SHOOTING THE RAPIDS
A.J. hunkered into his pale blue jacket, regretting that he hadn’t put his rain slicker in the car before leaving home. It didn’t rain often in San Diego, but A.J. and his brother had along ago learned to predict when it would rain – whenever they were on a stakeout.
The detective huddled closer to the old building. The rotting eaves above him didn’t offer much protection, but at least kept him from standing in the middle of the downpour. Despite its name, the Seaside Motel wasn’t near the ocean, and judging by its rundown condition, hadn’t seen many visitors since 1965.
A.J. kept his hands on the camera that hung around his neck. The Simon brothers had been hired to trail a man whose wife suspected him of having an affair. The job wasn’t difficult, or particularly exciting, but like all jobs, it helped pay the bills. So far A.J. and Rick had gotten photos of the man dining with his girlfriend, taking her to a movie, meeting her for lunch, and strolling down a boardwalk with her while holding her hand. What they wanted before they turned the photos over to their client was pictures of the man entering and exiting Room 20 at the Seaside Motel. Through their investigative work, the Simon brothers had discovered that this was where Victor Davis brought his lover for “after-dark business meetings between the sheets” as Rick phrased it. They’d also discovered that the out-of-shape pudgy businessman, who was nearing sixty years old, had brought other women to the Seaside Motel in the past. Rick had shaken his head upon making that discovery and said, “There’s no accounting for taste now days.”
“Not when taste is wealthy,” A.J. had replied. “Money tends to make young women do foolish things.”
“I guess, ‘cause even I could show Vic’s sweethearts a better time than the Seaside Motel.”
Where Vic Davis chose to bed his latest girlfriend was of little concern to A.J. All he cared about was getting the final pictures he needed, and getting home to dry clothes and a warm bed. Rick wasn’t with A.J. this evening. His bowling team was competing in a tournament, and since this job didn’t involve more than hiding around the corner of a building and getting pictures of Vic and his lady, A.J. had told Rick not to alter his plans.
“You sure?” Rick had questioned that afternoon in the office.
“I’m sure. Based on what the desk clerk told us, Vic is never in that room more than an hour, so I can handle it alone.”
“I love desk clerks who are willin’ to talk,” Rick said with a grin.
“I’m sure the fifty bucks we offered him was incentive for his loose tongue.”
“Hey, the guy’s gotta make a livin’ too.”
As far as A.J. was concerned, no one should be out making a living tonight. Thunder rumbled the dark sky, and the rain continued to pour down as A.J. waited. Considering he’d started his day at five that morning so he could workout, eat breakfast, and then meet a client at the office at seven-thirty, the blond was so tired that all he wanted to do was go home and climb in bed. He’d gotten shots of Vic and his buxom girlfriend entering the room. Now all he needed was shots of them exiting the room together. What went on inside the room, A.J. wasn’t concerned with photographing. He’d leave that to a judge’s imagination. There was no doubt in A.J.’s mind that Mrs. Davis would garner a hefty divorce settlement in repayment for her husband’s unfaithfulness.
Room 20 was at the end of the long, rectangular structure, and the last room it contained. What A.J. didn’t realize was that each room in the Seaside Motel contained a bathroom window that opened onto the rear of the building. The same desk clerk who took the fifty dollars from Rick and A.J. in exchange for the information regarding Vic Davis’s habits, had taken one-hundred dollars from Davis after telling him two private investigators had been asking about him.
The rain plunking against the aluminum siding prevented A.J. from hearing the man sneaking up behind him. What sudden instinct made A.J. turn around, he couldn’t name. He had no time to take his hands off the camera before something crashed against the side of his head. By reflex, A.J.’s right index finger pressed on the camera’s shutter button as he fell.
The detective crumpled to the ground, oblivious to the camera strap being sliced, as he lay unconscious in the rain.
Rick wasn’t certain what made him swing by the Seaside Motel after his tournament ended. It was twelve-thirty on Saturday morning, and he was exhausted. He’d put in a full day at the office with A.J., then left at five to hurry home, let Rex out, change his clothes, and get his bowling ball and shoes. Within thirty minutes, Rick was back in his truck again. He met the guys on his team for dinner before heading to the bowling alley.
I’m glad I don’t have to go into work today. Sleepin’ until at least nine sounds good right about now.
The windshield wipers worked to brush the rain away. Rick turned the headlights off on his truck right before he swung into the motel’s parking lot. He hadn’t expected to see A.J.’s car still parked here, but there it was, down in front of room number 2, as though the Camaro was waiting for its owner to exit the motel.
The lighting in the parking lot was as ancient as the motel, meaning only one of the floodlights worked. Rick squinted into the darkness, but didn’t see anything. The spot in front of Room 20 was empty, leading Rick to believe Vic Davis was gone.
But if Davis is gone, why is A.J. still here?
Rick looked around this old section of the city. There were no restaurants in the area A.J. could have walked to for a late supper, and no other businesses that appeared to be open.
The detective was thankful the sound of the rain would keep anyone from hearing his truck engine. He shut the truck off and leaned over the passenger seat to the glove compartment. He opened the door on the compartment and pulled out a flashlight. He exited his truck, and was glad he had his field jacket on since it afforded him some protection from the rain.
Because he headed directly for the end of the building that contained Room 20, Rick came upon his brother without having to search for him. When his flashlight beam landed on the crumpled, wet figure, Rick started running.
Rick crouched beside his brother. A.J. was lying in a semi-fetal position with his face turned away from Rick. Rather than move the man, Rick reached across his body. He placed two fingers at the pulse point of A.J.’s throat, and breathed a heavy sign of relief upon feeling a steady beat. He swept the flashlight beam over A.J.’s body as he searched for injuries. What first aid knowledge Rick possessed came from his service in Vietnam, when any fighting man might be called upon to help a fallen comrade. Though it had been fifteen years since Rick had been forced to employee what he’d learned, he hadn’t forgotten how to detect broken bones. He ran his hands over A.J.’s arms and legs, then up his spine and neck. He found no evidence of injury until he reached the left side of A.J.’s head, where he felt a large lump.
Rick looked around. Because of the rain and poor lighting, it was impossible to see if there was a payphone in the area. The neon light that was usually on outside the motel’s small office that flashed Vacancy was dark. Rick squinted. The office looked dark, too, indicating to Rick that it wasn’t manned during the late night hours.
“A.J.!” Rick shouted, while giving his brother’s shoulder a shake. “A.J.!”
When he received no response, Rick decided the best thing to do was put A.J. in the truck and drive him to the hospital. He’d prefer to call paramedics, but considering the lack of a phone, and the fact that there was no business close by that was open, meant Rick’s choices were limited short of pounding on motel room doors in an attempt to hail someone willing to let him use the phone. Rather than waste time on an effort that might prove futile, Rick ran to his truck. He jumped in the cab, turned on the lights, and started the engine. He drove as close to A.J. as he could and jumped out. He ran around to the passenger side and opened the door. He bent over his brother and hoisted the man into a fireman’s carry. He walked the few steps to the truck, and gently deposited A.J. on the front seat. He got his brother’s legs in the cab, then shut the door.
Rick ran to the driver’s side and got in. He looked down at his sibling as he put the gearshift in drive. A.J.s’ hair and clothing clung to his body. Rick wished he had a blanket to cover the man with. He kept one foot on the brake while he stripped off his field jacket. It was wet, but it wasn’t soaked through. He laid it over A.J., then moved his foot to the accelerator. Rick wheeled the truck around and headed out of the parking lot. Because of the late hour, the streets were desolate except for an occasional passing car. Rick pushed the truck’s speedometer to sixty-five, not caring if a cop stopped him. Actually, he’d welcome flashing red lights in his rearview mirror right about now, but as the saying went, there’s never a cop around when you need one.
Rick glanced down at his brother. He brushed A.J.’s wet bangs from his eyes. He didn’t like the pale cast to A.J.’s face, nor his cold, damp skin.
“Hang on, little brother,” Rick urged, as he saw a sign for County General Hospital. “Hang on. We’re almost there.”
Rick swung the truck into the hospital’s lot and headed for the Emergency Room entrance. He parked beneath the wide portico, opened his door, and ran inside. He startled the two women behind the nurses’ station who had their heads bent over a patient’s chart, when he yelled, “I need help with my brother!” but they scampered around the counter, grabbed a gurney, and wheeled it to the double doors without asking Rick any questions.
By the time Rick had A.J. in his arms and was carrying him to the gurney, an orderly had arrived to assist. As A.J. was being wheeled into a trauma room, Rick spotted Doctor Raj striding his way. The detective was glad to see the Indian physician he and A.J. had a long association with. He followed the man into the trauma room while explaining what he knew regarding A.J.’s condition. When no one asked Rick to leave, he helped a nurse remove A.J.’s wet clothing.
By the time A.J. was being taken for a CT scan thirty minutes later, he’d regained consciousness, had been able to tell Raj his name, and had thrown up on Rick’s boots. Although that last action wasn’t one Rick would have asked for, he was glad his brother was beginning to show some signs of life.
Early the following afternoon, A.J. was released from the hospital. For reasons he couldn’t explain, other than to say it wasn’t a good idea to lie in the rain for extended periods of time, A.J. still felt chilled. He also had a headache that seemed to extend from behind his eyes to the base of his neck, but the neurologist who had assisted Raj with his care had told the blond man this was to be expected.
“Don’t be alarmed if you have a headache for several weeks yet, Mr. Simon. You received a hard blow. You’re lucky no further damage was done beyond the concussion and the discomforts that come with it.”
A.J. wouldn’t allow Rick to steer him up to bed when they arrived at the house on the Grand Canal, but instead, insisted upon sitting on the couch. Sitting soon turned into reclining, as Cecilia Simon did some insisting of her own. She’d been unaware of A.J.’s mishap until Rick had stopped by her home late that morning. Because Rick had already called the hospital from his boat and knew A.J. would be released shortly after noon, Cecilia didn’t go to Country General with her oldest son. She made a trip to the grocery store, then drove to A.J.’s house in order to fix a meal for her family and settle in for some mothering of her injured child.
Once A.J. was leaning back against two pillows and had been covered with a blanket he clung to for warmth, he looked up at his brother.
“No sign of the camera?
“No. No sign of anything but your car.”
Carlos had gone to the Seaside Motel with Rick that morning and helped him look for the camera, or any other evidence that the police might not have spotted after Rick had reported A.J.’s assault to Abby during the hours before dawn. Carlos had then driven A.J.’s car back to the blond man’s home with Rick following him in the pickup truck.
“Great,” A.J. now said in regards to the missing camera. “That had every damn picture in it we took.”
“So, we’ll just take more pictures.”
“Rick, the guy spotted me.”
“Spotted you?” Rick snorted. He sat down in the easy chair next to his brother, while Cecilia returned to the kitchen where she had a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup simmering on the stove. “A.J., the guy did more than ‘spot’ you. He whacked you over the head hard enough to knock you out cold for more hours than I wanna guess at.”
“There’s that, too,” A.J. agreed, as he winced against the pain of his throbbing head. “So by now Davis not only knows he was being tailed, but he’s bound to know my name, and the name of our business. There’s no way he didn’t take the opportunity to look inside my wallet before he ran off with the camera.”
Cecilia looked at her sons through the open space between the cabinets and snack bar. “What did Abby say?”
“That there’s not much she can do considering there was no evidence to trace the attack on A.J. to Davis.”
“You’d think she could at least talk to the man.”
A.J. started to shake his head no, then thought better of it. “She probably can, Mom, but all Davis is going to do is deny that he was the one who hit me. Considering I can’t remember anything after Rick and I ate lunch at noon on Friday, means Abby doesn’t have valid reason to bother Davis. Besides, any lawyer he hires is just going to point out that the Seaside Motel is in a seedy part of town where the crime rate is high. They’ll claim I was attacked by a street punk who wanted to fence the camera, and I have no way to prove otherwise.”
“You’re probably right,” Rick agreed.
“I know I’m ri...” A.J. lifted his hands to his head and groaned.
“A.J.?” Rick stood and crossed the small space between the chair and the couch. “A.J., you okay?”
“Honey?” Cecilia questioned, as she rounded the snack bar.
A.J. squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. “Yeah. Yeah...I’m okay. It just...this headache is a bad one.”
“Listen, I think you’d better go on up to bed like the doctor ordered. Let me help you get settled, then you can eat some of Mom’s soup. After that, it should be about time for one of those pain pills Raj sent home with you.”
Rick was surprised, and a little worried, when A.J. agreed without putting up a fight. He helped A.J. stand, then held onto his brother as a dizzy spell threatened to topple him. When the blond was a bit steadier, Rick guided him to the second floor, helped him exchange his clothes for pajamas, and turned down the bed.
