JUST A COUPLE OF WISE GUYS
*As with many of my S&S stories, Just A Couple Of Wise Guys is written under the assumption that Jack Simon wasn’t killed until A.J. was approximately ten years old, as alluded to in the aired episode, Revolution Number 91/2, and based on a work of fan fiction entitled Journey Into The Past by Brenda A.
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“With your help, boys and girls, our school's Christmas pageant will be the best one we've ever had. It's going to take involvement from each and every one of you in order to make this year’s program a success. I'm counting on all of you to work with me, and with each other. By working together...”
Rick Simon sat in the back of his seventh grade classroom listening to the school’s large, buxom music teacher, Mrs. Gordon, give her annual round-up speech for his grade school's Christmas pageant. Mimicking the woman's voice, Rick said in a low tone, "By working together we can produce the best pageant we've ever put on for your parents. You will all play an important part. The choir is just as important as the angels, and the stagehands are just as important as Mary and Joseph. Nobody is more important than anyone else. We will all have an important role in Mission Bay Elementary School’s annual Christmas program."
Rick had heard this exact same speech every year since kindergarten. Therefore, he knew it by heart, and had the art of imitating this particular teacher down to a science - much to the amusement of the classmates seated near him.
The students in the back of the room became increasingly restless, and several giggled and turned to look at Rick. Mrs. Gordon stopped her oration in mid-sentence.
"Richard? Do you have something you'd like to get up in front of this classroom and share with the rest of us?"
Mrs. Gordon rested her hands on her broad hips and took several steps toward the young instigator. "Just what's so funny back there, Richard?"
"Uh...nothing, Mrs. Gordon. Nothing."
"I see. Well, Richard, I'm sure you're busy telling all your friends how you're planning to volunteer to be a wise man for our program this year."
"Yes, I always have three of our seventh grade boys act as our wise men each year as you know, children. I think you'll make a perfect wise man, Richard. You're nice and tall. You've got good posture. Those are the two qualities I look for each year when I pick my wise men."
As Rick's buddies snickered the flustered boy stammered, "But...but, Mrs. Gordon, I've been a stagehand the last two years. I thought I could be a stagehand this year, too."
"No, I don't think so, Richard," the music teacher replied firmly. "I think you'll make a fine wise man."
Before Rick could protest any further, the woman put an end to the discussion. "I'll talk to your mother about it at next week's P.T.A. meeting."
Rick sighed with resignation as he looked down at his desktop. "Yes, Ma'am."
A week later, Cecilia Simon was bustling around her kitchen getting dinner ready. As the boys set the table, Jack leaned against the countertop and told his wife about his day at work.
"All right, guys, let's sit down and eat," Cecilia ordered as she set the last steaming dish of food on the table.
The family took their places, then dishes were passed and plates were filled. Cecilia helped A.J. put some mashed potatoes on his plate while looking across the table at her husband.
"I talked to Mrs. Gordon at the P.T.A. meeting last night, Jack. She tells me that Rick has volunteered to be a wise man for her Christmas program this year."
“Good for you, Rick,” Jack smiled at his eldest. “Being a stagehand is getting to be old business, huh? It'll be a pleasure to see you out front for a change."
Rick rolled his eyes at his father's words and focused his attention on his plate.
"And A.J.'s going to be an angel again this year," Cecilia said.
"I don't wanna be an angel again this year! I've been an angel every year since kindergarten. Only girls are angels."
"Now, A.J., that isn't true," Cecilia admonished. "Danny, Billy, and Patrick are going to be angels, too."
"Well, I don't wanna be an angel! I wanna be a wiseguy like Rick."
Jack laughed at his youngest son’s words.
"I don’t wanna be an angel, Dad. I don't wanna be in Mrs. Gordon's dumb old program if I gotta be an angel."
"A.J., Mrs. Gordon puts a lot of work into that program,” Cecilia scolded. “You should be proud that she's picked you for such an important role."
A.J. pleaded his case to his father. "Please, Dad. Please don't make me be a dumb old angel again. "
Jack's eyes twinkled as he recalled how important certain things can be to young boys. Things that mothers just don't seem to understand. The man winked at his blond son. "Maybe Mom can talk to Mrs. Gordon about giving you another role, Andy."
"Cece, Andy's right. Nobody should have to be an angel three years in a row. Maybe there's another part he could play."
A. J. 's face lit up with excitement. "A wiseguy!"
Cecilia sighed as she gave into her husband and son. "I won't make any promises, but I'll see what I can do."
Rick was sure he now saw a solution to his own problem concerning the Christmas program. "Mom, when you talk to Mrs. Gordon about A.J. not bein' an angel, can you talk to her about me not bein' a wise man?"
"No, Rick. You can do your part for Mrs. Gordon's program. Besides, Dad and I haven't seen you out on the stage since you were a shepherd back in the fourth grade. We want to see both our boys in the spotlight this year."
Rick smirked as he muttered, "Aw, shucks."
"Rick, it'll be great!" A.J. declared. "We can both be wise guys!"
Jack laughed at A.J.'s words and excitement, as well as at Rick's long face and disappointment.
"Perfect casting, Andy. You and your brother are both a couple of wiseguys. "
Later that same evening the Simon brothers could be found in their bedroom. A.J. was getting ready for bed, while Rick sat at their desk doing his math homework. As A.J. was dawdling over the act of getting his pajamas on, Cecilia stuck her head in the bedroom doorway.
"Ten more minutes, A.J., then I want you in bed."
Cecilia spied Rick bent over his textbook at an odd angle.
She walked in the room and removed the Condor comic book her twelve- year-old was trying to conceal.
"You can come downstairs and finish your homework in
the living room when A.J. goes to bed, Rick. And no TV until
it's done either."
Cecilia turned and waved the rolled up comic book at her son. "If you had done your homework right after supper like I told you to, you'd be able to watch all the TV you wanted. Now you don't have any
choice but to get those papers done. Do you hear me?"
The boy sighed. "Yeah."
"I'll be back up to say goodnight in a few minutes,
A.J," Cecilia said as she walked out the door.
A.J. sat down on the edge of his bed and buttoned his pajama top.
"Hey, Rick, won't it be neat with you and me both bein' wise guys in the play?"
"A.J., Dad's already told you about a million times that it's wise men, not wise guys."
"Oh, yeah, I keep forgettin.’ Well, anyway, won't it be neat?"
Rick turned in his chair to face his brother. "No, I don't think it will be so neat."
"Look, I guess getting’ excited over a stupid Christmas pageant is okay for a little kid your age, but--"
"Hey, I'm not a little kid!"
“All right. All right. I guess it's okay for a kid your age to wanna be in a school program and all, but for a guy my age it's pretty embarrassing."
"'Cause it just is. It's not cool. All my friends are laughin' at me. Well, all except Carlos, 'cause he got stuck bein' a shepherd."
