Chapter 31


Tuesday, March 9th, 1993



     Over the course of forty some odd year’s time, Cecilia Simon had seen her sons arrive home together in a variety of different ways.  By foot, on their bikes, on skateboards, on the back of Rick's motorcycle, in A.J.'s Camaro, in Rick's truck, and even in a zoo tram once. But in all the many years this was the first time she'd witnessed A.J. walking stiff jawed in fury, with Rick trailing him at three miles per hour in the pickup. To say it was an odd sight would have been understatement.


     A.J. brushed past his mother without a glance or word in her direction.  Her inquiry of "A.J.?" to his retreating back went unanswered.  It didn't surprise Cecilia when she heard the slam of the guest room door from up above.  That door had been slammed more in the last week than it had been slammed in the forty-six years Cecilia Simon had owned this home.


     Cecilia heard the idle of Rick's truck engine cease.  She watched as he slid out of the cab, pocketed his keys, and walked toward her.  Much like her oldest son, Cecilia's sense of humor never completely left her, even in the most adverse of situations. 


"I take it this means A.J. isn't joining us for lunch?" 


     Despite the aching cheek that was hidden from his mother by the rim of his sunglasses, Rick smiled.  "Yeah, Mom.  I think that's what it means."


     Cecilia led the way into the kitchen.  "So are you and I in the dog house again?"


     "Oh, believe me, I think we've moved from the dog house straight to the city pound."   


     Cecilia began pulling the lunch out of the refrigerator she'd kept waiting for her sons.  She filled a tray with sandwiches and added a pitcher of lemonade. 


     "Grab some plates and glasses for us, Rick.  You know where I keep the chips if you want to grab a bag of those.  And there's macaroni salad in the fridge.  I thought we'd eat out on the patio.  I'll let A.J. know where we're at.  If he wants to join us, he can.  If not...well, he knows where everything is.  He can make himself something later on."


     It wasn't until Cecilia returned from upstairs without her youngest son that she got her first clear look at Rick's face.  Now that his sunglasses and his cowboy hat had been removed, the evidence left behind by A.J.'s fist was clearly broadcast.


     "What in the world happened to your face?"

     Rick smiled as much as his bruised cheek would allow.  "Let's just say A.J. wasn't too pleased to find Randy livin' in his house and leave it at that."


     Cecilia's eyes widened with incredulous shock.  She reached up and lightly grasped Rick's chin between her fingers.  She encouraged him to turn his head so she could get a better look at the injury.  


"A.J. did this to you?"


     "It's no big deal, Mom," Rick shrugged.  "I've been in worse shape over the years."  Rick reached up and gingerly touched the tender, swollen flesh.  "Though I gotta admit, my kid brother packs a helluva punch when riled."


     "Yes, I can see that," Cecilia agreed.  She walked over to the refrigerator and pulled a blue medicinal ice pack out of the freezer.  


     "Here.  Hold this against it while I finish getting our lunch together."


     "I take it A.J.'s not eatin' with us?"


     Cecilia turned her back on Rick in an effort to avoid displaying her raw hurt to him.  "No.  He says he wants to be left alone.  He told me...he told me to get the hell out."


     Rick gave a grim nod.  "I see."


     The detective threw the ice pack back in the freezer.  Between his mother and himself they carried their lunch outside to the patio table.  Rick had already sat down when Cecilia went back in the house for a brief few seconds.  She returned carrying a cold can of Budweiser.  She handed it to her son.


     Rick gave his mother a quizzical look.  "I thought you didn't like me drinkin' if I've gotta drive.  I'm plannin' to go back to the office yet this afternoon."


     "I know.  And no, I don't like you drinking if you have to drive, but I think for today one will be okay."  Cecilia's eyes twinkled wryly as she took in her son's battered appearance.  "You look like you could use it."


     Rick chuckled.  "Yeah, Mom.  I guess I can."


     Cecilia smiled as she bit into her tuna sandwich.  "Before this is all over, I may even gain a fondness for a beer every now and then."


     Rick laughed.  He'd never known his mother to drink anything other than an occasional glass of wine, or perhaps champagne if she was at a party.  There was no way Rick could picture Cecilia Simon guzzling a can of beer.           

     In effort to make their meal as pleasant as possible, both Cecilia and Rick refrained from discussing the most recent tumultuous event.  It wasn't until their plates were pushed aside, and Rick had refused his mother's offer of dessert, that the subject of A.J. came up.


     Cecilia stared out over her backyard.  Its brightly colored beauty couldn't chase away the darkness that shrouded her soul. 


"Sometimes it feels as though everything we've done since A.J. came back to us has been wrong."


     "No, Mom," Rick shook his head.  He wasn't going to allow his mother to blame herself for what ultimately belonged at Eduardo Agilar's feet.  "It's like I told A.J. a little while ago. Everything we've done, we've done because we love him.  We may not have always made the right decisions, but that doesn't change the fact that we're doin' the best we can."


     "I know we are.  And I'm certain, deep down inside, A.J. knows we are, too.  It's just that things are only getting worse instead of better, and I know we can't go on like this.  None of us.  I'm so scared, Rick.  So scared he's going to do again just what he did this morning."



     "Yes.  Disappear.  Only the next time we might not be so lucky as to find him.  I know it comes from an entirely different set of circumstances, but currently I see in A.J. the same restless sense of not belonging that I saw in you when you returned from Vietnam.  Three weeks after you came home you left.  I didn't see you again for three years."




     "No," Cecilia held up a hand.  "Don't apologize.  We've been through all this a number of times.  It's not my intention to rehash the past, or to make you feel you owe me further apologies, because you don't.  We came to our understanding regarding this subject a long time ago.  It's water under the bridge.  The only reason I'm referring to it now is because the...pain and uncertainty I see in A.J.'s eyes brought on by his experiences with Agilar, is the same pain and uncertainty I used to see in yours.


     "As much as it broke my heart the day you roared out of the driveway on that motorcycle, Rick, I knew you were perfectly capable of looking after yourself.  Certainly I was worried about you, and continued to be until A.J. finally moved to Miami to live near you.  But I never had reason to be concerned that you couldn't take care of yourself.  I never had reason to be concerned that someone would try to take advantage of you, or hurt you.  But right now, with A.J., I do worry about those things.  You and I have both acknowledged that, while in some ways, he's very much the A.J. we're familiar with, in more ways he's not.  If he leaves, Rick, if he goes some place where we can't find him, I'm afraid someone will hurt him.  I'm afraid, given A.J.’s current mental state, that he can't take care of himself.  It's only through a miracle, and the Lord's intervention, that A.J. was found and taken care of by good people like Malachi and Dominique.  Every day in this country homeless people lose their lives to violence.  Just the other evening on the news I saw where two teenage boys in Chicago set a homeless man on fire.  That could have so easily been your brother."


     "I know it," Rick agreed.  "And I've been seein' the same restlessness and uncertainty in him that you have.  Especially over the weekend when the friends and relatives kept poppin' in.  I could easily remember how that feels.  They want you talk about things you can't even relate to."


     Rick's eyes took on a distant look that told Cecilia his mind was traveling back in time over twenty years. 


"Hell, all you cared about was stayin' alive another day, while people all around you were bein' blown to bits...and Aunt Joan wants to know if you ever got to Thailand on R&R, and Uncle Bud and Aunt Edie are fighting about what day of the week it was he returned stateside after World War II, while some ignorant neighbor wants to know if you ever killed anybody.  And the whole while you feel like you're under a microscope.  You feel like everyone's tryin' to assess how much you've changed, and tryin' to figure out whether or not you still fit into the family.  Then the day comes when you can't take it anymore.  Can't take the questions, the stares, the strained silences, or the muffled whispers goin' on behind your back.  So you take off for places unknown.  You take off, because you think there's nothing here for you anymore.  You think you'll find what it is you're looking for somewhere else."  Rick shrugged.  "Of course, you don't.  But if you're real lucky, time helps you heal.  Time, and a kid brother by the name of A.J. who shows up unannounced on your front porch one night."


     Cecilia gave a small smile at that last sentence.  She deferred to her oldest son's knowledge in this situation. "So is that what it is A.J.'s feeling right now?"


     "Is some of what I just said what you felt after you were..." Rick stopped.  He didn't know how to delicately phrase what he was thinking.






     "You can say it, Rick.  It's not a dirty word, you know."


     "It is to me."


     Cecilia smiled at the fierce protectiveness she heard in her son's tone.  "Yes, Rick, I know it is.  But regardless, I suppose some of what you just relayed is how I felt.  I can't deny that for a while leaving San Diego was a very compelling thought."


     Rick nodded.  He recalled quite distinctly that within a few days after his mother was raped, she was firmly committed to

selling her home and moving as far away as possible.


     "So," Rick went on to confirm, "it's because of my own personal experiences that I'm comin' to the conclusion I am regarding what A.J.'s feeling.   Let's face it, Mom, he was locked in a five by five...dungeon, for lack of a better way to describe it, for six months.  Six months, Mom.  Six months in which he was beaten, starved, deprived of sleep, drugged, brainwashed, and God only knows what else.  Then..."  Rick had to swallow his boiling rage.  "Then he was...dumped on the side of the road in a strange city like some unwanted animal.  He didn't know his name.  He couldn't talk.  He was injured, and he was sick.  You're right, it's nothing other than a miracle that he's come back to us as healthy and sane as he has.  Nothing I experienced in Nam comes close to what Agilar put A.J. through."


     Rick's eyes met his mother's.  "And that's why I'm scared too, of all the same things you are.  That's why my heart just about stopped today when you came runnin' towards me tellin' me A.J. was gone.  I thought for sure we'd never find him."   Rick paused a moment, then finished with, "I want to help him.  I want to help him more than I've ever wanted anything in my entire life.  But I just don't know how, Mom.  I just don't know how."


     As it had always been between Cecilia Simon and her sons, one of them instinctively knew when the other needed support and strength.  Cecilia reached a hand across the table in an effort to offer Rick both those things.   Rick took her hand and gently squeezed. 


     Cecilia was the one firmly in charge of the situation now.   "I think we need to call Clay Burrows, Rick."

     "But A.J. won't see him."


     "A.J. might not want to see him, but that can't stop you and me from seeing him."  Cecilia returned Rick's squeeze.  "We need help with this, honey.  It's grown far too big for us to handle.  We've barely gotten through the first week, and already A.J. has digressed.  What is it going to be like next week, or the week after?  I'm not going to wake up some morning to find him gone.  I lived through that hell for eleven long months.  I refuse to live through it again."          


     "I don't wanna live through it again either, Mom," Rick readily admitted.  "I'll call Clay when I get back to the office."


     "Good."  Cecilia released her son's hand.  She picked up the pitcher of iced lemonade and refilled her glass.   Now that Rick's beer can was empty she also filled a glass for him and slid it across the table.


     Cecilia took a long drink of the cold liquid then sat her glass down.  “One of the first things we need to know is what Clay thinks about A.J. returning to work."

     "What?"  Rick's question was voiced as though Cecilia had suggested they ask Clay when it would be okay for A.J. to dance naked in Balboa Park.  


     "About A.J. returning to work.  About us helping A.J. get back into a normal routine."


     "But things aren't normal for him right now," Rick pointed out.


     "I realize that.  But think about it.  Aside from the obvious, why aren't things normal for A.J.?"


     Rick tried to follow the track his mother's mind was running down.  Rick's question came out sounding like a guess.  "Because he and I are living here with you?"     


     "That's one thing.  You're both living here with me, which of course, isn't normal for either one of you."

     "But, Mom, after everything we've just discussed, I sure don't think A.J.'s ready to be livin' alone."


     "I don't think that either.  But perhaps when he first moves back into his home you can live there with him like you used to when the Hole In The Water was anchored in his backyard."


     Rick's head wobbled back and forth with indecision.  "Maybe.  I mean, that's fine by me, but he'll probably have a fit."


     "So be it.  Nonetheless, I have a feeling that will be the first step he takes toward getting back to a normal routine.  And as far as work goes, he wants to return to it, Rick."


     "How do you know?"


     "Because he told me."




     "This morning.  And yesterday as well.  He keeps asking me when he can go to the office with you."


     Rick let out a long, slow breath.  "Mom...I don't know.  I don't think he's...stable enough right now to do some of the jobs we take on.  I mean, with the way A.J.’s moods swing up and down, I hate the thought of puttin' a gun in his hand."

     "Then don't take those kinds of jobs," the ever-practical Cecilia stated.  "You boys have worked plenty of jobs over the years that certainly don't require the use of guns.  Thank God more of those than you have the other kind.  Pick and chose carefully what you take on, Rick.  Try to avoid whatever it is you don't think A.J. can handle.  I know it won't be easy, especially because you've got to consider A.J.'s input as well, but do the best you can.  That's all you can ask of yourself."


     "But he can hardly bring himself to talk to people.  Look how he reacted to the relatives this weekend.  Or to Dianna, for that matter.  Why would A.J. suddenly say he wants to go back to work?"     


     "Because he's bored out of his skull, sweetheart."




     "Yes, bored.  A.J.'s never been one to sit around and do nothing. You know that.  In the past, if he wasn't working at the office or on projects around his house, then he was engaged in some sort of physical activity.  About the only way he's ever relaxed is by cooking, or sitting down to read a book.  Believe me, dear, even a woman as active as I am can't come up with enough to keep your brother busy.  I think he's getting a little tired of helping me weed flowerbeds and fold laundry.  Not to mention cleaning out the garage and attic.  You should have seen the look he gave me this morning when I told him tomorrow we'd take all the dishes out of the kitchen cabinets and give the insides a thorough scrubbing."


