he had seen upstairs, and the fact Rickie was evidently his counterpart's namesake, this world's Rick obviously was an important part of A.J.'s life. Evidently the brothers were as close in this universe as they were in their own.
Maybe he travels like Uncle Ray. That's probably it. If 'Nam hadn't changed me - my life the way it did - I bet that's what I'd be doin' today in my own world. Though I'll never admit it to A.J., I'm glad I'm not bummin' around the globe, 'cause if I was then there never woulda' been a Simon and Simon Investigations.
Rick perused through kitchen drawers, thinking he might run across a letter from his alternate self to his brother's family, but didn't come up with so much as postcard.
Oh well, I never was much of one to write anyway. Guess the ‘other Rick’ isn’t big on letter writing either.
Rick stepped out on the deck and took a gander at the side yard. Just as he suspected would be the case, the Hole In The Water was absent. A swingset, wooden play fort, and fiberglass jungle gym sat in the boat's usual spot.
Mmmm, I wonder if the Hole In The Water doesn't exist, or if this Rick managed to do what I never have and made her seaworthy? Maybe he's off sailin' somewhere.
A stack of photo albums on a closet shelf did bring Rick to the conclusion that just like in 'his' world, A.J. met Janet in Florida back in the mid-seventies. Almost an entire album was devoted to their courtship, and Rick recognized Grandpa Simon's house on Pirates Key in a number of the pictures. Other pictures showed a young A.J. working in the Peerless Detective office in Miami, bringing Rick to the conclusion that many of the events that took place in this universe were again, similar to the events in his own.
The lanky man shifted his weight in one of the delicate living room chairs as he turned another page in the album.
This is strange. And yet it's just like the other times I found myself in these parallel worlds or whatever they are. Things are the same, yet subtly different. In so many ways, A.J.'s life in this world isn't unlike his life in my world, yet in some ways it's drastically different. Especially when it comes to Janet and Rickie.
Mmmm. I wonder why I'm not...or he...the other Rick's - not in any of the photographs taken on the Key? I know we've got lots of them at home...in 'my' world, that have both me and A.J. in 'em, and a good number with Janet in 'em, too. And even Marlowe. And speaking of Marlowe, I wonder where he is? Maybe poor old Marlowe doesn't exist in this world...or maybe he's with me, wherever the heck it is I am. Or wherever the heck it is my counterpart's at, that is. Boy, this time travelin' can really get a guy confused. The next time A.J. complains about crossing time zones on an airplane, I'll have to tell him about this.
Rick didn't think too much of it one way or another when he didn't run across any pictures of his counterpart in the photo albums, though he did find it a little odd that there wasn't one picture of the man with Rickie.
You'd think he woulda' had his picture taken with his niece a time or two. But, then again, if he's travelin' like Uncle Ray does, maybe he doesn't get home much. A.J. was a couple years old before Ray saw him for the first time.
Rick returned the albums to the closet shelf. He walked into the den and sank down on the sofa. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. It was then, as he was thinking of A.J., that he suddenly found himself standing upright in the Peerless office. Not the Peerless office in Miami, but rather the office Myron had opened in San Diego in 1979. The office that was across the street from the first office Rick and A.J. had rented upon opening Simon and Simon Investigations.
Just like A.J. and Rickie had been that morning, the Peerless employees were oblivious to Rick's presence. He moved about, freely enjoying this new form of eavesdropping. His wanderings brought him to Myron's office. Or what Rick had once known as Myron's office. The nameplate on the door announced another man had taken up residence therein.
Rick stood in the doorway and listened as A.J. reviewed a case with one of the Peerless employees. A secretary kept interrupting the two men, her constant inquires of A.J. quickly leading Rick to the conclusion that his younger brother was the man in charge here.
He must run the whole show. I guess I shouldn't find that to be so hard to believe. After all, that's what Myron wanted him to do - come out here and run the San Diego office he was gonna open. And A.J. probably woulda' done it, too, if it hadn't been for me. If he hadn't been so bent on seeing me and him go into business together.
Myron Fowler appeared on the scene not long thereafter. He was still the same out-spoken, cigar smoking, crusty P.I. Rick loved to hate. It didn't take Rick long to figure out that Myron was nothing more than a figurehead in the Peerless office now. In Rick's own world, Myron had sold the office the previous year and retired to a small town north of Miami. Evidently in this world he still owned the business, but it was run by his son-in-law, A.J. Simon. Coincidentally enough, it was the running of the business that prompted Myron's visit that day.
man parked his bulky frame in a chair across from A.J.'s desk. "So, kid, you ready to buy me
A.J. smiled indulgently at his father-in-law. "I've been ready to buy you out for five years, Myron. I keep telling you to name your price, but you always get cold feet at the last minute."
"Not this time. This time I really mean it." Myron waved his cigar in the air. "I'm finally gettin' the hang of this retirement stuff, and I'm finding I'm kinda partial to it. Besides, it's only fair that you have a chance to make some money off this business while you're still young. You know, have a chance to pack some away for your own retirement. Now, in my opinion I pay you a damn good salary but--"
Again A.J. smiled. "Yes, you do."
"I pay you a damn good salary, but on the other hand, you deserve every penny of it. I know I don't tell you this very often, kid, but you're a helluva P.I. There's none better. Except me, that is. And you're a helluva son-in-law, too. You make my little girl happy, and that's all I care about. And you're the father of my precious Rickie. A man couldn't ask for a more beautiful granddaughter. So, it's because of all those factors that I've decided it's time I turn the business over to you for good. Hell, you can even change the name if you want. Call it Simon and Associates, something like that."
A.J. chuckled. "I don't think that will be necessary. Peerless Detectives it's been since you started it back in 1948, and Peerless Detectives it remains. Or at least until Rickie's old enough to have a say. When that time comes I think she'll make herself right at home in the office next to mine, and probably make me start calling it something like...oh...Simon and Simon Investigations, or some such thing."
Myron laughed. "If that's what my Rickie wants, then that's what my Rickie gets."
"Don't let Janet hear you say that," A.J. cautioned. "I'm in enough hot water over taking Rickie on that stake-out with me last week after I picked her up from school."
"Janet was pretty mad, huh?"
"To say the least. I have strict orders that it's not to happen again, which is proving to be no small feat to accomplish. Your ‘precious granddaughter,’ as you refer to her, was begging me this morning to let her come to the office after school today so she could work on a case with me."
"So what? She loves it here. If this is where she wants to be, then this is where she should be."
"I don't necessarily disagree with you, Myron, but Janet does." A.J.'s eyes twinkled. "And I don't sleep with you, if you get my drift."
I get your drift all right, kid. Spent
a night on the couch because of that little escapade with Rickie last week,
"Yes, I certainly did, and I'd rather not do it again any time soon. Me, and my back, are getting far too old to spend our nights on the sofa."
"I'll tell you what, you invite me over for dinner Friday night so we - you and me and Janet, can discuss the financial details surrounding you buying the business. While I'm there I'll plead Rickie's case. Janet shouldn't be so hard-nosed about this. I know Rickie's only a little girl yet, but she's really got a feel for the P.I. business, A.J. I can tell."
"She should. Between you and me she was practically weaned on it."
Myron rolled his cigar between his fingers. "That she was. And there's nothing wrong with it either. I just have to make Janet see that."
"Well, good luck. I'm open to letting you try. You know how much I enjoy having my daughter here after school or on Saturday mornings. But whether or not you can convince your daughter to allow that to continue to happen is another matter altogether."
Myron rose. “I'll give it my best shot, kid."
A.J. stood as well and walked his father-in-law to the door. "This ought to be a sight to see. And to hear. I'll have to take Rickie out of the room when the yelling starts. See you on Friday evening, Myron."
"Doesn't matter. We'll eat at seven. Come early and play with your granddaughter. She'll love it."
"You got yourself a deal, kid."
Rick watched Myron leave the office.
So the old coot's a doting grandfather. Now that's kinda hard to picture. And it sounds like he's good to A.J., too. Fair to 'im. Even though this ain't really my world, I'm glad of that. No matter what world it is, A.J.'s a good guy. He deserves to be treated as such.
Rick spent the remainder of the day drifting in and out of the lives of people he knew back in 'his' universe. He 'saw' Carlos, Downtown Brown, Jerry Reiner, and Cecilia. His mother's home had undergone few changes in Rick's time travels other than a couple boxes of toys stashed in closets that indicated she often entertained a young visitor. Rick literally ‘hung around the house,’ as he thought of it, watching his mother interact with Rickie after she'd pick the child up from school. Indeed, the two shared a strong bond. It was obvious that Cecilia Simon loved her youngest son's only child with all the love she possessed, and in turn, Rickie Cecilia loved and cherished her only grandmother. Watching the two of them together made Rick sad for what his mother didn't have in his own world.
I never realized what a disservice A.J. and I were doing Mom by not marrying and having children. 'Course it's not exactly like we have a whole lot of control over that matter. I mean, A.J. was serious with Janet, and then later with Liz. I really thought he and Liz were gonna get hitched before it was all over with. So did Mom. Thank God that never happened.