"But you're cool, Rick."
"I was cool. Now that Mrs. Gordon's put me in her dumb old Christmas pageant my reputation will never be the same. I'll be the laughing stock of the seventh grade."
A.J. thought about that for a moment. "If those guys laugh at you, Rick, you just tell them that the wise men had a very important job. They brought gifts to the baby Jesus to honor Him, and to show the whole world that He was the true King and Son of God. How can that not be cool?"
Rick shook his head in amazement at his little brother. Obviously A.J. had been listening to last week's Sunday school lesson. Listening much better than Rick had been.
"It's not that it wasn't cool for the real wise men to do that, I guess. It's just not cool for me to have to be one in a stupid school play."
"But, Rick, I want us to be wise men together! I want us both to be in the play."
"Don't worry about it, kid. I'll be a stupid wise man. Mrs. Gordon will never let me out of it, and neither will Mom. You heard her at dinner. She won't talk to Mrs. Gordon about it, so I'm stuck bein' in the play whether I wanna be or not."
"Oh," A.J. smiled with relief. "Well, I'm sorry it's uncool that you're gonna be a wise guy...wise man. But I'm glad we're both gonna be in the play."
"Yeah, sure," Rick replied as he gathered up his schoolbooks and pencil and headed for the door. “Whatever you say.”
A.J. picked up a Little Golden Book about baseball off the nightstand. He leafed through the pages, trying to find his place from the previous evening before his mother came up and turned the light off.
He heard Rick's, "Goodnight," as the older boy descended the stairway. A.J. called back, "Night, Rick!" as he began to read.
The following Saturday was the first Saturday in December. A large assortment of shepherds and wise men, angels, sheep, donkeys, cows, and choir members, minus their costumes, gathered in Mission Bay Elementary School’s gymnasium for the first practice. A number of teachers, as well as a handful of volunteer mothers, were also present to help keep some semblance of order over the mass of children ranging in age from five to fourteen.
Mrs. Gordon was busy dividing up her angels and shepherds, while at the same time breaking up a fight between a donkey and the innkeeper. The fighting boys were brothers, and were having a rather loud discussion as to who the biggest jackass in the family was.
While this activity was going on, a student teacher, Miss Kennedy, was trying to assemble the seventy-five children that would make up the choir.
Mrs. Gordon rushed over from her own corner of the room to instruct the young teacher.
"No, no, no. Sherry and Judy are angels. Girls, go over there with the other angels," the woman ordered as she nudged the two six year olds toward another section of the gym.
Looking over the assembled choir members, the woman asked, "Now where are the eighth grade boys? The ones who aren't stagehands are in the choir."
"They're outside looking at dirty magazines," an eighth grade girl delighted in revealing.
Mrs. Gordon shook her head in exasperation. "Mrs. Dunham! Would you please go outside and find the eighth grade boys. And if they're doing anything they're not supposed to be, I want to know about it immediately."
Mrs. Gordon sighed as she took in the mass confusion surrounding her. The first day of practice was always like this. Unoccupied children were running to and fro. Others fidgeted while being fitted for costumes. Several children from the kindergarten class were crying, and the gym buzzed with the sound of shouts, laughter, and animated chatter.
As Mrs. Gordon headed back to her group of angels, Mrs. St. John, a long time colleague, walked up beside her. "Does this pageant get more out of hand as each year passes, or are we just getting old?"
"We are not getting old, and the pageant isn’t out of hand. Everything was progressing just as it should have until the chickenpox went through the kindergarten last week. I knew right then that was a bad omen. First the eighth grade boys decided that they don't want to sing, then Nancy Duben called and told me if one of her boys was to be a shepherd, then they all have to be shepherds."
"Oh, heavens. No one can handle even one of those Duben boys. All four of them as shepherds will be a disaster."
"Not in my play it won't be, mind you. I told those boys that they will behave," the formidable Mrs. Gordon said of the toughest boys in school. "Then, to top it off. Cecilia Simon called and told me that Andrew doesn't want to be an angel, he wants to be a wise man like his brother."
"But you always use seventh grade boys for your wise men. "
“I realize that. But how could I tell her no? She’s the president of the P.T.A., and volunteers a lot of her time for school events. She and Mr. Simon have also donated quite generously to the school on many different occasions over the years. So, I had no choice but to make Andrew a wise man. That wasn't the worst thing in the world, until Andrew's desire not to be an angel prompted a major rebellion amongst my other boy angels. I now have no boy angels, but an overabundance of shepherds, thanks to Mrs. Simon."
As Mrs. Gordon bustled away clicking her tongue in annoyance, Mrs. St. John chuckled. Gladys Gordon's school Christmas program had been run exactly the same way for the past ten years. Mrs. St. John imagined that it didn’t sit too well with the woman to have all that change now. For the past ten Christmas programs, thirty children from the kindergarten through the third grade had been angels. Ten boys from the fourth through eighth grades were always shepherds, and three seventh grade boys were the wise men. An eighth grade girl and boy always portrayed Mary and Joseph, and an eighth grade boy played the innkeeper. Children from all grades filled the remaining parts, and those left with no parts made up the choir or were stagehands.
Mrs. St. John’s thoughts were correct. The upcoming Christmas program of 1956 was not sitting well with Gladys Gordon in the slightest. She was missing half the eighth grade boys, who were doing God knows what, she had too many shepherds, no boy angels, and one of her wise men, A.J. Simon, was a good foot and a half shorter than the other two kings.
As she stood in the chaotic gymnasium that day looking over her group of angels, Mrs. Gordon sighed with disgust. Always in the past, her thirty little angels were carefully made up of exactly fifteen girls and fifteen boys, all of them blond headed and blue eyed, as Mrs. Gordon pictured angels to be. On the night of the program, in their white robes and gold halos, and with their blond hair glowing white under the spotlights, Mrs. Gordon's little students really did look heavenly. Now this year, thanks to Cecilia Simon, all of Mrs. Gordon's angels were girls. An assortment of brown headed girls, and red headed girls, and not enough blond girls, and girls who were too old to be angels.
Well, the teacher thought to herself as she turned her attention to her mismatched group of angels. I just won't let this bother me. This year's Christmas program is going to be the best one I've ever put on. The best.
While the choir was practicing, and the angels were getting sorted, and the ‘animals’ were getting fitted with their costumes, the shepherds and wise men were left to their own devices. Therefore, Rick and Carlos could be found in the Boys’ Room, along with another kid from their class, Tommy Barnes. Tommy was also a wise man. An eighth grade boy by the name of Tony Seronee was present as well. He was portraying Joseph in this year's play.
Tony leaned back against the wall and took a drag from his cigarette, then offered it to the other boys. Tommy shook his head no, but Rick and Carlos each took a puff, then tried hard not to cough in an effort to maintain a cool image in front of the older boy.