     Rick chuckled.  "I see your point."


     In all seriousness, Cecilia said, "He misses you, sweetheart.  He misses being by your side."


     "Whatta ya’ mean?"

     "Whenever you leave the house, A.J. stands at the kitchen window and watches you until the truck is out of sight."


     "And this has been goin' on ever since I brought him here?"


     "Yes,” Cecilia nodded. “It happened last week when you went to see Abby, and then again when you went to see Joel.  It's happened every time you've left to run an errand for me, or to stop by the office to pick up the mail and return phone messages.  Then it happened again this morning when you left for work."  Cecilia smiled in fond memory.  "I can't help but think back to when he was a little boy of just two and three.  He'd stand on the front steps every morning and cry as you ran off to school.  He wanted nothing more than to go with you.  He'd turn to me and say, "Wick go chool.  I go chool with Wick."


     Rick smiled.  "I remember that.  The little bugger used to make me feel so bad for leavin' him behind."


     "And then when he was six, and you'd leave him behind when you ran off to play with your friends, he used to come into the kitchen with his chin hanging down on his chest while wearing a big old pout.  I'd ask him, "A.J., what's wrong?  Why the long face?"   Invariably the answer would be a crushed, "Rick ran off without me.  He's says I'm too little to play with the big guys."


     "And he thinks that's what I'm doin' now?"  Rick asked.  "Running off and leavin' him behind?"


     "He hasn't said.  But I imagine that's how he feels. The two of you have worked together a long time.  You've been a big part of each other's lives since the day A.J. was born.  It probably doesn't feel...normal to A.J., to watch you leave without him."


     "To tell ya’ the truth, Mom, it doesn't feel normal to me to leave without him either.  But right now I'm at a loss as to know what to do.  I mean, if A.J. wants to return to work...well, I have no objections to that.  I miss him bein' by my side, too.  But when I think about how he reacted to Dianna last night, I worry that the minute someone tries to communicate with him, he's gonna freeze up.  Then he's gonna end up goin' into a fit of rage because he's angry at himself for not bein' able to talk."


     "I think he'll do better with people who don't have expectations of him," Cecilia stated with firm conviction.  "With people who don't know him, or at least don't know him well."


     "Maybe, but maybe not.  He couldn't even bring himself to talk to the waitresses at the restaurant where we ate," Rick reminded.


     "I know that.  But I also know he needs...something right now, Rick, that's more than weeding flower beds with an old lady."


     "Mom!  You're not an old lady."


     "Depending on a person's perspective, that subject's debatable," Cecilia smiled.  "But I thank you for your loyalty, son.  Regardless, what A.J. needs right now I can't give him by keeping him trapped here in this house all day."


     Rick pushed himself away from the table as he mulled over everything his mother had revealed.  "I'd better get back to the office.  If you need me for anything, call.  I think...I think you've got a good idea about me puttin' in a call to Clay regarding you and me seein' him.  I'll do that as soon as I get there."


     Cecilia nodded her agreement.  She shooed Rick away when he tried to help her carry dishes into the house.  He settled for giving her a kiss on the cheek and walking around to the truck.


     As Rick backed out of the driveway he glanced up at the house.  There, at an upstairs bedroom window, stood A.J. looking down at the Dodge truck with a longing stare. 


     "I'm gonna find out how to help you, A.J."  Rick vowed.  "Somehow I'm gonna find out how I can help you, so you can be by my side once more."





     It was a silent and withdrawn A.J. who joined his family for supper that evening.  Even without verbal clues, Rick got the impression the anger from earlier in the day had passed.  Instead, A.J. seemed depressed in a way Rick had never seen him at any other time in his life.  Rick feared he was correct when coming to the conclusion that A.J. no longer knew how he fit into his former life. 


     Rick had talked to Clay Burrows for over an hour that afternoon.  Because of the publicity the case had gotten and his past association with the Simons, Dr. Burrows had been well aware of A.J.'s disappearance under suspicious circumstances, and now his subsequent return.  All that he didn't know, and there was plenty, Rick filled him in on.  The doctor immediately agreed A.J. was need of counseling.  Knowing the Simons as he did, it came as no surprise to Clay to find out A.J. was refusing to entertain the idea.  For the time being, the psychologist agreed the next logical step was for him to begin meeting with Rick and Cecilia on a weekly basis.  Because of Rick and Cecilia's fears in regards to leaving A.J. alone, Clay readily consented to seeing them individually.


     For now, that was the best Rick could do.  As he looked across the table at his brother he worried it was, by far, not enough.


     After the kitchen was cleaned up A.J. retreated to the backyard.  Rick dug around in the garage until he unearthed a couple of well-worn mitts and a baseball.  Without doing more than calling, "Hey, A.J.!"  he tossed a mitt in the direction of his brother.  A.J. didn't question Rick's intentions.  Nor did he refuse them.  He slipped the mitt on his left hand and remained where he was, standing on the opposite side of the lawn from Rick.  Rick took up his position and threw the ball to his brother.  It was cleanly caught and thrown back.  This odd form of therapy seemed to bring some sort of comfort to A.J.  He wasn't anymore talkative when the brothers finally called it quits because of darkness, but he didn't appear to be as depressed as he had been earlier.


     It was shortly before ten-thirty when Cecilia went upstairs for the night, leaving control of the television's remote to Rick.  A.J. had gone upstairs an hour earlier.  She saw the light was on underneath his bedroom door, but didn't disturb him.  She had already said her good nights to him, and she'd be checking on him once more before she retired for good, as had become her habit since his return.


     Cecilia caught herself dozing off in her book an hour later.  She marked her page and set the book on her nightstand.  She tossed back the covers and climbed out of bed.  She didn't bother shoving her feet into her slippers, but did belt her robe over her nightgown.


     Cecilia could faintly hear the sound of the television droning from below when she opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.  Its blue and white light cast dancing shadows on the stairs.  She suspected Rick had fallen asleep with the TV on once again, but didn't go down and rouse him.  Somehow he always managed to wake himself up and get to bed. 


     The light was still on within A.J.'s room.  Cecilia knocked softly on the door.  "A.J.?  A.J., may I come in?"


     When Cecilia received no answer, she tried again.  "A.J.?"


     The woman assumed her youngest had done what she almost had, fallen asleep while reading.  When another knock and verbal inquiry gained no response, she entered the room. 


     A.J. was bare chested and dressed in the faded blue jeans he had favored sleeping in ever since he'd returned from San Francisco, despite the fact his pajama bottoms and robe were at his disposable.  He was awake and sitting against the headboard of the bed. 


      A puzzled frown dominated Cecilia's features.  "Honey, why didn't you answer me when I knocked?"


     A.J.'s disturbing silence caused his mother to move closer.  In the dim glow of the bedside lamp she could see he was sweating profusely.  His eyes were glassy and vacant, as if his mind was no longer present.  Cecilia mistakenly concluded he was in the throes of some sort of muted nightmare.


     "A.J...honey?  A.J., wakeup, it's Mom.  A.J."


     Cecilia advanced on the catatonic man.  "A.J.?"


     Whether it was the close proximity of her voice, or the hand she reached out and laid on A.J.'s arm, Cecilia never knew.  What she did know, was the second her hand made contact with his   clammy skin, A.J. propelled himself off the bed with the guttural snarl of a rabid animal.   Cecilia screamed as the force of her son's body slammed her painfully into the wall. 


     "Stay away from me!  Stay away!"


     Despite her sixty-seven years, Cecilia was almost as agile as she had been in her youth.  Her good physical condition and swift agility is what saved her from serious harm.  As A.J.'s fist drew back to rain a blow on her face, Cecilia ducked under his arm. Her movement didn't stop his knuckles from making painful contact with her jaw, but it did enable her to get out of the room before he got a hold of the back of her robe.


     Cecilia ran for the stairs as though fire was licking at her heels. "Rick!  Rick!"


     Cecilia had been a much younger woman the last time she'd flown down that stairway with such speed.  "Rick!"


     The groggy detective sat up on the couch.  He looked around, not certain at first if he'd heard his mother's voice, or if it was the television that woke him.


     A panic filled cry of "Rick!" pierced the night again.  This time Rick knew it was real.  He hurdled over Rex, who was sleeping on the floor, and raced for the stairs.  He met his disheveled mother halfway.  His eyes took in the angry red welt that covered most of her right jaw.


     "What the—-“


     "Something's wrong with A.J.!   Please go to him, Rick!"


     Rick bolted past his mother taking, the stairs two at a time.  He heard her bare footsteps behind him.  The mark on her face, the panic in her voice, and the terror in her eyes, gave Rick a pretty good idea as to what was going on. 


     Thankfully, A.J. had not progressed out of the bedroom.  Rick guessed the reason behind that good fortune was because in A.J.'s mind, he was once again locked in that tiny room in Agilar's basement. 


     Rick slowed to a halt when he came to the bedroom doorway.  A.J. was standing in the same spot where he'd been when he hit his mother.  What the blond was seeing Rick didn't know.  Rather than cowering in fright like he had been the last time he'd experienced a flashback, A.J. was crouched over at the waist, ready to fight.  His knees were flexed and his bare feet were spread a few inches apart.  His arms were held away from his body and bent at the elbows, his hands balled into fists.     


     Rick felt the terry cloth of his mother's robe brush against his arm. Without turning around, he threw that arm straight out and blocked her progress into the room.  "Don't go any closer, Mom.  Stay right here."


     Cecilia was short enough in stature to easily see under the arm Rick was using to hinder her passage.  "What's wrong with him, Rick?"


     "He's having a flashback."


     Rick had told Cecilia of the flashback A.J.'d incurred in the motel room the night they'd been reunited.  And, of course, she was well aware that Rick had experienced them over the years as a direct result of his service in Vietnam, but never before had she witnessed one.


     Rick took a slow step into the room.  To his mother, he sternly cautioned, "Whatever you do, stay outta this room and stay outta his way."




     Rick's eyes remained locked on his sibling.     "Mom, I mean it.  He doesn't know you right now, he doesn't know me, and he doesn't know what he's doing."


     Rick didn't wait to hear his mother's acknowledgment.  Cecilia watched from the doorway as Rick carefully inched farther into the room.


     "A.J.," Rick called quietly.  "A.J., it's me.  Rick.  Everything's okay now, A.J.  You're home with me and Mom.  No one's gonna hurt you."


     A.J.'s teeth clenched as Rick advanced, and his breaths came in hard uneven pants. 


     Rick switched tactics to one that had seemed to produce positive results ten days earlier at the Traveler's Rest Motel. 


"Andy, it's okay.  No one's going to hurt you.  Come on, Andy.  Take a look around.  See where you are.  You're at Mom's house, remember?"


     For just a second A.J. seemed to be doing what Rick encouraged.  It was Rick's mistake to misread that brief second of calm and advance again.  


     A.J. sensed his brother's sudden movement.  With a harsh shout and the speed of a coiled rattlesnake he struck.  Rick couldn't stop the hands that went for his throat and threw him off balance.  Fortunately for the older man, A.J.'s aim was off.  Rather than wrapping his hands around his assailant's neck as he had desired, A.J. ended up with nothing more than a grip on his brother's shoulders.   That was enough, however, for A.J. to fling them both to the floor.  Rick was slammed onto his back with A.J. on top of him.  For a few seconds all thoughts of fighting A.J. off were forgotten as Rick instead, fought for breath.  The wind had been knocked out of the detective when he'd made contact with the hard surface beneath him.  By the time Rick regained the oxygen he needed, A.J. was plummeting his upper body with his fists while shouting incoherently. 


     Cecilia rushed into the room.  "A.J.!   A.J.!  Stop it!  It's Rick!  Stop it, A.J.!  You're hurting Rick!  You're hurting your brother, A.J.!"


     Rick grabbed his brother's fists and fought to still their motion.  "Mom, get the hell out of here damn it!  Get out!"


     "Rick, I can grab his shoulders!  I can--"


     "Mother, no!  I mean it!"  Rick yelled from underneath the wildly struggling A.J.  "I can't worry about him and you both!  Now get out!"


     Neither of Cecilia Simon's sons had ever spoken to her in such a manner before.  Just by Rick calling her 'mother,' indicated to Cecilia how dangerous the situation was. She reluctantly retreated to the doorway and watched the affray gone amok with open anguish.      


     The two men strained against one another.  Rick attempted to throw A.J. off him by thrusting his body upward.  Despite the fact that Rick now had a firm grip on A.J.'s wrists, the blond man remained astride his brother like a seasoned cowboy remains on a bucking bronco.


     In an effort to keep his balance, A.J.'s right leg flew out to the side.  It made such violent contact with the leg of the only chair in the room that Cecilia momentarily feared he'd broken a bone.  A.J. thought someone had accosted him from behind.  He turned around to see who had inflicted pain upon him.  That brief second was all Rick needed to gain the advantage.  Using the leverage he already had on A.J.'s wrists, Rick catapulted his upper body off the floor using all the strength he had left.   By virtue of his position on Rick's stomach, it was now A.J. who was pinned on his back.


     Rick Simon was panting so hard with exertion that for a few seconds he was unable to get any words out.  He could feel the sweat rolling down his back and pooling in his underarms.   Both he and A.J. smelled like they'd just come off two hours on the racquetball court.