And I guess I've been serious with a couple of women in my day, as well. I wonder why I've held off poppin' the question? After all these years am I too set in my ways? Is A.J. too set in his? I know the business has us workin' a lot of long, odd hours, which sometimes hampers a relationship. I wonder how much of that has to do with the two of us not being married yet? Wow. This alternate universe stuff really makes a guy think. And here all this time I thought I was happy with the way things were. Well, actually I am. Or at least I was until I got a chance to see the other side. Maybe this is why we never get to see 'what might have been.’ Correction to that thought - most people never get to see, 'what might have been.’ I seem to get to about once every year or so.
Rick spent the late afternoon and early evening hours thinking of other people and places he wanted to 'see,' and then finding himself somehow transported there. It wasn't until the sun had set that he once again thought of his brother and the home on the Grand Canal.
The downstairs was dark and quiet, warmed only by a dim light left on over the kitchen sink.
Rick followed his brother's voice up the stairs. He glanced to the left and saw the door to the master bedroom was shut. Bright light spilled out from underneath the crack, however, and he could hear the comforting sound of water from the shower thumping lightly against the wall. He looked to his right and saw A.J. reclining against the pillows on Rickie's bed, the pajama clad girl snuggled in the crook of her father's arm. Her ponytail had been brushed out and her thick brown hair, streaked auburn in places from the sun's gentle kisses, fell to the middle of her back.
Rick leaned against the doorway and listened to the relaxing cadence of A.J.'s voice as he read Rickie her bedtime story. The blond man slowly closed the book as he finished the last page.
"Another one, Dad. Read another one please."
A.J. looked down into blue eyes that were twins of his own. "No, not tonight. It's getting late."
"Okay, then tell me a story instead."
A.J. chuckled. "If it's too late for me to read you another story, what makes you think it's not too late for me to tell you one?"
Rickie idly played with the blond hairs on her father's strong arm. "Because telling a story never takes as long as reading one does. Oh please, Daddy. Just a short one. Pleeease."
"All right, all right. A short one. A very short one. I have to start my day early tomorrow, remember? I have to meet a man regarding a case almost before the sun comes up."
But that should have already happened. A.J. shoulda met the guy early this morning. Or at least in my world he should have. I wonder if that means anything? If there's some kinda significance to it? Rick gave a mental shrug when no answers readily came to mind. Oh well, it's probably no big deal. Maybe I lost a day or something with all this time travelin' I been doin.’
"Now what is this story supposed to be about?" A.J. was asking his daughter. "As if I can't already guess."
"About when you and Uncle Rick were little boys. Tell me about one of your adventures with Uncle Rick."
"Slugger, you're always asking me to tell you about when Uncle Rick and I were little boys. Don't you ever tire of hearing those stories?"
"Never, Dad. I never do." Rickie turned her body just enough to glance at a picture on her nightstand. A picture Rick hadn't noticed when he'd been in the room earlier in the day. Rick had a copy of it on the Hole In The Water, just as A.J. had a copy hanging in his house. It was taken a week before Rick shipped out for Vietnam. He was standing straight and tall in his dress blues, eighteen year old A.J. standing next to him with his arm slung over Rick's shoulders. They were both valiantly trying to smile for the camera, but anyone who knew the brothers well, could clearly see the pain reflecting from their eyes at this forced parting.
Rick tore his attention from the picture when he heard A.J.'s daughter sincerely state, "I love stories about Uncle Rick, Dad."
Rick smiled fondly. Even though his counterpart evidently wasn't around much, the 'other' Rick must have made quite an impression on A.J.'s young daughter.
"Come on, Daddy. Hurry up and tell me an Uncle Rick story before Mom comes in and makes me go to sleep."
Rick chuckled along with his brother as A.J. regaled his daughter with a typical Rick Simon adventure that landed both boys in hot water with their mother. Although he hadn't thought of it in years, Rick remembered the incident all too well.
What A.J. just told Rickie really did happen. More proof that this world isn't so different from my own.
Despite Rickie's pleas for more Uncle Rick stories, A.J. kissed his small daughter good night. He climbed over her to the floor and tucked the covers securely around her shoulders.
"You go to sleep now. It's getting late. I've got an early job, and you've got school in the morning."
With all the drama a six-year-old possesses Rickie moaned, "Don't remind me."
A.J. laughed before shutting the bedside lamp off, then quietly closing the door behind him.
Rick followed his brother to the master bedroom. He hesitated a split second, then scurried in behind A.J. before the blond could close the door. Not that that action could have kept Rick out. He'd discovered in his present state he had the ability to walk through solid objects.
A.J. unbelted his bathrobe and threw it over a small chair in the corner. Clad only in pajama bottoms, he climbed on the bed. He leaned over and kissed his wife, who was reclining back against three pillows while studying the open file folder propped up on her belly. Her very large and pregnant belly.
Ah...the reason behind the sudden need to decorate. They aren't putting the baby things in storage. They're takin' them out of storage.
Even in her current state Janet Fowler was a gorgeous woman. Fresh from her shower her hair was tied back in a French braid. She wore an oversized blue silk sleeping top with a flowing pair of matching pajama pants. By her pronounced and swollen stomach, Rick guessed her to be near the end of her pregnancy.
closed the folder and sat it on her nightstand. "Is
A.J. propped himself up on one elbow by his wife's side. "She's rapidly headed in that direction."
"How many stories did she talk you into tonight?"
A.J. chuckled. "Two. One from a book and one--"
Janet smiled. "Uncle Rick story."
"How'd you guess?"
Janet awkwardly leaned over as if she was being forced to maneuver around an overblown beach ball. She placed a light kiss on her husband's mouth. "Because she talks you into one at least three times a week."
The pregnant attorney rearranged her pillows, reclining back once again. "And speaking of the things Rickie talks you into Daddy, did she finish that math paper today?"
A.J. nodded his head from where it rested in his hand. "Yes, she did. And it was perfect, I might add."
Janet shook her head in frustration. "I don't know what I'm going to do with that daughter of ours. She's capable of being an excellent student, but her mind always seems to be a thousand other places." Janet stared pointedly down at the blond man. "Like on the Peerless Detective Agency, for example."
Though he knew he wasn't going to get by with it, A.J. played dumb. "What do you mean?"
"You know perfectly well what I mean, Andrew Simon. She wants to be with you at that office twenty-four hours a day. And if she can't be, then she's playing detective with the neighborhood kids or by herself. I worry about her, A.J. I know she's only six-and-a-half-years-old, but I hate seeing her do so poorly in school. Especially when she's capable of doing so much better."
"I know," A.J. reluctantly agreed. "She's just like Rick was as a kid. Bright, inquisitive, outgoing, but not a child motivated by the demands of others."
Boy, this Rick sounds just like me. But if he is, how come he and A.J. aren't in business together in this world?
"That's exactly what your mother said when I was discussing this with her last week. That Rickie reminds her of your brother in a multitude of ways. And to that end, she and I were discussing the Montessori school that's only a few blocks from her house. I'd like you and I to talk to its principal. Your Mom and I think it might do Rickie good to change her to an atmosphere with a smaller, less rigid classroom structure. That's where Cary and Donna's boys go. Donna said they love it. Because there are no more than fifteen kids in each class, the children do a lot of projects on their own or in groups, as well as take a number of educational field trips. I think Rickie will really thrive in an atmosphere like that. Your Mom said if the school had existed when you and your brother were boys, that she would have sent Rick there. She also said if we send Rickie there she'll volunteer to be a teacher's aide in her classroom."
A.J. smiled up at his wife. "It sounds like you and Mom have this all worked out."
"No," Janet shook her head. "Not without getting your opinion as well. I simply thought that with the school year rapidly coming to a close now might be the time to look into the Montessori system. Of course, if Rickie is accepted we'll have to pay tuition to send her there. And I know it's not as convenient as the public school just around the block. It means one of us will always have to drive her and pick her up, and--"
do you mean, not necessarily?"
"When I picked up Rickie this evening Mom mentioned that Mrs. Parnell's house is for sale."
that the big Mediterranean with the sun room a couple blocks down from your
A.J. nodded. "That's the one. I haven't been in it since I was a boy. Rick and I used to pal around with the Parnell kids. But Mom said its still as beautiful and well kept on the inside as I remember."
are they selling it?"
"Mr. Parnell passed away last year and it's just too much for Mrs. Parnell to take care of."
Now there's a difference, Rick thought from where he stood leaning against dresser. Mr. Parnell is still alive and kickin'. At least in my world he is. I saw him out workin' in his yard the other day when I stopped at Mom's.
"Her kids have convinced her to move into some type of retirement villa," A.J. was explaining to Janet as Rick tuned back into the conversation. "So anyway, I thought perhaps you'd like to take a look at it. It's got everything you've been saying you want. There's a master bed and bath on the main floor that includes a large dressing room we could convert to a home office for both of us. There's three more bedrooms on the second story with another bathroom."
Janet ran a teasing finger down her husband's naked chest.
"Oh, exquisite privacy," she purred.
A.J. waggled his eyebrows, grasped Janet's hand and seductively sucked a finger before releasing her. "There's also a formal living room and separate formal dining room, a kitchen three times the size of ours, and a huge family room. The sun porch you can see from the outside is on one end of the family room. The basement was a finished rec room when I was kid. I assume it still is. And there's an in-ground pool in the backyard."
"Sounds like Rickie and her little brother will be spoiled."
