Saturday morning found me shirtless and in a pair of cutoff jeans, swabbing the deck of my boat. We'd had a big rain and windstorm earlier in the week. Because of the trial, I hadn't yet had a chance to divest the houseboat of the seaweed, ocean debris, and three dead fish it had managed to collect.
The sun was hot on my bare back as I mopped, swept, and righted overturned chairs. Rex sat nearby, watching his master work. As my tasks caused me to move around the deck, my dog came with me. It was late in the morning when Rex alerted me to the fact that I wasn't alone.
Just like a mother can tell what her baby's cries mean, I can tell what my dog's barks mean. There's the short, repeated barks that tell me he needs to go outside, and the long mournful howls that tell me Molly's in heat. There's a bark that says he wants me to play with him, and one that tells me he wants a morsel of whatever I'm eating. Then there's the one that tells me we have company. That's the bark I heard as I flung the last of the dead fish over the side of the railing.
I turned around to see Janet, in shorts, and a shirt I recognized as A.J.'s, walking towards me.
"Be careful," I warned. "The deck's wet."
Her tone was pleasantly conversational. "I see you're busy cleaning up after the storm we had."
I gave the deck a couple more swipes with my broom. "Yeah. This is the first chance I've gotten 'cause of the trial and all."
She looked up at the sky, her sunglasses protecting her eyes from the brightness. "Nice day for it."
"Yep," I agreed.
I thought it was rather strange that she'd feel the need to pay me a social call by herself. Especially after I had apparently pissed her off the previous day. I figured A.J. must be around somewhere. It's always hard to find a parking spot in the marina's lot on Saturdays, so I assumed he was trying to find a place to leave the Camaro out on the street.
I rested my mop and broom against what was the outside wall of my bedroom. With the end of my right tennis shoe I pushed the bucket of dirty water out of Janet's path. "Where's A.J.?"
"He's still sleeping."
“A.J.?” I glanced at my watch. "Still asleep at eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning?" A.J. considered himself to be quite decadent if he stayed in bed past eight o'clock on the weekend. "He's not sick, is he?"
"Rick...I think you and I need to talk."
"No, no. He's not sick. But...like I said, we need to talk. Can we go inside?"
I was a little puzzled by this whole thing, but agreed. "Sure."
I whistled for Rex to follow us, then led the way around to the patio doors that opened from the living room. I kicked off my wet shoes before we entered, leaving them outside to dry in the sun. "Have a seat," I invited as I padded barefoot toward the refrigerator. "You want something to drink?"
Janet came to a stop in my small kitchen and remained standing. She leaned against the formica countertop.
"No. Thanks anyway."
I reached in the fridge and snared myself a cold beer. I grabbed the magnetic bottle opener off the front of the stove. I popped the bottle's top, stuck the bottle opener back where it belonged, and threw the tiny metal cap in the garbage can under the sink.
I walked over and pulled a chair out from the kitchen table. "Sure you don't wanna sit down?"
"No. I'm fine."
Must be serious, I thought with a bit of amusement. She wants to do this standin' up.
Her stance alone told me she meant business. Like any good attorney, she wanted me to have the disadvantage of being forced to look up at her.
I studied the woman as I took a long swig from my bottle. She had removed her sunglasses, and had set them and her car keys on the counter. Regardless of whether or not she was the object of my brother's affections, I could still appreciate her from afar. Her long, tanned legs were only further accented by the snug fitting blue jean shorts she wore. Even one of A.J.'s red, sleeveless boxing T-shirts couldn't diminish her model's figure. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and with the flawless complexion she still possessed, she hardly looked more than twenty-five. Thirteen years younger than what she actually was.
I'd always found Janet to be a real sexy gal. Which, by the way, is not something you share with your brother about his girl. After they broke their engagement in 1980, I decided it was best to continue to keep that thought to myself. I didn't want A.J. to ever think I'd make a play for her, 'cause I wouldn't. But I had to admit to myself, if the had been circumstances right, and if Janet and A.J. hadn't at one time been engaged...well, let's just say that if Janet could have loosened her standards a bit I think she and I might have found we have a lot more in common than what most people think. Janet herself would probably become nauseous at the thought, but nonetheless, it's true.
It quickly became apparent that Janet was not visiting me that morning to discuss what we had in common. On the other hand, I guess she was visiting me to discuss what we had in common. Just like all those years ago in Florida, Janet and I were once again at odds over the one person that meant the most to both of us. A.J.
I wasn't in the mood to play games with her. I took two more pulls on my beer bottle before setting it down on the table.
"So. You wanna tell me why A.J.'s still sleepin' at eleven o'clock in the morning, while you're standin' in my kitchen lookin' like a woman on a serious mission?"
She folded her arms across her chest. "A.J.'s still sleeping because he's exhausted."
"Well...it's been a rough week for him," I conceded. "For all of us. Hopefully the trial will come to an end next--"
"Rick, it's more than been a rough week for your brother. It's been hell for him. He's sleeping right now because he's woken up screaming from nightmares every night this week."
"And how do you know that?"
I could tell she was ticked at me for asking that question.
"You know perfectly well how I know."
"Because you're sleeping with him again, aren't you?"
Even though I didn't intend for it to, the sentence came out like a dark accusation.
Her folded arms dropped to her sides. She slapped a hand against the countertop.
"Oh, for God's sake, Rick! Don't talk to me like A.J. and I are a couple of teenage kids getting it on in the back of your mother's Mercedes at the beach. I'm thirty-eight years old. Your brother will be forty-one in July."
"I know how old my brother is," I reminded the woman.
"Well, so do I," she shot back. "And that means A.J. and I are old enough to make decisions about our relationship together without your knowledge...or your approval."
I realized we both sounded ridiculous. That didn't make it any easier for me to apologize, but I did.
"You're right. It's none of my business. I'm sorry I brought it up. I just--"
In deference to my apology she asked gently, "You just what?"
"I just don't want to see him hurt right now, Janet. He's been through enough."
Ooops. Wrong thing to say.
"And that's what you think I'll do to him? Hurt him?"
"Not on purpose. No. I'm just concerned that you might be--"
decided it was best if that sentence went unfinished. Janet, however, decided otherwise.
"That I might be what, Rick?"
"Nothing. Forget it."
"That I might be using him? Using him to get over Allan?"
"Uh...yeah," I was forced to admit. "I guess that about covers it."
Without intending to, I had hurt her feelings. Quietly she stated, "I thought you knew me better than that."
"Janet...I didn't mean it that way. I told you that I didn't think you'd ever hurt A.J. on purpose. And I don't. Right now, though...well, right now, because of Erika and all, I suspect he's pretty vulnerable."
"And how do you know that?"
I had no idea what she meant by her question. "Pardon me?"
"How do you know that? Have you talked to your brother about it? About how he feels?"
"Well...yeah. We've talked."
"Oh, right. I know how you two have talked lately. Let's be honest here, Rick. When it comes to what happened to Erika Garcia, you two really haven't talked at all, have you?"
I didn't like her accusatory tone. I didn't like it one bit. Nor did I like the way she was standing over me like some teacher lecturing an errant schoolboy.
I looked her right in the eye. "Maybe I haven't had the chance to talk to him, Janet. Maybe every time I try you're conveniently in the way."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?"
wanted to take A.J. home the other night - Thursday night, specifically so he
and I could talk. If you remember
correctly, you were the one who put the kibosh on that by piping up and
volunteering to take him home yourself.