     When Rick was able to focus on more than keeping control of his brother's thrashing body he looked down into A.J.'s wide eyes.  He saw with disheartening certainty that A.J. was still lost in a nightmare world filled with nothing but people who cause pain.


     Rick felt a bit hypocritical assuring his brother no one was going to hurt him, while at the same time sitting on A.J.'s chest, but that's what he did.  Repeatedly, Rick said whatever soft words came to mind in an effort to break the terror-filled spell A.J. was under.


     A.J.'s physical stamina far outlasted anything Rick could have imagined.  For thirty minutes time the blond fought and bucked and kicked and cursed in an effort to gain his freedom.  It was fifteen minutes after midnight when the steam finally seeped out of A.J.'s engine.  Both Rick and his brother were soaked with sweat.  Their mother's delicate guest room had taken on a musky male odor, not unlike the way Rick imagined the Charger's locker room smelled by the end of the fourth quarter.  Yet even then, as A.J.'s energy slowly ebbed, the flashback retained its grip on him.  When he could no longer put forth any physical effort A.J. turned his head to the side.  His open eyes were glazed and unfocused.


     Cecilia took a few tentative steps into the room.  "Rick?"


     Rick cautiously released his brother's arms.  When that movement produced no repercussions he slid off A.J.'s body, but remained crouched by his side. 


     "Rick?"  Cecilia queried again as she moved closer.  "What's going on?"


     Rick stared down at his brother's vacant face.  "I don't know, Mom.  I've never seen a flashback last this long on anybody."


     Rick finally made eye contact with Cecilia.  Despite his steady voice he was unable to hide his fear.  "Fill a bowl with cool water and bring a towel."


     "What if that doesn't work?"


     "If that doesn't work, then we're gonna have to call Joel and Clay."


     Cecilia's tone was almost pleading in nature.  "Rick...given A.J.'s current state they'll put him on a psychiatric ward, you know they will."


     "I know, Mom," was all Rick could bring himself to say on the subject.  "Now please bring me that water and a towel."


     Cecilia gave her unresponsive youngest son one last heartbreaking look before rushing off to do as her oldest requested.  In five minutes time she was back with a deep bowl filled with cool water, two towels, and two washcloths.  Together, she and Rick bathed A.J.'s face, chest and arms.  They unconsciously fell into a pattern of talking to him.  Where Rick would leave off, Cecilia would pick up and begin again.  After ten long minutes of effort they finally began to see some response. 


     Much like the night in the motel, it took A.J. several minutes to make the transition from the world his mind had been trapped in to the safe world in which he now existed.   Rick allowed A.J. the time he needed as the blond's eyes flicked about the room.  When they finally focused on Rick's face, the lanky detective offered his brother a gentle smile. 


     "You back with me, A.J.?"


     A.J. swallowed hard and nodded.


     Rick looked across A.J.'s supine body at their mother.  "Mom, you wanna grab one of the blankets off the bed please."


     A.J. turned his head and glanced up at his mother.  It was obvious he was just realizing she was in the room with him.  Cecilia ran a hand down the side of his face and gave him a smile that matched Rick's in its gentleness. 


"Are you okay now, sweetheart?"


     A.J. closed his eyes and nodded once again.


     Cecilia reached behind her and pulled a blanket off the bed.  Rick threw it over his brother, who was now beginning to shake.  Rick wasn't sure if the violent tremors were because A.J.'s was cold, or if they were involuntary muscle spasms brought on by the mental trauma and physical stress of the past hour. 


     Rick slipped a hand underneath A.J.'s back.   Cecilia copied his movement when she realized what her oldest had in mind.  Rick caught his mother's eye.   "We'll help him sit against the wall on three, Mom.  Ready?"


     Cecilia nodded her head.


     "Okay.  One, two, three."


     When Rick said three, both he and his mother helped A.J. to a sitting position.  They were close enough to the wall that it took little effort to scoot him back until he could lean against it.  Cecilia rearranged the blanket so that it was wrapped firmly around him.  She and Rick watched with despair, as the shaking grew worse.  A.J. wouldn't look at them, and when Rick asked him twice if he was cold, his only response was a repeated, "I'm okay.  I'm okay."


     Cecilia left the room only long enough to pour a glass of orange juice.  When she returned, she held the glass to A.J.'s mouth and encouraged him to take a drink.  He was obviously in need of the liquid because he drained the glass dry. 


     "Do you want more?"  Cecilia asked.


     The blond head shook back and forth in a negative gesture.  Cecilia swiveled on her heels and sat the empty glass on the nightstand.  When she turned back around, A.J. was studying her with eyes shrouded in exhaustion. His voice was hoarse after having spent forty-five minutes yelling, screaming, and cursing. 


"Did I do that to you?"

     "Do what, honey?"


     "That bruise on your jaw.  Did I do that?"


     Cecilia glanced over A.J. to briefly look at Rick.  Though the silent exchange between Cecilia and her oldest lasted no more than five seconds, five seconds in which they both agreed to lie to A.J. as to how Cecilia's jaw became bruised and swollen, A.J. quickly came to his own conclusion.


     "It was me, wasn't it?"  He softly questioned.  "I hit you, didn't I?"


     Cecilia tenderly cupped the right side of his face and brushed thick hair out of his eyes.  " doesn't matter.  You didn't mean to.  You didn't know what you were doing."


     Cecilia Simon couldn't recall the last time she'd seen her youngest son dissolve into tears.  It had probably been thirty-five years since he'd last cried in her presence.  But as she watched, his face crumpled with sorrow and despair while tears spilled over to run down his cheeks.    


     Cecilia gathered A.J. in her arms and pressed his head to her chest.  "Oh, sweetheart, don't cry.  Don't cry.  It doesn't hurt.  You didn't mean to.  Don't cry, honey."


     "I'm so sorry, Momma," A.J. sobbed.  "I'm so sorry."


     Tears ran down Cecilia's cheeks to mingle with her son's.  She rocked back and forth with him in her arms.  "Oh, A.J., I know you are.  I know.  Don't cry.  Please don't cry."


     "I don't know what's happening to me," A.J. pushed out between gasping sobs.  "I'm so scared.  I'm so scared I don't belong here anymore."

     "Shhh, A.J.  Shhh," Cecilia soothed.  She reached up and stroked a hand through A.J.'s tangled hair.   "Of course you belong here, sweetheart.  Of course you do."


     Cecilia could feel A.J.'s head shake back and forth against her chest.  "No, I don't.  I hit you.  And I hit Rick.  I hit him today when he came to pick me up from the house.  I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry."


     Rick reached out a hand and began running it over the blanket that covered his brother’s back.  "A.J., it's okay.  It's okay."  Through his own unshed tears Rick repeated his mother's words.  "You didn't mean it, A.J.  I know you're sorry.  It's okay, little brother.  It's okay."


     A.J. wouldn't bring his head out of his mother's soft robe, but he did bring a hand out of the blanket his family had him wrapped in.  The hand groped in the air a moment until Rick realized what A.J. was looking for.  Rick encased the questing hand in his.  He felt A.J.'s squeeze, and squeezed back.




     "Yeah, A.J., I'm right here."


     Rick had to strain to hear the words muffled in thick terry cloth. 


"Please call Clay for me."


     Rick and his mother exchanged glances over A.J.'s bowed head. 


     It had been a hell of a rough ride, but A.J. was finally taking the first step down the road that would lead him home.



Chapter 32


Summer through Fall, 1993



     Slowly, and with the help of Clay Burrows, A.J. began to put the shattered pieces of his life back together.


     A.J. attended one-on-one counseling sessions with the man for two hours a day, two days a week.  Cecilia and Rick saw the doctor together one evening a week for one hour. 


     Two weeks after the flashback that prompted A.J. to admit he needed help, he returned to work.  A week after that milestone, A.J. replaced the long missing Camaro with a new one and moved back into his house on the Grand Canal.


     From the day Cecilia had called Randy to tell him A.J. had been found, the man had known eventually his blond friend would want to reclaim his home.  That thought was solidified even further by A.J.'s unexpected stormy visit.   Therefore, Randy was willing to vacate the premises as of March 31st.  He moved into his mother's large home on a temporary basis until he could purchase one of his own.


     As Cecilia had suggested, Rick lived with A.J. for the first few weeks after his move home.  A.J. balked about that at first.  Even with the counseling sessions, he often reminded his family in a fit of anger that he didn't need anyone controlling his life or telling him what to do.  Dr. Burrows assured both Rick and Cecilia this was normal.  Eduardo Agilar had stripped A.J. of the independence and freedoms each of us as individuals holds dear.  It only made sense that A.J. would be especially sensitive to that issue for a period of time. 


     Cecilia and Rick felt like they were watching someone play a hard fought game of tug-of-war as the summer progressed.  They silently cheered every small advance A.J. made, and offered only further support and encouragement when he occasionally stumbled and lost ground.  He rapidly made great strides in his ability to communicate with people.  Clay felt this was in part due to A.J.'s strong desire to return to work at the Simon and Simon office.  The blond detective was still uncomfortable around close friends and family members, however, as if he was afraid they were going to force him to talk about what he still couldn't - what had happened to him at the hands of Eduardo Agilar.  He refused to attend the annual Simon family picnic that was held in a park in San Diego the second Saturday of every July, and as the months wore on he made no effort to contact Dianna.


     Rick and Cecilia had stayed in touch with A.J.'s former girlfriend for a while, then Rick heard through the grapevine she was now seeing someone else.  He didn't blame her.  She'd been far more loyal to A.J. than most women would have been considering the circumstances.  She was beautiful, intelligent, witty, and thirty-three years old.  She had every right to start her life anew. 


     Rick did manage to convince A.J. to go on a week-long fishing trip in August that included Downtown Brown.  Despite the fact that Town and Temple had been down to visit the Simon family twice since A.J.'s return, the blond was, at first, restrained and subdued in the black man's presence.  By the middle of the week, though, he was beginning to open up and be more like the old friend Town knew so well.


     A.J.'s physical health was the one area in which he experienced rapid improvement that summer.  He gained back the weight he'd lost during his ordeal, and with the help of vitamins and nutritious meals his iron count returned to normal.  A.J.'s former exercise routine, and six physical therapy sessions, finally brought strength back to and promoted healing within his injured right shoulder.   


     But through it all, no matter what the circumstances, Cecilia and Rick were the constants in A.J.'s life who were more than willingly to give whatever it was he needed. 


     Because Eduardo Agilar had been charged with no crimes he was free to move about as he pleased upon his release from jail.  As far as Abigail Marsh knew the man had retreated to his home in the Mexican desert.  He had been warned by her not to bother the Simon family.  Or as Abby put it, "Regardless of whether or not you've been charged with anything, Agilar, I know perfectly well what you've done, and so do a good number of other people.  From this point on you stay away from the Simons.  If Rick Simon's dog so much as turns up missing, I swear to you I'll shoot first and ask questions later.  Do you get my drift, Senor Agilar?"


     The swarthy man gave Abby his most charming smile right before he walked out of the San Diego Police Department.  "Si, Lieutenant Marsh.  I understand.   And I can assure you I have never brought, nor will I bring, any harm to the family of which you speak."


     As much as Abby wanted to wrap her hands around Agilar's throat and throttle him until his eyes popped out of his head, she had no choice but to let him go.  If nothing else, he seemed to have lost interest in the Simons.  As each month passed nothing out of the ordinary happened.  Both Rick and Abby had a number of people keeping their ears close to the ground.  Abby's people were in law enforcement, Rick's people were friends like Jose Barronez, many of whom had criminal records.  Regardless, it was Rick's contacts who knew more about Agilar's movements and intentions than Abby's could ever hope to.  But again, as the weeks passed no one, whether they were an acquaintance of Abby's or of Rick's, was able to report back anything of significance regarding Eduardo Agilar.  Rick hoped that meant the guy realized how lucky he was not to be facing the death sentence.  He hoped it meant the guy didn't want to tempt fate twice.  He prayed it meant the asshole would drop off the face of the earth and not bother his family again.


     By September of that year Dylan Reed, the investigative reporter for the San Diego Daily Journal, had put a good number of the pieces of the Agilar puzzle together.  Who her many contacts were no one knew, but based on her story it was obvious they ranged from at least one person within the police department, all the way down to one of the guards Rick had accosted at Agilar's desert estate.  The woman's article was published in series format and ran for seven days.  Her only disappointment had been her inability to procure an interview with A.J. Simon.  Every time she'd tried to make contact with the man either he, or that hot-tempered brother of his, had hung up on her.  But no matter.  Dylan still managed to uncover what she needed to know.  And even though it would have been much more effective to have told of A.J.'s experiences through direct interviews with him, she made due with what she dug up.  Granted, she speculated some parts and fictionalized others, but what the heck.  If A.J. Simon wouldn't talk to her, then so be it.  Dylan had given him plenty of chances to have his story told in his own words. If he refused to take her up on the offer that was his loss, not hers.


     By the time the article had completed its run Dylan Reed was being hailed as the best investigative reporter in the country.  She could almost feel that Pulitzer Prize in her hands.  Using her many notes and hours worth of interviews, she began working on a non-fiction book length version of the story she tentatively titled, The Black Wolf.  She even planned a trip to San Francisco, where she hoped to visit the homeless shelter A.J. Simon had sought refuge in.