A.J. got underneath the covers. For as much as he wanted to close his eyes and go right to sleep, he knew he’d better hold off on that desire until his mother arrived with his meal. He couldn’t take the pain pill on an empty stomach, and hadn’t had anything to eat since he’d been given a late breakfast at the hospital after Raj had been in to see him.
As he waited for his mother to arrive, A.J. said, “You’ll have to call Mrs. Davis and tell her I blew it.”
“You didn’t blow it. Her husband blew it. And yeah, I’ll call her. Just don’t worry about it right now.”
“I hate doing this to her.”
“A.J., you didn’t do anything to her.”
“I lost the evidence she needs.”
“So, we’ll just get it again. I already told you that.”
“And I already to you that it’ll be impossible. Davis will spot us before we get within one hundred feet of him. He’ll--”
“Enough business talk.” Cecilia entered the room carrying a tray that held a bowl of soup and a glass of milk. “You need to eat, take a pain pill, and go to sleep. You and Rick can discuss this when you’re feeling better.”
“Mom, you don’t understand.” A.J. scooted back against his pillows, as the tray was set across his legs. “We had an obligation to Mrs. Davis and I let her down. I--”
“A.J., you didn’t let her down,” Cecilia assured. “And right now isn’t the time to try and figure out how to rectify the situation. Right now is the time to eat and rest, or you’ll be back in the hospital. Like so many problems we face in life, this one will be easier to tackle after you’d had something to eat and a good night’s sleep.”
Despite his weariness and aching head, A.J. managed to smile at his mother. “Chicken soup and sleep is the remedy for everything, is that what you’re saying?”
“It’s what mothers have been recommending since the dawn of time, sweetheart. Therefore, eat. I expect that bowl to be emptied.”
A.J. did as his mother ordered; surprised he had enough of an appetite to finish all of the soup. He then took the pain pill Rick handed him and washed it down with the remainder of his milk. By the time Cecilia had exited the room with the tray, and Rick was shutting the blinds at the French doors, A.J. was asleep.
Rick and Cecilia sat at A.J.’s kitchen table eating a late lunch of soup, along with sandwiches Rick had made from sliced turkey he’d found in A.J.’s refrigerator. It was only three o’clock, but Rick was beat. He’d gotten just two hours of sleep after leaving the hospital at five a.m., before starting his day by picking up Carlos and snooping around the motel.
“You’re going to stay here with A.J. tonight?” Cecilia asked.
“Yeah. When we’re done eating I’m gonna head to the boat, throw my toothbrush and a change of clothes into a bag, and get Rex. I should be back by five. Can you stay here until then?”
“After that, I’m gonna shower and crash in A.J.’s guestroom.”
“You should do that. You look tired.”
“It was a long night.”
“I’m sure it was. You should have called me after you arrived at the hospital.”
Rick shrugged while taking a bite of his sandwich. “I didn’t want to wake you until I knew something definite. By the time Raj and Doctor Gorski were able to tell me A.J. was gonna be okay, it was goin’ on four-thirty, so I figured it was just as easy to stop by the house later in the morning to give you the news.”
“After how you found your brother – unconscious and out in the rain half the night, it’s a wonder he is all right.”
“Yeah, he was lucky, there’s no doubt about that.”
“Speaking of A.J. having been lucky, I’d like you to do me a favor where your brother is concerned.”
“I want you to suggest to your brother, and by that I mean strongly suggest, that the two of you close down the business for at least one week and take a vacation after Raj says it’s okay for A.J. to do so.”
“A vacation sounds good to me, Mom, but you know A.J. He’ll probably say no.”
“Tell him you’re not taking no for an answer. You boys have put a lot of time in at work the past year and a half. It’s been almost two years since A.J. took a vacation, and last year you got away for only a few days on that fishing trip with Carlos. A.J.’s looked tired for the past three months, and he’s more upset over losing that camera than he would normally be if he wasn’t burning the candle at both ends.”
“Yeah, I know. He’s been pretty stressed out lately. Seems like the more successful the business becomes, the more hours we end up putting in just so we don’t have to turn any clients away.”
“All the more reason for the two of you to take a vacation.”
“All right,” Rick agreed, as he stood to carry his dishes to the counter. “After Raj gives A.J. a clean bill of health, I’ll tell him we gotta take some time off. However, I’m not promisin’ you A.J. will agree to that.”
Cecilia cocked an eyebrow. “Well, then, see to it that he has no choice.”
Rick turned around and looked at his mother. “Whatta ya’ mean?”
“Talk to Raj and ask him to make it doctor’s orders that A.J. take a vacation.”
Rick smiled. “You’re sneaky, you know that?”
“Of course, I know that. Where do you think you get that trait from?”
The detective laughed as he crossed the small room and bent to kiss his mother’s cheek. “Mom, I do like your style.” Rick swiped his hat off the counter and headed for the door. “I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
“Okay. I’ll see you then.”
Cecilia rose to clear the table and load the dishwasher. She didn’t feel an ounce of shame over suggesting Rick go behind A.J.’s back and talk to Raj about ordering a mandatory vacation. After all, being sneaky for the benefit of her sons’ health was a mother’s prerogative.
Rick arrived at the Simon and Simon office alone on Monday morning. He had stayed at his brother’s home throughout Sunday, and though A.J. was still being bothered by a headache, by Monday he was doing well enough to be left by himself.
As soon as Rick was settled, he placed a call to Carolyn Davis. He explained what had happened to A.J. on Friday evening, and told the woman A.J.’s camera had been taken from him, along with the film that contained the evidence they had against Vic. Rick was glad he didn’t have to bring up the fact that he suspected it was Carolyn’s husband who had assaulted A.J. The woman reached the same conclusion, and didn’t hesitate to say so.
“Rick, let me look around the house and see if I can find the camera. Regardless of whether I do or not, I’d like to meet with you at your office today. What time would be good?”
“Any time,” Rick said. “We don’t have any appointments scheduled. I was just gonna catch up on some paperwork, get the mail, and than maybe leave early so I can stop by A.J.’s place and make sure he’s doin’ all right.”
“How about if I come by at one?”
“That’ll be fine,” Rick agreed. He assumed she wanted to see him in order to get a reference for another P.I. firm, and to settle her bill with the brothers. “See you at one.”
“Yes, I’ll see you then.”
Rick spent the morning doing the types of mundane duties he disliked – answering the phone, filing, and writing up reports on two other cases Simon and Simon had in progress. He knew his mother was going to check on A.J. at noon and have lunch with him, which meant Rick didn’t have to take the time to drive to the Grand Canal neighborhood on his lunch hour. Instead, he walked down to the restaurant on the first floor of the building Simon and Simon was housed in. At ten minutes to one, he was back in the office. True to her word, Carolyn Davis arrived right at one.
Rick stood and rounded his desk as the woman entered the room. “Hi, Mrs. Davis.”
“Hello, Rick. I’m so sorry about what happened to A.J.”
Rick led Carolyn to a chair across from his desk. “You don’t have anything to be sorry for. It wasn’t your fault.”
“If I hadn’t hired you--”
“Look, A.J.’s the one who feels like he let you down.”
“Why would he feel that way? It wasn’t his fault that he was assaulted.”
“Right,” Rick agreed, as he sat behind his desk. “Just like it wasn’t your fault that he was assaulted.”
The woman smiled. “I guess we’ll call it a draw then?”
“I think we should.”
Carolyn sat her purse in the empty chair next to her. Though Rick didn’t know her exact age, he estimated her to be in her late fifties. She was a tall woman, and built in the solid sort of way that people referred to as “having big bones.” She was always dressed stylishly, and today wore a navy blue skirt, matching blazer, and a white blouse. Her dark hair had a few faint streaks of gray running through it. It was full around her face, but wasn’t allowed to grow beyond her jaw line. Rick knew that, like his mother, Carolyn didn’t work outside the home, but rather kept busy by volunteering her time with various organizations, as well as running her household. Vic and Carolyn’s three children were grown and on their own, and Carolyn had mentioned grandchildren to Rick and A.J. one time, but Rick didn’t know how many there were.
“I looked everywhere in the house that I could think of, Rick, but I didn’t find the camera.”
“I didn’t figure you would. I doubt if he hid it there. To tell ya’ the truth, my guess is that he threw it in a garbage can in some alley somewhere.”
“I’m going to his office tonight after it closes so I can look through his desk.”
“All right, but be careful,” Rick cautioned. Vic owned a real estate firm and Carolyn had a key that would allow her to enter the building after hours. “And keep in mind, we don’t have proof that Vic is the one who hit A.J. and took the camera.”
“I know. But realistically speaking, do you really think it could have been anyone else?”
“No, I don’t. But without proof, there’s nothin’ more we can do.”
“What if I can get you proof?”
“How will you do that?”
“I don’t know. But if I find something that links Vic to the attack on A.J., what will happen to him?”
“He’ll be charged with assault and battery.”
“Would he serve time in prison?”
“I don’t know. If he has no prior record of any criminal activity, then I doubt it. He’ll likely get a hefty fine and some time on probation, and that’s about it.”
“You sound disappointed.”
The woman gave Rick a sheepish smile. “I suppose I shouldn’t be so anxious to get rid of my husband that I hope he goes to prison, should I.”
Rick kept his answer neutral. “I know these past few weeks haven’t been easy for you.”
“It was bad enough when I was concerned that Vic was having an affair. But then when you and A.J. found out from that motel desk clerk that there have been other women in recent years...well, I won’t stay married to the man, Rick. Yet at the same time, I will not allow him to walk away with everything we have, like you hear of so many men being able to do. That’s why I want evidence of his affair to produce to a judge.”
“I can understand that.”
“When Vic started the business thirty years ago, he rented an office in an old building. I spent two months taking three little kids under the ages of five along with me while I painted, cleaned, and decorated. During the years he couldn’t afford a cleaning service, I hauled the kids to the office several times a week in order to vacuum, dust, and empty garbage cans. Until he could afford to hire help, I worked out of our home as his secretary and bookkeeper. Whenever Vic needed errands done, I loaded the kids in the car, regardless of what I had planned for the day, or if one of the kids was sick, and off we went to do his bidding.
“As the business grew more successful, and in turn, Vic and I grew wealthier, I played hostess at any party he wanted to give. I’ve kept the home fires burning, as the expression goes, while he comes and goes as he pleases. I’ve passed up on opportunities I would have liked to take, in order to be available at home, because that’s where Vic always said he wanted me. Now I find out that as soon as this old mare got a little gray in her hair, her aging horse decides he’s a young stud again. I’ve still got a lot of life to live, Rick, and things I’d like to accomplish. I will not stay with a man who is cheating on me. Many women in my position would, but not me. I don’t care what our friends and neighbors say, and I don’t care what this divorce does to Vic’s reputation.”
“So what are ya’ gonna do now?”
“The first order of business will be to search Vic’s office for that camera.”
“And if you don’t find it?”
“Then I’m going to take a vacation and think over my options.”
“Our oldest daughter lives in New York City. Of my three children, she’s the only one I’ve confided in thus far regarding Vic’s infidelities. Debbie would like me to take a break from all of this for a few weeks and stay with her.”
“Will Vic get suspicious if you go see her?”
“No. I generally visit her twice a year, so he won’t think anything of it.”
“It sounds like a good idea to me then. If you still want to get pictures of Vic and his girlfriend after you get back, A.J. and I can recommend another P.I. firm to you.”
“Another firm? But I don’t want to hire another firm. I still want to employ you and A.J. You’ve both done a good job for me.”
“That’s nice of you to say considering what happened on Friday night, but if it was Vic who assaulted A.J., then he knows who we are. Like A.J. said to me on Saturday, Vic woulda’ gone through his wallet and discovered who he was.”
“Oh. Well...well, let me think on it, all right? If I don’t find the camera at Vic’s office, then I’ll be gone for a few weeks to New York. When I return, maybe I’ll know what the best thing for me to do is.”
“That’s fine. Although A.J. doesn’t know it yet, we’re gonna take a vacation, too, just as soon as his doctor says it’s okay. He and I can talk about this while we’re castin’ our fishing lines into the water. When we’ve had some time and distance from this case, we just might come up with a plan that will get you the evidence you need, without you havin’ to hire another P.I. firm.”
Carolyn smiled as she stood. “Wonderful.”
“I’m not makin’ any promises,” Rick cautioned, as he stood, too. “But I’ll see what A.J. and I can come up with.”
The woman reached for her purse. She opened a side zipper pocket and handed Rick a thousand dollars in one hundred dollar bills.
“You don’t owe us this much,” Rick said, as he started to hand half the money back to her.