A.J. ran a loving hand over Janet's tight belly. "No, they won't be, because their dad will assign them the task of keeping that pool clean."
Janet laughed. "This I've got to see. All Rickie has to do is bat her eyelashes at you and call you daddy. That's all it takes for her to get her way."
Before A.J. could protest that true statement Janet said, "The house sounds magnificent. Let's contact the Realtor and take a look at it this weekend."
"Certainly. Why wouldn't I be?"
"With it only being a few blocks from Mom...well, I would understand if you'd rather not live quite that close to her."
Unaccustomed to her ever expanding girth, Janet struggled to sit up straighter. "A.J., I love your mother. You know that. She's one of my closest friends."
"I realize that. I also realize it's important to have some distance from family. So, if for any reason you'd rather not live that close to Mom, we can always look at other houses when the time comes."
"Absolutely not. I want to look at Mrs. Parnell's. Besides, your mother is so busy with her own activities that no matter how close we live to her she could never possibly be a nuisance. Plus, I'll be relying on her for help when John Andrew Simon makes his appearance."
That's the second time Janet's referred to the baby as a boy. They musta' had an ultrasound done. This A.J. must really be into naming his kids after people he's been close to. At least he has the good sense not to saddle the kid with a name like Myron. Talk about a prime target for bullies.
A.J.'s hand remained resting lightly on his wife's stomach. "Judging by the way our little Jack is kicking tonight, I'd say that will be in the very near future. I think he's just itching to get out and say hello to his family."
Janet's left hand covered her husband's. Together they gently caressed their unborn child. "This pregnancy has been such a joy," the woman remarked. "Even if I am as big as a house and still growing with almost four weeks to go yet. It's so much different from when I carried Rickie. I worried about her the entire time. Especially when the bleeding started in my third month and continued on and off until she was born. I kept thinking about the first two babies I miscarried."
A.J. looked up into the eyes that still held remnants of sorrow for the children they'd lost early in their marriage.
"I know you worried," A.J. stated softly. "So did I. For a long time I was afraid we'd never have children of our own. That's why Rickie was such a miracle to me."
Janet's smile was full of love. She reached out and caressed her husband's face with the back of her hand. "I'll never forget how you cried when Dr. Barton placed our bloody, squalling newborn daughter in your arms. You said she was the most beautiful thing you'd ever seen."
A.J. smiled with remembrance. "She was. And I've always appreciated the fact that you let me name her Rickie Cecilia."
Janet laughed. "I will admit it took me a while to get used to it. But over the years it's grown on me. Besides, that unique moniker has turned out to very appropriately fit our rambunctious tomboy."
A.J. lightly laid his head against his wife's stomach listening to the 'swish swish swish' that sounded like waves on a distant seashore. His voice was soft and faraway. "I didn't think we'd ever have another child. I thought Rickie would be our only one. Bob said as much just a few hours after she was born. It was so important to me then, that she be named for my brother. Since she didn't turn out to be a Richard Lawrence...well, Rickie Cecilia was as close as I could come to honoring Rick's memory."
Honoring my memory? What the heck does he mean by that?
Janet ran her fingers through her husband's thick hair.
"You honor Rick's memory every day, A.J., simply by being you. Simply by being the honorable man you are. Simply by passing along stories of him to Rickie. Simply by living."
A.J.'s voice was thick with unshed tears. "I know. But sometimes it's so hard, Janet. . .to go on living. Even after all these years. He was three weeks short of his twenty-sixth birthday."
Three weeks short of my twenty-sixth birthday? I don’t think I like the sound of this.
"I'm older now then he ever got the chance to be. I wonder sometimes...if he'd lived...if he hadn't been killed in that damn war...would he be married? Would he live near us? Would he and I be as inseparable yet today as we were growing up? Would his kids and our kids fill up Mom's house on holidays? How I would have loved it if his children and ours were the best of friends like he and I were. There's just so much he never got to do, Janet. So much of life he never got to live. Rick's death will always be a hurt I'll never quite get over."
A.J. rested quietly against his wife while Janet continued to run comforting fingers through his hair. Rick ignored the couple on the bed as his thoughts tumbled and twirled like a kaleidoscope of colors he couldn't quite make out.
My death? My death? But...but...why? Did I have to die in order for Janet and A.J. to marry? Was it because of me that in 'my' world they didn't? Is that what this little...trip is tryin' to show me? That somehow I interfered in A.J.'s happiness? That somehow I prevented him from marrying and having children? Am I supposed to be learnin' some kind of a lesson from all this?
Before Rick could even begin to gain any insight to the above, he suddenly found himself standing in a cemetery. It was as if once again, someone had read his thoughts and felt the urge to plunge him where he most needed to be in order to get answers to an ever-growing list of questions.
It was late, but the moon was full and the sky clear of clouds. Between the brightness of the moon and the illumination given off by the streetlights, Rick could see as clearly as if it was day. He immediately recognized this part of the large, well-kept cemetery. He walked a few paces before coming to a halt in front of a gravestone. He didn't need to read the engraved name announcing who rested beneath the marker. Even in this alternate world, Rick was well aware this was his father's grave. The dates of birth and death were identical to those in his own universe.
From the corner of his eye, Rick caught sight of another gravestone. One that wasn't present in his world. He slowly knelt down and ran his fingers over the lettering while reading aloud, "Sergeant Richard Lawrence Simon. Born: April 16th, 1944. Died While In The Service Of His Country: March 24th, 1970. Beloved Son. Cherished Brother."
Without any conscious movement on his part, Rick sunk to his rear end. He wrapped his arms around his upraised knees and remained that way until the sky was streaked with signs of dawn. Over and over again he asked himself questions to which he had no answers.
Why am I here?
What is the purpose of all this?
And what is it that someone's tryin' to tell me?
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
It was still dark outside when Rickie Simon snuck down the stairs. She wasn't afraid of the dark. She never had been. So it didn't bother her in the slightest to maneuver her way to the garage without the benefit of lights.
She knew her dad would be coming out to the garage soon, as well. She had seen the dim light on underneath her parents' bedroom door as she closed her own bedroom door behind her. She didn't think her dad would bother to check on her. After all, it was four-thirty in the morning. But just to be on the safe side, Rickie had filled her bed with stuffed animals and pulled the covers up over her pillow. Rickie's dad had told her Uncle Rick successfully played this trick on Grandma many a time when he wanted to sneak out of the house to meet Betty Carol Simmons.
The dome light came on in the Camaro as Rickie climbed into the back seat. She didn't let the car door make a sound as she eased it shut behind her. She scrunched down as small as she could on the floor behind the passenger seat, and covered herself with a blanket they always kept back there for the days they went to the beach. The little girl could barely contain her excitement. She knew her dad was meeting a man somewhere regarding a case, and she intended to be a part of it. Maybe she'd even be able to help in some way. Come up with some clues or make some phone calls. She had to do something to prove to her mother that she wasn't a baby. That she wasn't too little to be a part of Peerless Detectives.
A.J. Simon never noticed the covered bundle that was his daughter as he backed the car out of the garage ten minutes later.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
The sun was just beginning to shine over San Diego when Rick rose. His legs were stiff from having sat on the damp ground all night and his butt was asleep. He groaned with the effort it took to stand upright.
Funny, I don't feel dead.
Rick walked out of the cemetery. He wasn't exactly sure where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there. As he limped along on an ankle that was still refusing to work properly he thought, Fine time for the power of instant transportation to leave me.
Rick concentrated hard for a long moment on A.J.'s house, then on his mother's house, then on the Peerless office, and finally on the world that was familiar to him, the world in which he was still very much alive. But regardless of how hard he thought, or how clearly he could see his brother's face, the ability to instantly get there seemed to be gone.
Oh, well. Guess I'll have to hoof it. This bein' invisible stuff is kinda neat, prvoided I'm not really the dead one here, but it sure takes care of the prospect of hitchin' a ride.
Without knowing why, Rick turned west when he walked out of the cemetery's iron gates. It was early yet, barely six a.m., and there was very little traffic on the roads. Rick kept telling himself he needed to turn around, to head east in order to get back to the house on the Grand Canal, but for some unexplainable reason he felt compelled to continue on in the opposite direction.
Rick’s walk led him into an unsavory part of San Diego. Unsavory even in this world. The building and storefronts where splashed with graffiti, and many were vacant and without windows or doors. Trash spilled out onto the sidewalk, its sour odor burning Rick's throat and causing his eyes to water. As Rick came to a wide alley he paused. Paused and listened. Listened hard.
It sounds like a little kid. Like a little kid crying.
Rick hurried down the alley, stepping over the drunks and junkies passed out and oblivious to their surroundings. He stopped abruptly as he stumbled upon a familiar Camaro parked at the end of the alley.
Now the child's sobs grew closer. Rick followed the heartbreaking sound until he could hear the child's words.
"Daddy! Daddy, please. Please wake up, Daddy. Please, Daddy! Please don't die. Please!"
Rick ran into the abandoned apartment building. He halted a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimness. Empty liquor bottles and discarded syringes covered the foyer like carpet might have at one time. Rick spotted a set of rickety stairs that were long minus a railing. He took the stairs two at a time, being careful not to misstep on loose boards for fear of twisting an ankle. Rick tracked Rickie's sobs until they led him to an apartment at the end of the second floor hallway. Old fast food bags and crumpled paper drinking cups littered the floor, but other than that it was empty. Empty save for Rickie Simon and the unconscious blond man she was sitting beside, begging to wake up.