     An unscrupulous so-called friend of the Simon family had 'sold' A.J.'s story to Dylan for the fair sum of money the woman offered him.   Therefore, Dylan knew far more about what had happened to A.J. than she'd revealed in the paper.  She hoped her trip north would provide her with further valuable information.  She even had visions of somehow obtaining his records from Bayside Center.  A.J.'s counseling sessions that were occurring there was another juicy tid-bit the reporter dug up.  She now had aspirations of taking a look at his file.  How exactly she was going to accomplish that feat Dylan didn't know, but she was no stranger to black bag jobs.  What Dylan Reed wanted, Dylan Reed generally got, regardless at what cost to others.  She no more cared about what her potential findings might do to A.J. Simon if they were revealed to the public, than she cared about nuclear disarmament.  As far as Ms. Reed was concerned, she had no control over either one of those things.  People's feelings didn't matter to her, a good story did.  And for the first time in her twelve year career, Dylan had the potential to turn one of her stories into a multi-million dollar book and movie deal.  She wasn't going to pass up on what might possibly turn out to be her one and only chance at fame and fortune.    


     Although she'd strongly hinted at it in her article, Dylan Reed had not come right out in black and white and accused Eduardo Agilar of having murdered Carson and Jeanette Baily.  That was another intriguing area she was still probing.  She'd interviewed a man who claimed to know someone who was with Agilar that bloody night and acted as a lookout.  Now Dylan Reed had the name of the supposed lookout and had made contact with him.


     At first, the Hispanic man refused to talk to her. From just his tone of voice over the phone the reporter could tell he was terrified of being implicated as an accomplice in the murders.  But Dylan was a tenacious woman who did not give up easily.   She kept calling him.  When that tactic produced no results she confronted him outside his home, and then outside his place of work.  After one month of dogging his every step, Dylan finally got him to agree to meet her for an interview on an upcoming Friday night.  She wondered for a few brief seconds as to what had caused his sudden change of heart, but then came to the conclusion he was probably more fearful of what she would write if he didn't talk to her, than of what she would write if he did.     


     That meeting would turn out to be Dylan's Reed last interview.



Chapter 33


October 1993



     Dylan Reed's unexplained disappearance that October made front-page news and was extensively covered by all the local television stations.  The last time anyone had seen her was as she was leaving work on Friday evening.  Some of her co-workers knew she had an interview scheduled, but did not know with whom, or where, or at what time.


     Dylan wasn't reported missing until Monday morning.   She hadn't attended a family birthday party honoring a young niece on Sunday afternoon, although earlier in the week she'd promised her mother she'd be there.  By Monday morning, when Dylan’s family still hadn't located her and she failed to arrive at work, her editor called the police.  Dylan's home was combed for clues, as was her desk at the newspaper office.  Abigail Marsh's team of detectives quickly discovered detailed hand written notes, taped interviews, and computer transcripts that revealed what she had so diligently been working on.  Dylan's editor told Abby the reporter was planning to use those things to write a book about the Agilar family, and more importantly, about Eduardo Agilar's role in regards to all that had happened to A.J. Simon, as well as his suspected role in the deaths of Carson Baily and his wife.


     Hours of police interviews with Dylan's co-workers, friends, boyfriend, two ex-husbands, and family members, uncovered no other clues or leads into the woman's disappearance.  Abby was certain the vital link was Eduardo Agilar.  She was certain Dylan Reed, in making contact with the supposed lookout as the notes she left behind revealed, had fallen right into Agilar's hands.  Abby theorized the lookout, who had only been referred to as Juan in Dylan's notes, had contacted Agilar when the reporter persisted in her efforts to gain an interview with him.  Dylan Reed had disappeared because of what she knew, and because of what she was determined to find out and have published.  Abby strongly suspected the woman had met with the same fate the Bailys had.  But until Abby had a body or a witness, she really had nothing.   The Mexican authorities weren't being cooperative on this one, and Abby supposed she couldn't blame them.  All she had was theories, and suspicions, and a missing woman's notes.  No one had seen anyone accost Dylan Reed.  No one had seen Eduardo Agilar in San Diego.  Or at least not that he or she was saying.  No one had seen anything, so in reality, Abby had nothing to present to Judge Sanken that might motivate him to intervene with the Mexican police in regards to her obtaining a search warrant for Agilar's premises.  Which in the end meant, Eduardo Agilar was still a free man.




Unbeknownst to his family and friends, A.J. Simon diligently followed the story of the missing reporter.  Through his many contacts within the police department he knew what the detectives and Abigail Marsh were theorizing.  But above all else, A.J. knew exactly what had happened to Dylan Reed, and he knew why it had happened to her.  And somehow he knew with grave certainty that a member of his own family could be the next person to turn up missing.        


     But he couldn't talk about it.  He couldn't tell anyone.  Because as he laid beaten, and starving, and drugged on a cold concrete floor covered with his own waste, he had been warned not to.



Chapter 34


Wednesday, November 10th, 1993



     "I just don't understand it!"  Rick exclaimed while waving a hand in the air for emphasis.  "He was doing so good.  Every single day I'd see him make strides forward.  But now, over the course of the last month, the only thing he's been doing is backsliding."


     It was two weeks before Thanksgiving, and Rick Simon was in Clay Burrows office.  Other than himself and the doctor, no one was present.  Rick had requested a private meeting with the man.


     Clay sat casually in his high-backed blue leather chair.  He pushed his feet against the floor, causing the chair to rock back forth gently with a rhythmic, ‘squeak,’ ‘squeak,’ ‘squeak.’


     Clayton Wayne Burrows was seven years Rick Simon's senior, which made him fifty-six.  Like Rick, he was a veteran of the Vietnam War.  But rather than a veteran of the Marine Corps, Clay was a former Navy pilot.


     Clay's plane had been shot down over the jungle in October of 1967.  The captain had safely ejected the burning wreckage and parachuted down to the dense foliage.  He spent five terrifying days and nights eluding Charlie on nothing more than his wits, rainwater, and what few edible roots and berries he stumbled across.   When he was finally captured he was savagely beaten before being taken to Hanoi and the Hanoi Hilton, as the American POW's referred to the old French prison where they were quartered.  More beatings and torture followed, as the Vietnamese government tried to obtain information from Clay that he either didn't have, or refused to give.  After that, he was thrown into what the POW's called The Hole.  A trap door was opened in the floor and Clay was tossed down into a nine foot deep pit that was no wider than three feet by three feet.  He spent four months alone in complete darkness.  The only time he saw light was when someone remembered to give him food and water, which averaged about once every three days.  Delirious from the pain of his injuries and living in his own filth, Clay prayed for death.  Why the Lord didn't answer those gut-wrenching pleas for release, Clay didn't know.  Or at least not until many years later. 


     Clay was among the first wave of POW's to be released in 1973.  He was thirty-six years old.  His coal black hair had turned stark white as a result of his experiences.  He was gaunt to the point of being skeletal, severally undernourished, and sick with just about every intestinal and skin disease a man could have.  He returned home to a wife who no longer loved him, and to children who barely remembered him.  About the time he began to regain his physical health, his wife filed for divorce.   If it hadn't been for Jillian, the woman he'd met shortly thereafter, Clay didn't know where he'd be today.  Possibly he'd be one of the many casualties of the Vietnam War living homeless on the streets of America.  Maybe he'd be locked up in a mental institution somewhere.  If his first wife had gotten her way that would be a very likely possibility.  But Jillian had saved his life and his sanity, and he had gone on to marry her.  They had two children of their own now, active boys twelve and fourteen years old of whom Clay was enormously proud, and whose pictures were on prominent display in his office along with several of his wife.  Over the intervening years he had even managed to establish a relationship of sorts with the four now grown children from his first marriage.             


     It had been through Jillian's encouragement and support that the former pilot had gone back to college and studied psychology.  He hoped to offer aid to other veterans and he had.  Rick Simon had been one of his first patients, and had grown to become a good friend.  Four years earlier, in 1989, Clay had left the employ of the United States government to go to work for Bayside Center.  He liked helping people, and his job brought him a great deal of satisfaction.  Some claimed he was one of the best psychologists currently practicing anywhere in the United States.  Clay didn't know if that was true or not, and really didn't care.  If he was good at what he did, it was a direct result of his own experiences in Vietnam.   It was only in recent years that he'd come to realize why God hadn't answered his prayers for release back in The Hole. 


     And it was because of his own experiences as a captive, and as a patient in a counseling program, that Clay could empathize with everything A.J. Simon had gone through.   A.J. wasn't just talking to someone who had been trained to help him when he talked to Clay. He was talking to someone whose experiences had been similar to his. Which was a small part of the reason Clay felt A.J. made so many strides forward when he first started counseling.        


     But now those forward strides had turned to large steps in the opposite direction, and neither Clay nor Rick knew why.


     Clay steepled his fingers and brought them to rest underneath his chin. He watched for a moment as Rick paced the carpeting. Clay wished he could give his friend some answers, but right at the moment he didn't have any. 


     "I'm not sure what's going on myself, Rick, other than to say I believe it all stems back to what A.J. can't discuss."


     Rick stopped his pacing and plopped his lanky body in a chair across from Clay's desk.  "What Agilar did to him?"


     "Yes," Clay nodded.  "What Agilar did to him.  While A.J. and I have spent many hours discussing our respective captivities - the hopeless aspects of it, the boring aspects of it, etcetera, as you well know there's still a lot A.J. hasn't told me. As well, I suspect there's still an abundance of feelings he's keeping not only from me, but from himself."  


     The doctor used his feet to pull out his bottom desk drawer, then turned sideways in his chair and rested his tennis shoes on its ledge.  Clay Burrows was the kind of down-to-earth informal guy Rick Simon could relate to.  He didn't hide behind five dollar words, designer suits, or fancy cars, though Rick suspected the man could afford just about anything he wanted.  Today he was dressed in blue jeans, a tan polo shirt, and an old pair of running shoes.  At five foot ten he was neither too heavy nor too thin, but carried just the right amount of weight for a man his age with a small, but as of yet unnoticeable paunch starting to take up residence around his middle.  He kept his gray hair trimmed close to his head.  He was nicely tanned from hours spent in the sun with his younger children.  His eyes and mouth had the beginnings of laugh lines, as middle aged people afflicted with such affectionately refer to the first signs of aging.  The hair color he'd come home from Vietnam with set off his vivid emerald eyes, making them the first thing you noticed about the man when you met him.


     "What I don't understand," Rick said, "and I guess what I haven't understood since I found A.J. back in February, is why he constantly maintains he can't talk about Agilar and what happened.  What does he mean by he can't talk about it?  Or is that just his way of sayin' he won't talk about it?"


     "I don't know,” Clay shrugged. “What do you think?"


     Rick scowled.  "You know I hate it when you do that to me."


     "Do what?"


     "Answer one of my questions with a question of your own."


     Clay smiled.  "That's how I get more information, Rick.  Believe me, I have my own theory as to why A.J. can't or won't talk about his experiences with Agilar, but you know him the best of anyone.  I'm interested in hearing what your theories are."


     "They're pretty damn weak, that's what they are.  But okay, you asked for it, so here goes.  I guess I think A.J. hides behind the word ‘can't’ when he says he can't talk about Agilar.  What I really think he means is that he won't."


     "And why do you think that?"


     "Because I know my younger brother, and I know how stubborn he is.  If he doesn't want to talk about something no amount of coaxing, pleading, yelling, or threatening is gonna get him to.  I think...well I think what Agilar did to A.J. is very painful for him to remember.  Obviously that would hold true for anybody who went through what he did.  From my own personal experience I know it's very easy for a guy to convince himself that the less said the better, so to speak."

     "So you think A.J. simply doesn't want to talk about what happened to him because it's too painful to discuss, is that it?"

     "Yeah, I guess that's it.  Am I right?"


     Clay chuckled at Rick's faith in him.  "I don't know.  You might be.  A.J. sure hasn't given me any clues in that direction.  As I said, I've got several theories, but none of which I'm ready to discuss, simply because I need more time with A.J. before they're completely evolved.  Currently, however, time spent with A.J. is becoming a problem."


     "What do you mean by that?"


     "He didn't show up for his session yesterday, and he missed both of them last week."

     Rick sat up in his chair.  "But he said he was coming here each time he's left the office."


     "And he told me he was tied up on a case each time he didn't show up."


     "Damn!"  Rick swore for lack of knowing what else to say.  "He can't start this.  He can't.  I know him, Clay.  I know what he's doing.  In a couple of weeks he won't be coming back at all."


     "I realize that, Rick.  But I'm at a loss as to know what to do about it."


     "Clay, the flashbacks are gettin' worse again.  You know as well as I do that by September they were almost nonexistent, but suddenly he's having three or four a week that I know about.  That doesn't even begin to cover what might be goin' on when he's alone.  How long can those things keep up with that kind of frequency before they really start to effect him mentally speaking?"


     "Not long," Clay replied grimly.  "Not long at all.  To be honest with you, I'm amazed A.J. is holding up as well as he is.  I've experienced flashbacks and so have you.  They're hell on earth, we both know that.  But with the frequency and duration A.J. has them," Clay shook his head, "it's not good, Rick.  It's just not good.  And correct me if I'm wrong, but I think he's losing weight."


     "Yeah, Mom and I think so, too.  Not to mention he looks absolutely drained six days out of seven.  Again, because I'm not stayin' at his house with him anymore, I don't know if that's because he's having nightmares, or if it's simply because he's not sleeping well."


     Rick's eyes shone bright with moisture and worry.  "Clay, I'm afraid A.J.’s on a downward spiral that's spinning out of control so fast that when he hits bottom there'll be no helpin' him back to the top."


     "I'm beginning to fear the same things myself."