You completely ignored my signals to stay out of it."
"The signals I was sending you to back off!"
"Rick...I don't know what signals you're talking about! If you'd just said something--"
"How could I say something? A.J. was standing right there."
"You could have pulled me aside and told me you wanted to take him home."
"I shouldn't have had to," I informed her. "You should have known."
Janet threw her head back and looked Heavenward, saying something that made no sense to me. "Oh, you men!"
"Rick, I can't read smoke signals, or any other kind of signals you send up. Nor can I read your mind. If you want me to know something, you have to tell me."
My anger wasn't ready to dissipate nearly as rapidly as hers had. "Well, if you wanna talk about signals, lady, I'll tell ya' you were broadcasting some pretty clear ones my way yesterday afternoon."
"When we were at lunch. You were pissed at me for going to find A.J. when he left the courtroom, weren't you?"
"Yes," she acknowledged honestly. "I was mad at you for
ordering me to stay there."
"I didn't order you."
"You did, too. You acted like you were the only one who could help him."
My hands flapped in the air with frustration. "Geez, two minutes ago you told me you were mad at me 'cause I haven't talked to him enough, now you're mad at me because I went to him yesterday! I can't do anything right by you now, anymore than I could twelve years ago in Florida! And just for your information, I was gonna talk to A.J. last night. But no. I couldn't. And why not, you ask? Because once again, you were there!"
"Oh, Rick, for heaven's sake! You're acting like a five- year-old whose best friend has found a new playmate."
Now there was an interesting thought. I kinda felt like a five-year-old whose best friend had found a new playmate.
Before I could come up with a smart-ass retort to her very astute observation, Janet moved to sit at the table with me. "I didn't come here to fight with you," she said in way of apology.
"Then why did you come here?"
"Because this entire situation is bigger than A.J. can handle. He needs help, Rick. Professional help. And the only way he'll ever agree to get it, is if you encourage him to."
More to myself than to her I muttered, "Have you been talkin' to our doctor?"
I wasn't expecting an answer. And certainly wasn't expecting the one I got.
"Yes, I have."
"What? What the hell gives you the right--"
"A lot of things give me the right. But most of them are none of your business. Regardless, I went to Joel because I'm concerned about the nightmares that are plaguing A.J.'s sleep. To make matters worse, since this trial began he's barely eating. If I wasn't there to badger him, he wouldn't eat at all. Now something has to be done, Rick."
"If you want to take care of A.J. so badly," I snapped at her, "then you encourage him to go to counseling!"
"You know he won't."
"Then what makes you...and everyone else, think that I can get him there?"
"Because no matter how old he is, A.J. will always value your opinion. He'll always, always look up to you. He might resist at first. But if you insist that he go...and you go with him, then he'll--"
"No. He doesn't want to. Just leave it at that."
"Leave it at that? Have you lost your mind, Rick Simon? What the hell is wrong with you? A.J.'s your brother for goodness sake."
I glared across the table at her. "Don't you think for one minute that I don't know that."
An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Neither one of us would look at the other. To be honest with you, I was just wishin' she'd leave. I think Rex was too, 'cause about that time he retreated from the battlefield by slinking off to hide underneath my bed.
It was Janet who spoke first. Her voice was low and quiet.
"Rick, on Thursday night I held A.J. while he sobbed...literally sobbed, over what those kids did to Erika. He clung to me, saying over and over again, how sorry he was. How sorry he was that Erika died. How sorry he was that he had failed to keep her safe. How sorry he was that he had failed you."
It took me a long time to answer her. When I did I had to speak past the sudden constriction in my throat. "He didn't fail me."
"But he thinks he did," she emphasized. "You took this job for Carlos. Erika was Carlos's cousin's daughter. A.J. feels like he failed you and that, in turn, caused you to fail an old friend."
Softly, I stated, "Well, he shouldn't feel that way."
"Regardless of whether he should or not, he does. Nothing I said convinced him otherwise. He cried for three hours that night, Rick. Three hours. He had me so scared I almost called you to come over. Then he started bringing up past cases. Other times when things didn't turn out right. Other times when he blamed himself for someone's injury or death. He's so lost right now he doesn't know which end is up. Last night...last night I couldn't get him to come to bed at all. He sat on the deck outside his bedroom, just staring down at the canal. When I finally got up and went to him, he wrapped his arms around me and started crying again. I don't know what more to do for him, Rick, but I'm really scared. He can't go on like this."
I was scared, too, but didn't tell her that.
"It'll be different - better, when the trial's over."
She looked at me with disbelief. "That's all you have to say about it? That's the only comment you're going to make after what I've just told you?"
If there's one thing I hate about the differences between men and women, it's our ways of communicating. I wish Janet could have seen how much what she just told me was tearin' me up inside. But exactly what she wanted me to say to all of it, is still beyond me. I told her just what I thought. That once the trail was over things would get better - for all of us.
"I don't know what else you want me to say," I freely admitted.
"I want you to say that you'll talk to your brother. I want you to say that you'll go to counseling with him."
"Well, I'm not gonna say that."
"Because, Janet, I've been there as you well know. The counseling route. And it sucks. It just plain sucks. I'm not gonna force A.J. to go. If he wants to go, fine. Then he should go. If he doesn't, then that's his business. He's got you, and me, and Mom, to help him through this. Maybe that's all he needs."
"What are you so afraid of, Rick?"
"Afraid? I don't know what you're talking about! I'm not afraid of anything."
Defensive anger. Good reaction, Rick. My mind laughed at me sarcastically. Boy, you keep reacting like that and ole' Janet'll never suspect a thing. She'll never suspect how guilty you really feel.
"Then why won't you at least talk to A.J. about counse--"
"Janet, you're starting to sound like a goddamn broken record with the counseling shit! Just let it drop, okay?"
I had made her mad, which I guess, subconsciously, had been my intention. At least it got her off my back about the counseling idea.
She pushed herself away from the table and rose. "Okay. Fine. I'll drop it. If you don't want to help your brother, then I will."
She walked over to the countertop and swiped up her sunglasses and car keys. She surprised me when she didn't simply march right out the door. Instead, she turned around and studied me for a long moment.
"Rick...I don't want things to be like this between us."
I did manage to give her half a smile. "You mean we just got through sounding an awful lot like we used to when the three of us lived in Florida?"
gave me a small smile in return.
"Something like that.
I...well, you and I might have our differences...and we'll probably
continue to have our differences, but for A.J.'s sake...for his sake let's keep
never asked me to keep our many disagreements well-hidden all those years ago
in Florida. Any warfare the two of us
ever engaged in over A.J. was generally done out in the open, right in front of
him. Now I wondered about the reason
behind her request. Was it a simple
case of maturity and wisdom the passing years had brought? Or did she and A.J. have plans for a future
together that I was still in the dark about?
I nodded my head, knowing that if A.J. really was in love with Janet again, if this love affair was a serious one, then the last thing he needed was she and I at each other's throats.
"Sure thing, Janet." I agreed. "Good idea."
Without another word she turned and walked toward the patio doors. Just as she started to slide them open I stated, "You blame me, don't you?"
She turned to look at me.
"You blame me for what A.J.'s goin' through over Erika's death. You blame me for gettin' him involved with this case in the first place."
Her silence said it all.
"That's what I thought."
I pushed away from the table and headed toward the utility room that had a door that exited onto the deck.