“Yes, I do. I paid you a thousand when I signed the contract with A.J., and based on what you charge per day, this is what I owe you for the remainder of your work.”
“A.J. doesn’t want to charge you for Friday night.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, no. I won’t hear of it.”
“Look, Mrs. Davis, the camera was stolen. It doesn’t matter who took it. We weren’t able to get the pictures you need, so we can’t take money for a job we didn’t--”
“You keep that money, Rick, and you tell A.J. I insisted you do so.” The woman smiled. “Besides, Vic is the one who earned it. Therefore, I’m more than happy to give it away.”
Rick laughed. Not for the first time in his life, Rick knew that a woman scorned was not a woman to mess with. Too bad old Vic hadn’t figured that out yet.
The detective walked his client to the door. Carolyn promised to be in touch with the Simon brothers when she returned from New York.
“Unless I find the camera first. If I do, I’ll call you.”
“All right,” Rick agreed. Once again, he cautioned, “Just be careful.”
“I will be.”
Rick watched Carolyn walk to the elevator. When she closed the old fashioned door and started to descend, the detective went back into his office. He stayed another two hours, and then at three-thirty gathered up the mail so A.J. could look through it. He grabbed his hat from the rack, shut off the lights, locked the door, and exited the office.
As Rick drove to A.J.’s house in the start of rush hour traffic, he didn’t notice Vic Davis tailing him three car lengths behind.
Two weeks passed without Rick hearing from Carolyn Davis. He’d tried to call her three times, but had gotten no answer, so assumed she’d gone to visit her daughter. Now he stood in his bedroom amidst piles of clean clothes, camping equipment, and boxes of food. As usual, Rick had waited until the last minute to pack for his trip. The detective glanced at his watch and saw he had thirty minutes to get the mess surrounding him into some semblance of order before he had to leave to pick up A.J. The last thing Rick wanted to do was start off this vacation with his brother mad at him. Which was exactly what would happen if he were late. There was no doubt that A.J. had been packed for at least three days, and had his sports bag and camping equipment stacked in his garage so everything could be easily loaded into the bed of Rick’s truck.
When the brothers had climbed in their vehicles the prior evening as they left the Simon and Simon office, the last thing A.J. said to Rick was, “Just be on time tomorrow morning, all right? For once I'd like to go on a camping trip with you and get there before it's time to come back."
Recalling his brother's words forced Rick to increase his pace as he haphazardly packed, and then double checked to make sure he had everything he needed.
"Aw, heck, I don't have to waste my time double checking anything,” Rick said to Rex, who was seated on the bed for lack of empty floor space. “A.J. always brings two of everything."
Under different circumstances, Rick wouldn’t have inconvenienced himself in an effort to meet A.J.’s time schedule. But considering A.J.’s recent injury, and how Rick mentally shuddered each time he pondered the tragic turn events could have taken had he not swung by the Seaside Motel that rainy night, meant Rick wasn’t up to giving A.J. grief. The blond man hadn’t voiced any opposition when Raj suggested he take a vacation, which indicated to Rick that A.J. still wasn’t feeling like his old self, despite the fact that he’d been released to return to work two days after Carolyn’s visit to the Simon and Simon office. A.J. was still pale, and appeared to tire easily. Raj had said the latter was often a side-effect of a concussion, but Rick wondered how much it had to do with the injury, versus how much it had to do with the additional hours A.J. had been working the past year and half.
“A.J. doesn’t take enough time to stop and smell the roses, Rex.” Rick hoisted his duffle bag over his shoulder and picked up his fishing gear. “I shouldn’t have let him put all those weekends in at the office paying bills and catching up on paperwork, but nothin’ I said woulda’ made a difference anyway. A.J.’s too stubborn for his own good sometimes.”
Rex jumped off the bed and followed Rick as he made the first of five trips to his pickup truck. When all of Rick’s gear was loaded in the back of the truck, he jogged back to his boat, took a final tour of the interior to make certain all the lights were shut off, and locked the doors. Rex leaped into the truck’s bed as Rick climbed in the cab. With the wind blowing a gentle breeze through Rex’s golden coat, they were soon headed to the Grand Canal.
As Rick could have predicted, A.J. stood in his garage while waiting for his brother to arrive. Not for the first time, A.J. hoped he hadn’t made a mistake by allowing Rick to plan this vacation. When A.J. had stopped by the office after his appointment with Raj and told his brother, “I can come back to work tomorrow, but Raj thinks I should take a vacation sometime in the next couple of weeks,” he wasn’t surprised when Rick voiced agreement of that idea. Not that A.J. could blame his brother. Neither of them had taken any substantial time off in more than a year now. Although A.J. wouldn’t admit it to his brother, he knew a vacation was long overdue for both of them.
If I hadn’t been so tired, I might have heard Davis sneaking up on me that night.
A.J. attributed his weariness, as well, to being part of the reason he’d been insane enough to allow Rick to plan this vacation. The only input A.J. had given was when he said, “But no vacation in Mexico, Rick. I don't care what you plan, as long as it's not in Mexico." On an afterthought, A. J. added, "And as long as it involves the outdoors. We’ve both spent way too much time indoors this past year.”
“Okay. Not Mexico, but outdoors. Got it.”
Although A.J. had given his brother permission to plan their vacation, he hadn’t expected Rick to keep those plans a secret. But keep them a secret Rick did. No matter how many times A.J. questioned his brother about their vacation in the two weeks leading up to it, all he was told was, “Get your camping gear together, grab your tackle box and fishing pole, bring whatever food you want to, be ready at six on Saturday morning, and don’t ask me anymore questions.”
“No,” Rick shook his head. “No more questions. You said I could plan this vacation, so I did.”
“I must have been suffering from dementia as a result of my concussion when I said that.”
“Oh well,” was all Rick had said in reply. “Too late now, little brother. I’ve already contacted the...”
“No, not The Who, though come to think of it, it might be kinda cool if they could join us,” Rick teased in reference to the once popular rock group.
Rick had maintained his ground, despite his slip up. “No more questions. Just get your stuff together and get ready to have a good time.”
As A.J. waited for his brother to arrive, he hoped that Rick hadn’t invited any women to join them. Neither of the brothers was involved in a serious relationship at the moment, and it would be just like Rick to pick up two bimbos from God knows where to accompany them.
“That better not be what he’s up to,” A.J. muttered, as he stood in the open doorway of his garage while watching for his sibling. It wasn’t that A.J. didn’t enjoy the company of an attractive female, but he knew any women Rick would choose wouldn’t be his type by a long shot.
A.J. breathed a sigh of relief when Rick arrived five minutes later with Rex as his only passenger. Rick climbed out of the cab and helped A.J. pack his gear in the bed of the truck. They rearranged a few things so Rex would still have plenty of room to sit comfortably, or lie down if he wanted to. A.J. ran back to the garage and pressed the button that would automatically close the overhead door. He dashed for the truck before the door could start its descent.
When the brothers were in the truck, A.J. looked across the seat at Rick. “Okay, where are we going?”
Rick smiled while backing the vehicle out of the driveway. “Geez, a bit anxious there, aren’t we, A.J.?”
“Just anxious to know what the big secret is.”
“There’s no secret.”
“You’ve been acting like there is ever since I told you to go ahead and plan this vacation.”
“Well, little brother, maybe that means you’ve learned your lesson.”
“Maybe now you won’t wait two years before you take your next vacation.”
“Yeah. And maybe I’ll know better than to let you plan my next vacation for me, too.”
Rick laughed, but wasn’t willing to offer more information. He had fun watching his brother worry over their final destination, and what awaited them once they arrived there. It was even more amusing to Rick because A.J. was getting worked up over nothing. Granted, there was a surprise waiting for A.J., but it would be one he enjoyed. Rick didn’t bother to mention that, however, as he drove north out of San Diego. If it hadn’t been for the convoy of semi-trucks going in the same direction the brothers were, Rick might have noticed the black Chevy pickup that stayed two lanes away from him throughout the trip.
For the next one hundred miles, A.J. badgered his brother as to where they were headed. After Rick had replied, "You'll see," for the tenth time, A.J. gave up and switched tactics. He turned and looked through the back window at the truck's bed.
"You brought enough food to feed an army. Even you, at your hungriest, couldn't possibly eat all that. What's going on?"
"Whatta ya’ mean?"
"What I mean is, who else do you have coming along on this vacation with us?"
A.J. 's eyebrows arched in doubt. "No one, huh? Then how come your voice just went up two octaves when you tried to pass that lie off on me? Come on, Rick, tell me the truth."
"I am tellin’ you the truth."
"Sure you are. You didn't invite those two girls along you brought by the office last week, did you? You know, those two sisters. What were their names? Karla and...”
"Renee," Rick supplied. "And no, I didn't invite them, or any women for that matter. This is definitely not a woman's kinda vacation, A.J. At least not the kinda vacation the women you date would enjoy. There's no place to plug in a hair dryer, no modern plumbing facilities, no place to go for a fancy dinner. Just us, the woods, the river, the--"
"Ah, ha! A river," A.J. gloated, finally getting some information out of his brother.
Rick just smiled as he returned his attention to his driving.
A.J. made a few more attempts at loosening Rick’s tongue, but when the lanky man refused to disclose anything else, A.J. finally let the subject drop.
The brothers stopped to eat lunch in Bakersfield. Rick parked the truck close to the restaurant so he could look out of a window and keep an eye on Rex. The men enjoyed the opportunity to stretch their legs and fill their stomachs. While A.J. paid the bill, Rick put a leash on Rex and took him for a quick walk.
After Rick had passed by, the man in the black pickup slowly brought his body up from the truck’s seat. He watched as the brothers prepared to leave. He allowed Rick a head start before following him once again. He stayed behind the Simon brothers until Rick exited the main highway. There was no need to follow the men beyond this point, because now Vic Davis knew where they were going.
Two hours later Rick turned off the main highway and began winding around narrow roads that were situated in a vast national park. Every now and then A.J. would get a glimpse of a tent, or the brothers would drive by hikers, or a lone jogger, or families on bicycles. After thirty minutes of further driving that took the detectives along side a rapidly flowing river, Rick pulled into a clearing shaded by towering pine trees, giant sequoias, and massive, ancient oaks. He parked the truck next to a black LeBaron convertible and a red Jeep Cherokee.
Although A.J. didn't recognize the Jeep, that looked as if it were brand new, he did know to whom the convertible belonged. If he had any doubts that it was Jerry Reiner's, all he had to do was take a look at the vanity license plate - 6 FEET UNDR.
A.J. glanced at his brother as Rick shut off the truck's engine. "Jerry's here?"
"Look's like it."
A.J. spotted a man with sandy red hair coming out of one of the tents.
"Hey, there's Lee."
"Yep, that's Lee all right."
Lee was Jerry’s older brother, and a chemist for a pharmaceutical company. Because of the Simons’ friendship with Jerry, Lee had recommended them to his boss when his company began implementing background checks on all new hires. It was the kind of work that Rick and A.J. appreciated, simply because it supplied a relatively steady paycheck.
The Simon brothers climbed out of the truck as Rex leaped over the bed and dashed for the woods. The sound of the slamming doors drew Lee’s attention. He smiled and waved as he ambled toward the men.
"Well, if it isn't those two troublemaking Simon brothers. How are you guys doing?"
Rick and A.J. exchanged handshakes with Lee, then stood by Rick’s truck and talked with him. A.J. was under the assumption that the Jeep belonged to Lee. Therefore, he was caught off-guard when he spotted Downtown Brown walking toward them. Trailing behind Town was Jerry, and then a black man A.J. didn't know.
The next several minutes were filled with bear hugs, backslapping, and a round of raucous greetings. The Simons hadn’t seen Town in over a year, and were happy to be reunited with their old friend.
Once the hellos ended, Town introduced the man now standing next to him. "Rick, A. J., this is my younger brother, Marcus. Mark, Rick and A.J. Simon."
"Nice to meet ya’, Mark." Rick shook the man's hand, taking note of how much the Brown brothers resembled one another, and taking note of how tall Town's younger sibling was. Rick took a rough guess and estimated the man stood six foot six.
Mark lived in Ohio, and it was only by chance that he was scheduled to be in California this week. When Rick had called Town about the camping trip, the police lieutenant had first turned the offer down while explaining that his brother would be visiting. Rick’s response had been, “Hey, the more the merrier. I told Jerry to invite Lee, so you might as well bring your brother along, too.” Town welcomed the invitation, since he had nothing special planned for Mark’s week with him at his Los Angeles home.
A.J. shook hands with Marcus next. "So, your name's just Mark, huh? You don't have a name that rhymes with Brown, do you? All your other relatives I've met seem to."
