Chapter 12



     The brothers had lunch together on A.J.'s boat Sunday afternoon.  Rick left shortly afterwards to purchase the necessary parts for his boat's motor, then headed back to the key.  A.J. stayed behind in Miami in deference to the rapidly approaching workweek. 


     A.J. was assigned two cases of his own on Monday morning.  Myron Fowler called the blond into his office long enough to say, "Elsbarry tells me you're good at what you do.  Well, you can start provin' that to me right now, hotshot.  My daughter’ll   go over two new cases with you that I reviewed this weekend.  She knows what results I expect."


     "Yes, si...Myron," A.J. replied.


     Upon his return, Janet was already seated in a chair across from A.J.'s desk. 


     The young woman was all business as she reviewed both cases with A.J.  "If you need anything further," she wrapped up the discussion, "just ask Clara.  She's your secretary."


     A.J. gave the woman a dimpled smile.  "I wish you were my secretary."


     "Well, I'm not," came Janet's terse reply.  "And I never will be."


     "That's too bad.  I have a feeling we'd work quite well together."


     "Save your flirting for some girl who wants to hear it, Simon."


     "I'm not flirting with you," A.J. declared.  "I'm being honest.  I think we would work well together."


     "As I already told you, that will never happen."


     "Then how about lunch?"


     Janet looked up from the file she was pretending to study. 




     "Can I take you out to lunch today?"

     Janet tossed her long hair over her shoulders with a tight flick of her head.  "I don't date my father's employees."


     "I didn't say it was a date.  I said it was lunch.  Can we go out together for lunch today?"


     Firmly, Janet replied, "No," right before she stood and walked away from A.J.'s desk.


     Bart had heard every word of the exchange and leaned back in his chair.  "I told you she wouldn't go out with you.  You're wasting your breath, white boy."


     A.J. smiled as he watched the subtle sway of Janet's retreating hips.  "Oh...I don't think so."


     "Wanna bet on it?"


     A.J. looked into Bart's laughing brown eyes.  "How much?"


     "Twenty bucks says you can't get her to go out with you."


     A.J. countered that offer.  "Thirty says I can.  And within a week."


     Bart's eyebrows rose with skepticism.  "Within a week from today?"


     "Yep," A.J. nodded.


     Bart held out his right hand.  "You got yourself a deal."


     A.J. grasped the hand and shook it. 


     Bart turned back to his work chuckling.  "Boy, you are the

dumbest honky I've ever met."


     A.J. laughed with good humor before starting on his own work. 


     A.J.'s family could have warned Janet Fowler how persistent he could be when pursuing something he decided he wanted.  On Tuesday he asked her, "Have you changed your mind about that lunch yet?"


     "No," she replied, before returning her attention to her typing.  "And I'm not going to either." 


     On Wednesday he caught her alone at the coffee pot.  "I could sure use some company for lunch today."


     This time Janet didn't even deem a reply necessary.  She turned sharply on her heel and walked out of the office.


     Clara smiled up at the young blond as he passed by her desk.  "Don't give up on her yet, A.J."


     A.J. stopped.  "Do you think I have a chance?"


     Clara nodded thoughtfully.  "Oh...I think so."


     "How can you be so sure?"


     "I started working for Myron when Janet was just two months old.  I was a young widow with three sons.  I've always thought of Janet as the daughter I never had.  Especially after her mother died."


     "So you know her very well," A.J. surmised.


     "As well as I know my own children.  Like I said, don't give up on her yet."


     A.J. smiled down at the woman.  "I won't.  Thanks."


     The following day A.J. found the need to file something in the cabinet next to the one Janet was standing at.


     "You know, I was thinking, maybe we really shouldn't go out to lunch."


     Janet looked up with surprise.  A.J. didn't know her well enough to detect the trace of disappointment that momentarily crossed her features.  


"I'm glad you've finally come to your senses, Mr. Simon."


     A.J. thumbed through the files with preoccupation.  "I was actually thinking that a woman like you deserves to be shown how much respect a man has for her. Therefore, I'd like to ask you out for dinner at the Coral Reef."


     Though Janet had never eaten there, she well knew the Coral Reef's reputation.  It was considered to be one of Miami's finest and most expensive restaurants.


     Janet sighed with exasperation.  "Simon, don't you ever give up?"


     A.J. smiled.  "Nope."


     Janet pretended to think a long time before finally agreeing. 


"Oh, all right.  But just this one time.  After this, you don't ask me again."


     "Not even if you want me to?"

     "I won't, so you don't have to worry about it."


     "Okay," A.J. agreed.  "Just this one time.  Are you available tomorrow evening?"


     "Tomorrow evening would be fine."


     "Would you like me to make reservations for eight o'clock?"


     "All right," Janet nodded.  "That would be fine."


      The young woman turned her back on him then, as she resumed her filing.  From across the room Clara gave A.J. a thumbs-up.


     As he passed the surprised Bart A.J. whispered,  "You owe me thirty bucks." 


     "I can't believe she said yes," Bart whispered back.  He dug into his wallet and produced the promised currency.  "You know, Fowler will kill you if he gets wind of this."


     A.J. was already so taken with the leggy brunette that Myron Fowler was the least of his worries.  "He'll get over it."


     Bart got in the last word on the subject.  "Don't count on it."



Chapter 13



     A.J. picked Janet up at the apartment she shared with another young woman shortly before eight p.m. on Friday evening.  Janet's roommate subtly appraised the handsome man dressed tonight in pressed and pleated khaki slacks, navy blue blazer, white shirt, and navy and khaki necktie. 


     Janet introduced A.J. to her roommate, Pam, then left him standing alone in the living room. 


"Just let me get my purse."


     Pam followed Janet to her bedroom.   She threw herself down on Janet's bed, acting the part of love-struck teenager.   "God, what a hunk."


     Janet gave herself a once over in the mirror.  She reached up to push a stray lock of hair into place. 


"He's okay."


     Pam's disbelief was plain to read as she looked up at Janet. 


"Okay?  He's okay, you say?  Janet, that is the most gorgeous man either one of us has ever been out with."


     "Well, don't get too enamored with him.  I already told you that I won't be going out with him again."


     "Oh, for heaven's sake.  Give him a chance, will you please?  He seems like a real nice guy."


     Janet made a face at her roommate in the mirror.  "Now you sound like Clara.  If you're so fond of Mr. Simon, then I'll be happy to turn him over to you after this evening ends."


     "I'd take you up on that if it wasn't for the fact that I'm practically engaged to Gary."


     "Well, you are, so you'd better forget it," Janet pointed out practically.  She smoothed her dress one last time, eyeing herself critically in the mirror.  A move Pam didn't miss. 


     "You know, for a woman who doesn't want to go out with this guy, you’ve certainly spent enough time getting ready."

     "I just want to look nice, that's all."  Janet gave her hair one final flick with the brush.  "He is taking me to the best restaurant in town."


     "Yes.  You've mentioned that several times.  Is that the only reason why you went out and bought that new dress, with matching shoes and purse, I might add?"


     Janet turned around.  "What exactly are you trying to say?"


     Pam shrugged.  "You've got plenty of nice dresses right there in your closet.  Plenty of nice dresses A.J. has never seen before.  I just don't understand why, if this date doesn't mean anything to you, that you'd go out and spend money on a whole new outfit.  Seems rather foolish in my opinion."


     Janet scooped up her purse and headed for the door.  "Well, I didn't ask for your opinion."


     Pam smiled at her indignant friend's back.  "Have fun!"  she called sweetly.  Within seconds she heard the murmur of voices out in the living room, then the sound of the closing door. 


     As she stood to walk out to the kitchen, Pam declared to the silent apartment,  "If you let this one get away, Janet Fowler, you need more help than I can give you."



Chapter 14



      Janet had been determined long before the evening started that she was not going to have a good time.  After all, she did not date private investigators.  A fact she had to keep reminding herself as A.J. opened the car door for her, politely held the door to the restaurant open for her, then pulled her chair away from the table so she could seat herself.


     They had made small talk on the ride to the Coral Reef.  Most of their conversation centered on the Peerless Detective office and its workings.  The conversation remained neutral as they studied their menus, making comments to one another on the foods they liked and didn't like.  Surprisingly enough, their taste in cuisine was almost identical. 


     A.J. ordered appetizers and an expensive bottle of wine to go with their dinner.  Janet wondered cynically as to what type of repayment he'd try to demand from her for this exorbitant meal at the end of the evening.


     Janet sipped at the drink in her glass and nibbled on appetizers while they waited for their food.  More in an effort to be polite than anything else she asked,  "So, what brings you to Peerless Detectives all the way from California?"    

     "Several things actually.  I wanted the opportunity to work for a big outfit like your father's.  Plus, the man I used to work for, Neil DeBell, said your dad's the best in the business."


     "He is," Janet confirmed proudly.   "I'm not sure I understand why you would give up a career in law to pursue private investigation work, however."


     A.J. smiled slyly.  "You've been asking around about me, I take it?"


     Janet put on airs of being angry at the blond's playful smugness. 


"No, I haven't been asking around about you.  Clara mentioned it in passing, that's all.  She thought I might find it interesting."


     "And why is that?"


     "Because I'm attending the University of Florida here in Miami right now, majoring in law."


     "You are?"  A.J. asked, surprised.  "How much longer do you have to go until you're done?"


     "Quite a while.  I just started my sophomore year the other day – when the semester resumed after Christmas break.  I only attend part-time.  I have two classes on Monday mornings, and one on Thursday afternoons."


     A.J. nodded thoughtfully.  "Oh.  So that's where you disappear to."


     "Yes.   And I have a class on Tuesday night, and another on Wednesday night.  This semester I have a Saturday class, as well."


     "If you don't mind me asking, how come you're not attending school full-time?"

     Janet didn't realize that she was beginning to relax and open up with this man she had declared she wanted no part of. 


"It's a long story.  My father wants a traditional daughter."


     "Pardon me?"


     "In other words, he wants me to marry and have children with little else in between.  When I graduated from high school I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, which is why I didn't go right onto college.  I worked for two years as a legal secretary.  That's where the law bug bit me.  I was fortunate to have a sympathetic boss who indulged my interest.  Lord knows Daddy didn't."


     "How did you come to work for Myron then?"  A curious A.J. wanted to know.


     "I started college when I was twenty.  My father was so against me studying law, not a career choice he deems appropriate for a woman, that he refused to put any money toward my education."  Janet smiled fondly as she went on to reveal, "After only a few weeks he gave in though, when he saw how hard I was working at my schooling, while at the same time holding down my full-time job at the law office. He had just lost his office manager and offered me the position with the understanding that as long as I work for him, he'll pay for my education.  To tell you the truth, I think he just wants to keep an eye on me.  I'm his only daughter - his only child.  He tends to be a bit overprotective."


     A.J. eyed with appreciation the beauty before him.  "As he should be."


     Janet chose to ignore the flattering remark. 


"Although I hesitated before accepting his offer, in the end I couldn't refuse. He allows me to work around my class schedule, which is one benefit I wouldn't get anywhere else."


     A.J. took a sip of wine.  "How long have you had your apartment?"


     "I moved in with Pam last March.  I'd been working for Daddy over a year by then, and decided that he and I saw enough of each other at the office.  He was too...smothering.  I had to get out of the house.  At first he had a fit, but he finally gave in.  The apartment is only two blocks from his home.  And he gave it a thorough going over for security before he allowed me to move."


     A.J. laughed.  "I'm sure he did."


     "Now tell me about yourself," Janet invited while reaching for another appetizer.  "You said there were several reasons why you came to Miami, but so far you've only given me one."


     A.J. laughed again and raised his wine glass in the gesture of a toast.  "I have a feeling you're going to make a fine lawyer some day, Miss Fowler."


     "I hope so, A.J.," Janet said fervently.  She was suddenly vulnerable and full of doubt. "I really hope so."


     "You will," A.J. confirmed with steadfast conviction.  "And to answer your question, my other reason for moving here is that my brother lives down on Pirate's Key."


     "I've heard of it,” Janet nodded. “Though I've never been there."


     "You're not missing much," A.J. chuckled.  "It's nothing more than a tiny island with a few families who make their living from the ocean."

     "And that's what your brother does?  He's a fisherman?"

     "Among other things," A.J. replied. 


     "If it's not rude of me to ask, is your brother the only family you have?"

     "No," A.J. shook his head.  "Our mother lives in San Diego.  She's a widow.  My father died when I was ten."


     "Oh, really?"  Janet commented with surprise.  "My mother died when I was nine."


     A.J. gave the woman a soft sympathetic smile.  "It's not easy, is it?"


     Janet smiled back.  Her eyes were suddenly filled with moisture. 


"No.  No, it's not.  It's a hurt I'll never completely get over.  Like a cut that just won't heal."


     Without thinking, A.J. reached over and gave Janet's hand a squeeze.  "I know."


     And without thinking, Janet squeezed back.  The couple self-consciously pulled away from one another when the main course arrived. 


     Once the waiter was satisfied that his patrons' needs were met, he moved away and allowed the young couple their privacy once more. 


     Janet cut into her swordfish.   "It must have been difficult for you to move out here and leave your mother behind."


     "It was," A.J. agreed as he reached for a dinner roll. "Very difficult.  But she and I both agreed that this was something I had to do."


     "Why is that?"  


     "Rick - my brother, he...he's been having some... challenges.  My mother and I felt it was important for me to be near him."


     Janet recognized that it was none of her business as to what challenges A.J.'s brother was having, so didn't ask about them.  Rather, she stated, "It's nice that you come from a close family.  Even though Daddy can drive me completely nuts sometimes, he and I are very close.  I guess it's because we only have each other."