"Rick! “Rick!" I heard her call twice. Calls I ignored as I dove off the railing into the water. If Janet called to me again I didn't hear her. By the time I returned from my swim she was gone.
The following Friday the trial was over. It had lasted twelve days. As murder trails go it was relatively short. But, then again, most murder trials don't end up with eyewitnesses like A.J. and Stefan Basilio, who played important roles in the events.
The jury found all five defendants guilty of murder. White Snake and his girlfriend were both found guilty in the first degree. The others were found guilty in the second degree, which means they all have the opportunity for parole someday. White Snake himself was sentenced to death, while his girlfriend was sentenced to life without parole. Whether or not the death sentence is ever carried out has yet to seen.
Adriano cried with relief when the sentences were read. After it was all over, he walked back to where we were standing. This time A.J. let the man hug him. A.J. hugged him back, though he didn't make any reply to Adriano's many words of gratitude.
Mom insisted on taking us - A.J., Janet, and me, out to dinner that night. A.J. seemed eager to go, and for the first time in quite a while I saw him in good spirits. I looked across the table several times that night, hoping Janet could sense the words behind my smug smile.
‘See. I told you. I told you once the trial was over things would get better.’
But then I remembered that she doesn't read signals, so everything I was trying to say was probably lost on her anyway. Women.
The following Monday we settled back into a normal office routine once again. Right away I started lookin' for signs that some of A.J.’s old enthusiasm for the job had returned. And right away I saw it hadn't. I kept thinkin' to myself that all I had to do was give him more time. That by tomorrow...or within a few days, it'll be back. That old spark he gets in his eyes whenever we take on a new case will be there again.
But it wasn't.
Three weeks to the day after the trial ended, we were in the office together doin' some paperwork. A.J.'d been quiet all week. Not the kind of quiet he gets when he's absorbed in his work, but rather the kind of quiet he gets when something heavy is on his mind.
I let it go until the work-week was almost over. It was Friday afternoon, and I didn't want him leavin' without talking to me. For some reason I had a feelin' that whatever was on his mind concerned both of us.
About four-thirty I laid my pen down and looked over at his bent head. "You wanna talk about it?"
He looked up. "Talk about what?"
"Whatever's been on your mind today. Whatever's been on your mind the entire week for that matter."
"I...yes, I have something I need to discuss with you, but I was going to stop by the boat and talk to you tomorrow morning."
"Is there some reason it can't be done here? Right now?"
His gaze flicked around the office. I thought his eyes lingered a bit too long on the door pane that read, Simon and Simon Investigations.
"No. I guess there's no reason it can't be done now."
He stood up and paced the floor behind his desk for a second. He stopped to shove his hands in his pants pockets, and stare out the window at the passing traffic below.
I could see his face in profile only. "A.J.?"
"I...I've been giving this a lot of thought, Rick. I don't want you to think I haven't."
Although I didn't know what it was he had been giving a lot of thought to, I acknowledged, "All right."
"These last ten years...being in business with you, have been some of the best of my life. Even through all the petty arguments, and fights, I've treasured every day we've worked together." He turned to give me a smile. "Ever since I've been a little kid all I wanted to do was hang out with my big brother. For the past decade, I've been able to do that. And what came as a double bonus was the fact that we were working together at a job I loved."
By now I had a pretty good idea where this conversation was going.
He looked back out the window. "A lot of things have changed for me recently. Things that, as we greeted the new year, I couldn't have ever imagined. If someone had told me Janet would come back into my life in a very important way, I would have told that person he or she was nuts."
This was the first time he'd given me a direct indication Janet was a big part of his world again.
"I...I told you three months ago that I didn't think I could do this job anymore. Do you remember that?"
"Yeah. It was the first night you were back home after everything happened with...Erika."
He nodded his head. "And you told me--"
"To give it some time," I interrupted.
"And I have, Rick. I've given it a lot of time, and a lot of thought." He looked at me once again. "I hope you can understand when I tell you that I've reached a firm decision. I...I can't do this job anymore. I can't walk in this office without seeing Erika's face the day she sat right in that chair over there, while her father asked us to help them. I see her...I remember every single day." He tilted his head back and squeezed his eyes shut. "I hear her screaming in my sleep. I hear her crying as they hurt her. I hear her...begging me to help her."
He opened his eyes and returned his attention to the window.
"And that's why I can't do this any longer. I've lost my edge, Rick. I've lost whatever it was I had that made this job special to me. And if I've lost those things, then we both know I'm not operating at my best. And if I'm not operating at my best, then I'm putting your life at risk. Erika's death has torn me into little pieces, but if something happened to you because of me--"
"No. Stop. Don't say it. If I'm not giving this job one hundred percent anymore, then something could happen. And if it does...well, if it does it would kill me. You know that. I have to get out before that becomes reality, Rick."
I think he expected me to try to use one thousand and one reasons to convince him the decision he was making was the wrong one. He was probably more than a little surprised when I didn't. It wasn't that I didn't want to. Lord, how I wanted to. But it wouldn't have been fair to him. I knew A.J. well enough to know he never made any major decision, especially one that affected both of us, without giving it a lot of thought. Without weighing all the options. I figured he'd struggled enough to reach this point. It was only fair that I let him go without making him feel guilty about the whole thing.
In deference to the above, all I did was ask him, "What will you do?"
I knew my reaction caught him off-guard by the expression on his face when he turned to look at me, and the way he hesitated before answering.
"I...I'm going back to school. I've already signed up for the summer classes that start at U.C.S.D. in June. I'm going to brush up on my law degree. I want to take the bar again."
"But you already passed it once."
A.J. gave a laugh. "That was sixteen years ago, big brother. And I never practiced law. To say I'm rusty on the subject would be an understatement. So many things have changed since I took it. There's no way I'd get hired by anyone without going through the whole thing again."
"How long will it take? You won't have to go through two years of law school again, will you?"
"No. Or at least I shouldn't have to. I'm planning on taking three classes this summer, and four more in the fall. I'm hoping that early next year I'll be ready to take the exam."
"And then what?"
"Work for a law firm for a few years. Maybe eventually run a firm of my own. But that's all quite a ways down the road yet. Just getting through school again will be the first hurdle I have to get over. It's been almost twenty years since I've sat in a college classroom."
"You'll make it, A.J.," I stated confidently. "You always succeed at anything you set your mind to."
He gave his head a sad little shake. "Not everything, Rick. Not everything."
I knew he meant Erika. Because I didn't really know how to reply to that, I asked instead, "When do you plan on leavin' the business for good?"
"I haven't really thought about it. I only signed up for night classes this summer so we could keep the office open until...well, until you decide what you want to do. I know I'm laying a lot on you right now. I want to give you plenty of time to make a decision you'll be happy with."
"I guess you've given me a lot to think about," I admitted.
He turned away from me once more to look out the window. "I know I have. And I'm sorry to do this to you."
"Hey, you don't have anything to be sorry about, so just get that idea outta your head right now."
We were both quiet for a minute, then he told me, "I won't have any objection to you keeping the business open if you want to. You know, running it by yourself. Or maybe you could find a new partner."
I slowly rose from my chair and walked over to him. His back was still to me when I placed my hands on his shoulders and squeezed.
"No, I can't find a new partner...partner."
That one word – ‘partner’ - held a wealth of emotion. He brought one of his hands up and rested it on top of one of mine. When he finally pulled away from me it was to turn so he could perch on the window ledge. I followed suit and took a step backwards, sitting on the corner of his desk.