     Rick rubbed a hand over his throbbing forehead.  "He's starting to talk about Dominique and Malachi again, too.  He hasn't done that in months.  But suddenly he's referring to his time spent with them on a frequent basis.  Then the other day, A.J. told me things were better when he was Jack.  He hasn’t said anything like that since the first week or two he was home."


     "Do you think he loved the woman?  Could that be part of why he's suddenly talking about her again?"


     Rick shrugged.  "I don't know.  Yeah, I suppose he loved her, but I always figured it was a love born of gratefulness more than...romantic love, if you know what I mean."


     "There's a number of different ways to love people, Rick.  And I'm certain there are a lot of men and women in this country who have married and made a life together on forms of love that weren't necessarily spawned by romance."


     "I know that.  But I don't get the impression A.J.'s talking about Dominique because he loves her and wants to see her, so much as I get the impression he wants to go back to living like that."


     "Living like what?  The life of a homeless person?"

     "As crazy as it sounds, yes.  That's what I'm pickin' up from him."

     "What's so crazy about it?"


     "What’s so crazy about it?  I can list a hundred things that are crazy about it!  In the first place, he's got a home, and along with it, a family who loves him.  Why the hell would he want to return to that lifestyle?"


     "Because it was safe," Clay stated practically.  "Eduardo Agilar didn't know where he was.  Because it was simple.  No one had any expectations of him, as he's so often reminded you.  And because he was Jack."


     Rick looked across the desk at his friend for help.  "Who was Jack, Clay?"


     "Oh, in many ways Jack was really A.J.  Probably in more ways than he wasn't.  But through the...amnesia, I guess we'd call it, brought on by the brainwashing or drugs, Jack was someone with no past.  And think about it, Rick, if you have no past, you have no pain.  If you can't remember anything about who you are, then nothing about those memories, or lack of rather, can hurt you.  Jack is someone who can't be hurt.  Or so A.J. believes when the real world becomes too much for him to bear."


     "Like it is now for whatever reason."


     Clay nodded.  "Like it is now.  And when A.J. thinks of being Jack again, he naturally thinks of Dominique.  I suppose it's similar to a first love.  He looks back upon that time and that woman with nostalgia, and life somehow seems like it was easier.  Yes, he was sleeping in an alley. Yes, he didn't always know where his next meal was coming from.  Yes, he was homeless.  Yes, he didn't know who he was.  But those things didn't matter to him when he was Jack, and now he thinks if he can go back and recapture that time he can escape all he's trying to run from."


     "What is it he's trying to run from, Clay?  I've been askin' myself that question night and day for a month now, but I can't come up with any answers."


     "I believe A.J. might be running from Eduardo Agilar and all that happened to him while he was being held captive by the man, but I don't know that for certain."


     "But why now?  Why suddenly after eight months is he trying to run away from Agilar?  To all intents and purposes, the man is out of our lives."


     "Out of your lives, Rick, but not out of A.J.'s mind.   Tell me something, how long was it after you left Nam before you really started feeling her on your back?  Before you really felt like she was trying to get under your skin and poison you from the inside out?"


     "You know the answer to that.  When Ray Maynard died."


     "How long was it, Rick?"

     "How many years, you mean?"



     "About fifteen I guess."


     "Fifteen years after you came home, Nam finally got to you and you sought help.  A.J.'s been home eight months, and you have to ask me why he's trying to run."

     "I see your point," Rick reluctantly nodded.  He thought a long time then took a deep weary breath. "What do we do now?  Where do we go from here?  My mother is so afraid A.J.'s just gonna up and disappear on us one of these days, and so am I.  If he doesn't do that...if he doesn't do that, then I'm afraid someday I'm gonna walk into his house and find out he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.  I'm scared for him, Clay.  I 

really am.  And so's Mom.  We want to help him, but we're back to not knowin' how."


     Clay ran a hand over the blotter covering his wide desk.  "I have a suggestion, though I'll warn you straight off your brother will pitch a fit."


     Rick gave a small smile.  "Ah, my favorite reaction."


     Clay grinned at the resilient man sitting across from him before growing somber. 


“I'd like to have A.J. admitted as an in-patient.  If he'd continued to progress as he had up until four weeks ago, I wouldn't make such a suggestion.  But as we've just discussed, so much has changed in a drastically short period of time.  A.J. suddenly not showing up for his appointments alarms me as much as it does you.  And just like you, I fear this turn of events will only make it easier for him to stop showing up all together in the coming weeks.  And as for these flashbacks he's been having again, the length in which they hold onto him is unusual.  Quite frankly, I've never heard of anyone suffering from them for as long as A.J. does.  Perhaps if I could see him when he's in the midst of one I would better know how to help him.  I'd like to obtain A.J.’s permission to videotape one.  My ultimate hope is that he'll agree to watch the tape with me, after I've viewed it first of course.  Maybe it will open some passageways in his mind he currently has locked tight.  I'm hoping if we view it together, A.J. will tell me what's going on, what's happening to him, or more importantly, what he thinks is happening to him while he's suffering one."


     "But he always says he doesn't remember."


     "Yes, Rick, that's what he says.  But I don't believe him.  In my vast experience, I have yet to hear of anyone who doesn't remember.  Granted, the memory may be somewhat foggy and distorted, but mark my words, A.J. remembers.  I think he remembers all too well.  As a matter of fact, I think that's why they last so long."


     "What do you mean?"


     "I think A.J.'s memory is so vividly recalling what happened to him in Agilar's basement that he literally becomes a part of it again on a much grander scale than most of us become a part of our flashbacks.  Kind of like a bizarre form of self-induced hypnosis."


     "You mean he's doing it to himself?"


     "No, that's not what I mean.  Or if by your question you're asking me if A.J. is somehow bringing on these flashbacks under his own power.  No, he's not.  I don't think that's possible.  But I think he becomes immersed in them in a way I've never heard of anyone doing.  However, I'm only hypothesizing.  This is one reason I need the chance to observe him and tape him while he's having one."


     "And about the only way you can do that is if he agrees to be admitted."


     Clay nodded.  "That's about the only way."


     "So how do we go about doing that?"


     "First of all, I’d like A.J. and myself, and you and your mother, to meet together to discuss it."

     "I'll tell you something right now, Clay, it will be a lot easier if you just let me drop him off at the front door, then give me a chance to run like hell before he knows what's happening."


     Clay chuckled.  "I'm sure it would be.  But I don't think that's really what we want to do."


     "And exactly what's going to happen at this meeting the four of us have?"


     "I’ll want to brief you and your mother together regarding it, but basically the three of us have to convince A.J. that it's in his best interest to agree to be admitted as a full time in-house patient."


     "For how long?"


     "That I don't know.  It could be two weeks, it could be a month, it could be longer."


     "This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.  You know that, don't you?"

     "Yes, Rick, I know that.  And in time, A.J. will come to know it as well."

     Rick rose from his chair and headed for the door.  "I hope you're right, Clay.  I hope to God you're right.  Because if you're not...if you're not, I'm in the process of making the decision that will cost me the friendship of the man I'm closest to."



Chapter 35


Wednesday, November 17th, 1993



     "No!  Absolutely not!  I won't stay here!"


     Clay unobtrusively rose from his chair and closed the thick oak door to his office.  There was no reason for everyone in the entire facility to be privy to the Simon family's personal business.   


     Rick was seated in the same chair he'd occupied in this office a week earlier, with Cecilia seated in its twin next to him.  Clay returned to his seat behind his desk.  A third chair had been pulled into the grouping for A.J., but as soon as the purpose of this get together was announced the blond man had jumped from his chair in outrage. 


     "A.J., please," Cecilia attempted to reason.  "Please calm down and hear us out."


     A.J.'s words dripped like venom.  "And what purpose will that serve, Mother?"            


     Cecilia refused to be antagonized by her youngest's anger.  "It will serve several purposes, son.  It will allow you to see that we aren't doing this to hurt you, but rather we're doing it to help you."

     "Well maybe I don't want your help!  Maybe I don't need it!   I sure the hell didn't ask for it!"


     Clay spoke calmly in an effort to direct the discussion toward quiet, productive conversation.  "A.J., your family and I want to know why you've chosen to quit coming to our sessions."


     "I've been busy."


     "A.J., that's a crock of shit and you know it," Rick stated.  "Now knock it off and tell us the truth."


     A.J. whirled on his sibling.  "It's none of your goddamn business, Rick!  What I choose to do and don't choose to do is none of your concern, you got that?"


     Rick didn't even blink at the finger suspended inches from his nose. "It is my business when it effects your health, which it's doing."


     "No it isn't!"


     "Yes, A.J.," Rick countered quietly.  "It is."


     A.J. turned his back on his brother and paced the room in fury.


     "A.J.," Clay said, "Let's all be honest with one another for a moment if we may.  You were doing very well from March through September.  Then suddenly you began to lose ground and lose it rapidly.  I don't know why, your brother doesn't know why, and your mother doesn't know why.  Quite possibly even you don't know why.  That's the reason we're suggesting you allow yourself to be admitted as an in-patient."

     "Well I'm not going to allow it."


     "A.J.--" Cecilia began.


     "No!" A.J. stopped his pacing to shout at his mother.  "I'm not staying here!  If all you want to do is get rid of me before the holidays so I don't embarrass you in front of the relatives, then just say so, Mom.  I'd be happy to leave!"


     Cecilia had a hard time keeping the tears out of her voice, but she had come to this session with the determination that no matter what happened, she wasn't going to cry.  "A.J., that's not true and you know it.   It hurts me that you would say such a thing."


     When A.J. deemed no reply necessary to his mother, Clay once again redirected the discussion.  "If you leave, A.J., where is it you plan on going?"


     A.J. shrugged and turned his back on his captive audience.  They had to listen hard to hear the first quiet words he'd said since the door had been closed. 


"I don't know.  Back to Dominique and Malachi, I guess.  I belonged there.  Nobody cared about what I did, or what I didn't do.  Nobody tried to run my life for me."


     That answer held no surprises for Clay.  Nor did it surprise Cecilia and Rick.  Aside from having begun to refer to his friends in San Francisco again in recent weeks, A.J. had as well, begun to let his hair grow.  He'd had it cut right before he returned to work in March to the same short, well-groomed style he had worn prior to his disappearance.  But in the last five weeks he'd begun letting it get thick and shaggy again, and though it wasn't overly long yet, he didn't seem to have any intention of getting it trimmed.  Clay speculated this was A.J.'s subconscious way of attempting to resurrect Jack. 


     "And what do you plan on doing once you return to San Francisco?"


     Again, A.J. shrugged.  "I don't know.  I won't worry about that until I get there.  I can take care of myself.  I did it before under a lot worse conditions, I can do it again."


     "Oh for the love of..." Rick growled underneath his breath.  "You sound like an idiot, A.J.  Do you know that?  You sound like an absolute idiot when you talk like that."


     Although Clay Burrows wouldn't recommend Rick Simon's methods in a psychology textbook, the man's temper had its value.  It fueled A.J.'s.  And when A.J.'s temper was ignited he revealed far more than he realized he was revealing, or than he intended to reveal.


       "I don't care!" Came the shout Clay could have predicted.  A.J. turned to face his brother.  "I don't care what I sound like, and I don't care what you think I am or don't think I am!  It makes no difference to me!"


     Quietly, Rick asked, "What does make a difference to you, A.J.?  Does it make a difference to you that I spent eleven months of my life looking for you?  Does it make a difference to you that Mom and I spent eleven months crying for you?  Does it make a difference to you that we've given you everything we could possibly give since you came back to us?  Does it make a difference to you that we love you?"


     "No, it doesn't!  Because I didn't ask either one of you to do any of those things for me."


     Rick shook his head in despair.  "No, A.J., you didn't.  But I thought you knew you didn't have to.  I thought you knew they came freely by virtue of who and all you are to us."


     "So if you want to give me so much as you claim," A.J. scowled, "then why the hell did you bring me here under false pretenses?  Why the hell do you want to lock me away in some loony bin?  Because it's easier to forget me that way?  Because it's easier if I'm not underfoot making a goddamn fool of myself when I can't talk to people, or when I have a flashback?"


     "A.J.," Rick stated with gentle admonishment, "you know perfectly well we don't want to lock you away.  That's not our intention, and that's not gonna happen.  Being admitted here as an in-patient is a far cry from being locked away."


     Rick was correct about that.  Bayside Center was a multi -million dollar modern complex that looked more like a sprawling brick grade school from the outside than it did a mental health facility.  The inside was decorated in warm rich wood tones, and held comfortable overstuffed furniture and plush carpeting that gave each room the appearance of belonging in someone's home.  The living quarters for the in-patient residents were the same away.  Each room was private and tastefully decorated with wallpaper and fresh clean paint.  Aside from a double bed, the rooms contained their own telephone, television set, VCR, bathroom, desk, small sofa, and two chairs.  There was also a library for the residents, a cafeteria, a laundry room, and as well, an in-house gym that included a large variety of workout equipment and a swimming pool.  Outside, behind the facility on its expansive well-maintained grounds, were three tennis courts and a basketball court.  Because of these amenities

in-patient care was extremely costly, but that issue was the least of Cecilia Simon's concerns.  Her late husband had left her well set financially speaking.  The wise investments she'd made with that money over the years had grown to proportions even her sons weren't completely aware of.  She was well able to pay for whatever care A.J. needed, as she had already been doing despite his protests, and would continue to do for as long as was necessary.