     A.J. nodded.  "That's the way it is with my mom, Rick, and myself.  I've always attributed our closeness to the fact that we lost my father so unexpectedly, and that it's been just the three of us for so many years now.  We know how precious life is, and how quickly a loved one can be taken from us."


     Janet sadly nodded her understanding before changing the subject.   


"Do you think you'll ever pursue a career in law?"


     "I don't know.  Not for a while anyway.  I want to get my investigator's license first.  After that...well, I'll just have to see what comes my way."


     "Oh," Janet stated, her tone full of disappointment.


     “Why?” A.J. smiled. "What difference does it make?"


     Janet's eyes sparkled with mischief as she looked across the table at the date she was growing fonder of as each minute passed.   "I don't go out with private investigators."


     A.J.'s own eyes sparkled back.  "You're out with one now."


     "Yes, but I told you this would be our only date."

     "And how hard will I have to work to get you to go back on your word?"


     “I don’t know.”  Janet gave a good-natured shrug.  "I've never gone back on it before."


     "I see," A.J. nodded.  "Then I guess I have my work cut out for me, don't I?"


     Janet couldn't quite hide her smile.   "Yes, I guess you do."




Chapter 15



     The couple didn't leave the restaurant until eleven o'clock that evening.  They lingered over coffee and dessert while learning more about one another.  They discovered with each passing minute, that they shared an abundance of common interests and a common background.


     A.J. drove Janet straight home without suggesting any type of to park down by the beach as she half expected him to do, similar to what so many of her dates in the past had suggested.  He didn’t try to neck with her in his car either, but got out as soon as he shut the engine off and walked her to the door of her apartment building.  The couple stood underneath the glow of the all-night porch light. 


     Janet smiled up at her date.  "I had a very nice time tonight, A.J."


     "Nice enough that you'll go out to a movie with me Sunday evening?"


     Janet pretended to think about this for a long minute. 


"Well, normally I don't date--"


     A.J. chuckled.  "P.I.'s.  Yes, I know.  But possibly I can talk you into making an exception where I'm concerned."


     "Possibly," the brunette woman finally nodded.  "A movie sounds like fun."


     "I'll call you Sunday," A.J. promised.  "I'm going down to my brother's place on the key tomorrow morning.  I don't plan to be back until early Sunday afternoon.  I'll call you then."


     "That will be fine.  I'll be here studying all weekend."


     Janet was rather surprised when A.J. didn't suggest that she invite him in for a nightcap.  And even more surprised when he didn't make a move to kiss her good night. 


     "Good night, Janet.  Thank you for this evening.  I had a very enjoyable time."


     "Good night, A.J.  And thank you."


     A.J. waited until Janet had safely entered her building.  When he heard the heavy outside door click shut and lock he turned and walked to the Mustang.  Janet watched him through the side pane of glass that ran the length of the door.  When he had pulled away from the curb, she walked down the brightly lit hallway to her apartment. 


     Pam had left a living room light on dim, but otherwise the apartment was dark.  Janet shut the light off and made her way to her bedroom. 


     "Janet! Is that you?" 


     Janet flicked on the hall light and went to stand in the doorway of Pam's room.  "Yes, it's me."


     A rumpled Pam sat up in bed.  "How'd your evening go?"

     Janet couldn't help it.  She smiled.  "It was wonderful."


     "See.  I told you," Pam gloated.  "He's a nice guy, isn't he?"


     "Yes, he is, Pammy.  A real nice guy.  Probably one of the last true gentlemen left on the face of this earth."


     "What do you mean?"


     "He didn't suggest we go park anywhere.  He didn't try to grope me as we stood outside the building.  He didn't suggest I invite him in.  He didn't even try to kiss me good night."


     "Well...that part's a disappointment," Pam stated with regret, "but as for the rest, you're right.  He must be one of the last true gentlemen left out there walking around unattached.  The kind of guy my mother always told me I should save myself for.  The kind of guy I have yet to meet.  Janet, you're really, really lucky.  I hope you know that."


     "I know," Janet softly agreed, even if it did mean she had to eat her words from earlier.  "He asked me out again for Sunday evening."


     "What'd you say?"


     "I said yes."


     "Good.  Because that's what you should have said."


     Janet walked in and sat down on the edge of her roommate's bed as Pam flicked the bedside lamp on.


"I don't know, Pam.   I'm scared."


     "What do you possibly have to be scared of?  You just got done saying A.J.'s a perfect gentleman."

     "I know.  But I always said I'd never date a private

investigator.  And, Pam...I'm falling for this guy hard and fast."


     "So hard and fast it frightens you, huh?"


     "Yes.  I saw...I saw what the profession did to my mother.  I saw how many nights she paced the floor worrying about my father's whereabouts.  Worrying that he was lying dead in an alley somewhere.  I remember all the times he was gone for days on end and she had to be both mother and father to me.  I watched his work send her to an early grave.  I vowed way back when I was nine years old that I would never allow the same thing to happen to me and my children."


     Pam ran a comforting hand up and down Janet's back. 


"Janet, don't you think you're buying the cart before the horse?  Tonight was only your first date with A.J.  It's not like he asked you to marry him or anything.  Just take it for what it is right now.   Go out with him.  Have a good time.  If something more comes of it...well, worry about that when it happens."


     Janet laughed.  She turned and hugged her impulsive friend. 


"You're right.  I'm being silly.  You know me, I'm always concerned about the future, and tend to forget the importance of enjoying the moment."


     Pam gave her friend a strong squeeze, then nestled back down into her pillows. 


“If you want my advice, with a guy as cute as A.J. is, enjoying the moment is where it's at.  If nothing else, someday when you're old, and gray, and married to a boring insurance agent with a receding hairline and a pot belly, you'll be able to tell your grandchildren that in your youth you once dated the most handsome man in all of Florida."


     Janet laughed at her friend as she rose.  "So that's what you see my future holding for me?  A boring insurance agent with a receding hairline and a pot belly?"


     "No," Pam shook her head.  "But that's what you seem to want, so I'm just trying to help you picture it."


     "Well, with that kind of a mental picture, I just might change my mind about dating P.I.'s," was the last thing Janet had to say before heading down the hall to her own bedroom.




Chapter 16



     A.J. drove down to the key on Saturday morning as he had planned.  Rick's boat pulled up to the dock shortly after his brother's arrival.  A.J. had lunch waiting for him.  The two hurriedly ate, then headed out to hunt for Sophie.  Rick had followed up on a few leads during the week and felt he was close to solving the case. 


     And solve the case the brothers did under the cover of darkness at ten p.m. that night.  Against his better judgment, A.J. allowed his brother to pick the lock on a dark, secluded bungalow in a bad section of Miami. 


     In a strangled whisper A.J. imparted, "Rick, if we get caught doing this we're going to be chopped up in little pieces and fed to that snake ourselves."


     The lock gave way and Rick entered the house, dragging his brother with him.  "We're not gonna get caught.  Here, hand me the flashlight."


     Rick searched the living room, then subsequent rooms for Sophie's aquarium.  He finally found it in a back bedroom...empty. 


     "Oh, well," the eager A.J. stated, "guess she's not here.  We'd better go."


     "No," Rick negated.  He grabbed the blond's shirtfront to stop his departure for the door.   "I've gotta feelin' she's here somewhere."


     "But the aquarium's empty." 


     "That doesn't mean anything.  Who's ever got her probably let her out of it."


     A.J.'s eyes nervously scanned the dark floor beneath his tennis shoes.  "You mean she could be crawling around this house somewhere?"


     "Sure.  Lots of people let their boa constrictors have free roam of the house.  Geez, A.J., don't you know anything?"


     "I apologize for my ignorance," A.J. stated sarcastically.  "None of the people I hang out with feel the need to make a pet

of a boa constrictor."


     "Well, they should.  Snakes are very affectionate animals."


     "While I'd like to debate that with you, we don't have time right now.  Let's either look for the snake, or let's get the hell out of here."


       "We're gonna look for the snake," Rick declared. 


     The brothers searched room after room by the glow of the flashlight, looking in all the places Rick claimed snakes like to take refuge.  When they came to the last bedroom A.J. commented that whoever lived there certainly didn't know how to properly make a bed.  The spread was wrinkled as if the blankets were rolled in a big tangled mass underneath it.


     Rick smiled at his brother.  "A.J., I think you've just found Sophie."


     Sure enough, when Rick pulled back the spread, a very warm and content boa constrictor lay curled in a ball.


     "Go get her aquarium," Rick instructed.  "I'll load her up and we'll be ready to get out of here."


     "Sounds good to me," A.J. agreed.  He wanted no part of taking the snake anywhere unless she was safely enclosed in her home.


     As A.J. walked down the hall, men's voices reached him from the outside of the house.  He stopped and listened.  When he determined that the men weren't just going to walk by the house, but were unlocking the front door, he ran back to the bedroom.


     "We gotta get out of here," he frantically whispered.  "Somebody's coming!"


     "Where's the aquarium?"


     "I didn't get it."


     As the door opened and lights came on in the living room Rick pushed his brother toward the open window.  "Go on!"




     "Go on, A.J.!  Go out the window.   I'll hand you Sophie once you're outside."


     A.J. was pushed through the small window before he had a chance to say that he had no desire to be handed Sophie.    

     The blond went out the window headfirst, but managed to land on his feet.  Sophie followed.  All thirteen feet of her.  A.J. grimaced as he took the heavy snake from his brother.  She immediately wrapped herself around his forearm and started slithering for his neck.


     "Rick...I don't like this."


     From somewhere in the house a man's voice shouted, "Hey!  What's goin' on back there?"


     In his haste to get out the window, Rick fell to the ground.  He toppled into the metal garbage cans that rested against the side of the house.  An ungodly clatter arose in the quiet of the night.


     Rick took off running for the truck that was parked down the block. 


"Come on, A.J.!   Let's go!"


     "Rick!"  A.J. called in a strangled cry.  "Rick!  Take the damn snake!"


     From somewhere behind A.J. a man's voice called,  "There they are!  Let's get 'em!" 


     "Come on, A.J.!"  Rick cried.  "Run!"


     "Damn you, Rick Simon!"  A.J. cursed as he took off after his brother with Sophie wrapped around his neck.  "You'll pay for this!"



Chapter 17



     Raul and Rick celebrated Sophie's return far into the wee hours of Sunday morning.  A.J. begged off the party after only one beer.  It was nine a.m. before A.J. stirred.  The smell of bacon frying woke Rick at ten. 


     "Morning, kid," the rumpled Rick greeted.   He padded barefoot into the kitchen in nothing but his boxer shorts.


     "I'm still not speaking to you," was all A.J. said in return.


     "Oh, come on,” Rick laughed.  “It wasn't that bad."


     "You run down a street with a boa constrictor wrapped around your neck while being chased by an angry drunken mob and see how you like it."


     "Yeah, well...the important thing is we got Sophie back to Raul.  Here's your cut of the money."


     A.J. turned around to view more cash than he'd ever seen in his life. 


"What do you mean, my cut?"


     "I told you I get thirty percent of the value of whatever I recover."


     "But that snake couldn't have been worth that much."


     "Boy, A.J., I pity the day when you go into business for yourself.  It's not the value of the snake in this case, dummy.  It's the value of what's inside her.  The diamonds.  Like I told you, the snake swallowed fifty thousand dollars in diamonds.  "


     A.J. eyed the piles of neatly strapped one hundred dollar bills Rick had laid on the table.   "But, Rick...I can't take that money.  Who knows where those diamonds came from."


     "That's right,” Rick shrugged. “Who knows?  And it isn't any of our business anyway.  Raul hired me to get the snake back and I did.  We did.  So here's your cut."


     "I don't know.  I'm not sure I should take this money.  Besides, you did most of the legwork."


     "I did not.  I only went out by myself a couple of nights.  Otherwise, you were always with me.  So fair is fair.  Half of the cash is yours."  Rick pulled plates and silverware out of the cabinets.  "Just don't put it in the bank."




     "The bank.  Don't put it in the bank.  That way no one can ever question you about where it came from."

     "I'm not so sure this is such a good idea."


     "Come on, A.J.  Loosen up.  We didn't do anything wrong.  Absolutely nothing.  All we did was retrieve stolen property.  Hell, the cops do it all the time and no one thinks anything of it."


     Although A.J. thought there was a fine line to be drawn between what the cops did, and what he and his brother had done, he didn't point that out to Rick.  He knew it wouldn't do him any good anyway.  In the end he pocketed the cash.  All seven thousand five hundred dollars of it.  He certainly could use it.  And he knew he sure deserved it.  He'd ridden all the way home in Rick's truck with that damn snake coiled around his neck. 


     After breakfast A.J. helped his brother repair some fishing nets.  He left at two o'clock to head back to Miami.  He got a promise from Rick to have dinner with him on Wednesday evening like they had previously discussed. 


     A.J. phoned Janet as soon as he arrived on his boat.  They discovered they had the same taste in movies and immediately agreed on which one they wanted to see.  A.J. picked Janet up at five-thirty.  After the movie he treated her to dinner.  Once again, he saw her to the door of her apartment building, but made no move to kiss her.  Janet actually discovered she was disappointed over that fact as she watched the blond man drive away.


     At work the next day, A.J. asked Janet if she'd like to have dinner on his boat Thursday evening.  She seemed a bit apprehensive at this invitation.


     "Don't worry," A.J. assured with a smile.  "I can cook."