"Are you thinking about us selling the building?" I asked.
"No," he shook his head. "Not unless you tell me you want to. I think it's too good of an investment to give up, don't you?"
"Yeah, I think so."
Two years previously, in 1988, the building we rented our office in went up for sale. Because of that same thing happening to us in other buildings where we’d rented office space over the years, we'd had to relocate three times in eight years. Not knowing whether a new owner would let us stay, and knowing we didn't want to relocate again, A.J. suggested we try to buy the building ourselves. At first I thought he'd completely lost his mind. An office building in downtown San Diego doesn't exactly sell for peanuts. But after he got it all out on paper, what it would cost us to buy the building versus what we'd garner in rent each month if we kept the present offices filled, it didn't look too bad. And A.J. did have a point when he said other than his house, and my houseboat, neither one of us had much in the way of future earning potential for our golden years. Being self-employed P.I.'s did not exactly for big 401K's make.
The bank loaned us what they could. From there, A.J. was able to scrape together the rest of the money for his part of the purchase on his own. For me, it wasn't quite that easy. Although Mom woulda' probably come through for me if I'd asked her, I didn't want to. So I turned to Carlos instead. A.J. still doesn't know that, technically speaking, Carlos owns a portion of our building as well.
I gotta hand it to my brother, he's got quite a head for business. We left the restaurant/bar in place on the ground floor, not only because it did a heck of a lot business, but also because it brought in the biggest amount of rent. The previous owner had been using the entire second floor, which was one huge open area, for storage. A.J. contacted the woman who ran the Terrible Two's Day Care Center that had been across the hall from us in one of our old offices. She had branched out since those days and had day care centers all over the city. She was very interested in what we had to offer. She came over and took a look at the space, and in a matter of five minutes had agreed to pay us more rent than A.J. had planned on asking her for. He, Mom, and I then spent the next three weekends painting and wallpapering the large room in motif only a toddler could love.
I teased A.J. about how much he'd hated having the Terrible Two's across from us four years earlier. I reminded him how he said he'd never share space with a day care center again. He told me this was different. That this day care center was paying us to put up with the little urchins, and that this time we were two floors above them.
On the third floor we left the insurance agency that was already in place, but got rid of another guy who did I don't know what, but took up three offices for it and never paid his rent on time. We replaced him with a dentist and orthodontist that were relatives of Doctor Raj's.
The floor we were on was rounded out with a travel agency, an eye doctor, and a small computer software outlet. We'd been pretty lucky as far as renters go. They all paid us faithfully on the first of the month, and other than a couple of stray toddlers disturbing the peace at times, everyone got along well and seemed to wanna stay with us for the long run.
"If you decide not to keep the business going I thought we could rent this office out, too," A.J. was saying.
I looked around, wondering how we were ever gonna pack up the memories the room contained.
"Yeah. Good idea. I'm sure we can."
I reached over and clapped him on the knee. "Hey, how about if you and I go out to dinner? I think we've got a lot more to talk about, don't you?"
"Yes. I suppose we do." He pushed himself away from the ledge and reached for the phone. "Just let me call Janet so she's not wondering where I am."
"Oh. Well, if you two had plans--"
"We didn't have plans," he negated. "I just don't want her worrying if I'm not home by six."
Although they hadn't moved in together, I was well aware that if Janet wasn't spending the night at A.J.'s house, then A.J. was spending the night at her condo.
He got a hold of Janet at her office. I listened as he told her he and I were going out to dinner, and that he'd come by her place after we were done. I walked away from his desk to grab my hat and coat off the rack, but didn't miss hearing him say to her quietly;
"Yes, I talked to him.
“Yes, he's fine.
“I don't know. He and I will have to discuss it further in a few weeks.
“Okay. I'll see you later. Be careful driving home.
“Love you. too. Bye."
After overhearing that phone conversation, I couldn't help but wonder how much of an influence Janet had over the decision A.J. had reached to leave the business. Not that I thought for one minute Janet could force A.J. to do something he didn't want to, but it's like I had told her a month earlier. Right then he was very vulnerable. I wondered if he'd have made a different decision if she hadn't come back into his life when she did. I figured I'd never know though, so I might as well not rack my brain second guessin' her. That wasn't fair to any of us, and would only cause further trouble if I ever mentioned it to either one of them.
He hung up the phone and shouldered into his suit coat.
"Ready to go, little brother?" I asked.
"Yeah. I'm ready to go."
"Hey, what's with the long face?" I teased. "We're just going to dinner. It's not like it's all over yet."
He smiled sadly. "It feels like it is."
I flung an arm around his shoulders as the door swung shut behind us. Although I didn't let on to A.J., I knew just what he meant. Things were changing fast. Too fast. Simon and Simons' days were numbered. Even something as simple as a brotherly dinner together, something we'd taken for granted for the last ten years, was dangerously close to being a thing of the past. And we both knew it. So that night, we made the most of our time together. We didn't talk about the business, or Erika, or Janet. We talked instead, about years gone by. About the shared history that made us the men we were. About our childhood, teen years, and young adulthood in Florida. We didn't touch on the future at all - I think because neither one of us really knew where we were goin'. It was kind of exciting, the thought of starting over, but kind of scary, too. We'd been so much a part of each other for so long, that it was hard to imagine there was going to come a day, very soon, when that would all end.
That thought on my part was only further emphasized when, two hours later, I watched A.J. pull out of the restaurant's parking lot. Rather than turn in the direction of his home, he went the other way. To Janet's condo. For some reason I suspected then, it would all end sooner than I wanted it to. Much sooner.
That spring flew by. Before I knew it, May was almost over and a month had passed since A.J. had first told me that he wanted out of the business. I'd done a lot of thinking in that month's time, and in doing so had come to several conclusions. Number one, that there was no way I would go on being a P.I. without A.J. I had no desire to continue on in a business that he was so much a part of.
As I got used to the idea of this bein' the end of the road for Simon and Simon, I started to anticipate, just a bit, the possibility of a new beginning. Until A.J. came along and we went into business together, I'd always been somewhat of a vagabond. That trait of mine caused the first few years of Simon and Simon Investigations to be difficult on both of us. I had a tendency to play hooky a little too often for A.J.'s tastes, and probably didn't take the responsibility of bein' half owner in a business nearly as serious as I should have. Over the years both maturity, and A.J.'s constant bitchin', caused me to change a lot of my ways. Not that those things were all bad. I'll freely admit that a good deal of my ways needed to be changed. Nonetheless, I sure missed some of them, and looked forward to slipping back into several old habits, much like we all look forward to slipping into a favorite sweatshirt, or a well-worn pair of blue jeans.
During the month of May I thought about my future a lot. Probably more than I'd ever thought about my future in my entire life. I considered the possibility of workin' for Carlos. He owned twenty car washes now in the San Diego area, as well as five auto repair shops. He was always lookin' for good managers, and I knew without askin' he'd hire me on a moment's notice. Especially since, as far as auto mechanics go, I'm pretty skilled.
The only drawback to workin' for Carlos was that I'd no longer be self-employed. True, being self-employed is not always the most lucrative way to make a living, but it's pretty much the only way for me. By 1990 it had been over fifteen years since I'd worked for someone else. To be honest with you, the thought didn't hold a lot of appeal to me. I'm well aware that I'm a rather ...unique personality, as my mother says when she's being nice. I'm not one who's ever taken orders well, or liked to be told what to do.