"Man, this Christmas pageant is really stupid," Tony commented as he took his cigarette back from Carlos.
"How come you volunteered to be Joseph if you think it's so stupid?" Tommy asked.
Tony smirked at the green-eyed boy who was tall and lanky like Rick. "I didn’t volunteer. Old lady Gordon picked me, just like she did you guys."
"Oh, no," Carlos groaned, as the fears he harbored concerning being next year's Joseph came a step closer. Mrs. Gordon always picked a boy with a ruddy complexion and dark hair to play Joseph. He had overheard the teacher say once that she liked a foreign looking Joseph. It made the play more accurate if the boy cast in that role had the darker looks one associated with the men of the Middle East. Or so Mrs. Gordon claimed. Carlos, being the most foreign looking student in the seventh grade, knew now he didn't have a chance come next year. He was sure to be picked to play Joseph.
Rick laughed at his friend's distress. "Well, amigo, should I start calling you Jose′?"
"It's not funny, Ricky," Carlos said. "I gotta start sayin' a special prayer to the Blessed Virgin. That's the only thing that might save me."
Tony shrugged as he lit another cigarette. "It ain't as bad as it could be, I guess. Rhonda Cooper is Mary."
The other three boys nodded and smiled, deciding being Joseph wouldn't be half bad if a girl as pretty and popular as Rhonda Cooper was Mary.
"Rhonda's stacked, too," Tony said as he held his hands out from his chest to indicate to the other boys the size of Rhonda's bust line. "I'm gonna try to see down her blouse in practice today."
The eyes of the three seventh graders lit up.
"See there, buddy, being Joseph might not be half bad after all,” Rick told Carlos. “Mrs. Gordon always picks a good lookin' girl to be Mary. I bet next year it will be Joanna Schrader."
"That wouldn't be too bad," Carlos agreed as he thought of the girl he and Rick had deemed the cutest chick in the seventh grade.
As the bathroom door swung open, Tony tossed his cigarette into a toilet while the other boys waved their hands in the air in an attempt to fan the smoke away.
The boys gave a collective sigh of relief as A.J. appeared.
"Oh, here you guys are. What are you doin' in here?"
"Nothin', squirt," Tony said. "Do your business, then get lost."
Knowing Rick would let no harm come to him, A.J. ignored the older boy's tone of voice.
"Mrs. Gordon is lookin' for you, Tony."
"Okay, okay," the older boy replied. He didn’t want to linger too long for fear the teacher would come looking for him and smell the smoke in the room. As he headed out the swinging door the eighth grader turned to the other boys and winked. He held his hands out in front of his chest again. "Now's my chance. I'll let you guys know if what Rhonda's got is real, or if she stuffs."
The meaning of Tony's comment, and his gesture, was completely lost on young A.J. He looked on with confusion as the other boys laughed and said, "Yeah, Tony, let us know."
As the older boys’ laughter died down, A.J. sniffed the
air. "What's that smell?"
"Nothin’,” Rick replied. "Now go on, get outta here. Go out by your friends."
"Mrs. Gordon sent me to look for you guys, too, Rick. They're ready for the shepherds to rehearse, Carlos, and she wants the wise men out there, too."
"All right," Rick sighed as he ushered A.J. toward the door with Tommy and Carlos following.
Three hours later, the first rehearsal was over. Two more Saturdays and several time periods during the school day were left to perfect the whole affair.
A.J. and Rick were sent home that day with their costumes, as well as the frankincense and myrrh, while Tommy took the gold. The props Rick and A.J. were given were wooden boxes that had been stained and varnished, and were then decorated with costume jewelry made up of brightly colored stones. Tommy’s box had been spray painted gold and then varnished to give it a brilliant sheen. Mrs. Gordon had mentioned several times to the boys that she had put a lot of time into creating the props, and she was counting on her three wise men to take good care of them. A.J. hung on the teacher's every word and nodded gravely.
“We'll take care of them, Mrs. Gordon. Won't we, Rick?"
Rick, whose eyes had been on Rhonda Cooper's bust line, nodded and answered in a distracted tone, "Uh...yeah, sure. Sure."
"Now I expect you boys to practice at home this week."
"Okay, Mrs. Gordon, we will," A.J. promised.
Rick rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, “You gotta be kiddin' me.”
When the children were finally dismissed that day they poured out of the school in a running mass of legs and a babble of voices. Cecilia had lunch ready when her wise men walked in the door at noon. Jack was putting in overtime at the office as he often did on Saturdays, so it was just Cecilia who listened with amusement to A.J.'s enthusiastic narration of the morning’s events.
After the boys’ stomachs were full and they had helped their mother clear the table, Rick headed for the back door.
"Rick, where are you going?" Cecilia inquired from where she stood at the sink washing dishes."
"I'm gonna see if some of the guys wanna play football."
"Well wait a few minutes, please. I want you boys to try on your costumes for me. I have to see if they need to be altered. I know A.J.'s will, but I need to check yours as well."
A.J. grabbed his brother by the arm and pulled him toward the living room. "Come on, Rick, we gotta practice anyway. We can do that while we wait for Mom."
"A. J., I ain't gonna practice."
"But we've got to! Mrs. Gordon said so."
"I don't care what she said. I ain't gonna practice."
As A.J. frowned with disappointment Cecilia ordered, "Rick, practice with him for a few minutes."
"Mom! I don't wannna prac--"
"Richard, it's not going to hurt you to practice with your brother. I promise you'll be outside with your friends in twenty minutes."
"Oh, all right," Rick consented as he stomped off behind A.J. toward the living room.
A.J. poked his head back in the doorway. "Mom, are you gonna come watch us?"
"In a minute, honey," Cecilia promised.
As Cecilia washed the dishes she shook her head and smiled while overhearing the sounds of pageant practice coming from the living room.
"Rick, you’re walking too fast. Mrs. Gordon said we're supposed to walk slow."
"Rick, remember Mrs. Gordon said that you can't carry that box like it's a football. It's a gift for the baby Jesus, so you’re supposed to carry it like you’d carry something real important you’re takin’ to a king."
"Hey, Rick, we're supposed to be singin’ ‘We Three Kings’ with the choir. We should practice that, too."
Cecilia intervened when she heard Rick bellow, “A.J.!” She’d spent too much time convincing Mrs. Gordon that A.J. was old enough to play a wise man to risk Rick putting that wise man out of commission before the pageant took place.
Two Saturdays later, the Simon boys were on their way home from rehearsal once again. This had been the last practice before the program, which was scheduled for Tuesday night. All the children had been wound up at this final run-through. The younger ones, like A.J., were excited over the upcoming pageant. The older ones, like Rick, were excited over the fact that Christmas vacation started on Wednesday.