Mark laughed at A.J.'s comment. "Well, no, not really. Sometimes my kids at school – I’m a gym teacher and basketball coach - have a few choice nicknames for me, but they try to make sure I don't overhear them. Although, come to think of it, when I was in college I worked as a butcher to help pay my way through school, and the guys at the packing plant called me Ground Round Brown."
As everyone laughed, A.J. shook his head. "I knew it. I just knew it."
Rick looked Marcus up and down. "Geez, Towner, your mother grows ‘em big, doesn't she?"
"She sure does. This guy was taller than me by the time he was sixteen."
"And with good reason," Marcus said with a sly smile.
"I was finally able to get back at him for all the years he beat up on me."
"I didn't beat up on you!"
"You did, too. I've got the scars to prove it."
This conversation prompted all the little brothers in attendance to unite in telling brief tales of the woes they’d had to deal with at the hands of their older siblings.
That prompted the three big brothers to protest their siblings' stories, and to deny any memory of the incidents that were brought forth.
After a few minutes of this, Rick finally put an end to it by grabbing his younger brother in a headlock and dragging A.J. toward the back of the pickup. "Okay, okay, that's enough. Help me get this stuff unloaded before you have another imaginary scar to add to your collection."
"They're not imaginary!" A.J. declared, as he disentangled himself from Rick's hold and began unloading the truck’s bed.
In less than an hour's time, Rick and A.J. had their tent set up and all the necessary gear unpacked. Two picnic tables sat within the campsite. The men stacked boxes of paper plates, cups, plastic utensils, and anything else animals wouldn’t disturb, on the surface of one of the tables. Town had brought along two garbage cans with lids that latched closed. He set those at the end of the table they were using for storage. He pointed out the hand-operated pump to Rick and A.J. where fresh water could be gotten for cooking, washing, shaving, and tooth brushing, and then pointed to the log framed outhouse beyond.
Jerry and Lee had arrived at the park the previous afternoon, so were already familiar with the area. Therefore, it was the Reiner brothers who suggested the men go fishing at a spot Lee had discovered that morning.
“Sounds good to me,” Rick agreed, while he picked up his fishing pole and whistled for Rex to join him.
“Fine with me,” A.J. said, as he grabbed a tackle box.
Town and Marcus were in agreement, as well. When everyone had their fishing equipment in hand, and with Rick carrying a cooler filled with beer and soda, the six men and Rex set off toward a calm section of the river.
That evening Jerry cleaned the bounty of fish that had been caught.
"Cleaning dead things is right up my alley," the coroner joked.
Since Rick and Lee were the avid fishermen amongst the group, they cooked the afternoon's catch. While they were occupied preparing supper, the other men set up metal stakes Jerry had brought along and played horseshoes.
When Rick and Lee announced that supper was ready, the men filled their plates and sat at the picnic table that had been left free of boxes, coolers, and other clutter. When the meal was finished, A.J. and the Brown brothers cleaned up since they had not assisted with the preparation.
"You know,” Rick observed, “I bet thirty years ago none of our mothers would have believed that their sons could work together like this."
Town laughed as he rinsed a frying pan in a plastic pail of clean water, then handed it to Marcus to dry. "That's for sure. When we were kids it was our job to wash and dry the dishes. Some nights we'd get to fighting like cats and dogs, and end up with water and soap suds all over the kitchen. When that happened, Mom would show up with a wooden paddle in her hand. She didn’t have to use it on us more than once or twice. Just the threat of it made us straighten up and get those dishes done."
The men chuckled at Downtown's story. His memories of doing dishes with his younger brother were similar to the memories Lee Reiner had, and similar to the memories Rick had.
"I was always squirting the sprayer that sits next to the faucet,” Rick said. “I used to soak A.J. to the skin with that thing.”
"Yeah, and you used to soak the kitchen with it at the same time." A.J. said, while dumping paper plates and cups in a garbage can. "Mom and her trusty wooden spoon finally put an end to his little game."
"It sounds like your mom and our mom went to the same school of motherhood," Marcus quipped.
"I think they all go to that school," Jerry contributed.
After the dishes were done, the campers played touch football until it was too dark to see. The men then retreated to the semi-circle area created by their tents. A.J. built a fire using wood Lee and Jerry had gathered the previous evening. The campers sat in lawn chairs, each with a cold beer in hand.
Rick stared into the fire, watching the flames dance above the circle of rocks that surrounded the logs. "You know, this reminds me of the camping trips my parents took A.J. and me on when we were kids. We used to go to a park a lot like this one."
"You guys were lucky," Lee said. "Our parents never took us camping, even though Jerry and I begged them to every year when they were planning the family vacation."
"They never took you camping?” A.J. asked. “Why not?"
Jerry chuckled. "Dad said he had spent enough time sleeping on the ground during the war. He wasn't about to do that again and call it a vacation. So, the only times Lee and I got to camp until we were grown, was a couple of years when we went to Boy Scout Camp."
"We never took a vacation like this either," Marcus said. "Actually, this is the first time I've ever been camping."
Rick arched an eyebrow. "You're kidding?"
"No, I'm not. This is the first time."
With a twinkle in his eye, Rick turned to Town. "Gee, Towner, you didn't tell me we had a novice camper with us this trip. I think a special initiation is in order."
Seeing the evil glint to Rick's eyes, A.J. admonished, "Rick..."
Town laughed. "I've already warned my little brother about you, Rick. He knows to watch his back."
"Yeah, and my front, and my sides, and everywhere else I can think of," Marcus added.
"He'll come up with some place you've missed, believe me," A.J. warned. "For some reason, camping trips bring out the worst in my brother."
“Oh,” Rick negated, “they do not.”
A.J. raised a hand and counted off on his fingers. “One. The time when I was five that you led me into the woods, tied me to a tree, and then ran off and left me there.”
“We were playin’ Daniel Boone. I can’t help it if you were a lousy Indian scout and got caught.”
A.J. ignored his brother. “Two. The time you swapped my string of fish with yours. I had caught ten, you hadn’t caught any.”
“Only ‘cause Dad made me spend all my time helping you.”
“Three. All the times you told me stories about murderers running loose in the woods after we’d gone to bed in our tent.”
Rick smiled at the memory of those time-honored ghost stories all young campers partake in. “Now that I won’t deny.”
“You’d better not, otherwise I’ll tell everyone about the time you ended up scaring yourself with one of your stories, and running to Mom and Dad’s tent in the middle of the night.”
Town laughed. “Sounds like you got paid back, Rick.”
“Yeah,” Rick agreed, “guess you could say I paid myself back without tryin’ to. My folks weren’t too happy about bein’ woken up in the middle of the night by me screaming that I’d heard the Backwoods Butcher outside my tent.”
“And where was A.J. while this was going on?” Jerry asked.
“The little bugger slept through it.”
The men laughed, then the conversation shifted to other subjects. An hour later the conversation wound down, and one by one the campers began to leave the circle they’d made around the fire as they headed for their tents.
When Rick and A.J. were settled in their sleeping bags, Rick shut off the battery-powered lantern he’d brought along. The long drive and the fresh air had taken a toll on Rick. His head wasn’t against his pillow five minutes before he started to drift off to sleep. That was not the case with A.J., however.
“Thanks for planning this trip.”
Rick opened his eyes and chuckled. “Oh, so now you’re thanking me, huh?”
“Now that I know what the big secret was, I am. Spending the week with Jerry and Town will be a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, it will be. Lee’s always up for a good time, too.”
“He is,” A.J. agreed. “And Mark seems like a nice guy. I think he’s already enjoying himself, even though he’s never been camping before.”
“Seems to be.”
“So thanks. This was a good idea.”
“Glad to hear you think I have one of those once in a while.”
“Well...only once in a while. You usually go through about two hundred bad ideas until you hit on one that works.”
“You know, A.J., if you keep talkin’ to me like that, I’ll just point the Backwoods Butcher in your direction when he bursts in this tent later tonight.”
“No, considering Mom’s not here, you’ll probably scream and go running for Town.”
Before Rick could think of an appropriate comeback, A.J. was asleep. The lanky man closed his eyes and turned on his side, being careful not to disturb Rex, who was slumbering at the end of Rick’s sleeping bag.
Rick wasn’t certain what woke him a few hours later. He knew some sound had disturbed his sleep, but couldn’t identify it. He propped himself up on his right elbow and listened. The interior of the tent was dark, but he could make out the form of his brother sleeping across from him. Rex raised his head and let out a low growl.
“Rex,” Rick whispered. “Be quiet.”
Rick listened a moment longer, but didn’t hear anything.
Musta’ been a raccoon, Rick chuckled to himself. Or maybe it’s the Backwoods Butcher.
Rick rolled onto his back and settled against his pillow. He noticed that it took Rex a few minutes to lie down and relax once again, but didn’t think anything of it. After all, what dog didn’t want the opportunity to chase a raccoon?
Rick was the first camper up and about just after sunrise. Rex played in a shallow part of the river, while Rick waited for water to heat so he could make coffee. Once he had a steaming mug of the liquid in his hand, Rick walked to the water's edge and sat down to watch the sun come up over the trees. When he finished his coffee, Rick stood and stripped his boots, socks, jeans, and shirt off. He waded into the river in nothing but his boxer shorts. If any of the campers wanted to bathe this week, a dunk in the river was the only way that would be accomplished.
Rick looked up to see A.J. walking toward the river. The blond detective was wearing a pair of swimming trunks and tennis shoes, and had a towel draped over his right shoulder.
“How’s the water?”
A.J. rolled his eyes at his brother’s humor. “What I meant was, is it cold?”
“Nope. It’s great. Come on in.”
A.J. eyed the crystal river. “It’s not cold?”
Rick cupped water in his hands and poured it over his head. “Would I be doin’ this if it was cold?”
A.J. watched as Rick poured water over his head a second time, and then a third. His brother seemed to be enjoying himself, so A.J. dropped his towel and dashed for the water. A.J. had too much momentum going to be able to stop until he was in above his waist.
“Ah! Damn! You said it wasn’t cold!”
Rick shrugged. “I lied.”
While his brother sputtered, and shivered, and vowed revenge, Rick laughed and trudged toward the riverbank.
“Hey! Hey, put my towel down! Rick! Rick...”
Rick laughed again as he dried off. He picked up his coffee mug, slung A.J.’s towel over his shoulders, and headed for the campsite.
As soon as breakfast was eaten, the men took a hike. They arrived back at their campsite at noon, and after a lunch of sandwiches and fruit, went off in their own directions. Lee and Rick fished, A.J. and Town played horseshoes, Marcus got his camera and followed a trail they hadn’t explored yet, and Jerry took a nap.
The men had agreed to meet at the tents at two-thirty so they could go whitewater rafting. The part of the river the brothers were camping beside was fairly calm, but down just one mile the water churned and spun. The park maintained a building there where rafts and other necessary equipment could be rented.
The whitewater rafting expedition had been the final portion of the vacation Rick had kept from A.J. until that morning. The blond had enjoyed this rugged sport on numerous occasions in the past, but hadn't engaged in it for three years now.
“Almost makes up for me stealin’ your towel, huh, kid?” Rick had asked, after telling A.J. about the rafting excursion he’d booked for three o’clock.
“No. But if you pay for the rent on my gear, I might forgive you.”
“Don’t count on it, A.J.”
At two-thirty, Rick secured Rex to a tree with a long, sturdy rope and made sure the dog had a bucket of fresh water and a bowl of food. When Rick finished taking care of Rex, the men walked down river to rent a raft, paddles, life vests, and helmets. A.J. and Lee, who had also done some rafting in the past, chose not to pay the additional money for a river guide. After discussing the river and the best way to navigate it with one of the rangers, Lee and A.J. were confident in their abilities to handle the raft.
After the campers had been outfitted with the necessary equipment, A.J. and Lee explained the sport to their companions. Because A.J.’s experience was superior to Lee’s, he would captain the raft. His job was to sit in the stern and man the rudder that would steer the craft. The only job the other men had was to paddle and shift their weight from left to right, based on the orders called out from their captain.
Soon the six adventurers were ready to head down the river. As A.J. climbed in the raft, Rick caught sight of the blond's helmet lying in the bottom of the boat.
"Hey, don't forget your headgear. "
A.J.'s aversion to any type of headwear was well known. "I don't need it."
"The ranger said you did. He said it was part of rafting safety."
A.J. laughed. “Since when does Rick Simon follow someone else’s rules?”
"Look, Rick, you were the one who insisted that I rent the damn thing. I told you three times that I never wear a helmet when I raft. I don't plan on starting now. Don't worry, nothing will happen. "
As A.J. settled himself in the captain's position, Rick muttered, "You are the most stubborn, hard-headed human being I have ever encountered."