     The couple went out to lunch together on Tuesday.  On Wednesday A.J. talked Janet into taking a short break in the afternoon.  The two walked down the street to an outdoor vendor, where A.J. treated Janet to an ice cream cone.


     Myron watched the young couple from his office window.  He walked over and yanked his door open.  "Clara!  Get in here!"


     After almost twenty-two years of service, Clara was used to Myron Fowler and his ways.  She took her time before finally appearing in her boss's office.


     "Yes, Myron?  You wanted to see me?"


     "Shut the door," Myron barked.


     Clara did as her boss requested. 


     "What's going on between Janet and Simon?"


     "I have no idea what you mean, Myron."


     "Clara...don't play that game with me.  I know the two of them went out to lunch yesterday.  And now this."


     "Now what?"


     "They just walked down the street for ice cream."


     "I hardly think a shared ice cream cone is cause for concern, Myron."


     Myron scowled at the woman.  "Every time I look out at that office Janet's making eyes at him.  And if she's not doing that, then he's making eyes at her.  Now something's going on, and I wanna know what it is."


     "Myron...come on.  Remember what it was like to be young and in love.  Cut both of them a little slack."


     "In love?  Are you saying they're in love?


     "I don't think they've quite reached that point, but I certainly believe they're on their way."


     "Just what do you know?  Have they been seeing one another behind my back?"


     Clara laughed.  "Myron, Janet will turn twenty-two years old in a few weeks.  I think she can go out on a date without you knowing about it."


     "Not with one of my investigators she can't!"


     "Be reasonable.  Janet hasn't seen anyone since she broke up with Donald.  That's been over six months now.  And he wasn't good for her.  You know that as well as I do."


     "He would have made her a fine husband," Myron declared, though without any real conviction behind his words.


     "He would have made her an exceeding dull husband, and you know it.  Besides, she didn't love him.  No woman should marry a man she doesn't love no matter what her father's wishes are."


     "You know, one of these days that mouth of yours is gonna get you in trouble, Clara.  One of these days I just might fire you."


      "You've been threatening to do that for more years than I can count," Clara scoffed.  "Every time I tell you something you don't want to hear."


     Myron scowled at the woman before turning away from her.  He looked out the window again.  He watched as Janet and A.J. walked along, laughing and licking at ice cream cones.


     "She said she'd never date a P.I.  She's said that ever since she was a little girl.  Ever since her mother died."


     "Maybe she just never met the right one," Clara intoned wisely.  "And really, Myron, those two kids are far from being ready to marry.  They're just getting to know one another.  They've discovered that they share a lot of the same interests, and have similar values.  Just let nature take its course.  If something significant is meant to come to pass between them, then it will.   If not...well, if not, then they'll both move on with their lives."


     Myron turned to face Clara once more.  "Does she really like him?"


     "Yes, she does."


     "And what about him?  Does he treat her right?  Has she said anything to you about it?"


     "She's told me he's a perfect gentleman.  Hasn't so much as tried to kiss her good night yet."


     "He'd better be a perfect gentleman," the stout man declared.  " ‘Cause if I ever find out he's not I'll tear him apart with my bare hands."


     "He's a nice boy, Myron.  A very nice boy.  Trust Janet's judgment on this one."


     Myron sat down heavily in his chair.  He stared off into space for a minute. 


"I just don't want her to have the kind of life my Maddie did.  It wasn't easy for her...being married to a self-employed gumshoe.  And that's what I see for this kid A.J.  He's good at what he does, Clara.  Damn good.  He doesn't know how good he is.  With a little experience and maturity, he may turn out to be the best investigator I've ever trained.  Hell, he might even turn out to be better than me.  And if he does...well, you know what that means."


     Clara nodded.  She'd seen it plenty of times over the years.  "He'll go off on his own someday.  Open up his own office."


     "Yeah, he will.  And he'll struggle to make a living until he finally hits that one big case that brings him public recognition.  Until he finally hits that one case that causes clients to be beating down the door waving money in his face.  And then he'll work fourteen hour days, seven days a week, because he loves the job so damn much he can't get enough of it.  And he'll forget about the wife at home who's waiting dinner for him.  Or the little girl that wants nothing more than a few minutes of his time before she's tucked into bed.  And someday he'll be alone, and wish he could go back and do it all over.  Wish he could mix the best of both worlds."


     "Maybe things will be different for this boy," Clara stated softly.  "Maybe he won't be like you."


     Myron chewed on his cigar.  "Oh, he'll be like me all right.  I can already see it.  He loves the job too damn much.  I only hope he doesn't end up hurting Janet along the way."


     "Janet's a grown woman now, Myron.  She knows what she wants out of life.  You've got to let her make her own decisions.  Even if she stumbles and falls occasionally." 


     "I just don't want to see her get hurt."


     "No parent wants to see his or her child get hurt.  But I certainly don't believe that A.J. would ever hurt Janet.  At least not intentionally.  Get to know him, Myron.  He's a good man."


     "Oh, I'll be getting to know him all right.  Especially if he plans to continue to see my little girl."


     Clara laughed as she turned to leave the room. 


"Just don't scare him off.  You may regret it if you do.  And I have a feeling your daughter will shoot you."


     Long after Clara exited the room, and long after A.J. and Janet had returned from their walk, Myron Fowler sat alone in his office.  He thought about the past, and all the regrets that went with it.  He hoped his daughter knew what she was doing when it came to getting serious about Andrew Simon.



Chapter 18



     Janet's Thursday evening on A.J.'s boat couldn't have been more perfect.  Savory smells wafted up to the woman as she stood on the stairway that led down to the living quarters. 


     "Knock, knock!" 


     A.J. came to greet her with a smile of delight.    "Janet, hi!  Come on down."


     He held his hand out to her, helping her maneuver the steep steps in her high heels.  Janet hadn't known whether or not to dress up for the occasion, so chose to go middle of the road with a casual print peasant skirt in all shades of peach and blue.  A plain pale blue blouse topped off her ensemble.  A thin gold chain encircled her throat, and a matching bracelet hung from her wrist. 


     She was glad she had chosen as she did.   A.J. was wearing a loose fitting pair of pleated black dress trousers and a gray polo shirt the color of smoke.  She couldn't help but subtly admire the bulging biceps muscles and prominent pectorals his snug fitting, short sleeve shirt revealed.


     Janet could hardly believe her eyes when she was led into the boat's living area.  The table was set neatly for two.  Evidently a candle light dinner was in store for the young woman since a lit candle stood in the center of the table in a brass holder.  An unopened bottle of wine stood chilling in a bucket off to the side.  A single red rose lay on the plate Janet assumed was meant for her.


     This guy really knows how to treat a lady.


     "Do you need any help?"


     "No," A.J. smiled and shook his head.  He crossed over to the stove, putting the last minute touches on dinner.  "Everything's under control.  Have a look around if you'd like."


     Janet did just that.  She got a better feel for the man she was dating as she toured his small living space.  Every room was clean and orderly with nothing out of place.  The curtains in the living room/ kitchen area matched the carpeting and furniture, just as the curtains in the bedroom matched the bedspread.  Yet for all its neatness and color coordination, the boat had a very masculine air about it.  One wall of A.J.'s bedroom was lined with built-in bookshelves.  Books filled each shelf, making it impossible for one more to be added.


     "You said you loved to read," Janet commented as she returned to the living room,  "but I never realized how much." 


     A.J. turned from the stove to face her.  "That's just a small part of my collection.  I bet I have several hundred more at home in boxes up in Mom's attic.  I've never gotten rid of a book in my life.  My collection dates all the way back to my first Hardy Boys book.  Someday when I own a home, I plan to have a big enough shelving unit to display every one of them.  I'd like to pass my childhood favorites on to my own children."


     "I know what you mean,” Janet smiled.  “I've had a love affair with books ever since I was eight and read Charlotte's Web.  After my mother died, I spent a lot of time at my father's office.  While he worked on his cases I sat in the corner and read.  They were my escape from some very sad years."


     A.J. didn't have to say anything.  Janet knew he understood.  He had suffered the same tragic loss of a much-loved parent during his childhood as well.


     Janet's eyes traveled around the living room.  She crossed over to the couch to get a closer look at a collection of pictures that hung on the wall behind it.


"Are these pictures of your family?"

     "Yes."   A.J. replied while carrying the food to the table.   "That's my Mom and Rick."


     Janet studied one picture in particular.  A tiny blond headed woman stood in between her two strapping, handsome sons.


     "You and your brother don't look anything alike," Janet observed.


     "No, we don't," A.J. agreed.  "I look like my dad.  Rick's a combination of both sides of the family."


     "Your mom's a pretty lady."


     "Thank you.  She's great.  The best Mom two boys could have.  Or at least that's what Rick and I always say."


     Janet smiled at the pride she heard in A.J.'s voice.  "Your family means a lot to you, don't they?"

     A.J. didn't hesitate when giving his answer.


"The two of mom and Rick, are the most important people in my life.  It would just about kill me if anything ever happened to them."  


     Janet's eyes traveled to another picture.  In this one A.J.'s brother was minus his moustache and dressed in the formal blue of the United States Marine Corps.   A much younger looking A.J. stood next to him, an arm draped across Rick's shoulders.


     "Was your brother in the service?"

     Yes,” A.J. replied from the vicinity of the refrigerator.   "He was a Marine.  He served two years in Vietnam, and two years stateside, before he mustered out in December of '71."


     "In Vietnam?  That must have been very difficult.  Did he see a lot of--"


     "Horrible things?”  A.J. turned to face Janet.  “Yes, he did.  Far more than he's ever told me about."


     Now it was all starting to make sense to Janet.  Why A.J. had left his widowed mother alone in San Diego to move to Miami.  Why he said his brother was having ‘some challenges,’ as A.J. had referred to it in the restaurant last Friday.   Janet had heard enough stories about many of the returning Vietnam veterans to have a fairly good idea as to what some of those challenges might be.  She hoped A.J.'s brother wasn't a drug addict, or worse. 


     The subject was changed then as A.J. held Janet's chair out for her.  The young woman raved over dinner.  She'd never before dated a man who was such an accomplished chef. 


     The couple lingered at the table long after their plates were clean.  Janet insisted on helping A.J. clear the table and do the dishes.  The two laughed time and time again as they bumped into each other in the tiny galley.  


     A.J. invited Janet to make herself comfortable on the sofa while he served coffee and dessert.  She did just that, kicking off her high heels and tucking her legs up underneath her full skirt.  A.J. put some soft jazz on the stereo, another passion they had in common, before joining Janet on the sofa.  They talked long into the night.  By the time Janet rose to go home, she felt she knew everything there was to know about Andrew Jackson Simon.  And likewise, he felt the same about her. 


     A.J. held Janet's hand as he walked her to her car in the marina's lot.  She unlocked the door, then paused a moment   before climbing in.


     "Thank you for this evening, A.J.," she smiled up at him.  "Supper was wonderful.  The entire night was wonderful."


     A.J. chuckled under the light of a full Miami moon.  "Thank you for gracing my humble living quarters with your regal presence. I'm glad you came."


     Janet closed her eyes as he leaned over to kiss her.  "So am I," she whispered.


     A.J. took a step backwards when the couple broke apart a long thirty seconds later. Janet was almost disappointed.  She found herself wanting more. She couldn't help but laugh inside.  Earlier in the evening, before she'd arrived, she'd been worried that A.J. might make a pass at her once he had her alone on his boat.  She'd been wondering if his good manners and caring ways had all been an act to lure her into a false sense of security.  But they hadn't been.  He had continued to be the perfect gentleman.  And now she wished for more of his sweet kisses.


     Janet reached out and lightly touched his hand right before she climbed in her car.  "Good night, A.J."

     "Good night, Janet."


     A.J. watched as she drove away.  He returned to the boat with a smile on his face.  Her perfume lingered in the air.  It was a heady scent.  One that made him think of her as he undressed for bed.  One that kept her in his dreams long after he was asleep.



Chapter 19




     The weeks passed swiftly for A.J. Simon that winter of 1974.  He continued to impress Myron Fowler with his natural gift for investigation work, though Myron was careful not to outwardly express his admiration for the young man.  Likewise, just as Neil had promised, A.J. learned more from Myron than he could have ever hoped to learn in a lifetime of working for anyone else. 


     A.J. spent his weekends down on the key with Rick that winter just as he had planned.  And Rick continued to keep his promise in regards to driving up to Miami on Wednesday evenings in order to have dinner with A.J.  By April, A.J. thought he could detect a difference in his brother.  Rick didn't seem as on-edge as he had when A.J. arrived in January.  And A.J. didn't think Rick was drinking nearly as much as he had been either.   When he dropped in unexpectedly, A.J. no longer found his brother drunk and sitting on the front porch with no one for company but Marlowe.  Even Rick's cigarette habit had diminished somewhat.  Through no prodding on A.J.'s part, Rick had cut back from smoking a pack a day, to a half a pack.   In general, the older Simon seemed more relaxed and in better health compared to how A.J. had first found him three months earlier.  Rick had, as well, taken to talking to their mother without protest whenever A.J. would place a call to her from Pirate’s Key.  Though these conversations were still slightly stilted and uncomfortable for both Cecilia Simon and her oldest son, slowly but surely the barriers between them were starting to crumble. 


     The remainder of A.J.'s spare time was spent with Janet Fowler.  The young couple grew closer with each passing day.  They saw one another outside the office as frequently as their busy schedules would permit.  In late March the love that was blossoming between them burst into full bloom when they slept together for the first time.


     Janet had been invited to A.J.'s boat one Friday evening for dinner.  The kisses and caresses they shared on the couch after the meal went farther than they ever had before.  When a breathless A.J. pulled himself away from her, Janet indicated with a small nod of her head that she wanted more.  Much more. 