As Rick and A.J. rounded a corner on their way toward home they saw the four Duben brothers lounging against a street sign. A.J. stopped and stared at the menacing boys ahead of them. Johnny, Jerry, Joey, and Jimmy Duben were the meanest kids in school. They were forever in the principal's office, and had caused more trouble for Mrs. Gordon's Christmas pageant than she'd care to ever remember. She spent most of her time chasing them away from the angels, whom they loved to torment, or trying to keep them from looking up the skirts of the female choir members, or going in search of the various props that they loved to hide on her. And while the teacher couldn't prove it, she was certain the fire that was started in the manger hay one Saturday was a direct result of devilment on the part of one, if not all, of the Duben boys.
A.J. swallowed hard as he stared at the four husky red headed boys who were carbon copies of each other in looks, right down to the number of freckles on their round faces. They all had on torn jeans and shirts, and each had an assortment of bruises, cuts and scrapes on their faces. A.J. had heard his mother say more than once when she thought he wasn't listening, "Nancy Duben allows those boys to run wild. Who knows where their father is. Probably passed out in some tavern somewhere. It's such a shame."
A.J.'s father would often laugh at the Duben boys' exploits as related to him by his sons, and then say, "If this was the old West they'd be called the Duben Gang, and there would be a stiff price on their heads." Then A.J. would sometimes hear his dad say, "One of those wild Duben boys will come home dead some day, mark my words."
A.J. wasn't exactly sure how someone who was dead could come home, but he figured with the Dubens, anything was possible.
As A.J. stood frozen in the middle of the sidewalk Rick placed a hand on his brother's back while urging softly, "Come on, A.J."
"Don't show 'em you're afraid. Come on," Rick urged again as he gave his brother a gentle nudge forward.
"But, I am afraid," A.J. whispered as he stared wide-eyed at the four boys ahead of him.
Johnny was in eighth grade, Jerry in seventh, and the twins, Joey and Jimmy, in fifth. All of them, including the twins, were considerably stockier than Rick, and Johnny was a good head taller than the oldest Simon boy as well. All the Dubens had been held back a grade on at least one occasion; Johnny several times, which in A.J. 's estimation made the oldest Duben boy about twenty by now.
"Come on," Rick said as he propelled his brother forward. "I won't let any of 'em hurt ya’."
Although A.J. knew that Rick wouldn't let anyone hurt him if his older brother could help it, the blond boy didn't think the odds were in their favor right at the moment.
"Where ya’ goin’ in such a hurry, Simon?" Johnny Duben sneered.
"None of your business," Rick sneered right back at the boy he knew to be fifteen years old as he held tightly to A.J. 's upper arm.
"I bet you babies are goin' home to your mama, aren't you?" Jerry Duben tormented.
An indignant A.J. stuck up for his mother. "So what if we are?"
Jerry gave A.J. a shove. "Shut your trap, twerp."
Rick’s grip on his brother prevented A.J. from falling. "Leave him alone, Jerry."
"Make me, Simon."
"I will if you touch him again. "
Quick as lightening, Jerry gave A.J. a mighty shove, knocking him loose from Rick's hold. With a cry of both surprise and pain, A.J. landed sprawled on his rear end on the sidewalk.
The next few minutes were a free-for-all tangle of arms and legs as Rick went after Jerry with his fists flying. Before he had a chance to inflict any damage on the boy though, the three other Dubens joined the brawl. Rick quickly ended up with his face pressed into cold concrete, all four Duben brothers piled on top of him throwing punches. The only thing that saved Rick from sustaining any serious bodily harm was the fact that the Dubens didn't care where their fists landed. They simply enjoyed hitting for the pure pleasure of it. Therefore, with the way they were monkey piled on top of Rick, half the time they ended up hitting each other.
A.J. gallantly tried to pull the four boys off his brother, but the second grader was no match for Johnny Duben, who was on top of the pyramid and was easily able to keep the blond away with shoves hard enough to knock him back to the ground.
The fight was over almost as quickly as it had started. The Dubens jumped off Rick one by one. They raced whooping and hollering down the street toward their home.
As Rick lay on the sidewalk moaning, A.J. sat sprawled in the grass in a daze, watching the bullies depart. As soon as he got his wind back, the blond boy pushed himself to his feet and ran over to Rick.
"Rick! Rick! Are you okay?" A.J. asked as he shook his brother's shoulder. “Rick?”
With another moan, Rick rolled over on to his back and looked
up into A.J. 's worried face.
"Oooooh," Rick groaned one last time as he pushed himself to a sitting position with A.J.s help.
"Rick, are you okay?"
Rick shook his head from side to side to clear his vision of the stars he was seeing. "Yeah...yeah, I'm okay. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. But those guys took our boxes."
"What? What are ya' talkin' about?"
"Our boxes, Rick! You know, the ones for the play. The ones Mrs. Gordon gave us."
"Oh, no," Rick groaned, knowing how upset the teacher would be over the missing props.
"Rick, what are we gonna do? Mrs. Gordon trusted us to take care of those boxes. We gotta get ‘em back! She'll be really mad if we don't. What are we gonna do?"
Rick's head was already spinning from the fight. A.J. 's frantic questions only served to make it spin worse.
"A.J., geez, just cool it for a minute, will ya'? I already got a headache. I don't need you makin’ it worse."
A.J. hung his head. "Sorry."
"That's okay, kid," Rick replied in a gentler tone as he stood.
The boys slowly made their way home in silence. As the Simon house came into view Rick instructed, "Don't tell Mom about this."
"But, Rick, your shirt's ripped, and I'm all dirty. She'll ask us what happened for sure."
Rick stopped and took a few seconds to study the grass stains on A.J. 's shirt and blue jeans, before studying his own torn shirt. He then looked A.J. over from head to toe, finally deciding the only visible form of injury on his little brother was a small scrape on A.J. 's right arm.
"Do I have any cuts or bruises on my face?"
A.J. scrutinized his older brother carefully. "No, I don't see any."
"Good," Rick said as he reached up to touch the tender lump on the back of his head that was well hidden by his dark hair. "When Mom asks us what happened we'll just say that we were wrestling with some of the guys after practice and it kinda got out of hand."
"But, Rick, we can't lie to her. Mom always knows when we lie to her."
Rick gently pushed his brother toward home. "We won't really be lyin’. We were kinda wrestlin’ with those guys, and I'd say it got outta hand, wouldn't you?"
A.J. nodded. "Yeah."
"So see, we'll be tellin' the truth sorta. Just let me do all the talkin’, squirt."
Again, A.J. nodded his agreement, more than happy to let Rick deal with the questions their mother was bound to ask. The two boys walked into the kitchen of their home a few minutes later. As Cecilia turned from the stove to greet them, her smile turned to a frown.