The blond man wrinkled his nose at his brother. "Well, I guess if I'm so hard-headed, we don't have anything to worry about, now do we?"
"No, I guess not," Rick growled.
The matter of the helmet was soon forgotten as the men used their paddles to push off shore. The raft was immediately caught up in the swirling water and tossed down river.
For the next two hours the men navigated the wild, rough river. At times the roar of the water was so loud that it prevented Rick from hearing A.J.'s instructions. They shot up and down in the waves while A.J. steered them clear of rocks and other obstructions. Water sprayed over the men, making them almost as wet as they would have been had they jumped in the river. Rick soon realized that while this sport was exciting, it also held the potential for danger.
Right up A.J. 's alley, Rick thought. The younger Simon brother enjoyed high-risk sports. Hang gliding, boxing, and years ago, surfing, to name a few.
Slowly, the raging river narrowed and turned calm again. Rick could see the drop-off point for the rafts up ahead. As the men jumped out of the boat and began dragging the craft to shore, Rick was surprised at how tired his arms were. The river had a mind of its own, and could give a man a workout as he fought against it.
I’d sure hate to fall in. Even with a life vest on, you’d be fighting a losing battle against that current.
The men turned their equipment in to the teenage attendant, then walked to the nearby lot where the park’s trams were located. They bought soft drinks at a vending stand while they waited for the next tram to pull out. They climbed aboard the vehicle going in their direction, and were able to get within a mile and a half of their campsite. They stepped off the slow moving tram and hiked up a hill and through the woods to their home base.
When Rex bounded to greet Rick, the detective crouched down and grabbed the dog’s collar. “Hey, how did you get loose?”
“You must have not had him tied very well,” A.J. said.
Rick walked over to inspect the rope. It was still secured around the tree, and the end that had been looped through the metal ring on Rex’s collar was unscathed.
“I don’t see how he coulda’ got this undone.”
“Maybe he pulled on it enough to loosen it,” Jerry suggested.
Rick sounded doubtful. “Yeah, maybe.”
“At least he’s a good dog,” Mark said, as he rummaged through their supplies so he and Town could start cooking supper. “The mutt my wife and I have would have disappeared into the woods and never come back.”
Rick bent to pet Rex, happy that the dog had stayed at the campsite. “Yeah, he’s a good boy.”
“No, he’s not.” A.J. stepped out of the tent he was sharing with Rick. He held the flap open. “Come here and see what he did.”
Rick stood and walked to the tent. He looked inside and saw clothes strewn from one end to the other. He turned around.
The dog looked up at his master with confusion.
“What did you do? Bad dog.”
Had Rick been paying attention, he would have realized Rex wasn’t reacting like he normally did when he was in trouble for some misdeed he’d committed. He didn’t hunch his shoulders, or put his tail between his legs, or try to make himself as small as possible while Rick scolded him.
Rick and A.J. gathered their clothes and repacked them.
“Boy, he musta’ been determined. He woulda’ had to nose my bag open, and he woulda’ had to unzip yours.”
“Judging by this mess, I’d say he was determined,” A.J. agreed. The zipper handle on his sports bag was large, so it wasn’t inconceivable to A.J. that Rex could have grabbed it with his teeth and pulled it down.
The mischief Rex had made was forgotten when Town announced supper was ready. The men ate, then gathered around the campfire. They talked, laughed, teased, and told stories on one another like brothers often do, until after the sun went down. It was eleven o’clock when A.J. put the last log on the fire so it would burn slowly throughout the night. The men headed for their tents, ready to climb into their sleeping bags and allow another day to come to an end.
Over the next three days there was an abundance of fishing, hiking, touch football games, horseshoes, card playing, story telling, teasing, joking, and cold baths in the river. The men had gone rafting again on Tuesday, as well.
Late on Wednesday morning, Rick found his brother sitting alone by the river. He sat down beside A.J., while Rex explored the nearby woods.
"What are ya’ doin’ down here by yourself?"
"Just relaxing. I've played enough horseshoes to last me a lifetime, and I’m not in the mood for football right now."
"You're feelin' all right, aren't you?"
A.J. caught the quick look Rick had thrown at his head, in the area where the bump had been after his encounter with Vic Davis. A.J. smiled at his brother's concern.
"I'm fine, Rick. I just wanted some time alone, that's all."
Rick started to stand. "Oh, in that case, I guess I should leave then."
A.J. put a hand on Rick's arm and urged him to sit down again. "No, you can stay."
When Rick was reseated next to A.J., the blond said, “Thanks again for planning this trip. It's been great.”
"Now that's a switch from the tune my workaholic brother was singing a few months ago when I couldn’t get him to agree to a vacation for all the money in the world."
"Yeah, I know. Sometimes I have a tendency to get...too wrapped up in my work."
Rick nodded as he looked out over the water. "Yeah, you do."
“Thanks a lot for agreeing with me."
Rick chuckled. "Well, what did ya’ want me to do? Deny the obvious?"
"You could have lied."
"Oh, no, A.J. I can't do that. Mom taught me never to lie."
"That's never stopped you before."
Rick chuckled again. "No, it hasn't. But this time I'm
tellin’ you the truth. You do get too wrapped up in your work sometimes. You need to take more time off. I want you to promise you'll take at least a couple of weeks off every year from now on."
A.J. hedged. "Well, I'll see. It depends on how the business is do--"
"Rick, come on. Let's not argue, okay? I don't want this vacation to be ruined, do you?"
"No, but you gotta take time off and..."
Rick held his hands up in a gesture indicating a truce. "All right. All right. I’ll drop it...for now at least."
“Thanks.” Like his brother, A.J. gazed out over the water. “I wonder if Mrs. Davis had any luck finding that camera.”
“I don’t know. I’ll call her when we get back. If she didn’t, I suppose the only advice we can give her is to hire another detective agency.”
“I don’t see any other alternatives. I hate the fact that I let her down,
“A.J., for the tenth time, you didn’t let her down. Her husband conked you on the head and stole the evidence.”
“Or so we assume.”
“What? You don’t think it was him?”
“Yeah, I think it was him. It’s just that I have no proof of it, and I wish like heck that I did.”
Considering this was supposed to be a long overdue vacation for A.J., Rick had no desire to discuss a case that had ended on less than a positive note.
“Did you have a good time rafting yesterday?”
A.J. recognized that Rick had purposely changed the subject, but didn’t comment on it. “Yeah, I had a lot of fun. I’d like to go at least once more before we leave on Sunday.”
“I’m sure it can be worked in. How about if we plan for Friday? If the other guys agree, I can hike down tomorrow and reserve a time for us.”
“You’ve sure got Lee, Town, and Mark hooked on it.”
A.J. smiled knowingly. “But not you and Jerry, huh?”
“I think it scares Jerry a little, even though he won’t admit it. Lee told me Jerry isn’t a very good swimmer, so he’s not too crazy about water.”
“Yeah, I knew that, but what about you? You’re not afraid of water. How come you don’t like rafting?”
“It’s not that I don’t like it exactly. It’s fun. It’s just a little too much work for me. Work and fun don’t go together in my book, little brother.”
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot,” A.J. teased. “If it involves more exertion than tilting a beer can to your mouth with one hand, while casting a fishing line with the other, it’s too much work for you.”
“Yep, kid, it sure is.” Rick stood and pulled on his brother’s arm. “Come on, let’s you, me, and Rex take a little hike before lunch.”
A.J. allowed himself to be pulled to a standing position while Rick summoned Rex with a whistle. The men and dog set off on a trail they hadn’t hiked yet, unaware that they were being watched through a pair of binoculars from a hill high above their heads.
That evening the men sat around the campfire exchanging stories about their growing up years. Based on the various tales related, Marcus suggested in jest, “I think we should take a vote on which older brother was the biggest tormentor – Rick, Marcel, or Lee.”
Town cast his ballot. “I vote for Rick.”
“Yeah,” Lee Reiner agreed. “Based on the stories A. J. has told us this week, Rick definitely gets my vote, too.”
“Hey!” Rick protested. “You guys are just sayin’ that ‘cause you don’t wanna be voted ‘biggest tormentor.’”
“Sorry, Rick, but I’d have to vote for you, too,” Marcus apologized.
“Yeah, Rick, me, too,” Jerry added with a grin. “I used to think Lee picked on me nonstop, but compared to you, he was a saint.”
Rick turned and glared at his younger brother, daring him to add to this conversation.
A.J. smiled as he spread his arms in a gesture of defeat. “Sorry, big brother, but I vote for you as well. After all, I lived through it...barely, I might add.”
“Give me one example of something I did to you that was so terrible.”
“One example? I could give you a hundred.”
“You exaggerate,” Rick scoffed.
“I do not. But all right, one example,” A.J. conceded. “I was five-years-old, you were ten. You got up before everyone else on Christmas morning and—“
Rick’s laughter interrupted his brother. He knew exactly what A.J. was going to say.
“What?” Town asked. “What did he do?”
“He got up before everyone else, emptied my stocking, hid everything that was in it, and refilled it with charcoal. Then he snuck back to our bedroom and pretended to be asleep when I woke up a little while later. We ran and woke our parents, then we went downstairs with Mom and Dad to empty our stockings.”
Rick grinned. “You should have seen the look on A.J.’s face when all he dumped out were chunks of Kingsford Charcoal.”
The men shook their heads and laughed over the prank Rick had pulled.
A.J. picked up the story. “As the charcoal hit the floor, my big brother here piped up and said, ‘Gee, A.J., you musta been real bad this year. Santa Claus didn’t leave you nothin’ but old lumps of coal.’ ”
“I bet you got in big trouble,” Jerry said to Rick.
“Oh, yeah, I sure did. Dad grabbed me by the arm about the time the tears started rollin’ down A.J.’s face and told me I’d find a switch in my stocking if I didn’t hurry up and locate A.J.’s toys. Then he made me sit in our room for half an hour.”
Lee pointed a finger at Rick. “You definitely win. Hiding a little kid’s presents is low.”
“Hey, I had taken him to see Santa.”
“Nah, not good enough,” Mark said.
“I had helped him write his letter to Santa.”
“Nope,” Jerry shook his head. “That still doesn’t cut it.”
“I bought the stamp and mailed the letter for him.”
“No,” Town said. “That’s not gonna make me change my vote, white boy.”
“Okay, okay, I win,” Rick conceded when he could see he wasn’t going to change any minds. “I guess I did torment my little brother on one or two occasions. Now, what do I win?”
Rick hadn’t seen A.J. circle around behind him, nor did he realize that A.J. had an ice chest poised over his head.
“You win this!”
“Ah!” Rick jumped to his feet. “A.J., you...damn that’s cold!”
Everyone had a good laugh at Rick’s expense. For once, A.J. got the best of his brother.
Rick waved his arms in the air in an effort to shake off as much water as possible while he walked toward the tents.
“Hey, where are you going?”
Rick looked over his shoulder at his brother. “Gonna get on some dry clothes, climb in my sleeping bag, and spend the rest of the night elling’ about how I’m gonna pay you back for this.”
“Don’t think too hard. I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself,” was the parting remark Rick received as he pulled the flap back and entered his tent.
A.J. and the rest of the men remained gathered around the fire for another hour. A.J. could hear his brother snoring as he approached their tent. He slipped inside, followed by Rex, but didn’t turn on the lantern. He undressed and got in his sleeping bag, then tried to fall asleep in-between Rick’s snores.
I think I’d almost rather have him plotting revenge, was A.J.’s last thought before he finally managed to slip into sleep amongst Rick’s rumbles for air.
Friday morning the sun was up early, as were the campers. They’d spent Thursday fishing, then had cleaned up and gone to the nearest town for dinner and a movie. The late afternoon and evening hours spent away from the campsite had given the men renewed energy for the last two days they’d spend with Mother Nature.
While breakfast cooked, A.J. waded into the river. Despite the warm temperatures that had prevailed throughout the week, the water remained cold. A.J. knew this was normal for the elevation they were at; nonetheless, he was beginning to long for a hot shower.
The man made four quick dunks beneath the surface, and then ran for the shore. A.J. shivered as a strong wind blew through the leaves overhead. His brows knit in puzzlement while he looked around for his towel. He knew he’d left it on the same stump where he’d set a towel each day he’d taken a morning swim.
“Rick!” the blond man roared as he marched toward the camp. He had on his swimming trunks and tennis shoes, but that was far from enough to keep him warm as the cold water clung to his body. “Rick!”
Rick looked up from the fish he was cooking for breakfast. “What?”
“What’d you do with my towel?”
“I didn’t do anything with your towel.”