While I was at loose ends tryin' to decide what I wanted to do, A.J. suggested I write down on a piece of paper everything I thought I did well, and every job I'd ever held, to see what I came up with from there. I'm not usually a 'write it down on a piece of paper’ kind of guy, but I'd seen that work for my brother more times than I could count, so decided to follow his advice. I made a list of the various jobs I'd held during my many travels in the 60's and early 70's. I never realized how much I had done and how many different skills I really did have, until I filled up one and half sides of the paper A.J. had handed me. If anyone has need for a trained combat soldier to guard - as well as work on, an oilrig, then I'm their man. Ditto for a rodeo clown, a mechanic, a worker on a factory assembly line, a farmhand, a combine driver in a Kansas wheat field, a construction worker, a produce trucker, or a cotton harvester to name just a few. And that didn't even begin to cover the work I'd done as a P.I.
When I couldn't figure out how to put any of those things together in a way to make an independent living, I showed A.J. my list. Right away he took note of where I'd written, ‘Crewman on a fishing boat.’
"What about this?" He asked.
"Crewman on a fishing boat. You love the ocean. You love to fish. You love to be outdoors--"
"Yeah, but I already told you I don't really wanna work for someone else."
"I'm not talking about you working for someone else. I'm talking about you working for yourself."
"I don't know, fishermen live from hand to mouth. If the fish aren't biting, or the weather's bad, you're stuck. Plus a lot of the cannery's around here have closed down in recent years."
A.J. shook his head. "No, I'm not talking about being a fisherman. I'm talking about you opening your own charter boat business. You know, to take people out fishing who are here on vacation, or who just want a day away from the office."
His idea suddenly seemed to hold a few possibilities, but I still had reservations.
"I tried that a few years ago down in Mexico though, and it didn't work. Remember?"*
He rolled his eyes. "How could I forget?"
"So see, I wasn't any good at it."
"You would have been very good at it, Rick, had you had the right boat and been in the right area. The two major problems you had were that the boat was a leaky old tub, and the town wasn't exactly a major tourist attraction."
"Yeah," I slowly nodded my head. "You could be right."
"Give it some thought," A.J. encouraged. "True, there's other established charter boat businesses here in San Diego, but that doesn't negate the fact that you have a lot of contacts through Simon and Simon that would certainly throw business your way. I think if you found the right boat, you'd be able to make a good living for yourself."
I did just what A.J. suggested. I gave it a lot of thought, and within a few days had come to the conclusion he didn't have a half bad idea. I did love to fish. And along with that love came an even greater love for the ocean and the outdoors, as well as a lot of knowledge about all three of the above. I had worked on charter boats on and off throughout my teen years, and also on and off throughout my years in Florida.
I started watchin' the ads in search for the perfect boat. Within two weeks I found her. Because I didn't have the money to buy a brand new boat, I had to settle for one that was slightly used. But, that was okay. She was only seven years old, quite seaworthy, and would comfortably hold eight fishermen and two crewmembers. A good swabbing and waxing of the deck, reupholstering of her chairs, and a fresh coat of paint did her wonders. A.J., Mom, and Janet, all pitched in and helped me shine her up that summer. Mom took a picture the August day I broke a bottle of champagne against her gleaming blue side. A.J. christened her, The Captain Gully. He was only joking about the name, which referred to the imaginary playmate I had before he was born, but I hadn't come up with anything else by that time, so it just kind of stuck. I had it painted on the bow in bold white letters. When I opened for business that September I called myself, Captain Gully's Excursions.
While I was busy making some pretty heavy decisions for my future that month of May, A.J. musta' been busy doin' the same thing. He was late comin' into the office the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend. When he did show up, he was grinning from ear to ear.
I looked at him over the morning newspaper when the door shutting heralded his arrival.
"What are you so happy about this morning?"
"Nothing," he shrugged.
I chuckled to myself at the way he suddenly made me think of him as a little boy. He never could keep a secret, and would go around smiling and whistling just like he was that morning, trying his hardest to contain whatever it was he was attempting not to confide in me. And just like when we were kids, I pretended I couldn't care less what it was that had him so excited. I'd learned a long time ago that was a sure-fire way to get him to crack.
And it still worked. Not five minutes later he was standing in front of my desk, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
I had already half guessed as to what the big surprise was, but didn't want to spoil it for him by blurting it out. Instead, I smiled up at him.
somethin' you wanna tell me this morning, A.J.?"
twinkle in my eye must have given me away.
Again, just like when he was a kid and I had already second-guessed him,
he pouted, "You already
I laughed. "No, I don't know for sure. I'm only speculating. Why don't you go ahead and tell me."
His grin came back as strong as ever. "Alright...Janet and I are getting married."
"That's great news!" I stated enthusiastically, and genuinely meant it.
Although Janet and I weren't getting along any better than we had that day almost two months earlier on my boat, we kept the promise we'd made to each other. Any disagreements we'd had since that time, and there'd been quite a few, were well-hidden from A.J. I'd had a strong feeling this engagement announcement was coming, though was taken aback slightly by how quickly. I expected it to be around Christmas, or some time into the next year when he finished his schooling. But he was so happy now. It was obvious by his big grin and sparkling eyes that she made him the happiest man in the world. After all he'd been through because of me, because we took that job for Adriano, I wasn't about to voice any reservations I might have concerning his plans. Or voice any reservation over whether or not I thought Janet really was the right woman for him.
I rose from my desk and enfolded him in a bear hug. My, "I'm really happy for you, little brother," came from the heart.
When we broke apart I sat on a corner of my desk. "So, have you two set a date?"
"Yeah. Saturday, September 8th."
It all came together in my mind now. A.J. and Janet had held off on their plans until I had decided what I was going to do with my life. I have no doubt that if I had told my brother it would take me another full year to be ready to close down Simon and Simon and move on to something else, he would have stayed by my side until the end. But a few days prior to the engagement announcement, we had both agreed that August 31st would be our last day of business. I had just purchased the Captain Gully, though she was in dry dock and I hadn't begun to work on her yet. I had figured that by some time in September she'd be ready to sail. With A.J. wantin' to take four classes that fall, we both came to the conclusion the end of August would be as good a time as any to call it quits.
I swiveled on my perch, reaching for the phone on my desk.
"What's Janet's number at work?"
A.J.'s eyebrows knit together. "Why?"
"Just give me her number," I insisted.
He did as I asked, reciting the number from memory. Janet answered on the second ring.
I didn't even identify myself.
"Hey, lady, there's an awful happy lookin' guy standing here in front of me grinnin' from ear to ear. Does this fool belong to you?"
Janet's laughter trickled over the phone line. "Yes, he sure does. I take it he told you?"
"Yeah. And I'm calling to tell you how happy I am for both of you."
My sincerity caught her by surprise. She faltered a moment before making a reply. "I...thank you, Rick. That means a lot to me. Thank you."
"You're welcome. The other reason I'm callin' is tell you I wanna take you both to lunch today in order to celebrate the big news. Will that work out for you?"
"Yes, that will be fine. Is one o'clock okay? I've got a full schedule up until then."
"One's fine. We'll come by and pick you up."
"Okay, I'll see you then. And, Rick..."
"Thanks again. I want everything to start off on the right foot with this marriage. Not only between A.J. and myself, but between you and me as well."