"Oh, A.J., more grass stains? And, Rick, another torn shirt?"
"Uh...yeah. Sorry, Mom."
"Well, what happened?" Cecilia inquired as she shut the oven off.
A.J. looked at Rick, who quickly said, "We were wrestlin' with some of the guys after practice."
"Well, it looks like your wrestling got out of hand."
Rick smiled smugly at A.J. as if to say, "See how easy this is? I told you to let me handle it." To his mother Rick replied, "Yeah, I guess it kinda did."
"Well, go wash up now, then come back in here and eat your lunch," Cecilia ordered as her two wise men walked by her. "Where are your props?"
The boys stopped. This was one lie they hadn't thought to plan in advance.
Rick stammered, "Uh, uh...uh, well, uh--"
"Mrs. Gordon had us leave them at the school for Tuesday night,” the quick-thinking A.J. said. “We don't have to practice anymore."
Cecilia smiled warmly at her sons. "Of course you don't. My two wise men are perfect, aren't they?"
"Uh...yeah, sure, Mom," Rick acknowledged as he tugged on A.J.'s shirtfront, and the two boys made a hasty retreat for the bathroom.
On Sunday afternoon, Rick was lying on his bed staring up at the ceiling.
A.J. bounded up the stairs, just having arrived home from playing at a friend's house.
"Hey, Rick, what are ya’ doin’?"
A.J. sat down beside his brother on Rick's bed. "What cha’ thinkin’ about?"
"About how we're gonna get those boxes from the Dubens before Tuesday night."
"I think we should just tell Mom and Dad about it. I’ve already told you that about a hundred times."
Rick smirked at his brother in disgust. "We aren’t tellin’ Mom and Dad, A.J.”
"Look, it's bad enough that I gotta be in this stupid Christmas program. That’s uncool as it is. It'll be even more uncool if Mom and Dad find out about what happened yesterday."
"'Cause if Mom and Dad know, then Mom will call Mrs. Duben. It's bad enough that we got beat up by those guys, the last thing we need is our mom callin’ their mom. They'll tell everyone in school, and I'll never hear the end of it. Everyone will be callin' us Mama's boys and garbage like that. "
"Oh," A.J. said, as he mulled over Rick’s words. "Well, then what are we gonna do? We gotta get those boxes back by Tuesday night or Mrs. Gordon is gonna kill us."
"I know that, A.J. That's what I've been up here thinkin’ about all afternoon."
A.J. crossed his legs and sat Indian style, facing Rick. "You know, Rick, I think those boxes are worth a lotta money. I think those jewels that are on ‘em are real."
"Nah, A.J.," Rick scoffed.
"Really, I think they are. How come Mrs. Gordon told us to take such good care of them? And even Mom told us that. I bet they told us that 'cause they're worth...I don't know, maybe a thousand dollars even. Otherwise why would the Dubens have taken them from us?"
Rick thought about what A.J. said for a moment. Maybe the kid was right. Maybe those props were more than props. After all, a grownup wouldn't necessar11y tell you if you were holding on to something worth several thousand dollars. The more Rick thought about it, the more he decided that A.J. might be right. Those boxes just might be covered with real jewels. That thought made Rick even more determined to get those props back.
"You know, A.J., you could be right. We gotta get those boxes back.
"I know that. But how are we gonna do it?"
"I don't know yet. Just be quiet and let me think."
A.J. did as his brother ordered, sitting as still and quiet as a mouse while Rick thought and thought and thought.
Ten minutes later Rick sprang up from his mattress. "I've got it!"
“What, Rick? What are we gonna do?"
Rick grabbed his bother's arm and pulled him off the bed. "Come on, let's get our bikes! We gotta find Carlos.”
A.J. ran out of the room, trailing his brother down the stairs. Cecilia barely heard the hurried yell from Rick of, "Me and A.J. are goin' to Carlos's, Mom!" as the front door slammed. She looked out the kitchen window to see her sons furiously pedaling their bicycles down the sidewalk in the direction of Carlos's home.
By Tuesday morning Rick and Carlos were putting the finishing touches on their plan to get the props back. Tommy Barnes stood with the two boys in front of their lockers as they waited for the bell to ring that indicated the start of the school day. Tommy looked left, and then right, before saying softly, "I heard Jerry Duben braggin' yesterday that he and his brothers are gonna bring those boxes with them to the pageant tonight. He said they’re gonna smash ‘em to pieces in front of you and A.J. right before we're supposed to walk down the aisle."
"Good," Rick said, while Carlos nodded his agreement.
"What do you mean, good?" Tommy asked.
"Me and Carlos thought that we were gonna have to get into the Dubens’ house somehow to get those boxes back. Their mom works nights, and if their dad ain't in some bar then he’s passed out drunk on the couch. We were plannin' to sneak in when we saw Johnny and the others leave for the pageant. It’ll make everything easier now that we know they'll have the boxes along when they come tonight. At least we won’t have to try and get into their house.”
What are you guys gonna do?"
With that question, Carlos and Rick briefly explained their plan. They modified it somewhat now that they knew the Dubens would be leaving the house with Rick and A.J.’s props. When the two boys were finished, Tommy volunteered to help. The green-eyed seventh grader was a studious boy, and had often admired Rick's exploits and enthusiasm from afar. Now was his chance to be a part of a Rick Simon adventure.
Although surprised at Tommy's offer, Rick readily agreed, knowing that you could never have too many guys along with you when you faced the Dubens.
That night Rick and A.J rushed through an early dinner. They wolfed down the food on their plates as if they were starving refugee children from Africa. Or so their mother claimed.
"Boys, slow down," Cecilia admonished.
"We gotta hurry, Mom, " A.J. said with a mouthful of corn. "We gotta get to the school for the pageant."
"Don't talk with your mouth full, A.J.," Cecilia scolded. "And the pageant doesn't start for two and a half hours yet. We've got plenty of time."
Rick was gulping down his milk, but managed to get out between swallows, "No, Mom, we gotta be there early for a practice"
Cecilia frowned. "The note you brought home on Saturday didn't say anything about another practice. It just said that we need to have you to the school by seven o'clock"
"Yeah, well, Mrs Gordon decided today that we need one more practice,” Rick informed his mother. “We're supposed to be there at six."
"I can drive you to the school in a little while then," Jack told his sons. "If you both keep eating like you are Mrs. Gordon's going to have two wise men with stomachaches tonight."
Rick stood up from the table. "No, Dad, that's okay. We're gonna walk. We're supposed to meet Carlos and some of the other guys at the corner."
As A.J. stood too, Cecilia asked, "Aren't you boys even going to eat dessert? It's your favorite, AJ. Chocolate cake."
"No, we don't have time," A.J. said as he followed his brother to the doorway.
Cecilia shook her head with exasperation. "Get back in here both of you and carry your plates to the sink."