"I'm sorry, Daddy. Really I am," the huddled child choked out between her tears. "I'll never do it again. I promise I won't. Please, please wake up."
Rick didn't stop to think that he didn't belong in this topsy turvy world. He didn't stop to think that up until this point no one had been able to see him, and therefore whatever he did, wherever he went, didn't make much difference one way or another. All he knew was that A.J. was lying sprawled out on the floor, his face a ghastly shade of white, while bleeding heavily from his left shoulder.
Rick knelt down beside his brother and quickly unbuttoned his shirt. As gently as possible, he pulled the material away from the bullet wound.
Within seconds of assessing the damage, Rick reached for the clean handkerchief in his back pocket. He folded it three times and placed it firmly over the bleeding hole. How long he held the makeshift bandage in place Rick didn't know. When the bleeding finally slowed Rick took off his field jacket and gently covered the blond man's torso with it. He ran the back of his hand over one clammy cheek.
Rick said the words automatically, not giving it a thought that this wasn't really the man he knew as brother. "You hang in there, A.J. Just hang in there for me, little brother. Everything's gonna be okay, kid."
Through the entire first aid procedure Rick had been oblivious to the little girl staring up at him in wide-eyed wonder. It was as Rick emitted a sigh and sat back on his heels that the child spoke.
"Are you an angel?"
So she can see me now. I wonder why?
"No, sweetie, I'm no angel. At least I've never had anyone honor me with a description like that before."
"But...but...but you're my Uncle Rick."
Rick gazed down upon the child for a long moment. "Yes, Rickie, I am."
"But how can you be here if you're not an angel? You died a long time ago. A long time before I was born. In the war."
can't explain what's goin' on, Rickie, or how I even got here for that
matter. I've been wonderin' those exact
same things myself lately. But I know
now why I'm here."
Rick's eyes cast themselves upon his injured brother. "Because your daddy needs me."
At Rick's soft words tears spilled over to trickle down the little girl's face.
"I’m so afraid. I'm so afraid and I don't know what to do. Daddy didn't even know I was with him," Rickie confessed. "He was supposed to meet a man here. A man who was going to tell him stuff about a case. I was hiding in the car - underneath the blanket we use at the beach. After Daddy came in the building I followed him. I even followed him up the stairs then hid in the closet out in the hall while he waited for the man. I saw it. The man's gun. And before...before I could yell for Daddy to watch out, the man shot him."
Rick pulled the crying child into his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed into his chest. "I don't know what to do. I don't know where we are or how to get home." Rickie's cries reached a crescendo that bordered hysteria. "I need to go get help but I'm scared. I'm scared that if I leave my daddy will die."
Rick rocked the child as he ran a comforting hand up and down her back. "Shhh. Shhh, little one. You're daddy's not gonna die. You and I are gonna take care of him. And we're gonna work together to get him the help he needs."
Rick allowed his young 'niece' the time she needed to cry out her fear. Within a few minutes her cries subsided and two hiccupped sobs were given into Rick's shirt before he heard a hearty sniffle and Rickie's face appeared. She crawled off Rick's lap and knelt by A.J.'s ear.
"Uncle Rick and I are gonna get you some help, Daddy," the child promised in a nasally tone wrought with the aftermath of tears. "You're gonna be okay, I promise."
That's my girl, Rick thought proudly. Despite our different worlds, a Simon through and through.
little girl wiped her eyes with the back of a dirty hand and looked over at
Rick. She studied him a full minute
from the toes of his boots to the cowboy hat perched on his head before
speaking again. "My daddy still
misses you real bad."
Rick nodded. "I know."
"He still cries for you sometimes. A few weeks ago I was getting ready for school and I heard him crying in his bedroom. I went down to the kitchen and told Mom. Told her Daddy was crying and I was afraid he was sick. But she said no. That it was your birthday and Daddy was hurting so much inside because he was remembering you. And sometimes on Christmas...well, sometimes he cries then, too, even though he doesn't think me or Mommy know. But we do. We hear him. And then we cry, because we feel so bad for him. I asked Mom how we can make him feel better, but she says we can't. She says the one thing Daddy wants he can't ever have again."
"And what's that?"
The child looked up at Rick as if she was surprised he had to ask such a question. "You, Uncle Rick. He wants you. Only that's not possible. Or at least that's what Mom always says. But you're here now. So maybe you can stay, huh?"
Rick shook his head. Somehow he knew his time here in this alternate universe of sorts, was about to come to an end. "No, pumpkin, I can't."
"But it would make Daddy so happy. He would want you to stay. I know he would."
"I’m sorry, Rickie, but it's not possible, just like your mom says. I can't explain why, sweetie, because I don't understand it all myself. But believe me, if I could stay...if this was where I was meant to be, then I'd remain right here by your dad's side."
Rickie gave a reluctant nod of her head. She knew a little bit about guardian angels from her Sunday school class. And she was certain that's who Rick was. Her father's guardian angel. And maybe even hers, as well. And maybe he belonged to some other people, too. Maybe somebody else was gonna need Uncle Rick's help soon. If so, it would be selfish of her to ask him to stay. She knew her dad wouldn't want her to do that. He had always instilled in her the importance of helping others and putting their needs ahead of her own.
Rick reached around the little girl and felt for his brother's pulse. Just like he expected, it was thready and weak. By the pallor of A.J.'s face, and the cold sweat that continued to bead on his forehead and upper lip, it was obvious he was in shock and in growing need of medical attention. Rick pulled back his field jacket to see the wound had begun to bleed in earnest once more. He reached up and grabbed hold of the left shoulder seam of his shirt. With one mighty tug he ripped it until the sleeve came free save for the button at the cuff. He unfastened that button and folded the material into a thick pad. He placed the cloth over the bloodstained handkerchief and pressed the heel of his hand against the wound. A.J.'s head rolled back and forth at the pain that action caused and he moaned.
"What's wrong?" Rickie cried. She scrambled back to A.J.'s side. "What's happening?"
Without removing his hand from A.J.'s shoulder Rick turned. "Rickie, you're going have to run to a phone as fast as you can and call for help."
Tears started to well up in the corners of the little girl's eyes again. "But I don't know where we are or where there's phone either."
"Just around the corner, honey," Rick instructed calmly. "At the end of the alley. I'd go with you but I can't leave your dad. He's bleeding again and I've got to keep pressure on this wound."
"What...what do I do? I don't have any money to make a phone call."
pick up the receiver and dial 911. Can
you do that?"
"Yes," Rickie nodded confidently despite her quivering lower lip. "My daddy taught me how."
"Good. Dial 911 and tell them you need an ambulance - that your dad's been shot. Tell them you're on the corner of Claremont and Twelfth. Can you remember that?"
"Claremont and Twelfth," Rickie repeated clearly and distinctly. "Yes, I can remember that."
Despite the gravity of the situation Rick winked. "You're a sharp kid, Rickie. Don't ever let anyone say any differently."
Rick completed his instructions. "Tell the dispatcher to have the ambulance come down the alley and look for a red Camaro. Tell them you and your dad will be in the building behind the Camaro on the second floor. Can you do that for me?"
"Yes. And I’ll tell them to send Uncle Town, too. Downtown Brown. Marcel Proust Brown. Lieutenant Brown."
chuckled at how many different ways the child knew Town. "That's a good idea, Rickie. You're a real smart girl. You make sure to tell them to get a hold of
cocked her head. "But how do you
know him? He's Daddy's friend."
Rick smiled. "Let's just say us angels get around. Now go on with you. Get a move on. If you're gonna be a private investigator, then you gotta learn right now that your partner doesn't have anyone else to rely on but you. You're not gonna let him down, are you?"
Rickie shook her head and scrambled to her feet. "No."
"Good girl. And be careful on those stairs."
Rick heard the little girl's running footsteps retreating as he returned his attention to A.J. "Hang in there, kid. I'm here and I'm gonna take care of you. Help is on the way. Somehow I know it's not your time yet. You've got too much to live for. A beautiful wife who loves you. A daughter who adores you. And a little son yet to be born who's not gonna grow up without a daddy if I have anything to say about it."
Rick was startled when he felt a pair of arms wrap around his neck from behind.
"What's wrong?" He asked Rickie. "I thought you went to make that phone call."
"I did. But I forgot to tell you goodbye. You'll be gone when I get back, won't you?"
Rick gave a slow nod of his head. "Yes, Rickie, I have a feeling I will be. But you won't be alone. I promise. I'll be keepin' an eye on you and your dad...droppin' in from time to time, just to see how you're doin'."
Rickie nodded and placed a kiss on Rick's cheek. "Good. 'Cause you're the best guardian angel a kid could ask for."
Rick Simon couldn't help but chuckle as the little girl scampered off to make her phone call.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
The hours following Rickie's phone call were chaotic to say the least. The little girl gave the 911 operator clear and concise information that allowed an ambulance to arrive within minutes of her call. Before the paramedics even had A.J. loaded on a stretcher Downtown Brown arrived just as Rickie had requested.