I couldn't say too much since A.J. was standing right there.
"I know you do, darlin'. And so do I. I'm gonna hand the phone over to A.J. now. I'll see you later."
I heard her "Bye," as I passed the receiver to my brother.
They only talked a few seconds before A.J. handed the instrument back to me and I hung it up. He walked over to his desk and sat down.
"Have you told Mom yet?"
He smiled with fondness. "That's why I was late this morning. I just came from there."
"What'd she say?"
"She cried. Then she shrieked, ‘September 8th! Oh, A.J., that's only three months away! We have so much to get done before then.’"
I laughed. "That sounds like our mom."
"Yeah," he acknowledged. "I can already tell I'm going to have a heck of a time getting her to keep the whole thing small."
"Oh, so you and Janet have already made some plans then, about what kind of ceremony you want?"
"Not really. I'm going to leave that up to Janet and Mom. The only thing I know for sure is that since Janet's already had one large, formal wedding, she wants this one to be small. She's...very uncomfortable with the whole idea of her divorce. She was raised to believe marriage is forever, like most of us are, I suppose. Anyway, she said she wouldn't feel right about going through the whole hoopla again of a big formal affair with the wedding gown, tuxedos, four bridesmaids, and all that other stuff. It doesn't make an ounce of difference to me, so whatever she decides I'll go along with."
"Whatever makes the two of you happy," I agreed. "Are you guys gonna live in your house, or are you gonna sell it and buy one that you pick out together?"
For some reason, he suddenly looked extremely uncomfortable. Like I had brought up something he wasn't ready to discuss with me yet.
"Um...yeah. We're going to buy a house together. We're thinking about a big old Victorian."
His words caused me to recall that both he and Janet had a great love for sprawling old Victorian homes complete with bay windows, tower rooms, wide wooden front porches, and gingerbread trim. When we lived in Florida they used to take long weekends and drive up to a quaint little town on the South Carolina coast where street after street was lined with such homes. They'd stay in a Victorian bed and breakfast there, and just relax for a few days while strolling the quiet streets and popping in and out of the many shops.
"An old Victorian?" I questioned now with a chuckle. "You'll have a heck of a time finding one of those here in San Diego." The older, more stately homes in San Diego tended to lean heavily toward Spanish architecture like Mom's. "What are you thinking of doing? Buying a vacant lot and having a new one built that looks like a Victorian?" Came my logical guess.
"Uh...no." Suddenly he couldn't seem to look me in the eye. "We're...not staying here in San Diego, Rick. Right after the wedding we're moving to Seattle."
"As in...Seattle, Washington?"
He looked up at me. "Yes."
"When...how long have you known this?"
"I've known it could be a possibility for quite some time. I didn't know for sure until this weekend. Last Friday Janet was offered the position in Seattle she told you about back in January. The pay is good. Extremely good. Much better than she's making here. It also means she'd be the chief assistant to the D.A. in Seattle. That's not an opportunity she’ll have here for a long time to come.
"This decision hasn't been an easy one for me. When I first told you I wanted out of the business, I hadn't planned on that being intertwined with a move to the other end of the Pacific. But this is a great chance for Janet to get where she wants to be in her career. Also, with the money she'll be making, my schooling won't be a burden on us. I won't have to go out and get a job to help make ends meet."
"And what about you?" I asked. "All you've told me so far is that this a great opportunity for Janet. What about your opportunities, A.J.?"
He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I'm starting over anyway, so it really doesn't make all that much difference where. I'm not fooling myself. It's not going to be easy at first...to get used to a new career, a new city, and new friends. Especially with my family being so far away. But Janet will be with me and right now...well, that's very important to me, too."
"I know it is," I stated softly. I was willin' to bet that Janet knew it to. That she probably knew it better than any of the rest of us did. I hated myself for wondering if she had planned it all this way. Was this her way to get A.J. to marry her, while at the same time getting Simon and Simon Investigations...and me, out of the picture?
Like I sai,d I hated myself for wondering that. Especially after the phone conversation she and I just had. Nonetheless, I wondered it anyway...for several months to come.
"Have you told Mom?"
"That we're moving?"
He nodded his head. "This morning. After I told her about the engagement. I wanted to wait and tell both of you about the move at the same time...in a few weeks, but she asked me the same thing you did about the house and all, so I figured there was no use putting off the inevitable."
"What'd she say?"
A small, sad smile touched the corners of his mouth. "She cried again. But then she said she was happy for me, so I guess she'll get used to the idea."
"Yeah...I suppose we all will."
Neither one of us had anything else to say on the subject. To be quite frank, I just plain didn't feel like talkin' about it anymore. I walked over to my desk and returned my attention to the sports section of the paper. Ten minutes passed before I realized I hadn't read a word, or turned a page.
A.J. must have realized this, too, and came to the conclusion that I was more upset about the news of the move than I was lettin' on.
I looked up from the paper. "Yeah?"
"I know...I know the move to Seattle comes as a shock to you and all. Especially on top of everything else I've laid on you in the last month."
I couldn't keep my moustache from twitching, nor hide the smile that was tugging at the corners of my mouth. "I'll give ya' this, A.J. When you decide to make a change, you really decide to make a change."
He laughed, then sobered again. "I hope that you'll still...well, that you'll..."
I couldn't figure out what in the world he was havin' such a hard time sayin'. "That I'll what?"
"That you'll be my best man."
"At the wedding?"
"No. At the Kentucky Derby. Of course at the wedding, you idiot!"
I laughed at him. And at that old, familiar A.J. Simon sarcasm that had been missing from our conversations for too long now.
"Yes, A.J., I'll be your best man. As a matter of fact, I woulda' been damn offended if you hadn't asked me."
The dimpled smile I got in return told me just how important my role in the wedding was to him.
"Your welcome. But hey, does this mean I'm expected to buy an expensive wedding gift?"
The only thing I got for an answer was a role of Scotch tape thrown at my head.
As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And come to an end a real good thing did on Friday, August 31st, 1990.
We tried to make our last day of business as businesslike as possible. Which is pretty hard to do when you're standing amidst half packed boxes, and have had all your cases wrapped up for two weeks.
Even though A.J. and Janet's wedding was only eight days away, Mom insisted on hosting a small dinner party for us that Friday night in a private room at a restaurant on the bay. She'd invited an array of friends and relatives, Abby and several other cops from the station, and a handful of clients we had grown close to over the life of Simon and Simon. In all, she expected sixty people there.
The day itself was pretty quiet. Since most people would be seeing us that night at the restaurant, not too many stopped in to say a final goodbye. Which was okay with me. The day was hard enough as it was. We got some phone calls from well wishers, but other than that just spent the day packing up our stuff. We were both coming in the next week when Carlos and couple of other buddies would help us move out our desks, the small refrigerator, the file cabinet, A.J.'s weight machine, my pinball machine, the coat rack, chairs and coffee table, and the computer along with its workstation.
I had gotten lucky enough to be able to rent a small building down near the marina where The Captain Gully was docked. My desk, the file cabinet, the refrigerator, the pinball machine, the coat rack, and the chairs and coffee table were going in there, as was the computer. A.J. said he didn't have use for any of those things, and wouldn't even let me pay him for his half of what they were worth. He told me to forget it, and said with a smile that I should consider everything a gift from Captain Gully's little brother.