Water dripped into A.J.’s eyes from his hair. “You did, too.”
“Look, revenge is sweet, and you’ve gotten yours. Now where’s my towel?”
“A.J., I didn’t take your towel.”
“Then where is it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Rex ran off with it.”
A.J. looked around and spotted Rex several hundred yards away, chasing after the rubber ball Jerry and Lee were tossing back and forth.
The blond pointed to the dog. “I don’t think so.”
Rick turned and saw that Rex was occupied. “Well, then, I don’t have an answer for ya.’ All I know is, I didn’t take it, and if you hadn’t wasted your time accusing me of taking it, you could be in dry clothes by now.”
A.J.’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. He still wasn’t certain if he believed his brother or not, but Rick did have a point when he said A.J. could have been in dry clothes by now.
The blond stomped off to his tent to dress and comb his hair. He spent a few minutes after breakfast searching the nearby woods for his towel. He didn’t find it, so was left wondering if Rick really had taken it, or if Rex had swiped it and buried it somewhere. As A.J. ran off to join the football game Town and Mark had started, he decided to allow the whereabouts of the missing towel to remain an unsolved mystery.
That afternoon the men were once again renting rafts, life vests, and the other necessary paraphernalia for one last wild ride down the river. Once again foregoing a helmet, A.J. took his spot in the stern of the boat.
The river was rougher than Rick had ever seen it due to the high winds they were having. Between the wind and the waves, the men were having a hard time hearing A.J.’s instructions. A good majority of the time they couldn’t hear him at all. That didn’t concern Rick, though, as he enjoyed this one last ride down the rapids.
Vic Davis would be the first to admit he was no athlete. At fifty-nine years old he was forty pounds overweight, and the most strenuous exercise he got was when he bedded one of the young things he was seeing behind Carolyn’s back. He hadn’t confronted his wife about the private dicks she’d hired to follow him. If she did file for divorce, he didn’t want her to be able to tell her lawyer, or a judge, that he’d acknowledge any unfaithfulness to their marriage. He had no idea what she was cooking up with the Simon brothers, but he was going to take care of it right now. He had worked too hard to attain the wealth he had today, to have it all go to Carolyn in a divorce settlement aided by a couple of two-bit detectives.
The real estate agent was a novice when it came to firearms usage. He’d just bought his rifle three weeks earlier, and had taken a mere five days worth of lessons in target shooting before following the Simon brothers to this park. That made little difference though. Or at least that’s what the man who had sold him the gun had said. It had a scope, and the gun dealer had assured Vic that even a child could line up a target with the aid of a scope and be reasonably certain of hitting it.
Vic was panting with exertion as he hid amongst the trees that lined the river. He’d stood in the woods a few hundred yards from the Simon brothers’ campsite that morning, holding onto A.J. Simon’s towel and listening to the plans being made amongst the campers. When he’d heard Rick announce what time the rafting expedition had been booked for, Vic snuck off. He’d hiked back to his truck and returned to his motel room. He’d slept for a couple of hours, eaten lunch at a McDonald’s, and then driven back into the park. He’d violated park rules like he’d been doing all week and had driven the truck off one of the main roads. He’d found a remote spot amongst a thick grove of trees and had parked the vehicle. Just about the time he knew the Simons and their friends would be renting the rafting equipment, Vic grabbed his rifle and began hiking toward a bend in the river.
The raft rose high on a wave as A.J. gave the rudder a turn to the right in order to avoid a rock bed that he knew lay ahead. The strong wind and rushing water prevented him from hearing the retort of the rifle, but he felt the bullet blaze a searing path through his hair just above his right ear. The force of the bullet tossed A.J. backwards just as the raft was cresting another wave. He lost his grip on the rudder and flipped over the raft’s rounded edge and into the water.
Vic sighted his rifle for his second shot – the one that would strike Rick Simon, when he heard the cries of children somewhere behind him. Because of the strong wind, he had no idea how close the kids might be, but couldn’t risk a family out for a hike stumbling upon him. He stood and ran through the woods, ignoring the cuts from bramble bushes as he fled to his truck.
A.J. fought against the river in order to rise to the surface. His life vest gave him the bouncy he needed, but even it couldn’t combat the churning water. He felt his body bump against something soft, and through the haze of moisture in his eyes, saw the raft was right in front of him. He lifted his right hand and grabbed onto one of the sturdy rubber handles that were used as a handhold when carrying the raft. The detective tried to hoist himself back into the boat, but the strong current bucking against his body prevented that action.
A.J. brought his other hand up and hung on. He felt like a fish on a line as he was tossed from side to side. Blood ran down his face, and into his eyes and mouth. A.J. coughed, spitting out both blood and water. He looked toward the shoreline, but another wave washing over him prevented A.J. from getting his bearings. He had no idea if they were a mile from the drop-off point, or five miles. He hoped it was the former, because he didn’t know how long he could hold on.
Just like the sound of the wind and water had kept A.J. from hearing the rifle’s retort, it had also kept the other men from hearing it. It wasn’t until the raft began to drift toward some rocks that Rick turned around to see if A.J. was having trouble steering.
The detective did a double take, not sure at first if his brother actually was missing, or if the water washing over them was obscuring his vision. Rick wiped the water out of his eyes and looked again. There was no mistaking what Rick saw...or rather didn’t see, this time.
“Lee!” Rick shouted to the man seated across from him. “Lee! Get back there and steer the boat!”
Lee shot Rick a look of puzzlement and turned around. “What the...where’s A.J.?”
“I don’t know! He musta’ fallen out. We gotta head this thing toward shore and get help!”
As much as Rick hated to make that suggestion, he knew there was no way to paddle the boat against the current in an effort to look for A.J. They only choice they had was to keep going down stream to the drop-off point, or to head for shore now like Rick had just suggested.
“One of us can flag down a ranger, while the rest of us watch and see if we spot A.J. goin’ by!”
Lee nodded as he took the stern position. He understood what Rick wanted to do. If they saw the current carry A.J. downstream, they could follow along the shoreline on foot and keep track of him until the rangers could initiate a rescue.
By now the commotion in the back of the boat had drawn the attention of the other three men. Rick shouted a brief explanation that got two points across – A.J. had been thrown overboard, and they were heading for shore.
The men paddled hard to the right as Lee steered. Rick felt his arm muscles screaming in protest as he fought to get the boat turned in a direction the water didn’t want it to go. If they could just battle the waves for one hundred feet, they’d be in calmer waters.
The men strained against their paddles. At first Rick didn’t think they were making any progress, but finally he could tell that the shoreline was getting closer.
It was when they made the transition from swirling water, to water flowing like a fast moving stream, that Lee felt the tug on his shirt. He looked down into a bloody face.
Rick turned around. “Where?”
Lee let go of the rudder’s handle and grabbed A.J.’s arm. “Right here! He’s hanging onto the back of the boat.”
Rick scrambled to join Lee while the other men kept paddling toward shore. They were still close enough to the fast moving current to run the risk of being swept back into it. Town realized what was going on behind him, and knew there would be little chance of hauling A.J. into the raft if they were being tossed amongst the waves again.
When Town heard Rick’s, “Got him!” he allowed his arms to take a brief rest. He turned around and saw a soaking wet A.J. lying in the bottom of the boat with blood covering his head and face. Town renewed his paddling efforts then, assuming A.J. had banged his head against rocks.
“A.J.!” Rick shouted, as he turned his brother over. “A.J., are you okay?”
The blond shivered and nodded. Like Town, Rick assumed A.J.’s head injury was a result of his skull coming in contact with rocks.
Rick stripped off his life vest and shirt. He folded the blue work shirt in fourths and pressed it against the source of the bleeding. A.J. reached a trembling hand upwards and latched onto Rick’s left wrist.
“It’s okay, A.J.,” Rick said. “You’re gonna be okay.”
The blood on A.J.’s face made him appear even paler than he was as it contrasted with his skin, and his lips were tinged blue from the cold water. His hair was matted with water and blood, and he couldn’t stop shivering. Until he’d gotten settled beside Rick, he hadn’t noticed how much his head hurt. He closed his eyes against the pain and lost the battle to keep his teeth from chattering.
A.J. felt the boat’s load lighten as the men jumped out to drag it to shore. Rick stayed with him as they were pulled up onto the grass. Five pairs of hands lifted A.J. out and laid him on the ground on his left side. At least that brought the blond man some warmth, as the grass had absorbed heat from the sun.
The men took off their helmets and vests, and tossed them into the raft.
“I’ll find a ranger,” Marcus said, as he ran for the main road.
Jerry called after the man, “Tell him we need an ambulance!” while he helped Rick remove A.J.’s life vest.
The men didn’t have a blanket, jacket, or any other type of warm, dry clothing they could cover A.J. with. That concerned Jerry as he watched his friend shiver while he examined him. He couldn’t detect any broken bones, or any back or neck injuries.
“Here, Rick,” Jerry said as he reached for the shirt Rick was still holding against A.J.’s head. “Let me take a look.”
Rick put his hand on A.J.’s shoulder while Jerry carefully lifted the shirt away from A.J.’s wound. Jerry’s brow furrowed as he cleaned the wound a bit with a corner of the shirt, then cleaned it some more.
“Town,” Jerry said, “take a look at this.”
As Town bent over A.J., Rick questioned, “What? What is it, Jer?”
“Looks like a bullet wound to me.”
“A bullet wound!”
“Yeah, but I think he was just creased.”
Town nodded his head. “It sure looks like a bullet wound to me, too.”
“How the hell did that happen?” Rick asked, as Jerry pressed the shirt back against A.J.’s wound.
“I don’t know, but I’m fairly positive that’s the source of his injury.”
Between shivers, A.J. said through chattering teeth, “I...I didn’t hear...hear the shot...but I felt...felt the bullet.”
Town crouched beside the man. “A.J., do you know where we were when this happened?”
“By...by the big rock bed...the one they call...they call the Devil’s...the Devil’s Arena.”
Town nodded. He knew the area A.J. was referring to, and knew the south shoreline was covered with woods, meaning someone – likely a poacher out hunting for a deer or a bear – had been firing at an animal, but had been drastically off-target.
“Okay,” Town said, “that’s what I need to know. You just relax now. Mark will be back with help in a few minutes.”
A.J. started to rise. “I don’t need...need help. I’m all...all right.”
Jerry and Rick exerted enough pressure to keep A.J. on the ground.
“You’re not goin’ anywhere but to the hospital,” Rick informed his brother.
“A.J,” Jerry interrupted, “you don’t have a choice. That’s a gunshot wound. It needs to be looked at.”
“You can...you can look at it.”
“I already did, and now I’m telling you that you need to go to the hospital for an X-ray to make sure no bones were chipped when that bullet whizzed through your hair, and to have the wound cleaned.”
As much as A.J. would have liked to argue his point further, he was too cold to get the words out. He could feel Rick’s hand running up and down against his right arm in an effort to offer him some warmth.
A.J. lost track of time as sleep tried to claim him. He was cold, his head hurt, and exhaustion as a result of his wild ride on the back of the raft, made him want to drift off into oblivion. Each time A.J.’s eyes closed, Rick or Jerry would shake him and shout his name. A.J. was getting irritated with the two men by the time a ranger arrived with Mark. Shortly after that, an ambulance pulled up.
A.J. didn’t appreciate the cervical collar the paramedics put on him, nor did he want the I.V. of saline that was started as a precaution, but he was grateful for the two blankets that covered his shivering body, and for the pressure bandage that finally stopped the blood from running down his face. He vaguely heard instructions being exchanged between Rick and Town as he was loaded in the ambulance. He caught enough of their conversation to know Rick was going to ride to the hospital in the front of the ambulance, while Town and the other men remained behind to talk to the sheriff’s deputy the ranger had summoned.
“We’ll be there as soon as we can, Rick,” Town said.
A.J. heard Rick’s “Okay, Towner,” right before the double doors of the ambulance were closed.
Five hours after his wild ride down the river, A.J. was released from the hospital. Town and the other men had joined Rick in the waiting area two hours after A.J. had been brought in by ambulance. Fortunately, Jerry had thought to bring dry clothes for A.J. in the event he was allowed to leave that evening. Though it was sixty-eight degrees outside, A.J. appreciated the sweatshirt and jean jacket Jerry had bundled up with underwear, socks, jeans, and shoes. He put both items on when he dressed, then walked out of the trauma room to meet the men waiting for him in the hallway. Judging by the khaki safari shirt Rick was wearing, A.J. could see that Jerry had remembered Rick had been without a shirt when the Simon brothers had left for the hospital.