Meanwhile Janet, Cecilia, and Myron were gathered together at the home on the Grand Canal embarking on a frantic search for the missing Rickie. Janet discovered the child was gone after entering Rickie's room to awaken her for school. When a quick exploration of the house and yard proved futile, Janet called Cecilia, and then her father, hoping against hope that for some reason her adventuresome daughter had headed off to one of her grandparents’ homes on foot. Of course, neither Myron nor Cecilia had seen any signs of the child, but within a few minutes of receiving Janet's call they had thrown on some clothes and started their own searches by car.
Janet paced the living room with a lumbering gait, a hand placed permanently against her painful lower back. "I just don't know where she could be! Or why she'd do something like this. We have to find A.J., Daddy. Are you sure you don't know who he was meeting this morning?"
Myron Fowler shook his head. "No. He didn't say anything about meeting anyone to me."
Janet couldn't keep her tears at bay any longer. "I should have asked him. Usually I ask him where he's going to be and who he's meeting. But he left so early this morning that I was still asleep. I should have asked him last night before we went to bed."
"Janet, honey, calm down," Cecilia soothed. She placed a gentle arm around her daughter-in-law's shoulders. "We'll find Rickie. I know we will. I think the best thing we can do at this point is call the police."
"The police!" Janet shrieked. She was sure this meant Cecilia feared the worst but didn't have the heart to tell her.
"Yes," Myron agreed. "That's what we need to do. We've already looked everywhere we can think to, Janet. Called everyone we can think to call. It would be best now if we got the police involved. The sooner they have patrol cars out looking for Rickie, the sooner they'll find--"
Before Myron could finish his sentence the phone rang. Janet snatched up the receiver before it could ring again.
Myron and Cecilia listened to the one-sided conversation, their confusion growing with each passing word.
“Where have they taken him? How is he?
“Rickie? She was with him? But...but...how...okay, Town, we'll meet you there. Thank you. Thank you so much."
Janet's words spewed forth in a frantic staccato burst as she returned the receiver to its cradle. "That was Town. A.J.'s been shot. Rickie was with him."
Cecilia's voice broadcast her shock and disbelief. "What!"
"How the hell did something like that happen?" Myron asked of no one in particular.
Janet grabbed her purse off the counter. Despite her bulk she ran for the door, Myron and Cecilia at her heels. "They're taking A.J. to County General. Town said the paramedics stablized A.J. at the scene, and he doesn't think the wound is life threatening. He's going to wait with Rickie in the emergency room until we get there."
The family piled into Myron's car. Within fifteen minutes they were running together down the emergency room corridor, Janet's hand still fixed to her aching back.
Rickie Cecilia Simon was calmly sitting next to her Uncle Town drinking from a cold can of grape juice and finishing off the last bite of a chocolate doughnut. The child was immediately enfolded in three pairs of arms, her head pressed against her mother's swollen stomach.
It took several minutes for the adults to calm down enough to take seats and listen to the child's story. By the time it came to an end the little girl was severely reprimanded by not only her mother, but as well, by her grandmother and grandfather for worrying them the way she had, and for placing herself in a position of such grave danger. It was here Downtown Brown came to the child's defense.
"Although I don't condone Rickie's actions, it was probably for the best that she snuck off with A.J. this morning. If he'd been alone in that old building when he was shot he could have easily bled to death." The black man smiled and placed a hand upon Rickie's head. "If this little girl here hadn't kept her head the way she did A.J. might not have made it. She ran to a pay phone and called 911. She did an excellent job of telling the operator how to find them. Why, she even placed a homemade pressure bandage over A.J.'s wound to stop the bleeding, and covered him with an old coat she found."
Rickie shook her head. "No, Uncle Town, I didn't do that. I already told you three times. The angel did it."
Janet looked from Town to her daughter. "What did you just
angel, Mom. Uncle Rick."
"It's true, Grandma," the child declared. "Uncle Rick was the one who put the handkerchief on Daddy, and then later one of the sleeves from his shirt. And he held them there until the bleeding stopped. And he covered Daddy with his coat, too. And then he told me not to be scared. That everything was gonna be okay. That he was sent to help Daddy. That he wasn't gonna let anything bad happen to Daddy. And then he told me where there was a phone, and what to say, and--"
Before Rickie could finish relaying her story Dr. Raj walked out the nearest trauma room door.
"Good morning, Simon family," The doctor greeted with his East Indian sing-song accent. "And Mr. Fowler and Uptown Brown, too. It is nice to see all of you, though I wish you would simply invite me over for dinner sometime instead of always showing up in such a dramatic fashion in my emergency room."
The doctor was practically trampled as the Simons, and Myron, and Downtown Brown rushed toward, him all talking at once.
The man held up his hand. "Yield, yield, yield. I cannot possibly follow all you are trying to say. Please, at a time, one only."
Everyone calmed down and allowed Janet to speak for the family. "How is he, Raj? Can I see him?"
"J.A. is doing fine, Mrs. J.A. He has lost a good amount of blood and will need rest for some days to come, both here in the hospital and at home, but the bullet went in and out very cleanly so there will be no surgery. With a parcel of physical therapy, the injured muscle will soon be as new as good."
"Thank God," Cecilia murmured.
"Can I see..." Janet started to ask again. The question broke off abruptly when she doubled over with a groan.
"Janet!" Cecilia cried, while clutching the attorney's left elbow.
"Janet!" Myron echoed, while offering support on his daughter's right.
"Mommy!" Rickie yelled, while wrapping her arms around Janet's knees.
Raj took a step closer. "Mrs. J.A., what is wrong?"
Janet gave the group a sheepish look. "I'm in labor, Raj."
As one, Cecilia and Myron exclaimed, "You're what!"
Cecilia inquired, "How long has
this been going on?"
"Since about eleven o'clock last night. I didn't say anything to A.J. because the pains were so weak and far apart. But ever since I got up this morning they've been intensifying and getting closer. And right before you and Daddy arrived my water broke."
"Janet, why didn't you say something?" Cecilia scolded.
"Because if I had you wouldn't have let me look for Rickie. I needed to find my daughter, Cecilia, and I was bound and determined to do that before this baby made his appearance."
Cecilia couldn't say anymore. She wouldn't have done less for a child of her own had she found herself in the same circumstances Janet had.
Raj took the situation calmly in hand. "I believe we had better get Mrs. J.A. up to the maternity floor. And I had better call Dr. Barton, as well."
was then that a weak voice could be heard through the trauma room door. "What's going on out there?"
Before anyone could stop her, Rickie rushed in the room.
"Mommy's having the baby, Dad! Mommy's having the baby!"
Rickie's excited announcement prompted her father to struggle off the examining table despite the strong protests of a nurse. Myron and Town lent a hand in trying to restrain the stubborn A.J., but to no avail. By the time it was all over, the mother-to-be was being wheeled up to the maternity floor with her injured husband – his left shoulder heavily bandaged, in a wheel chair right beside her.
The grandparents, Downtown Brown, and Rickie, were left on the maternity floor's waiting room. Within twenty minutes the Simons long time family doctor, as well as family friend, Robert Barton, gave them a wave as he rushed past. He had delivered A.J. thirty-six years earlier, as well as having more recently delivered Rickie Cecilia. Although now semi-retired, Dr. Barton had vowed to be the physician to bring the newest little Simon into the world.
Three hours passed with no word. Rickie leaned heavily against her grandma's knee. "When's the baby going to be born?"
Cecilia smiled. "I don't know, honey. That's the funny thing about babies. They generally arrive by their own schedule, and don't pay much attention to anyone else's."
Cecilia stood and took her granddaughter's hand. Over Rickie's protests she said to Town and Myron, "I think I'd better take this little girl home. She needs lunch and a nap. Call me if anything changes. Otherwise, Rickie and I will come back in a few hours."
Cecilia had just turned to lead Rickie toward the elevators when she spotted Bob Barton striding toward them.
He wouldn't answer any of their questions other than to say, "Everything went wonderfully. Janet's fine. A.J.'s fine. Everyone's fine. Now come on. A.J. wants me to bring all of you to Janet's room. You too, Town."
Neither Cecilia Simon, nor Myron Fowler, nor Downtown Brown, nor even Rickie, were prepared for the sight that greeted them upon entering Janet's hospital room.
The new mother was sitting up in bed looking remarkably well considering all she'd been through since discovering Rickie missing at six-thirty that morning. In her arms was a tiny bundle wrapped in blue. And next to Janet's bed sat A.J. in his wheel chair. He looked tired and pale, and appeared to be in a good deal of discomfort, but one would have never known it from the big smile on his face. For in his arms was another tiny bundle wrapped in blue.
Rickie flew into the room and scampered up on her mother's bed like an inquisitive monkey. "Two babies! We've got two babies?"
Cecilia threw up her arms in disbelief. "Twins! Oh my lord twins!"
Myron snuck a peek at first one grandson and then the other. He had a hard time keeping the tears out of his voice.
"Two little boys. I've wanted a little boy in the family for so long, and now I've got two of them."
Town simply shook his head muttering, "Only the Simons."
Everyone laughed and cried and talked at once.
"No wonder I gained so much weight," Janet chuckled. "And here all along I thought I was going to give birth to a twelve pound linebacker."
Cecilia took her turn at holding both the babies, each little five pound bundle tucked snugly in the crook of her elbows. "Oh, how are we ever going to tell them apart? They're identical, aren't they?"