Carlos bought A.J.'s desk from us, saying he could always use another desk at one of his many locations. A.J.'s weight machine went directly to his garage, where it would be loaded on a moving van when he returned from his honeymoon. We split up the awards and citations that were on the walls, and each took the personal things that we'd brought to decorate our own little corners. A.J. insisted that I take the cartoon drawing of the two of us with the Condor to hang in my new office. He took the caricature of the two of us with Downtown Brown that a police sketch artist had done several years back. He said he would hang it in the office he and Janet were going to have for themselves in their new home.
In the final move towards closing down Simon and Simon Investigations for good, we had rented out the office to the local bank we did business with. They needed more room in their facility for customer service, so were looking for a place to put some of their back office support staff. On the 10th of September three bookkeepers, their desks, computer terminals, a fax machine, and phones would be moving into what once had been our home away from home.
I shocked everyone when in mid-August, I bought A.J.'s house from him. He had been gettin' ready to put it on the market in late June when I asked him one day what he wanted for it. He looked at me kind of funny, but told me what the Realtor thought he could get out of it. Then he gave a laugh and asked, "Why? Are you interested?"
He almost fell over when I told him yes. I don't even know for sure why I did it. I know I had some reservations about livin' at the marina - where I was now going to have my new business. Some people viewed that as convenient, while I kinda viewed it as a potential pain-in-the-ass. It would make it too easy for people to bug me after business hours, or on my day off.
One of Carlos's sons, Diego, had gotten married the previous year. He and his bride had an apartment that they were discovering to be too confining for their liking. They couldn't afford a house yet, but wanted to make a move. They'd visited me on my houseboat several times and both fell in love with it. It only took one phone call to Diego before I had the boat leased out for a year.
Though things would be tight for me for awhile, what with starting a new business and all, I knew between the rent I was going to get from Diego, and the income A.J. and I would continue to make off the building, I'd get by even with taking on a house payment. And as I told Mom when she expressed her concerns over the money situation, I was just going to give it a try for one year. If things didn't seem to be working out after that, or if owning a home wasn't for me, I'd sell it and move back to the boat.
As always, Mom's smarter than I give her credit for. After A.J. and I had closed on the deal on his house she asked me, "Is this your way of hanging on to a part of your brother?"
Of course, I denied ever having such sentiments, and simply told her I wanted more room. Since A.J.'s house was like my second home, it only made sense that I would feel comfortable there.
I was due to move into his house the day he and Janet left on their honeymoon. Likewise, Diego and his wife would move onto my boat the following weekend.
The only person, as far as I know, who wasn't pleased with the whole deal was Mr. Gorman. Man, you should have seen the look on his face when I told him I was going to be his new neighbor. I thought he was going to have a stroke right then and there.
Mom came by around noon our last day of business and took us to lunch in the restaurant on the first floor. She came back up with us after we were done eating and insisted on taking our picture outside the office door, just as she had done at our first office across from Peerless when we'd gone into business together ten years earlier. I knew it wasn't such a good idea. She started crying almost as soon as she put the camera up to her eye and focused in on our smiling faces. Just like that day ten years earlier, we had our arms slung around each other's shoulders and were hamming it up for the camera. I guess she remembered that, too. A.J. and I both ended up hugging her and telling her not to cry. We finally got her to laugh a little by reminding her of all the reasons she'd be happy to see our business years together end.
"No more late night phone calls begging for bail money," A.J. teased.
"Yep, and no more doughnut eating agoraphobics in your closet," I reminded.
"No more embarrassing you by showing up at your dinner parties dressed in Hawaiian shirts," came from A.J.
"Yeah, and no more borrowing your car and returning it with bullet holes," I promised her.
Mom swatted at both of us. "Oh, you two. What am I going to do with you?"
When Mom was finally able to compose herself, able to dry her tears and stifle her laughter, she got the picture she wanted and left.
I gave it one last shot after Mom was gone at bringing up the Garcia case. At trying to tell A.J. how guilty I felt, and how sorry I was. How responsible I felt over where we were ending up.
He wouldn't have any part of it though, and barely let me say a word concerning it.
"I don't want to discuss that today, Rick."
By four-thirty we were hauling the last of the boxes out to our vehicles. Without having discussed it, we both seemed intent on hanging around until five, just like we would have on any other business day. We sat at our desks in the room now devoid of most of our personal mementos and just shot the bull about past cases and the times we'd had, both of us studiously avoiding looking at our watches. Neither of us wanted to be the one to announce that it was time to go. That it was all over.
By five-twenty we had no choice. Mom was expecting us at the restaurant across town at seven o'clock. By the time we drove to our respective homes and showered, I took care of Rex, and A.J. went to pick up Janet, we'd be pushin' it to get there on time if we delayed the inevitable any longer.
A.J. rose and pushed his chair in behind his desk. I did the same. He looked over at me for a second, then bent and unplugged the electric sign with the magnifying glass that said Simon and Simon in blue neon. Upon my instance, he was taking that with him to Seattle. He said he'd hang it up in his home office above the new oak roll-top desk Janet had bought him as a wedding gift the previous week.
We walked toward the office door together, both turning around as one to give the room a last long look before I hit the lights. A.J. shut and locked the door behind us. I had already made four steps toward the elevator when I noticed he wasn't with me. I turned to find him gazing at the door pane, running a finger over the painted letters, Simon and Simon Investigations.
"It's been a hell of a ride, Rick Simon." He looked up at me. I saw the tears glistening in his eyes. "Thank you for the last ten years."
My own eyes started to fill. I barely managed to choke out the only thing I was capable of saying.
I held my arm out to him. When he got even with me I laid it over his shoulders and gave him a strong squeeze. We walked out of the building that way, and didn't part until we came to our vehicles. I didn't look back as I pulled out of the parking lot. I couldn't have seen anything had I wanted to. By then, the tears I'd held in check in front of A.J. were steadily running down my cheeks.
I look back and think of the dinner party Mom threw us as the fitting ending to our years in business together. All the people who were most important to us were there. I think A.J. and I knew it was up to us to make or break that party, so-to- speak, so make it we did. Both of us checked the hard parts of this ending at the door. We each did a great job of being jovial - forever talking, and laughing, and visiting with old friends and clients, and telling stories on one another about some goofy thing that happened on this case or that.
A lot of people asked me about my plans for Captain Gully's Excursions. Before the night was over I was almost completely booked for September. A.J. had been right when he'd said a lot
of our acquaintances would throw business my way.
I heard those same people ask A.J. about his plans for returning to school and the move to Seattle. He was excited about all of it, and positively glowed with Janet at his side. She looked as gorgeous as ever in a long flowing ivory skirt, pink silk blouse, and oversized ivory and pink floral patterned vest.
The dinner we were served was excellent. What it cost Mom I have no idea since she wouldn't allow A.J. or me to put one cent toward it.
We had both told her we didn't want to make any speeches, or have any made about us, but rather just wanted to have an informal night with our friends. She abided by our wishes, though I think she knew the real reason behind our lack of desire for ceremony. Both of Cecilia Simon's macho sons would be dangerously close to crying in front of everyone if the evening dared to get too sentimental.
The closest we came to that was when I rose after dessert had been served.
Silence slowly fell over the room as people began to take note of me.
I spoke loudly so all our guests could hear.
"My brother and I made a promise to each other that there would be no sentimental speeches tonight. That's a promise I intend to keep, so you can all put your Kleenex away."
Everyone laughed a little at that.
"However, I didn't promise there would be no sentimental gifts."