     The heights she soared to with A.J. after that were beyond anything she'd ever experienced.  Donald, her previous boyfriend, had been the first man Janet had ever slept with.  She'd just turned twenty-one when, against her better judgment, she agreed to share his bed one night.  She didn't know if sex with Donald was so disappointing because of her lack of experience, or if it was disappointing simply because she didn't love him. According to her father Donald was the ideal man for her.  Janet, on the other hand, found him to be a self-centered bore.  He had just graduated from college with a degree in finance.  He was working at the bank down the street from Peerless Detectives when Janet met him.   They dated for almost a year, though Janet had no idea as to why she'd let the relationship go on that long.  Maybe just to please her father.  Or maybe because no knight in shining armor had come along to rescue her from Donald's clutches.  There finally came a day when Janet knew she had to rescue herself.  Donald had begun talking marriage, and Myron had begun counting grandchildren.  Janet couldn't imagine a lifetime of being married to man she didn't love, while at the same time being made to give up her dream of becoming a lawyer.  Not to mention the fact that the guy was totally inept at satisfying her in bed.  All he cared about were his needs, and once those were met, oh well, it was all over and she was supposed to pretend it had been wonderful, outstanding, and the most fantastic thing she'd ever experienced.


     Therefore, when Janet nodded to A.J. and indicated that she wanted him to make love to her, she was naturally apprehensive.  She wondered if she'd find out A.J. was the same way as Donald.  Her experience in this area was so limited, that for all she knew all men were that way.  Maybe her body would never feel the pleasures Cosmopolitan magazine claimed every woman should experience each time she's made love to.


     A.J. must have sensed the young woman's nervousness.  She had told him enough about her relationship with Donald to lead him to believe she wasn't a virgin, but that night he treated her as though she was.  Instead of immediately dragging her off to the bedroom like some rutting caveman, as Donald would have done, A.J. took her by the hand and pulled her gently to her feet.  He dimmed the lights in the boat's living area and slightly increased the volume on the stereo.  He looked down and smiled softly into Janet's shadowed face for a long moment before taking her in his arms.  They slowly glided around the small room in time to the music.  As they grew more and more comfortable with one another, their bodies molded together as one.   A.J. allowed Janet to get used to that feeling of intimacy.  When she sighed and laid her head on his shoulder, he began to run his hands lightly up and down her back.  A few more minutes passed before he allowed his hands to roam down to her bottom.  Janet didn't protest this action in the slightest.  Soon, she was doing the same to him. 


     A.J.'s hands slid their way up under her blouse next.   As he caressed all the right spots she threw her head back and gave a deep moan of pleasure.  She didn't even blink when she felt him unhook her bra.  He continued to make love to her like that right there in the living room, his fingers lingering on sensitive places Donald hadn't even known existed.  When she couldn't stand it any longer, she begged him for more.  A.J. swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom where they ever-so-slowly undressed one another, further enhancing their level of excitement.


     With skill Janet would have never guessed any man possessed A.J. continued their foreplay.  He even took her by the hand, and without any hesitation or embarrassment, showed her what made him feel good.    She'd never done such a thing with Donald and it excited her terribly. 


     By the time A.J.'s roaming hands began to slow their motion, Janet was pleading with him to enter her.   He was so gentle as he took her for the first time.  And, for the first time, Janet really knew what it felt like to be a woman.  For the first time a man satisfied her sexual needs.  For the first time she felt all those pleasurable sensations Cosmopolitan said she was entitled to.  She cried out A.J.'s name over and over again when their joining reached its highest point before peaking in a cascade of falling stars. 


      Afterwards, they lay next to each other panting for breath.  A.J. pulled Janet close, wrapping his arms around her naked body.  His blue eyes opened in wide surprise when her hands began to fondle him below the waist ten minutes later.  He chuckled as he leaned up on one elbow to kiss her.  Then he willingly let her push him on his back, allowing her what she needed - a chance to make love to him.  A chance to really get to know a man's body.   Their second joining was as satisfying as their first, and even more intense. 


     Janet spent the night on A.J.'s boat.  They woke up as the sun was rising and made love again.  Janet hated to see him leave for Pirate's Key that morning, but it was Saturday and he always spent Saturday's with his brother.  In the long run she knew there was no use to get upset over that fact.  She had a three hour class, and then a ton of homework to catch up on.  A.J. would be back Sunday afternoon just like he always was, and they would spend the evening together has had become their habit.


     The kiss goodbye they gave one another as they parted ways that morning was different from any kiss they had ever shared before.  It was the kiss of two people passionately in love.  A kiss that held the promise of a future together. 




Chapter 20



     It was May of that year before Janet finally met Rick.   She'd heard a lot about him by this time, from both A.J. and her father.  Funny thing though, judging by what they each said, one would get the impression they were speaking of two different men.


     Janet had no doubt A.J. loved his older brother very much, and had a great deal of admiration and respect for him as well.  She thought some of that admiration bordered on hero worship, but she never said anything to A.J. about it.  She supposed that was only natural considering Rick was five years older than A.J. and his only sibling. 


     Janet's father's opinion of Rick Simon was a different story altogether.  When Myron reconciled with himself the fact that Janet was seriously involved with A.J. he had a long talk with her.  He genuinely liked the kid and didn't hesitate to tell her so.  He also played devil's advocate, and reminded her of all the reasons she had said she'd never date a private investigator.   Janet told him she thought of those things a lot, but that for now she wasn't going to worry about them.


     "Besides, Daddy, I don't think A.J. will be an investigator forever.  He does have a degree in law, you know.  He passed the bar.  I think he just took this job so he could be close to his brother."

     Myron pushed his empty dinner plate aside.  The two were

having supper together at Myron's house, the house Janet had grown up in. 


“He could have just as easily taken a job as a lawyer and still been close to his brother," Myron pointed out.  "Lawyers are a dime a dozen here in Miami."


     "I suppose that's true," Janet reluctantly conceded, "but he would have had to retake the bar here in Florida in order to get his license.  He said it was horrible enough to get through one time.  Let alone to do it again just a few months later."


     Myron could tell that saying anymore on the subject would be an effort in futility.  Janet wasn't seeing what he was in this boy.  She wasn't seeing the passion for investigation work that would more than likely be with the kid for the rest of his life.  For now she was letting herself hide behind the excuses A.J. offered her. 


     Although Clara might have thought differently, Myron Fowler did indeed remember what it was like to be young and in love.   A.J. looked at Janet in the same way Myron could recall looking at his late wife, Maddie. 


     Myron leaned back in his chair and took a cigar out of his shirt pocket.  


"I guess you know better than anyone the downside to falling in love with a private investigator.  You saw what the life did to your mother.  But A.J.'s a good kid.  I like the way he treats you.  And he's going to make a decent living at this job someday.  If in the end he's the one for you, I'll gladly give my blessing."


     Janet rolled her eyes.  "Daddy, we've only been seeing each other for five months.  The subject of marriage hasn't ever come up between us."


     "It will, princess.  It will.  I see the way he looks at you.  The only thing I want to say is, don't marry A.J. thinking that someday he'll give up investigation work.  Maybe he will...but maybe he won't either.  It's unfair of you to expect him to if that's not what he really wants to do."


     Janet didn't bother to mention to her father that she sometimes daydreamed about her and A.J. opening their own business together...a law firm.  The law firm of Simon and Simon.  Of course, that was many years away yet.  With the limited hours she was attending school Janet figured it would be six or seven years before she had any hope of getting her license to practice law.   That was a long time.   On the other hand, a lot could change by then.  Especially A.J.'s desire to go on being a private investigator. 


     The subject was dropped there.  Janet rose to clear the table. 


"Oh, by the way, I won't be home this weekend.  I'm going down to Pirate's Key with A.J. to meet Rick."


     "Rick?  Who's Rick?"

     Janet turned from the sink to face her father.  "A.J.'s brother.  I told you he lived down on Pirate's Key, remember?"


     Myron chewed thoughtfully on his cigar.  "Yeah, yeah.  I guess I do remember you sayin’ something about it a few months back.  Did you say A.J.'s brother's name is Rick?  As in Rick Simon?"


     Janet laughed.  "Yes, as in Simon.  What did you think his name was?"  Janet caught the scowl that briefly crossed her father's features.  "Daddy?  What is it?  What's wrong?"


     "Well, I've heard of a Rick Simon from down on Pirate's Key.  I just never made the connection that he was A.J.'s brother.  A Nam vet?"




     "He's the one then."


     "He's the one what?"


     "He's bad news, Janet."


     "What do you mean?"


     "What did A.J. tell you his brother does for a living?"


     "He said Rick's a fisherman."


     "He is," Myron confirmed with a nod.  "He also does free-lance investigation work.  You know, takes on the kind of stuff no reputable P.I. will touch."


     "You mean illegal kinds of things?"


     "I don't know exactly,” Myron shrugged. “I just know the cops have been keepin' an eye on him for a long time now.  It's a shame, too.  The guy's supposed to be damn good at what he does.  He could be one heck of a P.I. if he wanted to be.  Or so I've been told.  He's kind of a recluse, I guess.  Keeps to himself.  He's got some pretty shady friends, though.  I don't like the idea of you going down there."



     Now Janet's curiosity about A.J.'s brother was really piqued. 


"It's just for the weekend, Daddy.  Just for Saturday and part of Sunday.  I'll be home by four o'clock Sunday afternoon.  Besides, A.J. would never let anything happen to me.  And I'm not so sure I believe the stories you've heard.  A.J.'s never said anything like that about Rick."


     "Maybe he doesn't know," Myron stated practically.


     "Maybe.  Or maybe the things you’ve heard about Rick have been greatly exaggerated.  Anyway, I'll find out for myself this weekend."


     "Where are you going to sleep?"


     Janet hid her smile.  Of course her father had no idea she and A.J. were sleeping together.  Not that they'd be doing that at his brother's home anyway.  She didn't feel comfortable displaying that side of their relationship to Rick at this point in time, and neither did A.J. 


     "There's a guest room at Rick's house.  I'll be sleeping in it.  A.J.'s going to sleep on the living room couch."


     Myron still didn't like the idea, but he trusted A.J.  He knew the blond would never let anything happen to Janet. 


"All right.  You go ahead and have a good time.  But if there's any funny business going on down there, anything at all that makes you think things aren't on the up and up, you call me.  I'll come get you."


     Janet crossed the room and bent to kiss her father's cheek.  Although she was well able to take care of herself, she appreciated his concern. 


"I will.  And don't worry. Nothing will happen.  We're just going down there so I can meet Rick.  We're going to swim, fish, cookout, and just in general allow him and I the chance to get to know one another."


     "Things must be serious if A.J.'s taking you to meet his family," Myron teased.  "I better start saving my money for the wedding."


     Janet swiped at his head with the dishtowel before returning to the sink.  "Oh, Daddy!"



Chapter 21




     On the drive down to Pirate's Key Janet commented to A.J., "Daddy said he's heard of a Rick Simon.  That the guy he knows of does some free-lance investigation work.  Would that be your brother?"

     “Yes,” A.J. nodded.  “He dabbles in it to supplement his income from fishing."


     A.J. didn't expound on what type of work it was Rick did, and Janet didn't ask.  For now, she had found out what she wanted to know.


     Whatever combination of genes came together from Jack and Cecilia Simon to form A.J., were not in any way, shape, or form, the same combination that came together when their first-born was created.  Or so Janet thought anyway.  She'd seen enough pictures of Rick to have a pretty good idea of what he looked like, but nonetheless she was still surprised when she couldn't detect the slightest bit of resemblance between the two brothers upon meeting Rick face to face.  If she used her imagination maybe, just maybe, there was something about both their eyes that was similar.  If she used her imagination.


     Janet smoothed her short skirt into place when she stepped out of A.J.'s Mustang.  She hoped the back of her blouse wasn't wrinkled from the long ride.  She didn't even want to think of what her hair looked like after an hour in an open top convertible.  She patted her long locks into place as best she could, wishing she could see herself in a mirror before meeting A.J.'s brother.


     The house looked deserted as the couple approached.  Janet was rather taken aback.  She had assumed Rick, who was well aware of the time they were arriving, would have been here waiting to greet them.


     As he mounted the first step A.J. called loudly, "Rick!  Hey, Rick!"


     He had just turned to smile at Janet and said, "He must be out back," when a big yellow dog came tearing around the corner. 


     With a loud "Whoof!", the dog launched himself at Janet in enthusiastic greeting. 


     "Ahhh!"  Janet cried in surprise.  She was knocked down by the weight of the dog.  She landed hard on her bottom in the dust.


     "Get away, Marlowe!  Get away!"  A.J. sternly commanded.  He ran over to assist the scared Janet to her feet.  "I'm sorry, hon. Are you okay?"


     The shaken Janet stood with A.J.'s help.  She brushed off her white skirt while trying to act like a good sport about the incident. 


"Yes.  Yes, I'm okay, A.J.  More surprised than hurt."


     She looked down at the front of her pink blouse.  Two wet, muddy paw prints tattooed the material where it covered her breasts. 


     Oh no!  My brand new blouse! This dirt will never wash out!


     Janet did a good job of hiding her thoughts from A.J., and from his brother, who came ambling around the house now as well. 


"Ooops. Sorry about that," the man drawled when he saw what his dog had done.  "Bad boy, Marlowe," he scolded. 


The big pup slinked around the corner of the house, though Janet could have sworn she saw Rick wink at him as if what had just occurred was a big joke. 