A.J. smiled proudly. "That's what Bob says."
Tears flowed down Cecilia's cheeks. "They look just like you, A.J. Just like you did the first time I held you in my arms. What little hair they have is as white as yours was."
"That makes it perfect then," Myron stated. "I have a beautiful granddaughter who looks like my lovely Janet, and now I have two handsome grandsons who look like my favorite son-in-law."
Cecilia helped Rickie take a turn at holding each one of her new brothers while the grownups talked of the birth, and how long the babies were, and how much they weighed, and when they'd be able to come home.
"Oh, goodness," Cecilia stated as one of the twins made his way back to her, "in all the excitement I have yet to ask what you're naming them."
A.J. smiled while revealing a long kept secret. "The young man you're holding is John Andrew Simon the second. We're going to call him Jack."
Cecilia's vision was obscured by her tears as she looked down upon the grandson that was named for her late husband. "Jack," she whispered in a choked voice. "I like that."
"But as for this little guy," A.J. shrugged, looking down at the twin that had been passed back to him. "I don't know. Janet and I were discussing that before everyone came in, but have yet to come to any conclusions."
Town bent over A.J.'s right shoulder. "Personally, I think he looks kinda like a Marcel."
Myron had his own ideas on that subject. "And I was just thinking how much he looked like a Myron."
A.J. and Janet visibly blanched at the thought of their newborn son being name Marcel Myron, or Myron Marcel, or any combination of the two.
Rickie climbed off Janet's bed and came to stand at her father's elbow. She gazed down into her new brother's red face. "Richard," she announced firmly, leaving no room for argument. "Let's name him Richard, for Uncle Rick."
A.J. exchanged glances with both his mother and his wife before turning his attention to his daughter. "Honey, you were named for Uncle Rick. We've already got one Rickie in the family. I think we need to come up with another name, don't you?"
Rickie shook her head. "No, Dad. We should name him Richard, because Uncle Rick is the one who helped you today. If it hadn't been for him, you would have died."
"What?” A.J. questioned with open astonishment. “What did you just say, Rickie?"
Rickie couldn't stop herself from crying as the despair and fright from a few short hours earlier came rushing back to her as clearly as if she were reliving the experience. She hid her face in the cloth of A.J.'s hospital gown.
“I didn't know what to do, Daddy," came the muffled confession. "I didn't know what to do. I saw the man shoot you, and then you were bleeding. I begged you to wake up, but you didn't. And then an angel came and it was Uncle Rick. He told me everything was gonna be okay, and that he was gonna take care of you. He even told me where there was a phone, and he told me what to say to the operator so help would come."
A.J. looked from Janet, to his mother, to Town. Janet quietly explained how Rickie had hidden in the Camaro early that morning, and had indeed been witness to the shooting. She finished by saying softly, "And she's been insisting ever since, first to Town, and then to your mother, Daddy, and me, that your brother was somehow there with the two of you."
A.J. gently pulled his daughter out of her hiding spot. He encircled her with his arm and bit back a grimace of pain as he brought her up to share his lap with her sleeping brother.
"How do you know this man was Uncle Rick, slugger?"
Rickie's eyes were rimmed with tears as she looked up into her father's face. "Because I just know. Because he looked just like the pictures we have of Uncle Rick. He had a moustache, and a jacket like the ones Uncle Rick liked, and....."
a lot of men have moustaches and where field jackets," A.J. gently pointed
out. "That doesn't mean he was
Uncle Rick. Uncle Rick...he's not with
us anymore, Rickie. He hasn't been for
a very long time."
"Oh yes he is, Daddy. He's with us all the time, only we can't see him. He watches out for us. I think he's our guardian angel. Our guardian angel who wears a cowboy hat."
"Daddy, he knew you. He knew you without me even having to tell him your name. He called you A.J., and little brother, and kid. He called you all those things before he even talked to me. All those things you told me he used to call you. And he told you to hang on. He told you everything was going to be okay. That he was going to take care of you."
A.J. Simon exhaled a heavy sigh and sat back in his wheel chair. Though he had no intention of saying anything in front of his mother, for some odd reason in his half conscious state back in that abandoned building, he had felt like Rick was with him. He had heard his brother's voice just as clearly as he could now hear Rickie's. Could feel his brother's hand run gently over his face, and then could feel the pain as Rick was forced to apply pressure to his bleeding wound. And felt, as well, the loving ministrations when Rick carefully tucked his field jacket around him. And the words Rickie said, the things she swore Rick said to him, were the exact things A.J. remembered having heard being said to him.
But he thought he had been dreaming. Or as things became clearer once he reached the emergency room, had supposed he'd been delirious. But now A.J. wondered. Could his long deceased brother have somehow offered him and his daughter assistance? He'd heard of other people having similar experiences. And he'd seen too many strange things in his line of work not to take stock in unexplainable happenings.
Rickie's voice broke into her father's thoughts. "And I know he's an angel, Daddy. Though when I asked him if he was, he laughed and said no one's ever honored him with a description like that before."
A.J. was surprised to hear his mother's chuckle. "That's sounds like my Rick," she said in a voice thick with tears.
"And he told me he didn't exactly know how he got here, but that he knew why he was here."
A.J. looked down into his daughter's earnest face. "And why's that, Rickie?"
"He said he was here 'cause you needed him, Daddy. And then I asked him to stay because it would make you so happy. He looked kinda sad when he said he couldn't, but then he said if he could, that if this was where he was meant to be, he wouldn't leave your side. Not ever again.
"And that's why I think we should name this baby Richard."
A.J. looked up at Town who shrugged.
"That's what she's been telling me ever since I arrived at the scene. In those exact words. She hasn't altered her story in the slightest. And that's just how she told it to your mother and Myron and Janet."
"Because it's true," Rickie insisted.
"Was there anyone else there?" A.J. quietly asked the black man.
"No," Town shook his head. "Just Rickie. But it was obvious someone had been there. It's just like she said. You were covered with a field jacket, and someone had done a good job of making a pressure bandage out of a handkerchief and the sleeve of a blue shirt. Someone with far more knowledge and ability than a six-year-old child, now that I give it more thought. And, as I pulled up to the scene, I did see a lanky man with a moustache who was sporting a cowboy hat walking away, minus a shirtsleeve. I didn't pay much attention to him until after Rickie told me her story. I've got some people keeping an eye out for him, but so far no one's spotted him. We know he's not the guilty party. You already told us who shot you. My curiosity is piqued by Rickie's story, and I'd simply like to find the man if we're able. See what he was doing down in that part of town so early in the morning."
"I'd like to find him, too," Janet said. "Whoever he is. To tell him thank you."
"But, Mom, you can't find him," Rickie insisted. "He's an angel. He's Uncle Rick and he's an angel."
The adults exchanged helpless looks. Each, in their own mind, came to their own conclusions.
Janet thought the trauma of what Rickie had witnessed caused her overactive imagination to kick into high gear.
Town was certain that a man had indeed offered assistance to A.J. and Rickie, but was equally certain it wasn't the investigator's deceased brother. More than likely the man was a Good Samaritan who resembled A.J.'s brother, and went along with Rickie when she suggested such a notion simply to keep her calm.
Myron didn't much care who or what helped his son-in-law and granddaughter, but was simply thankful his family was intact.
As for Cecilia, she remained open minded about her granddaughter's story and took a great deal of comfort in it. If nothing else, on this day in which they were celebrating two new lives within the Simon family, it was nice to think her beloved eldest son had played a very integral role in seeing that celebration come to pass.
As for what A.J. thought, he summed it up best when he agreed with his daughter. He looked down at his newborn son and said in a choked voice, "Richard he is. But what will we call him, slugger? We can't call him Ricky. We already have a very precious one of those."
thought long and hard. "Let's name
him Richard Andrew. That will make him
and baby Jack seem even more like twins.
And we can call him Andy for short.
After you, Daddy."
A.J. looked to Janet for approval. "Andy. I like that," the new mother agreed. "And when he's older he can go by Andrew. Or Richard, if he prefers. Or maybe just Rick."
Cecilia smiled. "It's perfect. Whatever he chooses to go by will be perfect."
"Not too bad," Myron agreed. "The next one can be Myron."
"And Marcel the one after that," Town teased.
"I hate to break the news to you guys," Janet laughed, "but as the saying goes, the buck stops here."
As the adults teased and playfully fought over whether or not there would be more Simon children, and whom they'd be named for, Rickie slipped unnoticed off her father's lap. She walked to the doorway and looked up at the man wearing the cowboy hat hiding in the shadows.
"Did you see our babies?"
Rick Simon crouched down and smiled. "Yes I did, sweetheart. And they're beautiful."
named one for you."
"So I heard. Thank you."
"I still wish you could stay."
Rick's smile was small and sad. "I know you do. And so do I. But like I already told you, I don't belong here. There's someone else in another...place. Someone to whom I'm very close, who needs me."
"Just like me and Daddy needed you today?"
Rick nodded. "Just like that."
"Will you come back?"
don't know the answer to that question, sweetie. But every time you look at my picture, or your dad tells you a
story about me, or someone calls you or little Richard Andrew over there by
name, it'll be kinda like I'm here.
Don't ya think?"
"Yeah," Rickie nodded. "That's what I think."