     "Well I don't want to be admitted here as an in-patient," A.J. adamantly declared to his brother, "and I have no intention of being admitted here as an in-patient, so you can save your breath, Rick, in regards to what a goddamn Utopia this place is."

     Cecilia had heard about all she could tolerate.  "A.J., you're being ridiculous, and I swear if you were four and not forty-four, I'd put you over my knee and give you a sound spanking.  You're acting like a spoiled child, Andrew, and it's time it stopped."


     A.J. raced toward his mother and stopped just short of coming close enough for her to touch him.   "Don't tell me how to act!  I don't want to hear it from you, anymore than I want to hear it from anyone else."


     Rick rose from his seat and advanced on his brother.  With all the authority of a father to a wayward son he stated firmly,  "A.J., I'm tellin' you right now, you have no choice.  You're stayin' here."


     "I do have a choice, Rick!  And no, I'm not staying here."


     "Yes, you are, A.J.  One way or another, you are.  Because if you don't stay of your volition, I’ll file a petition to become your power of attorney and medical guardian."


     A.J.'s eyes narrowed.  "No, you won't."


     "Yes, A.J.," Rick nodded.  "I will.  Clay will back me on it and so will Joel.  I've already spoken to Doug McKenna about it.  The papers are ready.   All I have to do is give the word."


     A.J.'s outrage at the entire situation could no longer be contained.  He rushed forward with hands that were aimed for Rick's throat.  "You bastard!  You goddamn bastard!  You told me I could trust you!  You told me you'd never make me do anything I didn't want to!"


     Rick snared A.J. by the forearms before he could do any damage and struggled to contain his enraged brother.  "A.J., please.  Stop this!  You can trust me.  You know that.  Everything Mom and I are doing, we're doing because we love you and wanna help you."


     With one powerful downward jerk, A.J. freed his arms from Rick's grasp.  He whirled away from his family and the doctor. 


"You're not doing anything out of love!  You're doing exactly what he did!"


     For the first time in many long minutes Clay spoke.  "Who's he, A.J.?"



     "And what did he do?"


     "You know what he did!  He took everything away from me.  Everything!  He beat me, and he starved me, and he drugged me, and he made me live in a stinking hole in my own filth.  And then when I was beyond knowing or caring who the hell I was anymore, he had me thrown out of a moving vehicle in a strange city like someone throws out a piece of garbage.  And now Rick tells me I can trust him.  Well, I can't.  And this just proves it all the more."


     "Why is that, A.J.?"  Clay asked.


     A.J. turned so he could make eye contact with his brother.  He was answering Clay, but looking at Rick.  "Because I waited for him.  Every day I was locked up in that basement I waited for Rick to come get me, until the day came I couldn't wait any longer.  Until the day came it hurt less to forget him than to remember him.  Until the day came I realized he was never going to show up."

     "A.J...” Rick beseeched.


     A.J. once again turned his back on his sibling.  He didn't care about the tremendous hurt he saw on Rick's face, or the tears that were shimmering in his older brother's eyes.  


"You want me to stay here, then fine, I'm staying.  Agilar did worse to me and I survived.  I'll survive this, too.  But get the hell out of here and don't come back."


     "A.J.," Cecilia pleaded,  "Please don't do this.  Don't be this way."


     "I mean you, too," was all the blond said to his mother.  "I don't want to see either one of you.  I lived without you for almost a year.  It makes no difference to me if I live without you for the rest of my life."


     Despite her promise to herself, Cecilia's tears began to flow.  She flew out of her chair and ran from the room before her sobs completely gained control.  Rick stood staring at his brother's stiff back, but had no words to offer.  Clay saw the tears trickling down Rick Simon's cheeks as he left to comfort his mother.


     Twenty minutes later Clay found Rick and Cecilia sitting on a white wooden glider under a towering shady tree in front of the building.  The glider held two bench seats.  Clay sat down across from the one Rick and Cecilia were sharing. 


     "Someone is helping A.J. get settled in his room right now," Clay told the pair.


     Rick nodded.


     "He didn't mean what he said, Rick," the doctor offered.  "He's very angry right now.  We were expecting this.  The three of us agreed this exact reaction was a strong possibility when we met in my office on Monday."


     Rick looked out over the manicured grounds.  "I know.  It's just expecting it, and actually hearing A.J. say some of what he said...well, it's not easy."


     "It never is," Clay agreed.  "But some good came out of what happened in there.  I've got a feeling A.J. said a lot of things he's been keeping inside for a long time."


     "Like how he can't trust me because I didn't show up to rescue him from Agilar?"


     "I know it hurt, Rick, but it was good that he said it.  And I think once A.J. calms down he'll tell you he didn't mean it.  Or at least didn't mean it the way it came out."


     "Of course he meant it.  It's true, so he should mean it."


     "No, it's not true," Clay firmly countered.  "You did everything in your power to find A.J., and in the end that's exactly what you did.  And it's okay that he told you he waited for you.  Don't you think that's a natural thing for him to have done given the nature of your friendship, partnership, and relationship as brothers?"


     "Yeah, I guess."

     "So he waited.  And when things got really bad, that waiting turned to heartache and despair because you didn't come.  Believe me, there were a lot of people I was wishing would show up to rescue me when I was a POW, and for many of whom that feat would have been impossible.  But when you've been beaten and starved as much as your body and mind can tolerate you're not thinking straight and any familiar face would be welcome, regardless of whether or not it would be feasibly possible for that person to come to your aid."


     Cecilia dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex. "What do we do now, Clay?" 


     "We go forward like we talked, Cecilia.  I continue counseling A.J., though on a daily basis now, and you and Rick continue to come see me once a week.   There will be some other doctors working with A.J. as well.  I have a young woman in mind who has been known to have a knack at breaking through more than one stubborn male's shell.  Of course you'll both meet anyone I have working with him.  When the time is right, the two of you will be included in some counseling sessions with A.J."


     "What about in the mean time?"  Cecilia asked.


     "What about it?"

     "As far as visiting him goes?"

     "You can come see him whenever you'd like."  Clay reminded the woman of what they'd discussed on Monday.  "Bayside isn't run like a hospital with rigid rules concerning visiting hours.  If A.J.'s in a counseling session when you come then you can wait for him, or find out from one of the staff when he'll be through and come back later.  Certainly he'll always be free after six in the evening.  The only thing we ask is that all visitors are out of the building by ten p.m., and not here before nine in the morning."


     "That's not what I meant," Cecilia said.  "He says he doesn't want to see us."


     "I don't think that's true, Cecilia."

     "Why not?" 


     "After the two of you left my office A.J. broke down and cried.   He doesn't know I was still in the room with him.  He doesn't know I heard him tell both of you he was sorry.  He doesn't know I heard him ask Rick not to leave him here."


     Rick closed his eyes in an effort to contain his tears.  His mother leaned into his chest and began crying openly once again.


     With a pat to Rick's knee, and one to Cecilia's arm, Clay got up and left mother and son alone.  There was a lot he couldn't do for them.  There was a lot they'd have to get through on their own.  There was a lot only A.J. could do for them.  But whether or not the blond man would work with them willingly was something Clay didn't know.  If the doctor could only figure out what had caused this sudden and swift regression he'd have some answers for Cecilia and Rick.  But until A.J. chose to confide in him, Clay was as much in the dark as A.J.'s family was.  The doctor prayed A.J. would unburden himself to him, because if he didn't...if he didn't, Clay had no idea what would happen to the blond man.  The only thing he knew with certainty is that whatever it was, it wouldn't be good.




Chapter 36


November, 1993



     Cecilia and Rick had thought they'd endured some tremendously difficult times in the past eighteen months, but those times barely scraped the surface of what was yet to come.  They faithfully visited A.J. at Bayside each day, sometimes together and sometimes individually, but no matter.  A.J. was as uncommunicative as Dominique had told Rick he had been when Malachi had first met him.  Rick thought back to all that Dominique had said.  Just like then, it was if A.J. was afraid someone was going to make him talk about something he didn't want to, therefore as far as A.J. was concerned it was just as easy not to talk at all. 


     Clay thought there was more to it than that, but a nonverbal patient didn't afford him many clues.  When things worsened and A.J. was barely eating or sleeping, and was having more flashbacks than he wasn't, neither his family nor Clay knew what was going on.  They didn't know that when Dylan Reed's horribly mutilated and tortured body surfaced three days after Thanksgiving, A.J. sat on the floor in the corner of his room shaking while watching the first news broadcasts. The woman had been dead only twenty-four hours when she was found in an isolated wooded area by a man out walking his dog.  That meant whoever had kidnapped the reporter seven weeks earlier had held her captive that long while doing unspeakable horrors the police refused to reveal.


     The television news anchorman said the police were without leads in the fledging murder investigation, just like they had been without leads when Dylan first disappeared.  But A.J. knew who had killed her.  And he knew if he talked the man would kill again.  Only this time it would be Rick and his mother who would die. So A.J. didn't talk, and more often than not Cecilia cried herself to sleep, while Rick was up half the night pacing the floor of his houseboat in restless despair.  He began to wonder if they would have all been better off if he'd never found A.J.  Rick hated himself for those thoughts, but maybe A.J. was right.


     Maybe things were better when he was Jack.





Chapter 37


Friday, December 17th, 1993



     Three weeks passed in which very little changed within the Simon family.  A.J. remained a silent resident of Bayside Center, while Rick and Cecilia tried to exist day-to-day as best they could.  Like the previous year, all of San Diego was knee deep in Christmas cheer while Cecilia and Rick were mired in sorrow.  Granted, this year A.J. was back with them, but he seemed to withdraw farther and farther away from his family with each visit.


     Cecilia Simon and her eldest son were slowly walking toward Bayside's exit doors late on Friday afternoon one week before Christmas.  Their eyes were downcast, and Rick had a solicitous arm around his mother's shoulders.  They'd just spent another two hours with A.J., in which all he'd done was shake his head yes or no in answer to their questions.  If, by the nature of the conversation he was forced to say more, he used as few words as necessary.


     Clay Burrows hailed the pair from behind. 


     "Cecilia!  Rick!  I'd like to talk to both of you for a moment before you leave."


     Mother and son turned and allowed the doctor to lead them to his now familiar office.  As he indicated for the pair to seat themselves and offered them coffee, Clay couldn't help but notice how drawn and exhausted they were. 


     When his guests refused Clay's offer of refreshments he shut his door and sat down on the corner of his desk.  "I wanted to tell you both about something that happened this morning."

     "Something regarding A.J.?"  Rick asked.


     "Yes.  Something regarding A.J."


      Cecilia and Rick perked up like children with sore throats being offered ice cream, making Clay wish he hadn't been so exuberant.  What he was about to tell them was going to fall far short of the hopeful expectations he could plainly see on their faces.


     "I tried a new form of therapy with A.J. this morning.  Well, I shouldn't call it new, I don't suppose, but it's new to A.J.  Normally we use it with children far more than we do with adults.  But when have an adult who's unresponsive or relatively nonverbal like A.J. currently is, we've been known to have some success with it."


     "With what?"  Rick asked.  "What is this therapy you're talking about?"


     "When used with children we refer to it as play therapy.  With adults...well, when used with adults I don't have a name for it.  Nonetheless, I left A.J. alone in one of therapy rooms under the pretense I had some phone calls to return and would be back in shortly.  On top of the table I sat him at was a large wooden Victorian dollhouse one of our former residents made and donated to us.  We have boxes of three inch dolls that come in every shape, color, size, sex, and age imaginable.  Again, normally we use these with children.  Before I took A.J. into the room I happened to pick out three dolls.  One appears to be an older woman in her sixties, and two appear to be grown men.  One of the men had painted on blond hair, while the other was a brunette.  I put a plastic cowboy hat on the brunette to complete my efforts."


     Rick and Cecilia both nodded their understanding of whom those dolls represented. 


     "After getting A.J. settled I left him and went to an adjoining room that contains a one-way observation window.  I made certain he hadn't brought a book with him.  I also cleaned the room of all reading materials before his arrival so the only thing that could capture his attention in my absence was those dolls and that dollhouse.  It took a while, a long while, but I waited him out.  When he finally grew bored enough, he picked up the dolls one by one and idly fiddled with them.  But after a few minutes he seemed to be concentrating on them like I've seen children do when the dolls start to mean something to them."


     "When they start to represent people the kids know," Rick guessed.


     "Exactly," Clay nodded.   "When those three dolls started to represent the three of you to A.J., he put the Rick doll, if you will, and the Cecilia doll, in the house.  He sat them together on the couch and shut all the doors and the windows."


     "What about the doll that represented himself?"  Cecilia asked.


     "He left that one outside the house for a few minutes as though he wasn't quite sure what to do with it.  Then he began moving it farther and farther away from the house until, because he'd come to the edge of the table, he had no where else to go with it.  After a while he picked it up and tossed it across the room into the garbage can."


     Cecilia and Rick exchanged long looks before they turned to the doctor for answers.


     "What's that mean, Clay?"  Rick asked.


     "If A.J. were a child I could tell you exactly what it means.  Since he's not, I can only speculate based on my past experience with children in this area and, as well, based on what I know happened to him."


     Rick reached over and took his mother's hand in his.  "That's good enough for us.  Tell us."


     "The dollhouse itself represents what our homes represent to most of us.  Family, comfort, and most importantly in this situation, safety.  By putting Rick and Cecilia in the house and then shutting up all the doors and windows, A.J. was keeping them safe.  By not putting himself inside, he was symbolically leaving the danger out of the house."