     Rick turned to Janet and smiled.  "I'm trying to cure him of that, but he's got this thing for beautiful women.  He seems to feel the need to knock ‘em flat on their gorgeous behinds every time he sees one."


     Janet wasn't sure if she was being paid a compliment, or being made the butt of a very rude, sexual joke.  For A.J.'s sake, she chose to decide she was being paid a compliment. 


     "Janet, this is my brother, Rick," A.J. now introduced with a proud smile.  "And Rick, this is Janet."


     Rick wiped his wet hand on his dirty T-shirt before offering it to Janet. 


"Nice to finally meet you, Janet.  A.J.'s told me a lot about you."


     Janet smiled politely.  She did her best to ignore the smell of fish that Rick had just transferred from his hand to hers. 


"It's nice to meet you, too, Rick.  As well, A.J.'s told me a lot about you."


     Janet thought it would have been nice had Rick Simon made an effort to shower, shave, and change clothes before she had arrived.  She knew if it had been A.J., if A.J. had been meeting his brother's girlfriend for the first time - that he would have been properly dressed, and certainly wouldn't have reeked of dead fish.  And if he had a dog it would have been restrained on a leash, not allowed to knock his well-dressed visitor off her feet. 


     The three stood outside a few minutes longer making small talk.  Finally, Rick led the way into the house.  Janet was rather surprised at the tidy appearance of the interior.  Other than a pair of jeans and tennis shoes scattered on the floor of the room that was Rick's, everything was clean and orderly.  Janet told herself she wasn't being fair to Rick by automatically assuming he was a slob, simply because he was dressed in a dirty T-shirt, ragged cutoffs, and didn't smell particularly appealing.  Nonetheless, it was hard not to make comparisons between this man and the fastidious A.J.


     As he carried Janet's suitcase to the guest room, A.J. tossed over his shoulder, "I see Shelia's been visiting again."


     Janet wasn't sure what A.J. meant by that, but assumed it was a private joke between the brothers.  Rick chuckled and returned, "Oh, yeah.  She's been doin' a lot of cleaning for me lately."


       The three ended up in the kitchen where Rick opened the refrigerator and invited everyone to pick the drink of their choice.  The two men chose beer, while Janet decided on a Pepsi.   Rick and Janet spent some time getting to know one another.  A.J. put an end to the conversation when Rick starting telling stories about him from their childhood.


     "And he wet the bed until he was three.  Does he still do that, Janet?"


     "I did not!"  A.J. cried in protest.  "He's making that up, Janet."


     "Am not!"


     "Are too!"


     "Am not!"


     Janet laughed.  "Okay you guys, cool it."  She was shocked to find herself hinting at the sexual relationship she and A.J. shared when she told Rick, "No, he doesn't still wet the bed."


     A.J. rose from his seat.   "I think it's time we all go for a swim.  Then you can cook us something on that grill of yours for lunch, Rick."


     "Me?  Cook? Why me?  Why not you?"


     "Because you were the one who started with the embarrassing tall tales.  And I do mean tall, tall tales."


     "Okay, okay.  I guess I owe you one.  After we swim I'll cook."


     The three went off to change into their swimming suits. 

Rick chuckled to himself as A.J. went into the bathroom to change, while Janet closed the door to the guest room firmly behind her.  Although A.J. hadn't said anything to him, the older man had no doubt the pair was sleeping together.  But, if they were more comfortable acting the part of chaste couple throughout the weekend, far be it from him to intercede. 


     They had an enjoyable time floating, swimming, and splashing in the water.  The day was hot, and the ocean cool.  Even Marlowe joined in the fun.  He soon made friends with Janet and all was forgiven from earlier.  An hour later Rick climbed out to start the grill, leaving A.J. and Janet alone.


     Janet wasn't exactly sure what to make of Rick as the weekend progressed.  In a way, he was two people inside one body.  He was everything A.J. had told her was.  Funny, intelligent, and unorthodox in an amusing sort of fashion.  He was a man who valued the little things in life, and cared deeply for those closest to him.   She could easily see why A.J. loved him so much.  And yet he was everything her father had said he was, as well.  A troubled Vietnam veteran who was somewhat of an eccentric recluse. A man who barely traveled on the right side of the law. 


     The three decided to stay on the key for supper Saturday night.  A.J. had been planning to treat his girlfriend and brother to dinner in Miami, but they'd spent the entire afternoon in the water and were all tired.  So with a quick change of plans, A.J. and Janet volunteered to cook the evening meal while Rick showered.


     The sun was setting as A.J. was putting the finishing touches on dinner.  Janet retrieved a cold beer from the refrigerator. 


"I'll take this out to Rick.  I think he went to sit on the front porch."


     A.J. smiled at his girlfriend's thoughtfulness.  "Okay. Thanks."


     Just as Janet was about to step out onto the old veranda she realized Rick wasn’t alone.  She couldn't see Rick or his visitor, but she could easily hear their conversation. 


     "It's up to you, Rick.  If you don't want to take the job, I understand.  It could be pretty dangerous, I suppose."


     Rick laughed.  "Hell, Tommy, everything I've done since Uncle Sam shipped me to Nam has been dangerous.  I've gotten so used to it I wouldn't know how to live any other way."


     "Well, you think about it.  If you don't want to do it... like I said, I understand."


     Rick fell silent a moment, as if deep in thought.  


"How much did you say this painting is worth?"


     "According to the dealer I talked to, a hundred grand."


     "And he knows that I get thirty percent of the value of whatever I recover?"


     "Yeah, he knows."


     "In cash."


     "Yeah, I told him.  He agreed to it.  But the thing is, he's under some time constraints here.  Some not-so-nice people are threatening to hurt him real bad if he doesn't get it back soon."


     Janet was caught by surprise at Rick's next words. 


"I can probably get my kid brother to help.  He helped me on a couple of cases this winter.  He's pretty damn good. He's even workin' for a fancy detective outfit up there in Miami."


     Janet didn't know A.J. had been working with Rick.   In all the time they'd been dating he'd never mentioned it.  She wondered if it was because he knew Rick's cases weren't on the up-and-up, and she wouldn't like that, or if it was because these cases were dangerous and he didn't want her to worry.  


     She tuned back into the two men as Rick stated, "I'll take it.  I'll start on it tomorrow afternoon once A.J. and Janet - his girlfriend, head home.  After that, I'll see how it goes.  What leads I get.  I'll talk to A.J. about comin' down here a few nights to help me out if need be.  He doesn't always like the kind of work I do, but he loves the cash."


     Tommy laughed.  "Don't we all."


     The two men shook on their deal and parted ways.  Janet silently moved from the door.


     "Hey...didn't you give Rick his beer?"


     Janet looked down at her hand when she entered the kitchen.  She walked past A.J. and deposited the bottle back in the refrigerator. 


"He didn't want it."


     "Oh.  Well supper's almost ready anyway."  A.J. took note of his girlfriend’s preoccupation.  "Janet?  Janet, are you okay?"


     Janet shook off her concerns, smiled brightly, and planted a kiss on A.J.'s cheek. 


"Yes, I'm fine.  Supper smells wonderful.  Just tell me where the plates are and I'll set the table that’s out on the porch."




Chapter 22



     Rick and Janet sat alone together on the front porch at ten o'clock that evening.  A.J. had put some late nights in at Peerless Detectives the previous week.  Those late nights, and today's fresh air and sunshine, had done him in at nine-thirty.  He had said his good nights to Rick and Janet, and within five minutes was fast asleep on the living room couch. 


     Rick sat in his favorite wicker chair softly strumming his guitar, Marlowe at his feet.   Janet sat in the rocking wicker across from him.  She gently glided back and forth at a hypnotic pace in time to the music.


     Rick looked over his shoulder.  Through the window he could he see his slumbering brother.  A.J. hadn't even bothered to turn off the living room lamp, and was sound asleep despite its glow. 


     The lanky man turned back to Janet with an affectionate smile.  "He's really beat."


     "He put in a lot of hours for my father this week.   He pulled two all-night stakeouts back-to-back."


     Rick nodded in sympathy.  "I know how that is."


     Carefully Janet agreed,  "Yes...I suppose you do."


     Rick caught her pointed tone but chose to ignore it.  He went on picking at the guitar's strings.


     "A.J. tells me you do some investigation work of your own," Janet commented.


     Rick looked over at the woman, then back down at the guitar.  "A.J. told you that, huh?"


     "Well...not really.  Actually, my father told me.  He's heard of you."


     "Oh, he has?  Wow, I guess my reputation far surpasses what I knew."


     "He said the things you do could get you in trouble with the law."


     "I suppose that's true,” Rick shrugged.  “But on the other hand, I'm sure some of the things your father has done over the course of his years in business could have gotten him in trouble with the law, as well."


     "My father runs a very legitimate outfit, Rick Simon."


     Rick smiled slightly at Janet's indignant outrage.  He looked over his guitar at her.  


"I'm not saying he doesn't.  I'm just saying I'm well aware of what lengths private dicks will go to at times to get the job done.  How long has your dad been in business?"


     "Twenty-five years."


     "Then I highly doubt that in twenty-five years time he hasn't, on occasion, done something slightly...shady, shall we say?"


     Janet couldn't deny that, but didn't much appreciate someone like Rick Simon throwing it in her face.  That had always been the part of the job that upset her mother so.


     "I'm not talking about my father right now.  I'm talking about you.  Actually, I'm talking about A.J.  I don't like finding out that you take him on jobs with you."


     "I don't take A.J. on jobs with me, darlin.’ A.J. chooses to come along."


     "Well, he wouldn't if it wasn't for your influence.  The jobs you do are too dangerous, Rick."


     "And just how do you know what type of jobs I do?"


     "I know your kind, Rick Simon.  I've been around men like you my entire life."


     "That's my loss then.  If I'da known that, and met you before you met my brother, I woulda--"


     "That's not even funny!  And besides, you're not my type."


     "Just what type are you looking for, Janet?"


     "A man like A.J.  A gentle, caring man.  A man who respects me as a woman, and also as an intelligent human being who has the right to pursue her own career path.  And that's why I don't want to see him get hurt, Rick.  I love him too much to risk losing him."

     The teasing that had been in Rick's voice moments earlier was gone, and was replaced with firm conviction. 


"I won't let him get hurt, Janet.  I don't want to lose him either.  I love him, too, you know."


     Janet stopped rocking and leaned forward in her chair. 


"I don't just mean physically hurt.  The kind of work you do...well, it could leave terrible scars on a man like A.J.  A man who only sees the good in people.  A man who can't bear to see another person suffer.  Please...don't put him in that position."


     "A.J.'s tougher than you give him credit for."


     "Maybe he's not as tough as you think," Janet tossed back.  "Besides, if you guys ever get in trouble with the police over one of your jobs...well, my father would fire him, Rick.  He would.  He doesn't tolerate that kind of thing when it comes to his investigators."


     Under his breath Rick muttered, "Might be the best thing that happens to A.J."   In a voice Janet could hear, he said, "I'm sure you could iron it all out with Daddy if that ever does happen.  I mean, after all, you are sleeping with my brother...aren't you?"


     "Richard Simon!   That's no question to ask a lady!"


     Rick smiled.  "Well, I'd be sleepin' with you if I was datin' ya,' that's for sure."


     Janet glared in the darkness at Rick.  He kept his head bent over his guitar so she couldn't see his laughing eyes.  She rose in a huff and marched off to her room.


     "I'd lock the door if I was you," he called after the departing woman. 


     "Oh, you..."


     Rick chuckled when he heard the firm shut of the guest room door, then the click of the lock.


     With amusement he said to his slumbering dog,  "I guess she doesn't trust me, Marlowe."


     Momentarily, Rick felt bad about baiting Janet like that.  She seemed like a nice enough girl, and there was no doubt A.J. was madly in love with her.  And no doubt she was madly in love with him.  Regardless, Rick didn't appreciate her butting into his affairs.  What he did to earn money was his own business.  And it made him angry when she insinuated he'd ultimately hurt A.J.  He'd never hurt A.J.  Never.  Not in any way.  She had no right to imply he would.  She knew far too little about their relationship to be giving her two cents worth.  He didn't appreciate it...and he didn't want it.   And it would do Miss Janet well to remember that.


     And to remember not to eavesdrop on any more of his front porch conversations with Tommy.



Chapter 23



     Despite Janet's protests, A.J. continued to work with his brother on and off that year.  Once Janet's college resumed again in the fall, it was easier for A.J. to hide what he was doing from her.  She had classes three nights a week, leaving only two free for them.  Yet the couple's love for one another was only growing stronger.  A.J. even considered asking her to move in with him, but just as quickly thought better of the idea.  She didn't like him spending so much time with Rick.  If she lived with him, she would be more likely to try to rectify that situation.  As it was she often said to him, "I don't mind the two of you going on an occasional fishing trip, A.J.  Nor do I mind you spending Saturday's with Rick.  But I don't like you working with him.  You're going to get hurt one of these days and it will be his fault."


     A.J. took Janet down to the key several times that summer. 

Sometimes she and Rick got along quite well, but sometimes

they spent the entire weekend at each other's throats.  Upon reflection, A.J. thought they almost seemed to be jealous of one another's relationship with him.  But that was absurd.  One was his brother, while the other was his girlfriend.  He couldn't quite understand why neither Rick nor Janet seemed to see that he had enough time...and love, for both of them.