The boys ran back into the room. They did as their mother ordered, then turned and ran out again. Their parents heard the sound of running footsteps pounding up the stairway.
"They sure are excited about this program," Jack said with a smile. "Even Rick's had a change of heart evidently."
"Yes, evidently he has," Cecilia said as she stood up from the table as well. "I thought he'd fight us every step of the way tonight. This is certainly a pleasant surprise. Would you get the camera, Jack? I'd like you to get some pictures of them in their costumes before they leave the house."
Cecilia heard her husband's, "Sure, hon," as she left the kitchen. She trailed her boys up the stairway calling, "Rick! A.J! Wait a minute please! I want to see that you have your costumes on correctly before you leave, and Daddy wants to get a picture."
“Oh, Mom,” came Rick’s moan from above.
“Don’t ‘Oh, Mom,’ me, mister. Get your costume on and then come down to the living room so we can get your picture in front of the Christmas tree.”
“We’ll be lucky to ever get out of here,” Rick told his brother as he helped A.J. get his robe over his head.
“Just hurry,” A.J. urged. “The sooner we do what she wants, the sooner we can leave.”
As was often the case, young A.J.’s predication was correct. Twenty minutes later, Cecilia's two wise men were finally able to make a clean break from their parents. The two brothers made an amusing sight walking down the sidewalk wearing regal robes over their dress slacks and shirts, topped off by crowns on their heads. Cecilia had lined A.J.’s crown with cotton so it would fit.
The boys blended into the season as they passed homes lit up with outside Christmas lights and seasonal lawn decorations. In every home they passed there was a decorated Christmas tree standing in front of the picture window with its lights blinking on and off.
After ten minutes of walking the brothers could see the figures of a shepherd and a wise man standing under the soft glow of a corner streetlight.
Carlos squinted into the darkness, finally making out the shadows approaching him. "Hey, Ricky. Hey, A. J."
"You guys made it," Rick stated triumphantly as he and A.J. stood next to Carlos and Tommy.
"Yeah, but just barely,” Tommy said. “I had a hard time gettin' away from my mom."
Carlos nodded. "Me too. She wanted to take all kinds of pictures."
"Same for me and Rick," A.J. said.
"Yeah, but now that we're all here are you guys ready?" Rick asked as he and A.J. pulled several lengths of sturdy rope from underneath their robes.
Tommy nodded. "Yep, I'm ready."
"Yeah, let's get those guys," Carlos said, his dark eyes shining with anticipation.
The boys spent a few minutes going over their plan, then walked two more blocks. They came to a stop in front of a large, dark, Victorian house. The four boys concealed themselves behind some large, overgrown bushes that bordered the house's yard and sidewalk.
They crouched down and waited silently, knowing that sometime prior to seven o'clock the Duben brothers would have to walk by here on their way to the school.
"What time is it?" Carlos whispered ten minutes later.
Rick looked at his watch, but couldn't read it because of the darkness. "I don't know," he whispered back. "It's gotta be gettin' late though, 'cause it was almost six when A.J. and me left the house. They'll be comin' soon."
Sure enough, Rick was right. Five minutes later the boys could hear the Dubens approaching. One nice thing about the Duben brothers, Rick thought, especially in this situation, was that they never went anywhere quietly. If they weren't beating up one of their schoolmates, or beating up one of the neighborhood children, then they were beating up on one another. Which was exactly what was going on as they approached Rick and A.J.'s hiding place.
"I'm walking up first, you little creep!" Johnny proclaimed.
"No, Johnny, we’re supposed to!” Joey insisted. “Mrs. Gordon said so."
Johnny gave the protesting boy a hard shove. "I don't care what Old Lady Gordon says. I'm walkin' up first!"
"You are not, Johnny," Jimmy insisted as he helped his twin to his feet. "We are!"
With that, the Dubens' progress came to a halt as Johnny punched each of the twins several times, and Jerry simply got in the middle, punching them all.
Although Rick couldn't see what was going on since the Dubens were still too far away, he could hear what was going on. He used to feel a little bit sorry for the Duben brothers, as his mother said he should, considering that their father was an alcoholic and their mother had to work nights in a factory to make ends meet. Rick had come to the conclusion during his years of schooling with the Duben boys though, that he shouldn’t feel sorry for them, but that he should feel sorry for their parents. He was sure this bunch had driven their poor father to the bottle, and that their mother probably enjoyed working nights just so she could be away from her brawling sons.
The Dubens' fight finally came to an end. Rick could tell they were getting closer to his hiding spot. He whispered to Tommy and Carlos, "Get ready. Here they come," and to his little brother, "Remember, A. J., stay outta the way until I call ya’.”
"Okay," the excited A. J. whispered back.
The Dubens approached the boys in hiding, making their presence known by the beginnings of another loud fight.
"You told me I could carry one of them boxes now, Jerry," Jimmy whined as he tugged on one of the props Jerry had in his hands.
Jerry elbowed his little brother in the ribs. "Get away from me, brat!"
"No, I wanna carry ‘em!" Joey insisted as he, too, tugged at a box.
"Hey, knock it off, you clowns!" Johnny ordered. "I'll carry both of 'em!" the oldest Duben boy announced as he joined in the tug of war for the props.
As Johnny Duben's dirty, worn Keds came in to view, Rick decided that now, while the Dubens were otherwise occupied, was the time to spring his attack.
"Let's go!" Rick whispered to his friends.
The four red headed boys were so busy fighting with each other that they didn't see Carlos, Tommy, Rick, and A.J. run out from behind the bushes. The three older boys jumped the surprised Dubens, while
A.J. stood off to one side waiting to be called into action. As fists, legs, and curses flew in all directions, so did one wooden bejeweled box, which an alert A.J. caught smoothly and placed on the lawn well out of reach of the brawlers. The youngster no more than had that done when Carlos yelled, "Catch, A.J.!" and tossed the blond boy the other wise man's prop for that evening's pagaent. A.J. caught that one too, then ran over to deposit it beside the other box.
"I got the boxes, Rick! I got the boxes!"
"The ropes, A. J.! Rick yelled as he struggled to hold on to both the twins. “Bring me the ropes!”
A.J. ran over with the ropes and helped Rick wrap the twins together by their wrists. Joey and Jimmy struggled and fought, causing Rick and A.J. to lose their balance. The four boys fell in a heap on the sidewalk, the twins' legs flailing wildly. A.J. felt like he was riding a bucking bronco as he straddled both the twins while Rick worked at securing their feet. While this was going on, Carlos yelled, "The ropes, A. J.! The ropes!"
Rick looked up to see his friend and Johnny Duben locked in a wrestler’s hold while rolling on the ground. Rick finished tying the twins, then ran to Carlos's side just as the Hispanic boy cracked Johnny over the head with his shepherd's staff.