     "Leaving what danger out of the house?"  Rick asked.  "A.J. isn't a danger to us."

     "Evidently that's not what A.J. thinks," Clay said.  "But why that is I don't know."


     "What did it mean when he threw the doll representing himself away?"  Cecilia asked.


     "It means he feels he's of no value to his family anymore, or to anyone else for that matter.  If you tie it into the careful way he made sure the Rick and Cecilia dolls were secure in the house, then it may also mean he only feels his family is safe if he's far away from them.  When I've studied children who do this I've generally found it also means they feel guilty about something they think they've failed at."


     Clay's explanation left Rick more puzzled and concerned than ever.  "But what does A.J. think he's failed at?"   


      "I'm not certain.  But if I tie everything he did together, I come to the conclusion that it's important to A.J. that you and your mother are safe, and for some reason he feels his presence is jeopardizing that safety."


     "And there's something he feels guilty about," Rick reminded.


     "There's that, too," Clay agreed.


     "And obviously it all goes back to Eduardo Agilar," Cecilia stated.


     "Yes, Cecilia," Clay nodded.  "It does.  But how, I don't know yet, though I can make an educated guess.  I'm beginning to strongly suspect A.J. is worried that Agilar is going to hurt one, or both of you.  I'm also beginning to suspect he feels guilty for having returned home from San Francisco thereby, in his mind, he's failed to keep the two of you safe.   I believe that's one of the reasons why A.J. continuously makes reference to things being better when he was Jack, and why he seems to be trying so hard to bring Jack back to life."


     "But why has his worry, if that's truly the root of the problem, manifested itself in such a large way all of a sudden?"  Cecilia asked.  "Agilar was released from jail back in March.  Why is all of this coming to a head eight months after the fact?  A.J.'s never expressed concern regarding any of this."


     "He may not have expressed it, Cecilia, but that doesn't mean it wasn't on his mind.  And as for why now all of a sudden, I don't know.  But I can assure you I intend to do everything within my power to find out."


     "How are you going to do that?"  Rick asked.


     "I discovered a lot in a half hour's time today, Rick, simply by observing A.J. with those dolls.  I plan to repeat the process again in a couple of days."


     "Why a couple of days?"  Rick pressed with impatience.  "Why not tomorrow?"


     "Because whether he's talking or not, your brother's sharp as a tack.  Despite the many forms of therapy I've tried on him in the past four weeks, he quickly and easily figures out what it is I'm attempting to get him to do in order to reveal something to me."  Clay smiled.  "That blond guy you both love so much has foiled some of my best methods.  I was getting desperate when I tried the play therapy on him today.  If I space it out over a number of days I'm hoping he won't realize what it is I'm doing.  Especially if I don't always use the same room and if I'm not always the one who takes him there.  Obviously leaving every time I start our therapy session under the guise I have phone calls to make will tip him off in a very short period of time.  If A.J. does figure out what I'm doing, I guarantee you he'll never touch those dolls again."


     Cecilia posed the next question. "So if you do manage to keep therapy working where A.J.'s concerned, what are the next steps?"


     "The next time I do it I don't plan to change the criteria too much from what it was today.   I'm anxious to see if he so meticulously goes about making sure Rick and Cecilia are safe again.  But the time after that...the time after that a new doll will be added.  I'm certain A.J. will recognize him as representing Eduardo Agilar.  For some reason, I have a strong feeling that's when we'll really start making progress.  From there, if I'm lucky enough to keep it going for a while, A.J. may tell us everything that happened to him and what he now fears through nothing more than manipulating those dolls.  I've seen it work many times with children, and a few times with adults.  As I said, my biggest concern with A.J. is that he'll figure out what I'm doing and stop playing along.  But then again, even if he does realize what I'm doing, maybe he'll keep our little game going."


     "What makes you say that?"  Rick asked.


     "As long as no one is in the room with A.J. urging him to talk, and thereby threatening whatever it is he's trying to keep hidden, possibly he'll be willing to tell his story.  Sometimes I get the impression he wants to, but just when he's close he falls back on those five little words that have become so frustratingly familiar to all of us."


     Rick knew exactly what words Clay was referring to.  "I can't talk about it."


     "That's correct," the doctor nodded.  "I can't talk about it.  So maybe he can talk about it in a rather unconventional way.  Possibly he'll be able to get out enough of his fears and concerns using the dolls that eventually he will be able to talk about it.  All we I can do is try."


     "And what if this doesn't work?"  Rick asked.  "I'm gettin' the impression we're down to our last hope here."


     "There's always hope, Rick.  But you're right, we're starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel.  As a last resort there's always hypnosis, though I've seen that do more harm than good in some cases.  And A.J. would have to be relaxed and open to trying it for a qualified doctor to be able to get his mind to the deep level of subconscious that's necessary."


     "Which he won't be," Rick stated as though he was willing to bet his last dollar on that conviction.


     "No," Clay was forced to reluctantly agree, "he probably won't be.”  The man’s gaze took in both Cecilia and Rick.    “Therefore, if things don't improve over the course of the next few months, the two of you will be facing some difficult decisions.  You both know Bayside is not a permanent care facility.  The time anyone is allowed to stay here on an in-patient basis is limited depending on his or her progress.  I wish that wasn't the situation, but we just have too long of a waiting list for it to be otherwise."


     "I won't have A.J. committed to some...some...some state run mental institution if that's what you're thinking," Rick firmly declared.  "I won't do it, Clay.  He'll come live with me and I'll take care of him if it comes to that."


     Clay held up his hands.  "Rick, I'm far from making any suggestion even close to that.  On the other hand, the last thing any of us wants is what the two of you have feared on and off since March."


     "That A.J. will disappear on us one day," Cecilia stated.  "Or that...or that he'll end his own life."


     "Yes," Clay acknowledged.  "Though I can assure you that I've never seen any signs in A.J. that indicate to me he's suicidal.  Quite the contrary, he has a very strong survival instinct.  I think everything he experienced in the eleven months he was gone proves that.  I'm more concerned that he'll do the first thing you mentioned, Cecilia.  That he'll walk out of here one day, or out of his home, or the office, never to be heard from again.  And that's exactly what I'm working so hard to avoid."


       Rick and Cecilia were at a loss as to what else to say.  When Clay had nothing else to add, they thanked the doctor for his time and left.  The ride back to the San Diego suburb of Mission Bay was made in silence.  Both Rick and his mother had a lot of thoughts, concerns, and questions, churning in their minds.


     Again that night, Cecilia laid awake in her bed and cried. 


     And again that night, Rick paced the floor of his boat until his anger, frustration, worry, and despair, could no longer be contained.  He pounded his fist into the wall until his knuckles were scraped raw and bleeding.


     "Damn it!  Damn it!  Damn it!"  Rick swore over and over again in time to the punches he threw against the wall.  "Damn you, Agilar, I should have blown your brains out when I had the chance.  I swear you'll pay for what you've done to my brother.  I swear before this is all over, you're gonna pay, you bastard."    



Chapter 38


Saturday, December 18th, 1993


     Except for gaily twinkling Christmas lights shining from windows and strung around trees and in bushes, darkness blanketed Cecilia Simon's neighborhood the following evening when Rick turned down her street.  He parked his truck in his mother's driveway on the far side of the garage door since he assumed they'd use her car when they were ready to leave.


     Cecilia and Rick, as well as A.J., had been invited to an informal holiday buffet at the home of Jack Simon's sister Pat.  Because of the current circumstances, Cecilia had not promised her sister-in-law they would attend.  Pat had graciously understood.  The woman left it with Cecilia that she and Rick should feel free to pop in any time throughout the evening if, at the last minute, they so desired.


     Despite Clay's minor breakthrough with A.J. the previous morning, Rick and Cecilia had a particularly depressing visit with him on Saturday.  Possibly they were looking for some major changes in him after Clay's small success.  Or possibly it was simply because A.J. seemed to have no desire to talk to them and acted relieved when they finally got up to leave. Regardless, that visit left Rick in no mood to attend a party.  However, it seemed to foster in his mother the need to be with family.   She expressed an interest in going to Pat's gathering when Rick dropped her off at her home after their afternoon trip to Bayside. 


     Rick knew if he said he had no desire to be at his aunt's home that evening his mother would willingly go without him, but he hated to do that to her.  It was bad enough A.J. wasn't going to be with them again this holiday season.  The detective didn't want to see his mother go off to a family party without any members of her own immediate family present.  Even though there would be familiar people all around her, for some reason the thought of his mother there without either one of her sons presented a sad, solitary picture to Rick.


     Therefore, Rick didn't say anything other than, "What time do you want me to pick you up?"


     Cecilia had smiled her appreciation at her oldest son.  She knew him well enough to have guessed attending this gathering was not high on his list of priorities.


     "Shortly before eight will be fine.  People will be coming and going all night, so it doesn't make much difference what time we arrive."


     "Sounds good," Rick agreed.  "As long as I don't have to wear a tie."


     Cecilia chuckled.  "No, you don't have to wear a tie."


     The heels of Rick's cowboy boots made light scraping noises against his mother's concrete sidewalk.  He'd left his hat in the truck and was wearing clean jeans, a blue and white oxford shirt, and a navy blue corduroy sport coat. 


     Except for the porch light and the light faintly shining through the closed living room draperies, the front of Cecilia's home was dark.  This was the second year in a row in which Rick's mother had expressed no desire in obtaining his help stringing up outside lights or putting up a Christmas tree.  He imagined it would be the second year in a row in which they'd both forgo the trappings of a holiday they wished would simply pass them by.


     Rick and his mother had yet to discuss how they'd spend Christmas Day.  Certainly Clay would allow A.J. to leave Bayside that day in order to be with his family, but Rick already knew his brother would refuse such an offer, just like he'd refused it on Thanksgiving Day.  Which meant Rick and Cecilia would spend a good part of Christmas at Bayside with him, which also meant Cecilia would leave crying and Rick would leave wanting to.


     For now, Rick attempted to set those troubling thoughts aside with very little success.  They were like rising bread dough.  As hard as he tried to push them down, they kept popping back up to the forefront of his mind.


     Rick used his index finger to ring the front door bell.  Enough of a delay occurred so that he was just about to ring it again when the heavy door was finally opened.


     Cecilia's petite form was half hidden behind the massive oak door.  Rick caught enough of glimpse of her to see she was wearing pale beige dress slacks with a matching holiday sweater in beige, gold, and Christmas red.  Possibly if Rick's mind hadn't been on a thousand other concerns he would have taken note of his mother's demeanor.  Or possibly he would have found it odd that she remained gripping the edge of the door for as long as she did.  In the end, he supposed it wouldn't have made much difference.  There wouldn't have been anything he could have done.  He didn't have his gun with him.  He had left it on his boat.


     "Hi, Mom.  Are you about read--"


     Rick never finished his sentence.  Cecilia was urged out from behind the door by the semiautomatic Browning planted firmly between her shoulder blades. 


     Eduardo Agilar smiled in greeting.  "So, Senor Simon, we meet again.  Only this time it is me who is in charge."  Agilar rammed his gun forward, causing Cecilia to cry out in pain.  "I warn you right now, Simon, I will not hesitate to kill your mother if you do not do exactly as I say."


     Rick held his hands away from his body in a gesture of compliance.  He didn't have to spend time wondering how Agilar had gained access into the house.  He knew his mother had disengaged her home security system some time prior to his anticipated arrival.  Or maybe she had never reactivated it after being dropped off by her son earlier that afternoon.  Whichever the case, Agilar probably picked the lock on the kitchen door, or the lock on the patio doors, while Cecilia was upstairs getting ready for tonight's outing. 


    "Do what you want with me, Agilar," Rick stated.  "But let my mother go."

     Agilar's left hand came up to caress Cecilia's hair.  It traveled underneath to softly stroke her bare neck and throat. 


"I have many plans for tonight, Simon, but that is not one of them.  I have always found older women to be very alluring, and your mother is most attractive."


     "Why you--" Rick's body involuntarily surged for the man.  Again the gun was jammed into Cecilia's back. 


"I would not do anything foolish if I were you, Simon, or your mother's death will rest on your head."


     Rick's motion stopped as quickly as it had started.  "What is it you want, Agilar?"


     "Oh, I want many things.  And in due time you will discover what they are, but not until I am ready to tell you.  For like I said, Simon, I am in charge now."


     Agilar reached into the deep pocket of the military style jacket he was wearing that was not unlike the field jackets Rick favored.  He pulled out a pair of steel handcuffs and dangled them in front of Cecilia. 


"Senora Simon, I want you to put these handcuffs on your son. His hands are to be behind his back.  And no tricks.  If they are not latched tight, I may kill him just for the fun of it.  Do you understand, Senora?"


     Without turning around, and still with the muzzle of the gun between her shoulder blades, Cecilia reached up and took the handcuffs from the man.  "Yes," she acknowledged tightly.  "I understand."


     Agilar's gun never wavered from its aim at Rick's chest as Cecilia did as she was told.  There was nothing Rick could do but stand there.  Even if the detective rushed the man in an attempt to sacrifice his own life for his mother's, it would prove to be an effort in futility. The weapon Agilar had was so fast and powerful the bullets would pass right through Rick's body and into Cecilia's.  And even if they didn't, Cecilia would never have a chance to get out the front door before being mowed down by gunfire.


     Rick felt his mother give his right hand a squeeze as she circled his wrists with the cuffs.  He squeezed back in an effort to offer her the only encouragement he could. 


     "Now, Senora," Agilar commanded when Cecilia was finished,  "Search him for weapons."