      He often wished Janet wasn't an only child.   Possibly then she could have understood what it was like to be close to a sibling.  Possibly then she could have understood why it was so important that A.J. spend time with his brother.  She had acted like she understood when, over and over again, he explained Rick's problems due to Vietnam.  When he told Janet how worried he and his mother had been about Rick for so long.  When he told her how much progress he'd made in rebuilding his and Rick's relationship, and as well, Rick and Cecilia's relationship, since arriving in Florida.  But then the next time the three of them were together, more often than not Janet would be picking a fight with Rick. 


     Regardless of what Janet thought, or how mad she got at him, A.J. was glad he was there for Rick that summer.  He didn't know if the oppressive July heat reminded Rick of the jungles of Vietnam, and that in turn precipitated the nightmares, or if there was something related to Nam weighing on Rick's mind for some reason or another.  All A.J. knew for certain, was that Rick was waking up screaming in the middle of the night more often than he wasn't.


     It had been a good day to be on the water.  By noon the temperature was hovering around one hundred and two degrees.  The heavy humidity made it feel closer to a hundred and twenty - at least in A.J.'s opinion. 


     Janet was gone for the weekend on a 'girls' getaway' as she and Pam referred to it.  Because of that fact, A.J. didn't stay in Miami on Friday night, but rather drove down to Pirate's Key at the end of the working day.  He and Rick rose at dawn on Saturday morning.  They spent a few hours checking and recasting Rick's nets.  When that was done they anchored the boat on the crystal clear water and spent the rest of the day swimming, snorkeling, and eating out of the picnic basket A.J. had packed. It was too hot to do much of anything else.


     It was seven o'clock that evening before the brothers and Marlowe docked the boat.  Rick volunteered to grill fish and potatoes, while a sunburned A.J. sought relief in Rick's medicine cabinet. 


     No breeze off the ocean brought cooler temperatures as the sun slid down the western sky.  The humidity was still thick as butter, and it was ninety degrees yet when Rick and A.J. said their good nights at ten-thirty.   


     Just the act of stripping down to his gym shorts and turning back the bed covers caused heavy drops of sweat to roll down A.J.'s face and sunburned chest.  For just a brief moment, the sheet and pillowcase felt cool to the blond's sticky skin.  The moment passed all too quickly, however.  The fan sitting on the dresser that ran continuously brought no relief.  Neither did the open windows, open bedroom door, or open front door out in the living room.  A.J. tossed and turned for what seemed like hours.  His tired body craved sleep, but the uncomfortable air temperature wouldn't allow it.  He finally rose around midnight and padded barefoot out to the kitchen without turning on any lights.  He poured himself a glass of cold orange juice, added three ice cubes to it, and carried the beverage to the front porch.  He spent the next half hour slowly rocking back and forth in the dark while sipping his drink. 


     When A.J. thought he might finally have a chance of drifting off to sleep he rose and quietly reentered the house.  He placed his empty glass in the sink, rinsed it out, then navigated toward the guest room once more.  As he passed the open door of Rick's room he heard his brother's soft snores accompanied by those of Marlowe. 


     Guess those two aren't having any trouble sleeping, the blond chuckled to himself.


     A.J. tossed and turned a while longer, before finally dropping off to sleep shortly after one a.m.  He was awake again at two.  Only this time it wasn't the heat that brought him out of a sound sleep, but rather his brother's terror-filled screams.


     "No!  No!   Oh my God!  No!   Get out of there!  Get out!"


     A.J. shot straight up in bed.  He was disoriented at first regarding what had so suddenly brought him awake, and why his heart was pounding uncontrollably in his chest.  Then they came again.  Rick's screams.  The screams that echoed throughout the house and cut into the heavy stillness of the night.


     A.J. flew out of bed and ran for his brother's room.  He flipped on the light switch as he entered.  Rick, wearing nothing but a pair of khaki boxer shorts, was rolling wildly on the bed.  The top sheep was tangled around his feet.  The bottom, fitted sheet had popped loose from the corners of the mattress and was heaped beneath Rick, giving A.J. the indication that the dream had been silently tormenting his brother for quite some time already.


     Rivers of sweat ran down Rick's face where his head thrashed restlessly on his pillow.  The hair on his upper lip, and the hair on his chest, was gleaming with dampness.  His arms flailed about as if giving an order.  As if beckoning someone back to him. 


"No!  Get out of there!"  The sleeping man cried.  "Get the hell out of there!  Come back!"


     The frightened Marlowe bolted past A.J.   He squeezed his big body in between the living room wall and Grandpa Simon's old recliner, cowering in the dark corner.


     "Come back!  No!  No!  Get out of there! Get out!"


     A.J. swiftly crossed to the bed, yelling over his brother's shouts.  "Rick!  Rick, come on!  Wake up!"


     When Rick's cries didn't abate, but only increased in volume and terror, A.J. reached down and firmly encased the struggling man's naked shoulders. 


"Rick!  Rick!  Rick, wake up!  Wake up!"


     Because this wasn't the first time A.J. had held his brother during a nightmare that summer he knew what to expect.  As soon as he touched Rick, the older man shot up in bed like a flare being fired from a gun.  In a state suspended somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, Rick fought against the man his mind perceived to be keeping him from where he so desperately needed to go.


     Rick violently swung his body from side to side, trying to break A.J.'s hold.  His feet fought with the tangled sheet and he attempted to jab his assailant with his elbows.   The first time he'd done that, several weeks earlier, he'd caught A.J. by surprise...and a sharp elbow had caught him painfully in the groin.  They'd end up in a heap on the floor with Rick's fists raining down on A.J.'s chest and face.  Fortunately, the sleeping man's blows had been off center, leaving A.J. no bruises to have to explain to anyone.  How A.J. ever managed to get the upper hand that night and restrain Rick he still didn't know.  From that point on he knew what to expect when Rick was in the throes of one of these nightmares, and held onto his brother for dear life until Rick literally screamed himself awake. 


     "No!  No!  Nooooooooooo!"


     Rick's cries lost strength, and then finally died away, as he came to full consciousness.  For a moment he wasn't even aware of A.J. kneeling behind him on the mattress, with his arms wrapped firmly around him.  Rick's breath came in short, rapid pants.  His wide-open eyes stared blankly at the wall in front of him.  When everything began to come into focus for the older man he blinked several times and swallowed hard.  It was then that he tried to loosen himself from A.J.'s grasp. 


     "Let go a' me," he growled.


     Without answering, A.J. did as he was told.  He moved a few feet away from the bed but remained standing there, looking down at his sibling.


     Rick ran a shaking hand over his damp face.  "I told you to leave me alone when I have one of these things."


     Fully expecting this argument, A.J. firmly countered, "And I told you I wasn't going to do that."   


     Rick dropped his hand and turned to give his brother a hard stare. 


"Do you wanna end up on the ground again with me beatin' the shit outta ya' with my fists?  Is that what you want, you stubborn little fool?"

     A.J. crossed his arms over his chest.  "First of all, you didn't beat the shit out of me.  And secondly--"


     "Well, I coulda', A.J.!"  Rick shouted as he untangled the sheet from his legs and stood.  "For whatever reason you were just lucky that night!  I coulda' really hurt you!  For God's sake what if I woulda' gotten a hold of your head?  I mighta pounded it right into the floor until I'd broken your skull or worse!  Now I told you to stay away from me when I get like this and I mean it!"


     Rick snatched his Marlboros and matches off the dresser and made a beeline for the front door.  A.J. watched him go, but didn't attempt to follow.  Instead, he walked around the corner and opened the bathroom linen closet.  In order to give himself and his brother a little distance from each other, A.J. changed the sheets on Rick's bed.  Only after he deposited the sweat dampened ones in the hamper did he head for the front porch.


     Marlowe must have felt safe in his world once again because when A.J. walked out onto the dark porch the dog was dozing near his master's feet.  Rick stood leaning against the porch railing, looking out over the front yard.  He flicked an ash off his cigarette before bringing it to his lips once more.  He took a long, slow pull, then blew out the smoke. 


     A.J. sat down in the wicker rocker.  Softly, he asked into the night, "What's going on, Rick?"


     Rick briefly looked over at his brother before returning his attention to the front yard. 




     "Nothing's goin' on, A.J.  Forget it."


     "No," A.J. shook his head.  "I'm not going to forget it.  These nightmares of yours are getting worse.  They're happening more often.  Now there's got to be a reason for it."


     Rick gave a mirthless laugh.  "Oh, there's a reason all right.  Uncle Sam dropped me in the middle of a goddamn war in a godforsaken jungle where people were dyin' all around me every minute of every day."




     "Spare me your pity, A.J.," came Rick's bitter words.  "I don't want it."


     "I don't pity you.'re my brother.  I worry about you."


     "Well, you don't need to."


     A.J. studied his brother's lanky form.  "I think I do.  You can't go on waking up like this night after night.  I'm no fool.  I know you don't go back to sleep after one of these things.  It's dangerous for you to be operating that boat out there on the ocean if you haven't had enough rest.  You can't--"


     Rick whirled around to face his brother.  


"A.J., would you just leave me alone!"  He commanded sharply.  "Just...just go back to bed.  Or back to Miami!  For all I care you can go home to San Diego in the morning and never come back here!"


      Try as he might, A.J. couldn't keep the hurt out of his voice.  "Is that what you really want?"

     Rick turned to stare out at the yard once more. 


"Yes, it's what I really want.  Hell, I've wanted it since the day you showed up on my doorstep back in January.  Just...just go home, A.J.   You don't belong here.  Go home."


      A.J. gazed up at his brother's profile a long minute before he finally rose from his seat.  As he reached for the screen door's handle he apologized quietly, "I'm sorry.  I thought me being here was okay with you.  I thought...well, I guess I thought we've had some pretty good times together this past year.  I was just doing for you what I know you'd do for me if our positions were reversed."


     With that, A.J. entered the dark house.  Within a few short seconds Rick heard the door to the guest room close.


      Rick took a final drag on his cigarette before hurling it down in the dirt.  He blew out the smoke, then turned to sit on the porch railing.  He leaned his tired upper body against the support post and gave a heavy sigh. 


"Damn it, Marlowe," Rick whispered, his voice choked with tears.  "Why the hell do I always ruin the good things?"



Chapter 24



     The house on Pirate's Key was quiet when A.J. rose at seven o'clock on Sunday morning.  He hadn't slept since returning to bed after leaving Rick on the porch.  He thought he heard his brother come in at some point during the night, but he wasn't sure.  With the fan going in his bedroom, and the door closed, all outside noises were muffled at best.


     It didn't take long for A.J. to pack in his gym bag with what few clothes he had brought for the weekend.  There was no sign of Marlowe or Rick when the blond walked out of his bedroom and into the bathroom a few minutes later.  A.J. made quick work of showering, shaving, dressing, and brushing his teeth.  If Rick wanted him gone so damn bad then he'd go.  The more he thought about it, A.J. didn't know why he just hadn't left at three o'clock that morning.  He supposed it was because he was tired and had hopes of getting a few hours of sleep.  Between the heat...and Rick's angry words, sleep never came, however.


     The day promised to be as hot as the one that preceded it.   The muggy air enveloped A.J. as he stepped out onto the front porch.  He trotted down the steps and unlocked the Mustang.  He took note that Rick's truck was parked in its usual spot, but didn't bother to go look for his brother.  He threw his gym bag in the back seat, and was just about to climb in the front, when Rick appeared from around the corner of the house. 


     "A.J.!  Wait a minute."


     A.J. wouldn't look at his brother as he shook his head.  "No.  I have to get going."


     "A.J...please,"  Rick beseeched when he came to stand beside the car.  "I wanna talk to you."


     Those words got A.J. to meet his brother's eyes.  "I think you said all you needed to last night."


     "That's just it, A.J.  I didn't say anything I needed to last night, and just a lot of shit I didn't need to."


     A.J. was mad enough...and hurt enough, to simply get in the car and head for Miami without paying any mind to Rick's pleas.  Something in his brother's voice stopped him, however, when Rick implored softly, "Please, A.J.  It's important.  I need to talk to you.  After that...well, after that you do what you think is best."


     Rick mentally held his breath as A.J. spent one long, indecisive moment with one foot in his car.   The blond finally reached a decision in Rick's favor when he stepped away from the Mustang and shut the door.


     Rick gave his brother a small smile of gratitude, then led the way to the front porch.  When they came to the top step Rick sat down.  A.J. followed suit without realizing Rick had deliberately recreated a part of their childhood.  The brothers had spent many an hour in years-gone-by sitting on Grandma and Grandpa's front steps laughing, joking, fighting, and hashing out the problems of the day.


     Rick pulled a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket.  He lit it, inhaled, then began to talk as he looked out over the front yard.  


"First of all, I owe you an apology for the things I said last night.  I didn't mean them.  None of them.  Especially the

part about you goin' back to San Diego."


     Those words hadn't been easy for Rick, but the next ones

were even harder. 


"I...I didn't mean it when I told you I've wanted you to leave since January.  It's been good...having you here.  It's made things...better.  Easier.  It's been nice having a very important member of my family here.   I don't want you to go home to San Diego, but if you do...well, after last night and all I'll understand."


     A.J. didn't say anymore than, "I wasn't intending to go back to San Diego."


     Rick gave a soft, grateful smile at his brother's words. 


"And you're right, we have had some good times this year.  Really good times.   Times I'm not ready to let go of yet.  And well...I know you're worried about me and just tryin' to help in the only way you know how.  I appreciate you sayin' I'd do the same for you if our positions were reversed."


     "You would," came A.J.'s firm declaration.


     "You've always thought too highly of me, kid," Rick stated sadly.  "I ain't the good guy you make me out to be."


     A.J. turned to give his brother a skeptical look.  "So you're saying you wouldn't be there for me if I needed you?"