"Rickie," Janet beckoned. "Rickie, who are talking to?"
Rick looked down at the child and winked. She smiled and winked back.
"Then come on. Come say goodbye to Jack and Andy. And to Daddy and me, as well. Grandma's taking you home now."
Rick watched as the little girl skipped over to her family. Kisses and hugs were exchanged all around, with promises of seeing one another later in the day.
a brief moment Rick felt as if he belonged here. As if he should be a part of this gathering. And it hurt a little when he had to force
himself to walk away.
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
"Rick," a soft voice called just above a whisper. "Rick, honey, wake up. Rick, I think you'd better go home and get some proper rest. Rick."
The first thing Rick Simon was consciously aware of was a painful kink in his neck. Then, a nagging crick in his lower back. He tried to stretch himself awake, but found it nearly impossible when his right hand encountered something hard that scraped his knuckles, and his feet hit against what felt like metal bars.
"Careful, sweetheart," his mother's voice cautioned. "You'll wake A.J."
Rick ran his left hand over grainy eyes. "Wake A.J.?" He mumbled. "Whatta ya’ mean, wake A.J.? And how're the twins?"
Rick's eyes finally opened. He found himself looking up into his mother's tired face. "Yeah, the twins. Jack and Andy."
"Jack and Andy?” Cecilia chuckled. “I think you were having quite a dream there, honey. What twins are you talking about?"
Cecilia's eyebrow rose. "A.J.'s? Rick...we'd better have Raj take a look at you. You've been acting funny since you brought A.J. in yesterday morning."
Uh oh. I don't like the sounds of this.
"Brought A.J. in? Acting funny? How so?"
"Well...you acted as though you didn't know who Raj was. Or Town for that matter. And then when I arrived you..." Cecilia let her sentence trail off unfinished.
"What? I what, Mom?"
"You broke down crying in my arms while telling me how good it was to see me and how much you've missed me. How much you...love me."
Rick's mind fished for a quick explanation to appease his concerned mother. "I...uh...I don't remember too much of that, Mom. It musta' been the shock of what...happened."
And speaking of that, what the heck did happen?
Rick turned to survey his surroundings. He inhaled sharply when his neck refused to rotate with its normal ease.
"Damn!" Rick's right hand rose to massage the stiff muscles. "I feel like I've just spent the night sleepin' in a chair."
Cecilia rested her body lightly against the bed's upraised railing and gave her eldest a wry smile. "That's because you have spent the night sleeping in a chair."
It was then Rick assimilated he was in a hospital room, and the patient sleeping in the hospital bed was his younger brother.
Rick leaned forward in his chair. A.J.'s upper torso was naked, his right shoulder heavily bandaged. An I.V. line ran down from a bag of clear liquid that hung above the bed, to where a needle was inserted in a vein in A.J.'s right hand.
His right shoulder! But he was shot in his left shoulder. Or at least the other A.J. was shot in his left shoulder. Oh man, what am I saying? How can there be another A.J.? But it was all so real. I know I was there. I know it was more than a dream.
Rick's eyes never left his brother's still form. "What happened?"
Cecilia couldn't hide the worry in her tone. "You don't remember?"
Rick had an eerie feeling he did remember, but in a surreal way. Certainly not in a way he could explain to his mother.
I'd say I'm takin' a stab in the dark by what I'm gonna tell Mom happened to A.J., but I've got an awful weird feeling it's gonna turn out to be amazingly close to the truth.
"I...I, A.J. went to meet a guy, didn't he? Alone. Without me. In an old abandoned building on Claremont and Twelfth. A guy who called himself Darnstorf." Rick spoke as if his sleep-laden brain was piecing together the events of the past twenty-four hours. "This Darnstorf...or whoever he was, said he was gonna give us information about a case. Only A.J. was double crossed and the guy shot him."
"That's what happened," Cecilia agreed. "The police caught the man a few hours ago."
Rick looked down at his pale brother. "Good."
reached out and lightly caressed her youngest's left hand where it rested
outside the bed covers. "That's
what I say as well." She looked at
Rick. "Sometimes I hate the job you
boys do, Richard. I absolutely hate
"Mom, I'm sor--"
Cecilia shook her head. "No. No more ‘I'm sorrys.’ I've heard too many over the years, and they don't do any of us any good. I'm proud of what you and your brother do. I can't deny that. You're two of the most generous, kind-hearted men I know. And, without a doubt, your father would be extremely proud of both of you as well. After all, he was the one who instilled the virtue of helping others in you and A.J. I'm simply thankful that somehow, you knew your brother needed you and you knew where to find him."
Rick tried to hide his confusion. "Uh...yeah. I am too."
usually when you're asleep on the sofa after a night out with Carlos the Army
Corps. Of Engineers can't wake you up.
What in the world caused you to go after A.J. like that? Did you hear him moving around the
kitchen? Making coffee and eating his
breakfast? Or leaving the house?"
So I did go out with Carlos and tie one on. And my last memory of crashin' on A.J.'s couch is correct. A.J. musta decided not to wake me. Musta decided it didn't take two men to go talk to a guy at five o'clock in the morning about what was supposed to be a routine case.
Rick chased away his thoughts to focus on his mother. "Huh? What'd you say?"
"I asked what caused you to go after A.J. like that?"
But I didn't, Mom. Or at least I didn't go after ‘our’ A.J. But if it wasn't me that saved my brother, then who was it? You don't suppose it could have been...nah. Impossible.
"I...uh...yeah, Mom, I think I heard him in the kitchen. By the time I was awake enough to realize A.J. was going to meet Darnstorf, he was already backing the Camaro out of the driveway."
"Well, thank goodness you followed him. If you hadn't..." Cecilia swallowed back her tears. "If you hadn't, Raj said A.J. would have bled to death in a matter of minutes."
Rick ignored his aching back and stiff knees as he rose to his feet. He pulled his mother forward until her head rested against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, encasing her in a strong hug.
"Shhh. Shhh, Mom. Don't cry. Everything's gonna be okay. A.J.'s gonna be fine."
"I know," Cecilia tearfully agreed. "It's just that I was so worried. I'm so thankful he came through the surgery without any problems."
Surgery! Did she say surgery? That's another thing that's different. The other A.J. didn't need surgery.
When the tears Cecilia had been holding back for the past twenty-four hours subsided Rick said, "Come on. I’m treating you to breakfast. Then I want you to go home and get some sleep."
"And I want you to do the same."
"I will," Rick promised. "After A.J. wakes up."
From long experience in matters such as these, Cecilia knew there was no use arguing with her oldest. Instead, she reached up and ran a hand down Rick's bare left arm. "And when you do arrive home, you'd better shower, shave, and throw this shirt in the garbage can."
For the first time Rick took note of his missing sleeve.
I used it to stop A.J.'s - the other A.J.'s - bleeding.
Rick didn't even have to check to know he'd find his handkerchief missing from his back pocket.
"Rick, what's wrong? All of a sudden you're paler than your brother." Cecilia urged her son backwards. "I think you'd better sit down. Are you going to be sick? Should I help you to the bathroom?"
Rick slipped his arms out of his mother's grasp and gave her a weak smile. "Uh...nothing's wrong, Mom. Nothing. And no, I'm not going to be sick."
Rick shook off his unsettling thoughts and placed a firm hand on his mother's back. "Come on, let's go have that breakfast we've been talking about."
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
Rick shared a hearty breakfast in the hospital cafeteria with his mother, then walked her to her car.
He returned to A.J.'s hospital room and once again took up vigil at his brother's bedside. While A.J. continued to sleep peacefully, Rick attempted to sort out all that had happened in the past day. Though he knew others would tell him differently, he had no doubts what he experienced was not a dream. That conclusion firmly embedded itself in Rick's mind like an axe firmly imbeds itself in a tree stump, simply because Rick had no memories of the events his mother described. The only memories he had of helping his brother were the same memories that included a little girl named Rickie Cecilia Simon.
Ever since he was a child, Rick had thought of himself as an open minded individual and free spirit. Someone who was willing to explore new possibilities, and who didn't automatically discount what other, more skeptical people, would deem impossible, improbable, or just downright crazy. In his adult years, Rick often wondered if it was this open mindedness that lent to what he thought of as his occasional paranormal experiences and prophetic dreams.
Oh well, the lanky man finally shrugged while stretching his long legs out in front of him. I always end up back where I belong. And I always seem to be needed in those other places for a reason. Usually that reason being to help A.J. somehow. Can't think of a better reason than that. But if I was
There - wherever there was - then just who was it that helped ‘my’ A.J.? Who was the guy that looked like me, and evidently acted like me, but wasn't me? Mom said something about me...him rather, not knowin' who Raj was or who Town was. And she said I – he rather - cried in her arms and told her how much he loved her. Oh man. Oh wow! It had to have been him. There's no one else it could have been.
Before Rick could ponder that possibility any further, A.J. stirred softly and moaned. Within seconds, two blue eyes heavily laden with the aftereffects of a strong painkiller slowly opened.
scooted forward in his chair and rested a hand lightly atop his brother's. "Hey, little brother. How ya' doin'?"
A.J.'s voice came out in a dry croak. "You're still here?"
Rick turned and poured water into a paper cup. "Yeah. Thought I'd stick around until you woke up."