As Jerry and Town had suspected, a bullet had made A.J.’s wound. He had a thick four-inch by four-inch bandage covering the right side of his head, and had been given a bottle of antibiotics he was to take over the next seven days. Since the Simon brothers were to leave for San Diego on Sunday, and since Jerry was a doctor, the emergency room physician didn’t need to see A.J. again. He advised, instead, that A.J. see his own doctor on Monday.
“There was no evidence of a concussion,” the E.R. doctor told Jerry, “but keep a close eye on him tonight.”
Jerry nodded. “Will do.”
“If you have any concerns, bring him back here.”
“Otherwise, Mr. Simon, please make certain you see your family doctor on Monday. If you have any further pain, two Tylenol should help relieve it.”
“All right,” A.J. said, in reference to the over-the-counter medicine the physician had supplied him with. “And thanks again, Doctor Milligan.”
The man nodded before hurrying off to take care of a patient waiting for him down the hall.
Rick put an arm around his brother’s shoulders and led him down the corridor and out of the double doors. Town, Mark, and Lee climbed in the front seat of Town’s Jeep, while Rick and Jerry made A.J. sit between them in the back.
“Guys, I’m fine,” A.J. assured the men he was seated in the middle of.
“Yeah, well, we’re just gonna make certain of that,” Rick said.
“If you want to make certain of it, then tell Town to stop somewhere so we can eat.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I’m starving, and I’d like something more substantial than what we can cook over a fire.”
Rick leaned across A.J. “Jer?”
“I don’t think it’ll hurt him. Actually, it would probably benefit all of us to have a good meal after what we’ve been through today.”
“I’ll second that,” Town said.
The black man wheeled the Jeep into the parking lot of the next restaurant he saw. It advertised home cooking and a quiet atmosphere, which was all Town needed to see.
The men found the restaurant’s advertisement to be true. They sat at a round table in a quiet section of the dining room. There were a few other patrons present, but since it was eight-fifteen now, the traditional dinner hour was past.
A.J. was never so grateful for a hot bowl of soup in his life. He ate the homemade beef vegetable soup with enough gusto to put Rick’s fears for his brother’s health aside. While the men passed around the basket of rolls and breadsticks the waitress had brought, Town filled Rick and A.J. in on the police investigation surrounding the shooting.
“We led the deputies to the area where I thought the shooting had occurred based on what A.J. told us. They were searching for shell casings when we left. I’ve got a card in my wallet with the name of the deputy who’s heading the investigation. I’ll give it to you when we get back to camp.”
“Thanks, Towner,” Rick said.
“Yeah, Town,” A.J. added, “thanks for handling everything.”
“You’re welcome. Someone from the sheriff’s department will be by our campsite tomorrow to get a statement from you, A.J.”
“I assumed as much,” A.J. said before taking another bite of soup.
The men had just been brought their main courses, when two sheriff’s deputies walked in the door. They saw Town and headed toward him.
Greetings were exchanged, and then Town introduced the two men to Rick and A.J.
“This is Deputy Craig and Deputy Samuelson. It’s Deputy Samuelson who’s in charge of your case.”
Rick and A.J. stood to shake hands with the men. The campers shifted the chairs a bit in order to make room for the officers at their table. The waitress took the deputies’ orders, then hurried to the kitchen.
“Well, Mr. Simon,” Tim Samuelson said, “we may have found the man who shot you.”
“One of the rangers stopped a guy leaving the park. He became suspicious when he saw a black Chevy pickup entering onto a main road from a thick grove of woods. As you probably know, the only time you can park off a paved road is if you’re at a designated campsite, and there aren’t any campsites in the area this man was coming from.”
“So, what makes you think he’s the man who shot my brother?”
“We found shell casings that match the rifle he had in his truck. He was taken in for questioning, and is being held in a jail cell as we speak.” The deputy took a drink of the Coke the waitress had brought him. “Ever hear of a guy by the name of Victor Davis, by chance?”
“Vic Davis!” A.J. exclaimed.
“Davis?” Rick questioned.
Tim was surprised. He hadn’t actually expected that the Simon brothers would know the man they had in custody.
“Yeah. That’s what his I.D. says.”
Rick and A.J. looked at one another and shook their heads. They couldn’t believe that Davis was this desperate over what was nothing more than a divorce case.
While the men ate, the Simons explained their association with Davis, and told of what had happened to A.J. four weeks earlier.
“We don’t have proof that it was Davis who assaulted A.J.,” Rick said in-between bites of his baked chicken, “but we strongly suspect it.”
“I’d say your suspicions may have been validated this afternoon,” Tim said.
“Yeah,” A.J. agreed. “It sure sounds like it.” The blond turned to his brother. “And I bet it was Davis who was behind Rex being loose the other day when we returned to camp, and our clothes being all over the tent, and my missing towel this morning.”
“He did have a dark blue bath towel in his truck,” Tim said. “Is
that the towel you’re talking about?”
“It sure is.”
Before the men left the restaurant, A.J. gave Deputy Samuelson the statement he needed.
“What happens now?” Rick asked.
“Davis has already called his lawyer in San Diego. The guy’s on his way up here now. I imagine a judge will set bail on Monday and Davis’s lawyer will post it. After that, a court date will be set and you’ll have to come here to testify.”
“Okay,” Rick nodded. “Just keep us posted.”
“Someone from the D.A.’s office will be in touch with you.”
Rick reached in his wallet and took out a Simon and Simon business card. “Here,” he said, as he handed the card to the deputy. “Give that to the D.A.’s office. That’ll make it easy for someone to get a hold of us.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Tim promised.
Rick and A.J. insisted on paying for everyone’s supper, including that of the two deputies. The men shook hands as they parted ways in the parking lot, A.J. again thanking the deputies for their help.
When the Jeep finally pulled into the campsite an hour later, A.J. couldn’t wait to enter his tent. Considering the day he’d had, A.J. would have preferred the comfort of his bed, but lacking that, he’d accept his sleeping bag.
Rex jumped at the end of the rope he’d been tied to more than eight hours earlier. When Rick let him loose the dog ran for the woods in order to expend all his pent-up energy.
“Poor guy,” Rick muttered to himself, as he watched the dog bound off. “He probably wondered what had happened to us. I’m glad I left him fresh food and water.”
A.J. was sleeping by the time Rick and his dog entered the tent. Even the light from the lantern didn’t disturb the blond’s slumber.
Rick stripped to his boxers and climbed in his sleeping bag. He marveled a moment at how lucky they’d been. If Davis had possessed a decent aim, A.J. would be dead. Instead, he was sleeping across from Rick now as though nothing had ever happened.
So much for a relaxing vacation, Rick thought. And I’ve got news for you, A.J. You’re gonna be the one explaining this adventure to Mom when we get home.
Rick reached up by his head and shut the lantern off. As he drifted off to sleep, he reached a hand across the small space between himself and his brother, and gave A.J.’s arm a light pat.
“I’m glad you’re okay, kid. I’m just damn glad you’re okay.”
When Rick had arranged the camping trip with Jerry and Town, he hadn’t planned that they’d break camp until Sunday morning, but in light of A.J.’s injury, Rick decided to head home a day early. A.J. didn’t protest that suggestion; leading Rick to conclude A.J. wasn’t feeling well.
“You okay?” Rick asked, as they packed their clothes and rolled up their sleeping bags.
“You sure? You were kinda quiet at breakfast.”
“I’m tired, and I’ve got a headache, but I’ll live. I guess I’m ready to stand under a hot shower and sleep in my own bed again.”
“I hear ya’,” Rick agreed. He loved to camp, but it was always nice to return to the amenities of home.
The other men decided they’d spend the morning fishing, then eat lunch, break camp, and head for their homes, as well. Jerry and Lee had to return to work on Monday, and Town had to have Mark to the airport at nine on Monday morning, so leaving the park twenty-four hours earlier than planned would end up being a benefit to everyone’s sleep schedule.
The Reiners and Browns pitched in to help the Simon brothers get their gear loaded in the back of Rick’s truck. By nine-thirty, Rick and A.J. were ready to leave. Handshakes were exchanged all around as goodbyes were said.
“We oughta’ do this again next year,” Town suggested.
“Fine by me,” Rick said. “You arrange a week when Mark can be here, and then give me and A.J. a call. As soon as we have a date set, I’ll call Jerry and Lee.”
“The only thing is,” Jerry said, then left his sentence hanging.
“The only thing is what?” Rick asked.
“Next year, let’s make sure A.J. stays in the boat.”
A.J. grinned at the teasing. “Given what happened yesterday, next year when my big brother thinks I need a vacation, I just might ignore him and stay at the office.”
“And considering what happened yesterday, kid, I just might let you.”
The men laughed as Rick and A.J. climbed in the truck. Rex jumped in the bed and made himself comfortable in the area A.J. had kept clear for him.
The Simon brothers waved a final goodbye to their friends. Rick started the truck and headed for the main road that would take them out of the park.
A.J. saw Raj on Monday afternoon. The Indian physician checked the wound and changed the bandage.
“All looks okay-A, J.A.”
“You mean A-okay?”
“I believe that is what I just said. Okay-A. Top tip shape. I’m giving you a dirty health bill.”
“A clean bill of health, Raj.”
“Yes, I have one, too, thank you for asking.”
A.J. didn’t bother to correct the doctor again. He smiled with amusement at the way Raj could turn a phrase, as he hiked himself off the exam table in Raj’s office.
“You can remove the bandage for good in two or three days, J.A. Until then, keep the wound clean. If you have any troubles, come see me.”
“I will, Raj. Thanks.”
“You may return to your office whenever you feel up to it.”
“I feel up to it now.”
“Then that is good, because a penny earned is a bill to pay.”
“It sure is,” A.J. agreed, despite the odd verbiage. “Especially if I leave Rick in charge for more than a few days.”
It was a few minutes before two when A.J. pulled in the office parking lot. He grabbed a bag of sub sandwiches out of his car and headed into the building. He wasn’t sure if Rick had eaten yet or not, but knowing Rick, even if he had, he’d be willing to eat again.
A.J. could hear the T.V. as he opened the office door. Rick was at his desk going through the mail that had piled up the week they were away while he watched the Padres’ game.
The blond man set the bag on his desk and opened it.
“Did you eat lunch?”
“Yeah, but I’m about ready for a snack.”
“That’s what I figured,” A.J. handed his brother a sandwich and a small bag of potato chips. He walked to the small refrigerator behind his desk. “Want a Coke?”
A.J. grabbed two cans of Coca Cola. He leaned across his desk and passed one to Rick, then sat down in his chair.
“So, Raj said everything’s fine?”
“Yep,” A.J. confirmed.
“And it’s okay for you to be here?”
“Yep,” A.J. said again, as he took a bite of his chicken sandwich. “I can take the bandage off in a couple of days, so hopefully by the time Mom gets home, the injury will hardly be noticeable.”
The blond man had yet to tell his mother about the injury he’d incurred while camping. When the brothers had arrived at A.J.’s house on Saturday afternoon, there had been a message on A.J.’s answering machine from Cecilia. She had gone to Carmel with some friends, and wouldn’t be back until the end of the week.
“That’s good,” Rick said, in reference to A.J.’s comment about the injury barely being noticeable by the time their mother arrived home.
“Yes, it is. If it wasn’t for the fact that we’ll be subpoenaed to testify at Davis’s trial...unless he pleads guilty, that is, I wouldn’t even tell mom about it.”
“I don’t blame ya’ there.” Rick took a bite of the roast beef sandwich A.J. had brought him. “Maybe the thing to do is hold off on tellin’ Mom until we know how Davis pleas, or if the story is gonna hit the papers here.”
“Maybe,” A.J. agreed. “I have until Saturday to decide, so I’ll see how this looks on Friday.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me.”
The brothers watched the Padres play while they ate. A.J. kept waiting for Rick to bring up the fact that if he’d been wearing a helmet while rafting, then possibly the bullet wouldn’t have done any damage. But Rick didn’t say anything about it, leaving A.J. with the impression that his older brother was just happy everything had turned out all right. When the phone rang, Rick reached for the remote control and muted the sound.
A.J. picked up the receiver. “Good afternoon. Simon and Simon Investigations.”
“A.J.?” a female voice queried.
“Yes. This is, A.J.”
“A.J., this is Carolyn Davis.”
“Oh, hi, Mrs. Davis.”
Rick’s attention was drawn to his brother when he realized whom A.J. was speaking with. He pointed toward a button on the phone and mouthed, “Put her on speaker.”
A.J. spoke before Carolyn could say anything further.
“Mrs. Davis, Rick’s sitting next to me at his desk. Do you mind if I put you on speaker phone?”
“No, not at all.”
A.J. pressed the button that would allow Carolyn’s voice to be broadcast into the room. Rick stood and perched on a corner of his desk. He was closer to the phone’s speaker-grill now, in the event he wanted to participate in the conversation.