As Johnny lay on the ground momentarily dazed, A.J. raced to Carlos with more ropes. Rick scampered to help Tommy, who was fighting a losing battle with Jerry Duben. While Rick and Tommy tried to subdue the fighting Jerry, A.J. caught the red headed boy off guard by jumping on his back. Jerry spun round and round in circles, trying to get A.J. off. The red head finally grew so dizzy that he fell over with A.J. still clinging to his back. Rick and Tommy also fell, landing together on top of Jerry.
Carlos, who had finished tying up Johnny, ran over and wrapped a rope around Jerry's ankles while Rick pulled A.J. out from underneath the heavy boy.
"You okay, A. J.?"
"I think so." The boy panted with exertion, but his eyes twinkled as he watched Carlos and Tommy tie Jerry up. "We got' em, Rick! We got ‘em!"
"Yep, we sure did, A.J.," Rick agreed, his own eyes twinkling. "Come on, let's help Carlos and Tommy!"
The four boys spent the next few minutes finishing up their task. They tied the struggling Duben brothers to a big tree on the curb by wrapping a long length of rope around them several times, then tying it off. Trussed up like that, tied to the tree with their arms and ankles bound securely, the red headed boys really did look like the ‘Duben Gang’ as Jack Simon so often referred to them. Marshal Dillon from Gunsmoke couldn't have done a better job of rounding up the bad guys.
As the Dubens' threats and colorful expletives filled the night air, Rick and A.J. picked up their props and ran down the sidewalk toward the school with Tommy and Carlos right beside them. The boys had only taken four or five running steps when Tommy halted their progress by shouting, "Hey, wait! Our crowns!" With that Rick and A.J., as well as Tommy, had to turn around and run back to retrieve the three crowns that had gotten knocked off during the night's adventure.
Once the crowns were picked up the four boys took off running again. They ignored the distant calls of the Duben brothers as they laughed and shouted the whole way to the school, eager to share their triumphant exploits with their classmates.
Throughout her forty-year teaching career at Mission Bay Elementary School, Gladys Gordon took the greatest pleasure in her annual Christmas pageant. She looked back on all her pageants fondly and deemed each of them successful, except for the one back in 1956.
Upon her retirement in 1986, the elderly Mrs. Gordon could still be heard to say, "All my Christmas programs were a wonderful success. All except that one when Cecilia Simon's two boys were wise men. What a disaster that was! I was never so embarrassed in all my life. I'm not surprised in the least that those two have grown up to be some kind of cheap rent-a-cops. They probably couldn't get respectable jobs. It serves Cecilia Simon right that her sons make a living by rifling through garbage cans and peering in the windows of innocent citizens. Believe me, you can tell a lot about the type of man a boy will grow up to be based on how he performs in the school Christmas pageant. The performance of those two Simon boys that year was an outrage!”
That Tuesday night in 1956 Mission Bay Elementary School’s gymnasium was decorated for the holidays as the parents filed in and took seats in the many rows of metal folding chairs. A hush fell over the room as the lights were dimmed at seven thirty.
Miss Kennedy sat at the piano and began to play “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” The children who made up the choir marched in two abreast. Many of the girls were wearing new dresses bought just for this occasion, and the boys were in black dress slacks, white shirts, and black ties. The children sang as they walked slowly and solemnly, the voices of the eighth grade boys cracking as they reached for the high notes. By the time all four verses of the song had been sung choir members were in place, standing on risers that were next to the piano.
Mary and Joseph soon appeared, walking solemnly down the aisle between the parents as well. Mary was draped in blue robes, while Joseph was wearing brown robes. He carried a shepherd's staff and lead a costumed donkey. As the young actors approached the stage the heavy blue curtain was drawn back to reveal an inn and a stable with other costumed children present who represent sheep, cows, and more donkeys. Off stage, Mrs. Gordon silently mouthed the words as Joseph knocked on the door of the inn.
"My wife is great with child. Have you a room in your inn we may rent?"
The young innkeeper, who was wearing a long fake black beard and moustache, shut the door of his inn a little too hard as he came out to greet the couple, causing the false front prop to fall over. As the audience chuckled, and a horrified Mrs. Gordon looked on from the wings, the befuddled innkeeper replied, "I have no inn. No...no, I... I mean, no, there is no room in the inn. But I have a stable you can stay in if you wish."
As Mary and Joseph walked to the stable, and the innkeeper tried unsuccessfully to raise his inn from the stage floor, the angels began to walk in. They sang “Oh, Little Town Of Bethlehem” along with the choir. Mrs. Gordon watched from behind the stage curtain, sighing in disgust as several mossy brown haired angels passed, one wearing braces. Looking at several eighth grade girls who had been pressed into service as angels, the woman thought, Who ever heard of angel s with breasts?
More dialogue took place between Mary and Joseph, then nothing but dead silence. Mrs. Gordon was again peering out from behind the curtain, wondering where her shepherds were. During Mary and Joseph's most recent conversation the shepherds were supposed to be quietly making their entrance.
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Gordon, the shepherds were confused. The Duben boys had made it clear to all the shepherds in rehearsals that they were marching in first. Without the brothers bullying their way to the front, Mrs. Gordon's shepherds were left bewildered. Finally Carlos had the presence of mind to lead the way as the choir began singing, “Oh Holy Night.”
As Rick's best friend walked by Jack and Cecilia, who were seated in the second row from the front, Cecilia leaned over and whispered to her husband, "What in the world happened to Carlos?" For the lead shepherd had a black eye, dried blood under his nose, grass stains on his costume, and his staff was broken in half, making it look like he was walking with a cane.
The sixty shepherds came to stand beneath a large silver star. One of the angels stepped forward and recited, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord."
At this point Johnny Duben was supposed to bow in reverence to this heavenly creature and respond with, "Oh, Holy Messenger of God, where shall we find this child who is our King?"
Without Johnny present, however, there was a long uncomfortable silence that was soon broken by snickers from the audience. The shepherds glanced at one another while shifting from foot to foot.
Mrs. Gordon was now out on the stage in full view of the audience. She tried to silently prompt any one of her sixty shepherds into saying Johnny's line.
Carlos finally got the woman's hint and attempted to recall Johnny's line as best he could. In a dramatic move he dropped to one knee and crossed himself in the Catholic fashion while stammering with stage fright, "Oh...uh...uh...hey, Angel Chick, where's the kid?"
Mrs. Gordon's face turned red as she glared at the ragged looking Carlos, who was actually pretty proud of himself over the fact that he had managed to speak a line at all. With the exception of Carlos's mother, the audience appreciated the incident. Their infectious laughter didn’t die away until the choir drowned it out with, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing.”