     ", I'm not saying that.  But there's others...others who I've let down.  I'm not the hero you think I am, A.J."


     "Those men in your dream?"


     For the first time Rick looked at A.J.  "What?"


     "The people you say you let down.  Are they those men you keep dreaming about?  The ones you keep telling to get out of there?"

     A.J. half expected to make his brother angry by bringing up the reoccurring nightmare, but he felt he had to take that chance.  The only way Rick was going to begin to come to terms with all that had happened to him in Vietnam was to break down and talk about it.


     Softly, Rick replied, "Yeah...yeah, those are the ones."


     "What happened, Rick?"


     Rick plainly saw the compassion in his brother's eyes and heard the concern in his voice.   He remembered last night, and knew this time he couldn't risk turning away from A.J. with angry words.         


     He stalled a long time, however, as he took puff after puff on his cigarette.    He finally threw it down in the dirt and reached for another one.  A.J.'s hand came up and stopped Rick's motion.


     "No," the blond commanded. "Tell me."


     Rick stared into A.J.'s face.  He finally turned to focus on the blue Mustang ahead of him.  He folded his hands together loosely and let them hang between his spread knees.   


"'s not easy for me to talk about, A.J.  It's not easy to have you here when the dreams come.  I...I'm the oldest.  Your older brother.  I'm supposed to spare you the hard stuff.  The pain in life."


     "Maybe when I was six and you made sure I got to my first grade classroom safely," A.J. agreed.  "Or when I was eight and you pulled Billy Brummel off me.  Or when I was ten and Dad died.    But I'm not six, or eight, or ten anymore, Rick.  Like you, I'm a grown man."

     "Yeah," Rick slowly nodded.  "I guess you are."


     After a moment Rick took a deep breath and began. 


"They were younger than me.  All eight of 'em.  Not a one of them was over nineteen.  I was twenty-five.  They called me Sarge.  Or sometimes, The Old Man.   And I guess to a green kid of nineteen in the middle of a war I was an old man.  They were in my platoon.  A good bunch of guys.  The one thing they had in common is that they were all young, naïve, and scared.  But they trusted me and did anything I asked of 'em, cause they knew I'd be right next to 'em every step of the way.  They kinda looked upon me as an older brother I suppose, and I guess I didn't discourage that.  I mean, of all the things I knew how to do, being an older brother was the one I had excelled at pretty well."


     A.J. gave an affectionate smile.  He raised a hand and placed it on Rick's shoulder for a moment, squeezing softly.


     Rick looked at his brother long enough to return the smile before continuing. 


"One day me and a good friend of mine, a guy by the name of Ray Maynard, were sent by helicopter to deliver some classified information to a colonel back at another base.  I remember right before I left I told my kids, as I called them, to be careful and not to get in any trouble.  Of course they laughed and joked about all the crap they were gonna do while I was gone, and then they told me to bring back some good looking women for them.


     "When Ray and I flew back in two days later our base camp was under fire.  Every hut, every tent, was burning.  Artillery shells and machine guns were going off all around us.  The chopper pilot didn't want to land, but I threatened to take the controls away from him if he didn't.  Me and Ray jumped out of that thing before it ever hit the ground.  It was mass chaos.  People were running everywhere.  Some were shouting orders. Some were doing what they'd been told.  And others were simply fleeing in terror.  It seemed like the whole jungle was on fire.  I looked around for my platoon and finally found some of them defending a far corner of the base.  I didn't see any of the eight guys that normally patrolled with me, however.  When I started asking about them someone told me Robbins had ordered them into the jungle.  That Robbins...he was a crazy son-of-a- bitch.  A half-assed soldier who didn't care for anyone but himself.  How he ever made sergeant I still don't know.  That jungle, was just one big fireball.  Charlie had overrun it hours earlier.  No one shoulda been in there.  No one.  But they were.  All eight of 'em.  I tried to find them.  Ray helped me.  We damn near got ourselves killed more than once, but I didn't care.  Finally I heard someone screaming.  When I got to him, he was burned so bad I didn't recognize him.  His looked like a charred marshmallow.  He was one of mine, A.J.  One of my kids.  He was eighteen years old.   He was the only one that was left alive.  He died the next day.   In his delirium he kept asking me..."  Rick swallowed back his tears.  "Kept asking me why I'd sent them into the jungle to die.  Why I'd forsaken them.  Why I didn't help them."


     Rick finally turned to look at his brother.  Hot tears coursed steadily down his face. 


"I didn't have an answer for him, A.J.   I didn't. . .I didn’t have an answer.  I still don't."


     As Rick's silent tears changed to racking sobs, A.J. pulled his older brother to him.  He wanted to tell Rick it wasn't his fault, none of it, and that his self-incriminations were a foolish waste of time.   But A.J. correctly sensed that Rick wasn't ready to accept a pardon of any kind.  So A.J. simply held his brother tightly, as Rick cried for the young friends who had so tragically died in a war that should have never been.



Chapter 25



     Although that was by far not the end of Rick's problems relating to Vietnam, the revealing of that harrowing incident to A.J. turned out to be a small part of the healing process.  It would be years later before Rick had another nightmare related to his service during that war.  Not until his friend Ray Maynard was killed in 1986 in a drive-by shooting did bad dreams haunt his sleep again.


     A.J. was quick to forgive his sibling the words exchanged that night on the porch.  The brothers seemed to grow closer after the incident, and A.J. knew once and for all he was in Miami to stay.  Or at least to stay until the day came when he could convince either Rick to return to San Diego, or their mother to settle near them in Florida.   Whichever the case, A.J. had every intention of eventually having his family back together again all in one place.


     That Christmas proved to be one of the best A.J. - or his family, had ever had.  They hadn't been together at Christmas since Rick had been discharged from the service in December of 1971.  A.J. was determined this holiday season would be different. 


     The brothers spent Thanksgiving Day on A.J.'s boat.  The youngest Simon cooked a small turkey with all the trimmings.  They watched football and placed a call to their mother.  They were invited to Myron Fowler's home for dessert later that evening.  This was the first time Rick and Myron met.  All in all the evening didn't go too bad, considering Myron already harbored a strong dislike for the unorthodox Rick and his methods as a private investigator.  Likewise, Rick didn't have much use for Myron Fowler, who only saw things his way, and in Rick's opinion, was working A.J. to death just to line his own pockets.  Even their common backgrounds as decorated Marine combat veterans, Myron from World War II, and Rick, of course, from Vietnam, didn't help bridge the men's differences.  But for the sake of Janet and A.J., the two men held their tongues as best they could, and if nothing else were civil to one another while the young couple was within earshot. 


     Two weeks before Christmas Rick suggested that A.J. spend Christmas Eve on the Key.  Rick said he'd grill out steaks and potatoes, and even try his hand at baking a holiday cake that was a recipe of their mother's.  A.J. readily agreed to the plan.  Janet would be spending Christmas Eve with her extended family at the home of her uncle, Myron's younger brother, as was a longstanding custom.  She would then spend Christmas morning with her father, but join A.J. and Rick on A.J.'s boat at noon for a traditional Christmas dinner, while Myron cooked at his own home for his brother's family and a large assortment of other relatives and friends.  After dinner, the Simon brothers and Janet planned to take the boat out for a holiday cruise on the ocean.


     Janet and A.J. spent much of Christmas Eve together doing some last minute shopping and running one very important errand.  They parted ways late in the afternoon, when Janet left to be with her family, and A.J. headed down to Pirate's Key.


     Darkness was just starting to fall when A.J. parked the Mustang in front of Rick's house.  He smiled to himself when he saw the gaily-lit tree shining out from the living room window.  Rick had mentioned weeks earlier that he hadn't celebrated Christmas with a tree since he'd been in his mother's home for the holiday three years before.  What had changed this year for Rick, A.J. didn't know, but he was glad to see his brother was in the holiday spirit. 


     A.J. entered the house to the sound of Bing Crosby's White Christmas playing softly on the radio.  He walked out the back door to where Rick was taking five good sized steaks off the grill. 


     "Hey, little brother," Rick smiled in greeting, "Merry Christmas.  Grab that bowl of potatoes, will you?" 


     A.J. picked up the bowl Rick had placed the hot baked potatoes in and followed his brother to the kitchen. 


     The table was set with a red, white, and green tablecloth decorated with holly berries.  A centerpiece with Santa Claus and his sleigh sat in the middle.  Two red plates adorned with painted Christmas trees and two wine glasses sat in front of the chairs Rick and A.J. normally used.


     "What's all this?"  A.J. asked as he placed the potatoes on the countertop.  "Where'd you get this stuff?"


     "Found it in the attic when I was lookin' for decorations for the Christmas tree," Rick said from where he was buried in the refrigerator pulling out salads.  "I figured since no one had cleaned out the house in the years since Grandpa's death, all the holiday decorations were probably still stashed around here some place, too."


     "Looks nice," A.J. commented.  "Very festive."


     'Thanks," Rick replied as he began sitting food on the table.


     "Uh...hey, do you mind holding off on that a minute?"


     Rick turned to look at his brother.  "Why?"


     "Well, I've got something in the car for you...a present that I need to give you."  A.J. moved to turn the oven on low and reached for the aluminum foil.  "I'll wrap the steaks and potatoes with this.  We can set them in the oven for a few minutes so they stay warm."


     "A.J, whatever you've got for me can wait.  Supper's ready now.  Besides, I thought we agreed that we were gonna exchange gifts tomorrow at your place after Janet gets there.  I've got some presents for her, too, you know."


     "I know," A.J. acknowledged, while wrapping foil over the hot food.  "But this can't wait.  Not even until after we eat. 

It's something special."

     Rick looked at his brother as though he thought A.J. had lost his mind, but finally gave in and did what A.J. requested of him.  After all the food he'd just gotten out of the refrigerator was put back Rick said, "Okay.  Go get whatever it is that's so important, but hurry up about it.  I'm hungry."


     A.J. smiled and held out a hand to stop Rick from following him.  "You wait right here."


     Rick's eyebrows rose.  "Here?  As in here in the kitchen?"

     "Yeah!  Right there!"  A.J. called from the living room.  "I'll be back in just a minute."


     Rick affectionately rolled his eyes at his younger brother's enthusiasm.  He looked down at the dog who was just as confused as he was.   "I think all this Christmas stuff has made him soft in the head, Marlowe."


     Not more than thirty seconds later Rick heard his brother call from the front porch. 


"Close your eyes!"


     "Close my eyes?"


     "Yeah, close your eyes or I'm not coming in!"


     "A.J...have you lost your mind?"

     "No!  Just close your eyes."


     Rick gave an exasperated sigh, but did as his brother ordered.  "Okay, okay!  My eyes are closed!"


     Rick heard the front door open and shut.  The sound of A.J.'s voice grew nearer.  "Good.  Keep them closed until I tell you you can open them."


     "This better be worth all the trouble I'm goin' through for you," Rick grumbled.


     A.J. smiled at the tiny woman whose hand he was holding. 


"Oh...I think you'll find it is."


     Rick could tell A.J. was in the kitchen with him once again when he heard his brother instruct, "Okay.  You can open your eyes now."


     "I can't imagine what it is that you've got for me that required me to stand here like a fool with my eyes..." Rick Simon started to growl.  The sentence trailed off unfinished, as he caught sight of the woman standing before him with tears in her eyes. 


     As though not believing whom he was seeing, Rick whispered,  "Mom?"


     Cecilia swallowed hard and nodded.  She wouldn't have been able to speak had she wanted to.  She held out her hands, opening her arms wide to her oldest son. 


     Rick hesitated for only a second before stepping into his mother's embrace.  Cecilia sobbed as she hugged her son for all she was worth.  She hadn't seen him since he'd left San Diego on his Harley Davidson in January of 1972.  Almost three years ago now.  Three very long years.  Before their embrace came to an end, Rick was crying as well.


     A.J. stood off to the side watching with tears in his own eyes.  For the moment, he was not a part of this poignant reunion, which was as it should be.  This time was for only his mother and older brother.   A.J. got all the rewards he needed out of knowing that he had kept the promise he'd made to both his mother and himself one year ago.  He'd brought his family back together again.   


     Rick finally pulled away from his mother, but only long enough to reach out an arm and beckon A.J. into their embrace.  


     The three of them stood together like that for a long time - holding one another in Rick's kitchen, while they laughed, and cried, and talked, and cried some more.



Chapter 26



     The holiday week passed swiftly, and all too soon Rick and A.J. were seeing their mother off on an airplane bound for San Diego.   It had been a good seven days for all of them.  Cecilia and Rick had spent some time alone on Pirate's Key getting to know one another again, and mending a few fences along the way.  The three Simons spent a lot of time together as a family that week too, enjoying excursions on A.J.'s boat and dinner out at some of Miami's finer restaurants.


     Cecilia got to know Janet, as well.  She immediately felt a strong affection for the young woman.  She liked the picture her mind's eye presented her concerning A.J.'s future with this ambitious, intelligent, beautiful girl.


     She even met Myron, and didn't find him to be nearly as obnoxious as Rick had warned her she would.  She thought he was like any father would be who had raised a daughter alone, concerned for Janet's safety and well-being.  Myron told Cecilia privately that he thought the world of A.J., and also thought his daughter and her son made for a perfect match.