From where A.J. was sitting next to me he began to shake his head.
"Stand up here, blondie," I ordered.
He rolled his eyes and did as I asked. Carlos, who was sitting one table over, reached under his chair and brought me a large wrapped box.
I handed it to my brother. "For you, A.J. To start you on the right foot as an attorney."
A.J. opened the box to find a black leather briefcase inside. I'd had his initials, A.J.S., engraved on the gold latch.
I encouraged him to open it and look inside, under the pretense of seeing how big it was and how many compartments it had.
As soon as the lid popped up he started laughing. He took out and held up, the poster size picture of myself in Panama hat and field jacket I'd put inside.
Over everyone's laughter I said, "Just a little something so you don't forget me once you're in Seattle."
"Oh, Rick, believe me...forgetting you would be next to impossible," my brother informed me.
Again, our guests laughed.
I started to sit down, but A.J. grabbed my arm and stopped me.
"Because Simon and Simon are generally on the same wavelength without even trying, I have a little something for you."
I watched as two of A.J.'s friends got up and left the room. In mere seconds, they returned carrying something big and heavy that was on its own base and covered with a blanket. They brought it up and set it down next to me.
"Go ahead," A.J. said. "Take at look at it."
I pulled the blanket off to encounter a five-foot high anchor made out of wood, painted white, and covered with a protective coating of varnish. Across it in blue lettering was written, Captain Gully's Excursions. Underneath that, in smaller writing was etched, Richard L. Simon, Proprietor.
I thought it was perfect. Just what I needed to put outside my new office. I looked at him and grinned.
"Thanks. I can't think of anything I need more."
A.J. grinned back, his eyes sparkling with mischief.
"That's what I figured. I don't know how you'll survive without me around to do your thinking for you."
Our guests got a kick out of that remark. When I made a grab for A.J., I think he was expecting me to pull him into a headlock and scuffle with him a moment. I think everyone was expecting that. Instead, I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tightly. It only took him a second to return the heartfelt hug. By the time we released one another there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
It was close to eleven o'clock before the gathering broke up. A.J., Mom, Janet, and I were the last to leave. A.J. helped me carry the anchor out to my truck, while Janet took his new briefcase to the car for him. Mom followed her, and the two stood outside the Camaro talking.
After the anchor was safely stowed away and recovered with the blanket, I leaned against the truck.
"Well, little brother, I guess this about wraps it up for Simon and Simon."
It seemed hard for him to say, "Yeah, I guess it does."
I held my hand out to him. He took it and we shook firmly, just as we had the morning we opened that first office ten years earlier. I repeated the same words I'd stated all those years before.
"To new beginnings," I said over our clasped hands.
nodded. "To new beginnings."
This time it was A.J. who pulled me into a bear hug. When we broke apart and he moved to walk away, I almost said automatically, "I'll see you tomorrow." But then I remembered that I might not. That the days of knowing for certain that I'd see my brother the next morning at work were over.
I didn't go home right away that night, even though I was bushed. I drove around town for a while and found myself, without intending to, making a pilgrimage of sorts. I drove by our old office down where Peerless Detectives was still located, though owned now by someone other than Myron Fowler. From there I drove by the beach front office we'd had for a year, and from there to the office building where we'd been right before our most recent location. Curiously enough, when this nostalgic stroll down memory lane ended, I somehow wound up down by Hannigan's Cannery. The place A.J. and Erika had been held captive eight months earlier.
I don't know what motivated me to park my truck and walk around the building. It probably wasn't the smartest thing to do considering what had happened there. And I had no idea whether or not it was still one of the Conquistadores¢ regular hangouts.
I didn't even need the flashlight I'd grabbed from underneath my truck seat. The outside lighting still worked, and evidently came on with timers when darkness fell. I entered the building the same way I imagine the Conquistadores¢ had, through a broken door.
The large, garage-like room I found myself in fit the description of the place where A.J. and Erika had been held. Again, I didn't need the flashlight I held in my hand. A bright, overhead outdoor-type light illuminated the room.
I looked around, not seeing much of anything that had meaning to me until my eyes fell upon what looked like a blue rag crumpled against the far wall. I walked over, bent down and picked it up. It was torn, tattered, and bloodied. But I recognized it. It was A.J.'s suit jacket. The one he had been wearing the day he and Erika were taken. Right next to it was his white shirt. The right sleeve was slashed and stained red where White Snake had cut him with the knife. And under all that, was the tie that had been a Christmas present from Mom.
How the police overlooked those three items I don't know. They probably hadn't. More than likely one of the kids brought them back and dumped them later on.
I stood, and continued to circle the room, this time with A.J.'s clothes in my hand. I took note of the clock on the wall A.J. had said was there. It was still registering the correct time.
I saw the same signs he had seen, the ones advertising Hannigan's Cannery. And the little bathroom off to the left that he said he and Erika were allowed to use on a fairly regular basis.
And as my circle was almost complete, I saw the blood stains on the concrete floor. The first ones I came to I guessed were A.J.'s. There were enough of them, but not nearly as many as the ones I came upon ten feet away.
This had to be the place Erika died, my detective's instincts told me.
I turned to look at the nearby corner where I'd encountered the first bloodstains. A.J.'s.
I imagined myself in his place. I imagined what it must have been like to be beaten half to death, then thrown in that corner and forced to watch as a fourteen-year-old girl is raped and sodomized until she dies. A fourteen-year-old girl who you've been hired to protect. A fourteen-year-old girl who is related to your brother's oldest friend. A fourteen-year-old girl who is screaming in pain. A fourteen-year-old girl who is crying and begging you to help her.
All of a sudden my knees couldn't hold me up any longer. I leaned against the wall and slid down to sit in the exact spot A.J. had been sitting while Erika was so brutally abused.
Because of his testimony, I could clearly see just what had happened. And I could hear it, the mocking laughter of the gang. Their shouts of encouragement as they egged each other on to beat my brother just one more time. To rape Erika just one more time. I could almost put myself in A.J.'s place. And when I did, I started to cry.
For the first time, I cried for a sweet young girl whose life ended long before it should have. For the first time, I cried for the father and brothers who had lost a beloved daughter and sister. For the first time, I cried for my brother and what he had gone through. What he was still going through. And for the first time, I cried for myself - for the way I had let A.J. down.
For the first time, as well, I cried, really cried, for the end of Simon and Simon. For the end of something that had been so good. Had been the best thing that ever happened to me. And now, because of one stinking case A.J. didn't want to take in the first place, it was all over.
When I finally wiped my eyes and rose on weak and cramped legs, it was after two in the morning. I carried A.J.'s clothes with me and threw them in the washing machine when I got home. When they were clean and dry I wrapped them in a plastic bag and tucked them in a dark corner shelf of my closet. Don't ask me why, 'cause I couldn't even begin to tell you. I don't know myself.
I never told A.J. I went to Hannigan's Cannery that night, and I never will. I know he was completely confused as to why I stopped by his house the next day and interrupted his packing, only to give him a hug without any explanation whatsoever. I’m pretty sure he thought I'd finally lost my mind.
A week after that he was married. Ten days later he and Janet returned from their honeymoon to stay in San Diego just two days before heading to Seattle.
And with all those changes, I became my own boss at Captain Gully's Excursions. It was good. But it wasn't the same. It was never the same again. Not until the day came, four and a half years later, when I showed up in Seattle on the Precious Cargo.
But that's another story.