A.J.'s head turned on the pillow and his eyes tracked his brother's movements. "I did wake up about two this morning."
"Oh, guess I missed that. I musta slept through the nurses bein' in here then checkin' you over."
"You did. They even had me up walking the hall for a while
and made me eat some soup. Raj says if I continue to improve I can probably go home in a couple of days."
Rick smiled, "That's good news," then interrupted the flow of their conversation long enough to help his brother take a drink of cold water.
When A.J.'d had his fill, he turned his head away and leaned back against his pillows. "Thanks."
Rick returned the cup to the nightstand. "You're welcome." He sat back down in his chair and cleared his throat.
"Look...A.J...I'm sorry I went out partyin' with Carlos the other night. I shoulda' been there for you and I wasn't. I knew we were supposed to get an early start and I--"
Puzzlement replaced the lines of pain on A.J.'s face.
"But you were there for me, Rick. The guy had no more than fired his gun when you showed up. And speaking of that, how did you know where I was? I hadn't told you where we were meeting him."
So even he thinks it was me.
"I...uh...I heard you eating your breakfast, I guess. Heard you leave and decided to follow you. Why didn't you wake me up to begin with?"
A.J.'s good shoulder moved up in the gesture of a shrug. "You'd only stumbled in a couple hours earlier. I didn't think it was worth the hassle of trying to wake you for an errand I thought would be uneventful, and take all of forty minutes."
"Well, don't go doin’ that again," Rick scolded. "Don't ever do something like that again. Regardless of what kinda condition I come home in, or how little sleep I've gotten, we're still partners. Got that?"
A.J. smiled despite the chastising. "Yeah, I got it."
Before the brothers' conversation could continue Raj entered the room. He exchanged pleasantries with the Simons, then chased Rick out so he could examine his patient.
Rick waited in the hallway until the doctor appeared. "How is he, Raj?"
"J.A. is doing fine, Ricky. Far better than he was doing when you brought him in here yesterday morning. He is tired of course, from the amount of blood he lost. But with proper rest, a little walk several times a day, and good food, he shall in no time be back in spic-and-span shape."
"Spic-and-span shape? Don't you mean tip-top shape?"
"I believe that is what I said. Yes indeed it is. Now as I was about to say, J.A. is being bothered by quite a lot of pain this morning, but unfortunately, to be expected that is. I just gave him a shot, which should bring him relief much. It will also put him in Disneyland for the next six hours, so if you want to say goodbye to him, you had better do it now."
Rick chuckled at Raj's odd way of wording things. "Gottcha. I'll go say goodbye to A.J. before he drifts off to dreamlan...Disneyland."
A.J.'s eyes were closed when Rick returned to his bedside. By his soft, even breathing, Rick wondered if his brother was already asleep.
lightly touched the blond's hand.
It took a moment, and a great deal of effort, but A.J.'s heavily lidded eyes slowly opened.
"I just came to say goodbye. I'm gonna go home and let Marlowe out. Maybe catch a couple more hours of sleep myself before I come back here this afternoon. I'll help you take a walk and then eat supper with you."
"Sounds good to me," came the mumbled response. "And don't sleep on the couch. You'll sleep better if you go up to bed. Use the guest room."
Without realizing it, Rick voiced his thoughts. "Rickie's room."
A.J. smiled a silly smile that spoke of heavy sedation. "Sure, whatever. Call it what you want. Ricky's room. You sleep there half the time anyway."
"I didn't mean me, I meant...uh, never mind."
A.J.'s voice was growing heavy and slurred. "Rick?"
The blond's eyes drifted closed. Rick knew the painkiller A.J. had been given was blocking his normal inhibitions, in much the same way Don Diablo blocked many of Rick's.
"For the things you said to me back in that building. I...well, I know we don't tell each other often enough how much we mean to one another...but I guess both of us know it without it being said."
Rick squeezed his brother's hand. "Yeah, A.J. I think
both of us know it."
"Still...it meant a lot to me. It really helped me...hang on, you know? Only thing I didn't understand was when you kept telling me how much you'd...missed me." Rick had to listen hard to discern A.J.'s drug-thick words. "How sorry you were that you had to go away. You seemed so...sad when you said that, Rick. What did you mean by it?"
It was him! It was my...counterpart. The Rick who's...dead. Could it be that he really is his brother's guardian angel? That somehow he and I got ping ponged into opposite worlds? Oh, man, how will I ever explain this to anybody?
I have a feelin' it's best if I don't even try.
A.J. forced his weighted eyes open. "What did you mean by that, Rick?" He repeated.
"I...I don't know, A.J. I don't think I said that. Or at least not in quite that way. You...you were hurt pretty bad. Driftin' in and out of consciousness. You might not be rememberin' it exactly as it happened."
"Yes, I am," the blond insisted. "That's what you said. And you kept telling me I had to hang on for Janet's sake. As well for the sake of my daughter, Rickie Cecilia, and for the sake of my unborn sons, Jack and Andy."
Rickie! Jack and Andy! Oh brother.
Rick tried his best to give a nonchalant chuckle. "That's quite a dream you had there, little brother."
A.J. finally gave into the sedation, his pain, and how ridiculous what he’d just related sounded, even to his own drug-laden mind.
"Yeah. I guess you're right. It must have been a dream. Or at least parts of it. Janet's happily married to Allan. Has been for six months. It's not like she and I are ever going to get back togeth...never mind. And, as far as me ever having a daughter and naming her Rickie Cecilia..." A.J. giggled in a groggy, drunken sort of way. "Well, let's just say the odds of that are slim to none."
"Hey!" Rick protested. "Are you tryin' to tell me you wouldn't name one of your kids after me?"
"Certainly not a little girl."
his breath Rick mumbled, "Bet you would, kid, if I was dead and you
thought that was the only child you'd ever have."
"Nothing. Forget it." Rick shook his head. "You go to sleep now. Raj is gonna skin me alive if he comes back here and finds you awake."
A.J.'s words were slow in coming, and his blue eyes were beginning to take on a glazed appearance. "Okay. I'll see you later. Oh, and, Rick?"
"Don't forget, tomorrow morning you'll have to stick around the house."
"The carpet layers are coming."
"Yeah. Did you forget I ordered new carpeting?"
"New carpeting? Yeah, I guess I did kinda forget about that. Okay, I'll be there to let them in. Uh...A.J...what color is this new carpeting you ordered?"
"Dark green. You knew that. I showed you a sample."
This is too weird. I'm almost afraid of what he's gonna say next.
"And the living room furniture's supposed to come on Monday. But hopefully I'll be home by then."
"Yes. Did you forget I ordered that as well?"
"Uh...yeah. I guess so. You didn't by chance order that uncomfortable French shit, did you?"
It took a moment for the sedated A.J. to figure out what his brother was referring to. "You mean French Provincial?"
"Yeah. That stuff."
"No, I didn't. Why would I want something like that? Especially with you and Marlowe as my permanent houseguests. I got a new sofa and couple of recliners. One for each of us so we don't fight over the reclining easy chair anymore."
Rick smiled. "Good thinkin', A.J."
A.J. wrinkled his nose in a way that reminded the oldest Simon of Rickie. "Somebody's got to be the thinker in this operation," the blond teased.
Rick ran a tender hand through A.J.'s thick hair. "Yeah, kid, someone does. Now go to sleep."
A.J. didn't need that order for his eyes to close of their own volition. He wasn't quite ready to surrender to the sandman just yet, however.
will you help me hang the new wallpaper I ordered for the kitchen when my arm
comes out of this sling?"
"Sure, A.J. No problem. I don't suppose that wallpaper is green and blue and pink, and has nesting hens on it sittin' in baskets?"
came the heavy reply. "How'd you
know that? I never showed it to
Rick smiled and shook his head. "Just a lucky guess, little brother. Just a lucky guess."
Rick rose from his bent position. He didn't even know if his brother was still awake when he said quietly, "I'll see you later this afternoon."
If Rick hadn't been watching, he would have missed the slight nod of A.J.'s head.
The heels of Rick's cowboy boots tapped out a soft rhythm on the tile floor as he headed for the door. A.J. roused himself just enough to say in dreamy, drugged sort of way, "Hey, Rick?"
Rick turned around. "Yeah, A.J.?"
The blond's eyes never opened. "I guess if I did have a daughter...well, I might name her Rickie Cecilia. It does sort of grow on you after awhile, know what I mean?"
Rick smiled as he thought of the lively little filly with Janet's face and hair, and A.J.'s smile and bright blue eyes. To his now slumbering brother Rick acknowledged, "Yeah, A.J., I know what you mean. I know exactly what you mean."
As he walked out of the hospital Rick caught a distant glimpse of a woman being taken by a nurse to a waiting car. The woman was cradling a baby in each of her arms, and beside her wheelchair skipped a little girl with a chestnut colored ponytail.
For a brief moment, Rick thought of pursuing the child and her family, but then turned away and headed for the Powerwagon parked on the opposite side of the lot.
Maybe angels did come in all shapes and sizes, and yes, maybe some of them even wore cowboy hats. Considering what had happened to A.J. in that abandoned building while Rick slept off a hang-over, the detective decided it was better to count his blessings, rather than question them. So count them Rick did, all the way to his truck, and then continued to do so as he drove to the house on the Grand Canal.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~