     "I'm not carrying any," Rick told the man.


     "You had better not be lying, Simon, because if your mother finds so much as a butter knife I will kill her."


     Evenly, Rick maintained,  "I'm not carrying any."


     Eduardo ignored Rick and barked his order to Cecilia once more.  He made the woman open Rick's sport coat as wide as possible.  Agilar knew Rick favored a .357 Magnum that he kept in a shoulder holster.  Both the gun and holster were absent, as Rick had said they were. 


     "Step away from him now," Agilar commanded Cecilia.  When the woman had moved three feet to the side of her son he said, "That is far enough.  Stand right there.  Do not move, or I will leave your son's insides all over your very elegant living room."


     Agilar kept the gun trained on both mother and son while he searched the pockets of Rick's sport coat.  They contained nothing more than Rick's key ring and a pack of chewing gum.  Agilar removed the keys and put them in his own pocket.  Without losing his concentration on his weapon or his captives, the man patted a hand up and down both sides of Rick's body.  The only thing he encountered was Rick's wallet in his right hip pocket.  Eduardo pulled it out halfway to make sure that's what it was then pushed it back down.  His inspection ended by checking Rick's handcuffs.  They were secure and tight just as he had commanded of Cecilia.  He circled Rick and gloated with a thin smile,  "I actually find myself to be disappointed in you, Senor Simon.  You are making this much too easy for me.  First you very conveniently show up here at your mother's home without me forcing her to summon you, and then you arrive minus your weapon.  I do believe you are losing your edge, Senor.  Maybe Ricardo Simon is not quite the man rumor says he is."


     Rick made no reply to Eduardo's intended insults, but his eyes never wavered from the Salvadoran's face.


     Agilar laughed.  "If nothing else you are cool under fire, Simon, as I have so often heard.  I like that in a man."


     Eduardo turned to Cecilia and waved his gun as a directive.  "Senora, move over here by your son once more.  But do not touch him."


     Cecilia did as she was ordered.  Rick gave her a small smile.  She offered him a brave one in return.


     Agilar reached into the same pocket from which he'd produced the handcuffs.  This time a compact flip phone emerged.  He dialed a number that was immediately answered.  "I am ready.  Bring the car as close to the side door as you can."

     The Salvadoran grabbed Cecilia by the upper arm while looking at Rick.  "Lead the way into the kitchen, Simon.  Stop when you come to the door."


     Rick did as he was instructed.  Agilar followed with a firm grip on Cecilia, and with the Browning once again in her back.


     Rick saw headlights of a vehicle he guessed to be a Mercedes Benz briefly shine against the house.  Agilar had Cecilia shut off the overhead kitchen light before commanding her and Rick to walk out the door. 


     For a few brief seconds Rick entertained the notion of throwing his body into Agilar's at some point between when they exited the house, and before he and his mother could be ushered into the car.  Although Rick fully expected such a movement to cause his death, he hoped it would give his mother a chance to run under the cover of darkness.  But a Hispanic man was waiting right outside for them armed with a Smith & Wesson Rick suspected was A.J.'s long missing gun.  Rick knew that meant an escape attempt wasn't possible.  At least not now.  All he would accomplish would be getting himself killed, and Agilar would still have his mother.


     The Mercedes’ headlights had been shut off, but the luxury class black automobile with the leather seats and the hood ornament cast from gold remained running.  It idled noiselessly in Cecilia's driveway, like any custom made car worth one hundred and twenty thousand dollars should.  The driver had perfected his duties as chauffeur and had graciously opened the doors for all of them.  Agilar instructed Rick to sit in the front seat on the passenger side.  He climbed in behind the detective, while his silent accomplice ushered Cecilia around the car.  The man indicated for her to sit in the back next to Agilar.  When Cecilia had done as ordered the driver climbed in behind the wheel and tucked his gun securely down by his feet. 


     The door locks were immediately tripped by an automatic switch.  The windows were tinted dark like limousine windows often are, making it impossible for anyone from the outside to see in.


     Whatever he's got in mind he's been plannin' it for weeks, Rick thought in regards to the smooth way the evening's events had unfolded for Eduardo Agilar so far.


     Agilar reached over and pulled Cecilia closer to his body.  He reached up and ran a groping hand over her breasts.  "Such a lovely lady as yourself should not sit alone, Senora."


     Rick could hear his mother struggling with the man and could easily imagine what Agilar was doing to her.  He started to whip his head around, then he felt the cold muzzle of the Browning against the middle of his neck. 


     "Sit still, Simon," Agilar hissed. “Do not turn around."


     "Then leave my mother alone, you bastard."


     "Ah, family love," Agilar crooned with false warmth.  "It touches my heart to come in contact with a family who is still so close and loyal to one another."  Eduardo's tone changed as quickly as a cold wind blows in with a summer rainstorm.  "Unfortunately, I do not know what that is like anymore, Simon.  You and your brother took my family away from me."


     Rick would have liked to remind the man that his family had killed two people during that incident, and if Rick and A.J. hadn't stopped them they would have killed three more.  However, enticing Agilar further at the current time would be foolish, so Rick kept his thoughts to himself.   


     In as much as an effort to gain information, as in an effort to turn the man's attention from Cecilia, Rick asked,  "So what's the plan here, Agilar?  Where are we going?" 


     "You shall see soon enough.  It would hardly behoove me to spoil the little...Christmas surprise I have for you and your beautiful mother."


     Rick had already guessed they would be driven across the Mexican border and down to Agilar's estate.  He wondered how soon it would be before anyone realized they were missing.  More than likely not until Monday evening.  Cecilia had not promised Aunt Pat they'd attend the party tonight, so the woman wasn't necessarily expecting them.  And so many visitors came and went from Bayside on Sunday's that no one would notice Rick and Cecilia's pointed absence.  No one but A.J., that is.  And whether or not he'd say anything to anyone, or even care, was questionable.  Not until neither Rick nor his mother showed up to visit A.J. on Monday would Clay Burrows take note of the odd turn of events.  By then Rick was well aware it would be too late.  Both he and his mother would be dead.  Or, if Agilar had the intention of keeping them alive for his own twisted pleasure for a period of time, then they'd more than likely be spirited to some other hideaway he owned that no one knew about.


     Rick's dark thoughts momentarily caused him to lose track of what turns the driver was making.  But the detective was far from lost.  The car had just passed into the Grand Canal neighborhood.


     What the hell does he have in mind? 


     Agilar instructed the silent driver to slowly cruise the block.   Much like Cecilia's neighborhood, A.J.'s was quiet with no one moving about.  Rick guessed the older people were already in for the evening, while the younger ones were out for a night on the town.  By the number of cars parked outside a home four blocks down it was evident a gathering of some sort was being hosted within. 


     "Good," Agilar nodded in satisfaction when he saw all the cars lining the curb.  "Very good.  It could not have worked out anymore to our benefit, Juan.


     "Take the car around again, but this time pull into Simon's driveway.  Get us as close to the door as you can.  Then come back here and park the car amongst these.  No one will question it.  They will assume whoever owns it is attending the party.  You wait in the car.  I will call you when I am ready."

     Juan nodded his dark head.  He dowsed the headlights before he pulled into A.J.'s driveway.  This was one night when Rick was praying Mr. Gorman would be looking out his kitchen window.  Unfortunately, the man's house was dark.


     Who the hell would invite Gorman to a party?  Rick wondered with disgust. The one time I need the nosey old coot to be home and peerin’ out his kitchen window he fails me.


     "Juan, help Senor Simon out of the car.  If he so much as sneezes, kill him."


     Juan nodded his head once again.  He flipped the switch that released the door locks then retrieved the Smith & Wesson before climbing out of the car.  He crossed in front of the vehicle and opened the passenger side door.  Rick struggled a moment in an effort to swing his legs out.  The handcuffs hindered his balance.  The last thing he wanted to do was end up on his face in the driveway.  He assumed that would fall under the same jurisdiction as sneezing.  


     Agilar climbed out while dragging Cecilia with him.  Once again the Browning took up residence in her back. 


     Agilar decided he didn't need Juan's assistant any further.  He indicated to the man with a jerk of his head that he was to take the Mercedes to the previously discussed destination.  Juan silently closed all the car doors, and just as silently backed out of the driveway with the headlights off.  It wasn't until he was far down the street that he engaged the lights once again.


     The porch light wasn't on over A.J.'s kitchen door, making it impossible for any neighbors to see what was happening even if they were so inclined.  Two lights were on inside, one of which was glowing dimly from the living room.  Though they couldn't see the other light, Rick knew it was on upstairs in A.J.'s bedroom.  His mother had plugged lamps into automatic timers in the living room and bedroom in an effort to guard against the chance of burglary by making the house look occupied in A.J.'s absence.     


     Agilar urged his little group forward while speaking in a hushed voice.  "When we get to the door, Simon, I will knock.  Then your mother and I will move to the side where we will not be seen.  If you do not get us into the house without arousing your brother's suspicions, I will kill all three of you.  Your lovely mother, of course, will be the first to go."


     Rick's defiant eyes met Agilar's.  "You're wastin' your breath, Agilar, as well as my time.  My brother isn't here."


     "Don't play games with me, Simon.  Or have you forgotten I have a gun in your mother's back?"


     "No, I haven't forgotten," Rick stated evenly.  "But I'm tellin' ya' the truth.  My brother's not home."


     "But Juan said he was here."


     "Then evidently Juan's a better chauffeur than he is a reconnaissance man.  Just because there's lights on in the house, doesn't mean someone is home."


     Agilar's eyes cast about the neighborhood as if making sure all was still quiet.  It was evident to Rick that the longer the three of them remained outside the house, the more agitated Agilar was becoming.    In a strained whisper Agilar barked, "Where is he then?"


     "He's away on vacation.  After what you did to him, he needed one."

     While keeping the Browning in Cecilia's back Agilar's hand shot to Rick's chin.  He cupped the lower part of the detective's face and squeezed.  "You think you are quite the funny man, Senor Simon, but it is I who will have the last laugh before our little gathering comes to an end.  Now where is your brother?"


     Rick's ability to speak was hampered by the bruising grip the man had on his jaw.  He was forced to talk without moving his lips.  "I already told you, he's away on vacation."


     "Where on vacation?"

     "New Orleans.  He's got friends there."


     Without releasing Rick, Agilar turned to Cecilia.  "Is that true, Senora? Your youngest son is in New Orleans?"


     Cecilia met the man's steely gaze with one of her own.     "Yes, it's true."


     "When will he be back?"

     With the sleek skill of a pathological liar Cecilia replied, "Not until after the new year."


     Agilar took a brief second to contemplate this latest turn of events.  His eyes traveled from Cecilia to Rick.  "For some reason I do not believe either one of you.  For some reason I am thinking we all might like to go in the house and have a seat.  If, in time, my favorite sacrificial lamb does not return to the fold, then I shall shepherd the two of you on without him.  I would hate, however, for Andres, or Andrew as you say in English, to not be a part of the pleasurable family excursion I have planned for all of you."


     Agilar released the grip he had on Rick's face.  He reached into his pocket and produced the detective's key ring.  He dangled it in front of Rick. 


     "Now, Simon, which key opens your brother's house?"


     "I don't have a key to his house."


     Violent force lifted Cecilia off her feet.  She was yanked into Agilar's body.  She cried out in pain as her arm was wrenched behind her back with a powerful twist.


     "If you think I will not break your mother's arm for less than that lie you are mistaken, Senor Simon."  The keys jangled with impatience.  "Now which one is it?"


     Rick took a deep breath in an effort to gain control of his increasing rage.  "The third one.  And let go of my mother.  If you want to hurt someone, then hurt me.  Or is Eduardo Agilar such a coward that all he can do is bully women?"


     A fist slammed into Rick's midsection causing his breath to come out in a rapid "Oof!"   He bent over double at the unexpected pain.  Agilar managed to find what hair the detective still had on the top of his head.  He yanked backwards, causing Rick's eyes to meet his. 


     "Before the night is through you will find out I can do much more than bully women, Senor Simon.  If you do not believe me, then you should have asked your brother."


     Eduardo released Rick's hair with a jerk and swiveled on Cecilia.  He had momentarily taken his attention away from his gun and her.  The woman saw the only opportunity either she or Rick might have, and was about to take it by throwing herself into the man's body with the hope her action would send the Browning flying from his hand.      


     "That would not be a wise move on your part, Senora.  Though I admire your courage.  I see where my blond friend Andres gets his spirit."


     Agilar handed Cecilia the key ring.  "I would ask that you do the honors, Senora."


     Cecilia threw her oldest son a fleeting look as she passed in front of him.  The Browning was trained on her and Rick while she opened the door.


     "Lead us into the house, Senora, but do not turn on additional lights," the Salvadoran commanded.  "And do not do anything stupid, please."


     Agilar shut and locked the door behind his entourage.  He ordered Cecilia to lead them into the living room.  Once there, he indicated to his captives to sit together on the couch.            

     Rick looked up at the man.  "So what now, Eddie?" 


     Agilar allowed the gun to drop to his side as he leaned back against the arm of the easy chair.  "Now we wait, Senor."


     "Wait for what?"


     "For your brother to return."


     Rick Simon smiled as he, too, leaned back in his seat. 


“Well, Eduardo, I hope you’ve got all night.  And several nights to come, ‘cause it’s like my mother told ya’ earlier, my brother isn’t due back for quite some time.  Quite some time indeed.”


Back To ‘Trust’ Cover Page|Part 6