     After Cecilia returned home and the new year began, Rick and A.J. settled comfortably into 1975.  A.J. continued working at Peerless with one year down and one year to go on his apprenticeship.  Rick continued to make his living on Pirate's Key from both his fishing, and any other job opportunity that came his way.    Janet continued to work for her father, as well, while attending school. At the rate she was going she hoped to complete her education, including graduating from law school, by 1981.  It sounded like a long way off yet, but that was the best she could do while attending classes only part-time.  By now her father had resigned himself to her dream of becoming an attorney.  He probably would have even allowed her to quit her job as his office manager, while still financing her education, so she could attend school full-time had she asked that of him.  But she wouldn't ask.  She'd never give him that satisfaction.  She wanted to prove to him that she, a woman, could work just as hard as any man in order to attain her goals.  Just as hard as Myron himself had worked to feed his family back in his days as a struggling private investigator.


     A.J. and Janet seemed to fall more deeply in love, if that was possible, as the year progressed.  The only source of dissention between them remained Rick.  It's not that Janet didn't like Rick, she did.  She knew that deep down inside he was a good person who cared about his family, and especially A.J., very much.   But on the surface he had a multitude of faults she didn't hesitate to point out to A.J. on a frequent basis.  His free-lance investigation work continued to worry her.  Even more so, when A.J. went with him on a job. 


     Janet was pacing back and forth in the small living area of A.J.'s boat one Sunday night in June.  He was supposed to meet her there at five p.m.  He had spent the weekend on the key with Rick, but was to be back in Miami by four.  He and Janet had made plans for a movie and dinner out.  Now it was after ten o'clock and Janet was worried sick.  She'd tried calling Rick's house several times since five-thirty but had gotten no answer.  She didn't know what to think.  Could A.J. have been in a car accident coming back to Miami?  Or had the brothers had an accident on Rick's boat over the weekend?  They could have drowned and no one would have even realized they were missing.  Just when the distraught Janet was about to call her father for suggestions on what to do next, she heard a key turn in the locked door above her head.  Within seconds A.J.'s tennis shoes and jean clad legs appeared.  He bent his body to peer down the steps at his girlfriend, trying to gauge her anger.


     At the moment, Janet was more relieved than angry.  She rushed over to greet the blond as his feet hit the floor. 


"A.J., where were you?  I've been so worried about you!  Why are you so lat--"


     Janet stopped her rapid-fire exclamations to gently grasp

A.J.'s chin and turn his face up to the light. 


"A.J...what happened?  Your face is all black and blue.  My heavens look at this eye!  Can you see out of it?"

     A.J. laid his hand on top of Janet's and pulled it away from his face.   He gave her a reassuring smile. 


"I'm fine, babe.  Fine.  It's nothing serious.  And yes, I can see out of the eye."


     Janet ushered the blond to the couch and made him sit down. 


"Were you in a car accident?" 


     "No, no, nothing like that.  Rick and I...well, we had a little altercation with a guy, that's all."


     Janet stepped away from A.J. and crossed her arms over her chest.  Any solicitous ministrations she was about to give her boyfriend were forgotten. 


"What kind of an altercation?  And who was this guy?"


     A.J. did his best to appear pitiful as he looked up into Janet's angry face.  "You know...just a disagreement.  It was no big deal."


     "No big deal!  A.J., this is the third time this year you've come home beaten up after a weekend at your brother's place!  You two were working together again, weren't you?"

     A.J. rose so he was on equal footing with his irate girlfriend.  "Janet, it was just a little--"


     "Just a little job.  Yes, I know, A.J.  That's what you say every time you come home looking like this.  'Don't worry about it, Janet.’  ‘It's no big deal, Janet.’  ‘Nothing will happen, Janet.'  You're starting to sound like a broken record."


     "Well, what do you want me to do?"  A.J. implored with outstretched arms.  "Tell Rick no?"

     "That's exactly what I want you to do!  There's no reason you need to be working with your brother!  You don't need the money!  You already have a job working for Daddy."


     "Maybe I work with Rick for no other reason than because I like to," A.J. stubbornly argued.  "I want to." 


     "Well, I don't want you to!"  Janet shouted.  She uncrossed her arms and waved her hands in the air.  "I've told you that before.  I've told you over and over again that Rick's only going to get you in trouble!  He's going to ruin your reputation as a private investigator if he doesn't get you killed first!   I've been here since five o'clock waiting for you!  By six I was worried sick!  And now I find out you and Rick were off playing cowboys and Indians like a couple of little kids!  You don't even realize the danger he puts you in.  You come home bruised and battered, but grinning from ear to ear because you just spent the weekend with your beloved big brother!  For heaven's sake, A.J., when--"


     "Janet, will you marry me?"

     "When are you going to learn that Rick Simon is nothing but a Peter Pan who's never going to grow....what did you say?"

     "I said will you marry me?"


     Puzzled concern replaced Janet's anger. 


"A.J...are you all right?"  Janet walked over and began to gently probe through the thick blond hair.  "Did you get hit on the head?"  She urged him back toward the couch.  "Sit down.  Let me have a look."


     A.J. grasped Janet's hands.  He pulled them away from his head and stood with them encased in his own.  "No, I didn't get hit on the head, and yes, I'm all right.  I want to know if you'll marry me."

     There was no mistaking the love in A.J.'s eyes, or the

sincerity in his voice.


     "A.J...I...I..." Janet had to stop as her eyes filled with unexpected tears.


     "This wasn't how I had planned to ask you," A.J. stated in way of apology.  "I was going to take you to dinner.  Back to the Coral Reef where we went on our first date.  I wanted to ask you properly, but just now...well, I couldn't wait."


     Janet made a sound that was both a laugh and a cry.  "Just now?  When I was so angry?"


     A.J. pulled her into a tight embrace.  He bent down and placed his lips gently on hers.  "Yes, just now."  He murmured.   "You're beautiful when you're angry, did you know that?"


     It was a long time before the young couple broke apart.  A.J. swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom.  He sat her gently on his bed, then reached in the drawer of the night stand.  His used his body to block what he was doing.  When he turned to face Janet he dropped gallantly to one knee.  He picked up her left hand, looked into her face, and asked with a wealth of deep emotion,   "Janet Madison Fowler, will you marry me?"


     Janet gasped at the beautiful solitaire diamond engagement ring A.J. presented to her.  It had to have cost him two thousand dollars if it cost him a penny.


     "Oh... A.J." She whispered awestruck.  Her native Floridian speech pattern put the accent on the J in a way that always amused the blond man...and turned him on.   "A.J., it's beautiful.  I..."  Janet gazed down into the handsome face, blurred now by the tears that filled her eyes once again.  "Yes.  Yes!  Of course, yes."


     In her excitement, Janet threw her body forward to encircle A.J.'s neck.  Her impulsive move knocked him off balance.  They both ended up on the floor in a tangled, laughing heap of arms and legs.  When they had straightened themselves they sat upright and leaned back against A.J.'s bed.


     Janet allowed him to slip the diamond on her finger.  She

reached up and gently ran a hand over his bruised face and swollen eye. 


"This will be a night to remember.  To tell our children about.  Who would have ever thought I'd agree to marry a guy in need of a shower, clean clothes, and sporting a black eye to boot?"


     A.J. leaned over and kissed her.  "I have a feeling you'll make an honest man out of me yet, Miss Fowler."


     Janet gave a throaty chuckle before she allowed herself to be lost in the pleasures of A.J.'s roving hands.  "I don't know if I'll manage to do that or not.  But I'm sure going to try."





Chapter 27



     A.J. parked his car in front of Rick's house shortly after ten o'clock the following Saturday morning.  Rick was already back from fishing and was sitting on the front porch with a net sprawled out around him.


     "What are you doing?"  A.J. asked of the brother he hadn't seen since the previous Sunday.  They’d talked on the phone twice that week, but ecause of an all-night stakeout, A.J. had been forced to cancel their customary Wednesday night dinner.     


     Rick glanced up at his sibling who had just stepped onto the porch.  "Fixing this net.  Something got caught in it last night and managed to eat a hole through the damn thing tryin' to get out."


     "Want some help?"




     A.J. sat down Indian style across from Rick, offering what aid he could. 


     "You sure look happy this morning," Rick commented before bending back over his work.    "You have a good week with old man Fowler?"



     "Pretty good," A.J. nodded.  "He agreed to let me marry his daughter."


     "That's ni..."  Rick's head shot up.  "He what?


     A.J.'s bright grin outshone the morning sun.  "He agreed to let me marry his daughter."


     Rick studied his brother's face a moment, looking for signs of a practical joke.  "You're not kiddin', are you?"


     A.J. eyes twinkled with happiness.  "Nope."




     "When are we getting married?  Or when did Myron agree to allow us to?"


     "When are you gettin' married?"


     "We haven't set a date.  Janet wants to finish school first."


     "Isn't that kind of a long ways off yet?  I thought she told me a few months back she's got five or six years to go."


     "She does.  And yes, it is rather a long ways off.  At least too far off for my liking.  I think I can convince her to change her mind, though.  I'd like to get married when she gets her Bachelor's degree.  That should be in about two years.  No longer than two and a half.  Then from there, if she still wants to go on to law school, that's fine with me.  I mean, there's no reason why a married woman can't do that, is there?"


     "No," Rick agreed.  "I don't see why not."  He gave a sly smile.  "Unless, of course, you two get busy right away and start making babies."


     "I don't think that will happen.  Janet's schooling is too important to her.  But afterwards...after she passes the bar, we may start doing just that."


     "Making babies?"   


     "Yeah," A.J. smiled.  "I'd like four."


     "Well, make sure you name one of the little buggers after his ole' Uncle Rick."  Rick looked off in the distance as he mused out loud with self-satisfaction,  "Richard Lawrence Simon the second.  I like the sound of that."


     A.J. laughed.  "Don't count on it if Janet has anything to say about it."


     Rick chuckled.  "She's still pissed at me over that black eye, huh?"


     "Yeah.  But she'll get over it," A.J. dismissed.


       Rick wasn't so sure of that.   Unbeknownst to A.J., Janet had placed a call to Rick on Monday evening and reamed him out royally for putting A.J. in danger...again.  He and Janet being related through marriage was an interesting thought, to say the least. 


     "Have you called Mom yet to tell her the news?"


     A.J. nodded.  "Janet and I called her last night."


     "What'd she say?"


     "She was thrilled.  She said she thought Janet would make me a wonderful wife, and her a wonderful daughter-in-law.  She was only disappointed because we haven't set a date.   I think she'd like to see us get married as soon as possible."


     "Yeah," Rick agreed.  "Mothers are like that.  She's probably already dreaming about a whole passel of blond headed grandchildren."


     A.J. chuckled.  "Yeah, probably."


     The brothers talked for a few more minutes about A.J.'s engagement and the special lady in his life.  Rick never let on that he thought this engagement might turn out to be a mistake for both Janet and A.J., and he never would.  As long as A.J. was happy, then Rick would be happy for him.  Their conversation came to an abrupt halt when a man rounded the corner of Rick's house.


     Rick nodded in greeting.  "Hey, Raul."


     "Hey, Rick.  Hey, A.J."


     "Hi, Raul," A.J. smiled.


     The dark headed man came to sit in the rocker on Rick's front porch.  As his feet slowly pushed the chair back and forth he told Rick of a job he had for him.


     "But it will probably take two men," Raul finished.  "And it is likely that the work could prove to be rather dangerous."  He rose to leave as quietly as he had arrived.  "You think it over and let me know, Rick.  You know where to find me."


     "Okay, Raul.  I'll get back to you."


     Rick returned his attention to his net. 


     A.J. waited as long as his patience would allow before asking, "Are you going to take the job?" 


     Rick gave a nonchalant shrug.  "I don't know.  You heard him.  He said it would take two men.  I don't really know of anyone I can work with as well as I work with you."


     "And so who's saying I won't work with you on this one?"


     " know, now that you're engaged and all, I thought you might not be willin' to work with your big brother anymore.  I mean, I know Janet doesn't really approve of me or what I do--"


     "Whether or not Janet approves is neither here nor there," A.J. stated firmly.  "She doesn't have any say-so in the matter."


     "You're still sportin' that shiner from last weekend,

so I--"


     "So what?  I can do this job better than most guys with two good eyes," A.J. indignantly declared.


     Rick hid his smile.  "Yeah...yeah I suppose you can.  Well, I guess if you really want to help me I'll tell Raul yes."


     "I really want to help you," A.J. confirmed.  "When do we start?"


     Rick threw the net off his legs and rose.  "Right now.  Let's go find Raul."


     A.J. whistled for Marlowe and headed for Rick's truck while

Rick locked up the house. 


     "Sorry, Janet," Rick stated softly in the direction of Miami.  "But you aren't going to take A.J. completely away from me.  It's taken him too long to find me again.  And taken me too long to find him.  He's helped me in ways no one can ever imagine.  Not even him.   No matter how hard you try to keep us apart. he'll always be my brother...and my best friend.   You'd better get used to the idea right now."


     And with that, Rick trotted down the steps and walked over to his truck.   A.J. smiled at him from across the seat. 


     Rick smiled back.  "Ready to go, little brother?"


     "You bet."


     Marlowe barked his agreement from the bed of the truck.


     "I guess that about accounts for everyone," Rick laughed.  "At least everyone who matters."


     Of course, neither of the brothers had any way of knowing that day as to what the future held.  Ultimately, Rick's thoughts would prove to be correct concerning the engagement between A.J. and Janet being a mistake.  In 1979 the couple would come to the mutual agreement that a marriage between them was not meant to be.  They would part on good terms and remain close friends.  That same year, A.J. would also turn down Myron Fowler's offer to run the new Peerless Detective branch in San Diego.  Instead, he would convince Rick to return to San Diego with him to open their own private investigation business, Simon and Simon. 


     But, for the time being, the brothers were happy to have this day together, and the new adventure that awaited them just around the corner.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~





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