As embarrassed as she was by the evening's events up to this point, Gladys Gordon felt all was not lost as of yet. The wise men were still to come, and if they played their parts correctly, they might yet save the pageant. Mrs. Gordon smiled as she pictured in her mind's eye the three boys entering the gym in the regal robes she had sewn
herself two years earlier. Tommy Barnes would be wearing a robe striped in dark green and gold, Rick Simon would be in one striped in maroon and gold, and little Andrew Simon would be in one striped in deep blue and gold, all with matching crowns.
While the strains of “We Three Kings” began to fill the gymnasium, Cecilia and Jack turned around in their chairs. Jack got the camera ready, hoping to get some good shots of his boys as they walked down the aisle.
As the three kings made their grand entrance, Cecilia gasped and looked at her husband in shock. "What happened to them?"
Tommy Barnes had a cut cheek and the right sleeve of his robe was ripped off. Rick had a black eye and a split lip, as well as a hole in one knee of his robe. While A.J. was sporting a large red mark on the right side of his face, as well as a gash on his forehead. The hem of A.J. 's costume, which Cecilia had turned under nine inches and basted up weeks earlier, was coming down and the youngster was tripping on it as he walked. To make matters worse, somehow the cotton that Cecilia had firmly lined the inside of A.J.'s crown with had come out, causing the headpiece to keep falling over the blond's eyes.
The sight the three wise men presented as they started down that aisle was hilarious to everyone but Mrs. Gordon and Cecilia. The boys tried to walk slowly and solemnly as they had been instructed, but with every other step A.J.'s shoe got caught in the trailing hem of his robe and caused him to trip. With the other step he took his crown would fall over his eyes and coming to rest on the bridge of his nose. Whenever this would happen A.J. 's voice could be distinctly heard over the choir, "Hey, Rick, wait up! I can't see!"
Several times Rick reached over and pushed the crown
back up for his brother, only to have it fall down again.
"I still can't see, Rick!"
After the embarrassed Rick had gone through this routine with his brother several times, he finally got disgusted and grabbed the youngster's hand. He dragged the sightless A.J. with him toward the stage.
"Come on, A.J.! Let's go!”
"But we're supposed to walk slow," A.J. admonished as he was pulled rapidly up to the stage.
"Just shut up and come on!" Rick hissed as the audience laughed.
Poor Tommy was left to finish that slow processional by himself since the other two wise men had already made it to the stage and were awaiting his arrival. Rick stood red faced, his mouth set in a grim line, with A.J. beside him. A.J. wasn't embarrassed in the slightest, but rather stood with his head tilted back as far as it would go so he could peer out from under his crown in order to observe his surroundings. The seven-year-old was so pleased to be on stage with his brother that little else mattered to him.
As the audience continued to laugh at the boys, Cecilia sank down in her chair. "I have never been so embarrassed in all my life."
Jack's eyes twinkled as he aimed his camera at his boys. "Well, Cece, those are our wise guys all right. Those are definitely our wise guys."
That night, long after the punch and cookies were enjoyed in the school cafeteria, and long after the Simon boys had given a lengthy explanation regarding their behavior to their parents and Mrs. Gordon, Rick and A.J. could be found in their bedroom in their respective twin beds.
Rick had just glanced at their bedside alarm clock, its lighted dials showing that it was ten minutes after eleven. The oldest Simon boy let his eyes drift closed as he thought ahead to Christmas in just three more days, and then the two week school vacation that was stretched out endlessly before him.
Rick was brought out of his thoughts by his brother's voice.
Rick propped himself up on one elbow and looked over at his younger brother in the darkness. "I thought you were asleep."
A.J. copied his brother's posture. "No, I was just thinkin’. How do you suppose the Dubens got themselves loose? "
"I don't know. I suppose some fool that doesn't know them came along and undid the ropes."
After Rick and A.J. had explained the events of the evening to their parents, their mother had insisted that their father drive by the tree Rick and A.J. had left the Dubens tied to. If the Duben boys were still there, Cecilia was going to make her sons untie them. All they found, however, was the ropes lying on the sidewalk, which Jack made his sons get out of the car and retrieve.
Rick decided that all in all he and A.J. hadn't gotten into as much trouble over this whole thing as they could have. Sure, Mom was pretty mad, not to mention Mrs. Gordon's anger, but Rick knew his dad understood. The twinkle in Jack's eyes and the twitching of his moustache gave him away as he lectured his boys on the foolishness of their latest escapade.
Rick's thoughts were brought back to the present as
A.J. said, "I wish they'd have been tied up forever. Do you think they'll come after us?"
Rick shook his head. "Nah, A.J., I don't think so. Don't worry about it, okay? I don't think those guys will ever mess with us again, but if they do, we'll get ‘em.”
With the help of Rick's bravado, A.J. 's fears vanished. "Yeah, we'll get ‘em."
A.J. lay back down, and Rick soon copied his brother’s movement. Just when Rick thought his little brother had drifted off to sleep he heard again, "Hey, Rick?"
"What is it now?"
"I had fun bein’ a wiseguy with you tonight."
Rick chuckled. "Yeah, I guess it was kinda fun."
"Maybe we can be wise guys together again next year, or maybe shepherds."
"I don't think so, kid."
"A.J., I got a feelin' Mrs. Gordon ain't gonna let us near her Christmas pageant ever again. She was pretty mad at us tonight."
"Yeah, I guess so. So was Mom."
"I'll say," Rick agreed. "Starting off this Christmas vacation with extra chores ain't exactly the way I had planned it."
"Me either," A. J. stated as he thought ahead to the additional chores he and Rick had been assigned for tomorrow as their punishment for that evening's events.
"You'd better get to sleep, A.J.," Rick advised. "I got a feelin’ Mom's gonna work us pretty hard tomorrow."
"Okay, Rick. Goodnight."
A half hour later, Jack and Cecilia quietly opened the door to the boys' bedroom. As they took in the sight of their sleeping sons, Cecilia chuckled softly and whispered, "I can't believe they actually thought those were real jewels on the props."
Jack laughed softly as he recalled his own active boyhood imagination and sense of adventure. He knew his two sons had come by their high spirits honestly. "There's nothing like a boy and his imagination, Cece."
"Yes, nothing like a boy and his imagination to lead him right to trouble."
Jack laughed again. "Sometimes that's true."
As Jack and Cecilia gazed down at their slumbering children, Jack whispered, "Our wise guys look like angels when they're asleep."
"Yes, they do, Jack," Cecilia whispered in agreement as she walked on into the room. She bent to kiss each son lightly on the temple. She looked up at her husband and smiled as she stood over A.J. "But rather than angels, they really are a couple of wise guys."
Jack smiled as he wrapped an arm around the waist of his petite wife and guided her from the room. In the process of closing the bedroom door, Jack glanced back into the room. His blue eyes twinkled with as he looked at his two boys one last time.
"Yep, just a couple of wise guys."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~