“Okay, Mrs. Davis,” A.J. said. “Go ahead.”
“Well, first of all, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am over what Vic did to you on Friday.”
A.J. looked up at his brother while answering Carolyn. “What he did to me?”
“Yes. Stalking you while you were on your vacation, and then shooting at you. It’s a miracle that you weren’t killed.”
“No, it’s a miracle that’s Vic’s a bad shot,” A.J. joked. “But seriously, how did you hear about it?”
“My son came to see me. Vic’s lawyer bailed him out of jail this morning, and he’s going to live with Greg – our son – for a while. Greg just left here. He came over to get some clothes for his father, and some other personal items like his razor.”
Rick crossed his arms over his chest. “How does your son feel about this? About his dad movin’ in with him, I mean.”
“He’s not too happy about it, and his wife is even less happy about it, but what is Greg to do? Vic is his father and needs a place to stay, because I’ll be damned if he’s coming back here after everything he’s done. He...he’s not the man I married, and quite frankly, in light of his recent actions, I don’t want him anywhere near me.”
Without realizing it, A.J. touched the bandage on his head. “I don’t blame you for that.”
“Did Vic say anything to your son about why he took this so far that now he’s gonna be charged with attempted murder?” Rick asked.
“The only thing Vic has told Greg is that it’s all a big mistake, and that it’s all my fault. I told Greg about everything that’s happened since I hired you and A.J. He was shocked to hear what his father has done – the affairs with other women, and then his assault on A.J. in the parking lot of that motel.”
“Greg doesn’t blame you, does he?” A.J. asked, wanting assurance that Carolyn would have the support of her children in the months to come.
“No, not at all. He was very upset with his father, but nonetheless, Vic still is his father, so Greg is trying his best to remain neutral.”
Considering Vic would be living with Greg for a while, A.J. understood the man’s predicament. “He’s in a tough position.”
“Yes, he is. I don’t blame Greg for giving his dad a place to stay. If I were in his position, I’d probably do the same thing.”
“What about Debbie?” Rick asked. “I couldn’t get a hold of you before A.J. and I left, so I figured you’d gone out to New York to see her.”
“I did. She’s been supportive throughout this entire ordeal, and even more so now that I’ve called and told her about her father’s latest escapade. She’d like me to move there and live near her when things are settled, but I’m not ready to make that decision. Debbie is single, but Greg and Stacey – my other daughter, are both married and live here in San Diego. Greg and his wife have two children, and Stacey and her husband have three. I don’t know if I want to move away from my grandchildren, but overall, that’s a decision best left for another day.”
“Yes, it is,” A.J. agreed. “Does Stacey know what’s happened?”
“No, not yet. Greg and I are having dinner with her this evening and will tell her then.”
“How will she take the news?” Rick asked.
“I don’t know. Stacey is our youngest, and has always been ‘Daddy’s little girl,’ so I can’t predict how she’ll react. I believe, however, that when all is said and done, she’ll understand that I had no choice but to hire you and A.J. so I could initiate divorce proceedings against Vic. And speaking of that, here’s the reason I called. Do you have a way of cracking a safe?”
Rick chuckled over Carolyn’s phrasing. “You mean a safe with a combination lock – a spin-dial safe?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“We have a tool that will help us, yeah. ‘Course, there are never any guarantees where that kinda thing is concerned. A lot depends on the age and condition of the lock.”
“I understand. Do you boys have time to come over to my house this afternoon and give it a try, though?”
“Give what a try?” A.J. asked. “I’m sorry, but we’re not sure what you’re getting at, Mrs. Davis.”
“The camera. After I told Greg about everything, I asked him where his father might have hidden the camera. The first thing he said was, ‘In Grandpa’s old safe.’”
“And just where is Grandpa’s old safe?” Rick inquired.
“Out in our garage. It’s sat there for the last ten years, ever since my father-in-law died and we disbursed of his belongings. Vic thought he might use the safe some day, but to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t been open since it was brought here. The day after my father-in-law passed away, Vic cleaned the papers out of the safe his father had always stored in it – insurance polices, bank statements, things of that nature, and then left it empty. He shut the door and locked it, so the safe wouldn’t get damp inside and rust. I have no idea what the combination is, and just spent the last hour looking for it. I didn’t find anything written on a scrap of paper that looks like a lock combination, so then I thought maybe the two of you would have a way of getting into it.”
“It’s a long shot that the camera will be in there,” Rick said.
“I know. But my lawyer said that the pictures A.J. took would really benefit me, considering all that happened on Friday what with A.J. being shot and Vic being arrested. I suppose I don’t sound very sympathetic to my husband’s plight, but you have to understand that the last thing I want is for one single penny of our money to end up in the hands of these bimbos he sleeps with. I’ve heard of too many divorce cases where the wife ends up with nothing, and the husband ends up starting a new life with some young sexpot who gets the benefit of all the assets from the previous union. I was loyal to Vic throughout thirty-nine years of marriage, and worked hard to run our household and raise three good kids. I lived without many things for a lot of years while all of our money was being poured into the business. I made a lot of sacrifices for my husband, and never questioned him when he said he was working late, or had to meet a client on a Sunday afternoon. Well, I’m through making sacrifices for Vic. He’s on his own now, and I really don’t care if that means he goes to prison, and then has to start over with nothing when he gets out. I’ve cried all the tears I can over this situation. I’m done crying, and ready to initiate whatever actions are necessary in order to free myself of a man I don’t know any longer.”
Considering A.J. had been on the receiving end of two assaults by Vic Davis, he didn’t have much sympathy for the man either. “All right. We’ll get what we need and head on over.” The blond man grabbed a pen and tablet of paper out of his middle desk drawer. Though he had Carolyn’s address on file, neither he nor Rick had ever been to her home. “Tell me how to find your house from the office.”
While Carolyn did that, Rick crossed to a locked filing cabinet where he and A.J. kept a number of the tools of their trade. He fished a key ring out of the pocket of his jeans, found the small, silver key he was looking for, and inserted it into the lock. He opened the cabinet and took out the tool that in size and appearance, looked like a remote control for a T.V. set.
By the time Rick was grabbing his hat from the rack and shutting off the television, A.J. was ending the call with Carolyn. The blond scooped up the empty soda cans, sandwich wrappers, and bag, and threw them in the trash container as he passed it. He shut off the lights and locked the office door, then followed Rick to the elevator.
A.J. swung the Camaro into the driveway of a sumptuous Mediterranean style home in an upscale San Diego suburb. Carolyn opened the oak double front doors when she saw the brothers arrive. She came down a flower-lined sidewalk and led them into the three-car garage. The old gray safe sat along one wall, and like the woman had said, possessed a spin-dial lock.
The battery operated tool Rick used to ‘crack the safe’ as Carolyn had phrased it on the phone, possessed a small red light that blinked when you hit upon the correct number in sequence as you turned the dial. The remote safe cracker was magnetic, and stuck to the safe’s door. The work was tedious, but on an old lock like this, simple. A.J. wrote down each number that caused the light to flash, while Rick crouched in front of the safe, slowly turning the dial and stopping on every digit.
“Got it!” A.J. said twenty minutes later, as the light lit for the fourth time.
“How do you know it’s only a four digit combination?” Carolyn asked.
“Most of these spin-dial locks are,” A.J. said. “If on the off-chance we’re wrong about that, then we’ll keep trying until we finally get all the numbers we need.”
Rick spun the dial a few times. “Okay, read me the numbers.”
Rick used the most common combination setting, meaning he spun the dial four times to the left before stopping on 27, three times to the right before stopping on 45, two times to the left before stopping on 8, and then turning back to the right to stop on 16.
The lanky man smiled when he felt the dial stop, as if it had no more play to it. “I think we’ve got it, folks.”
He turned the safe’s handle to the left and heard a ‘click.’ He pulled on the ancient, heavy door and it opened. He grinned when he saw what was inside.
“It’s there?” Carolyn strained to see over Rick’s body. “The camera is there?”
“It sure is,” Rick said, as he lifted the camera out of the otherwise empty safe and stood. He shut the door and spun the dial so the safe was locked again. He didn’t want it to appear disturbed in the event Vic stopped by the house.
“Is the film still in it?” A.J. asked.
Rick looked through the tiny window that allowed him to see one end of the film. “Yep.” He turned to Carolyn. “We’ll take this back to A.J.’s house and develop it. We’re gonna make two copies of every picture. We’ll bring one set over to you tomorrow morning so you can give the pictures to your lawyer, and we’ll keep one set in a vault box we have at a bank for just this kind of stuff.”
“Oh, boys, I can’t thank you enough. You make certain you bill me for your time today, and for any other expenses related to developing that film.”
Carolyn walked the detectives to A.J.’s car. She nodded when Rick advised she get the locks changed on the house and garage as soon as possible. Rick took a business card out of his wallet and wrote down the name and phone number of a locksmith that he and A.J. knew.
“Tell Charlie that Rick Simon told you to call, and that it’s important these locks get changed as soon as possible. If he can’t get someone out to do it today, then I’m sure he’ll send someone tomorrow. Until that’s done, I’d say you should stay with Stacey, or some other friend or relative. I don’t know what Vic’s gonna do if he finds out this camera is gone.”
“All right,” Carolyn agreed. “I have a friend – a widow – who has an apartment not too far from here. Vic doesn’t even know her, let alone know where she lives. I met her last year through a book club I belong to. I know I can stay with her until my home is secured.”
The men accepted a final round of thanks from Carolyn, then climbed in A.J.’s car. A.J. backed out onto the street and drove toward the Grand Canal. He was anxious to develop the film his camera contained, and put this case behind him for good.
The brothers stood together in A.J.’s dark room while the blond dipped the film into the chemicals that would cause the pictures to develop. He smiled as he hung picture after picture from a make-shift clothes line. So far, every photograph was coming out just as it should. There were pictures of Vic dining with his girlfriend, taking her to a movie, meeting her for lunch, strolling down a boardwalk while holding her hand, and entering Room 20 with her at the Seaside Motel.
A.J. frowned as he waited for the last picture to develop. He’d been hit on the head before he’d gotten a chance to take any other photographs – or at least that’s what his sketchy memory of that night recalled.
Rick stood by his brother’s elbow, frowning as well. “Whatta ya’ suppose this one is?”
“Beats me. I don’t remember taking it, so we’ll both be surprised.”
And surprised the brothers were, as A.J. used the tongs to lift the picture out of the chemical tray. He grinned as he held it up to the dim, yellow light bulb overhead.
“Well, whatta ya’ know,” Rick said, as his own grin started to form. “Not only does Carolyn have proof of old Vic’s rendezvous, but now we’ve got proof that it was Vic who conked you on the head.”
“I’d say so.”
A.J. studied the photo that he’d taken by reflex as he fell. The camera lens had been aimed directly at Vic’s face, and you could see the man’s upraised arms and the Billy club he was clutching in his hands.
As A.J. hung the picture up to dry, Rick slung an arm around his brother’s shoulders.
“Well, kid, this just goes to show ya’.”
“Show me what?”
“That the old saying is true. A picture really is worth a thousand words.”
“For once, big brother, we’re in total agreement with one another.”
“And as long as we’re in agreement with one another,” Rick said as he opened the dark room door and stepped into A.J.’s living room, “how about if we agree to buy each other dinner at the Steak Pit in way of celebrating another case successfully completed by Simon and Simon.”
“You won’t get an argument from me on that, either.”
As the brothers walked out of the house and climbed in the Camaro, A.J. glanced at his suddenly preoccupied sibling.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Oh, just thinking ahead.”
A.J. backed the car out of the driveway. “To what?”
“Yeah, I’m planning our vacation. And since this year’s vacation was so successful...other than the part where you got shot in the head, of course.”
“I’m gonna keep my plans a secret until I get you there.”
“All right, you just go ahead and do that.”
Rick shot the blond a wary look. “Really?”
“Really,” A.J. smiled. “Just as long as those plans include the outdoors, old friends, my brother, and some rapids to shoot, I know they’ll meet my approval.”
“I’ve got a feelin’ it can be arranged, kid.” Rick pulled his hat over his eyes so he could take a catnap while A.J. drove. “The outdoors, old friends, a brother, and shooting the rapids – yep, I do think it can be arranged.”
A.J. smiled as he maneuvered his way through rush hour traffic. After all, what more could a man ask for but a job he loved, a good vacation, good friends, good times, and a brother to share those things with. Since the answer to that question was “absolutely nothing,” A.J. kept on driving toward the Steak Pit, content with the final outcome of the Davis case, and content to let Rick plan their next vacation.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~