Janet was in a hurry to retrieve the U.S. Constitution textbook she had left on her desk at Peerless Detectives when she saw Rick's power wagon parked in front of the office of Simon & Simon Investigations. It had not been there Friday afternoon. Her heart rate quickened with trepidation. When she knocked on the door, to her relief, she heard Rick say, "Come on in."
He was sitting at his desk, feet up, watching TV.
"Rick? What are you doing here? And where's…?" Then Janet saw A.J. supine on the couch. Her heart lurched in the chest. "Oh, no! Is A.J. hurt?"
"What? Is he drugged?"
"Self-medicated. It was probably something he ate for breakfast, but he got a rash and took antihistamine. Right now, he's out cold. Other than that, he's fine, or will be in an hour or so. Happens all the time. He's…we're used to it."
Janet exhaled a sigh of relief.
"So, is it over?"
"Yup. All over."
"Aren't you going to tell me what happened?"
"How much time can you spare?"
"Never mind that. Just tell me everything, and spare no details." Janet demanded sitting down on one of the guest chairs.
"And that's all there is to it."
When Rick finally finished talking, Janet was spellbound and unable to speak for a moment or two.
"You two are lucky to be able to come out of all that unscathed." She said breaking the silence. "Well, at least, one of you did."
He acknowledged her comment with a nod while absentmindedly scratching a scar just above his left cheekbone. It looked discolored against the tanned cheek.
"Does that thing bother you?"
"You know, the scar."
"The… Oh. Oh, no. I hardly remember it's there most of the time 'cause I've had it so long."
"If you don't mind my asking…"
"How did I get this scar?"
Janet nodded. "An injury during the war, one would imagine."
Rick grinned a wolfish grin. "Oh, I've got some other scars from the two tours in Nam, but I got this one when me and A.J. were still kids. I bet he doesn't even remember 'cause he was just a little tyke barely out of diapers back then."
"You ran into a broken tree branch. You lose."
Rick and Janet turned their heads and saw A.J. still lying on the couch where Rick had left him, but his eyes were open.
"Hey, you're awake." After a brief pause, Rick said with a touch of disbelief, "You remember that?"
"Sure I do." A.J. slowly sat up on the couch. He still had some red splotches, in addition to the black eye, on his face. "You got ten stitches for it."
Janet looked at A.J., Rick, and back at A.J. Frowning, she asked, "Am I missing something? Like how this accident happened? How did Rick end up running into a broken branch?"
The brothers exchanged a telegraphic look, and A.J. took the first turn.
"All I wanted was getting a close look at the tree house where Rick and Tyler what's-his-name used to spend most of the afternoon after school. They built it up high in the tallest oak tree in our backyard so I wouldn't be able to climb up there."
"But obviously not high enough to keep a pesky little brother out. One afternoon, A.J. snuck out of the house when Tyler and I were reading comic books in the kitchen…"
"You were supposed to be watching over me while Mom was at the neighbors'," A.J. whined accusingly.
"I was only ten!" Rick barked back. "Besides, you were not allowed to climb that tree, remember?"
In order to put a stop to yet another squabble between the two brothers before it escalated to a full-blown shouting match, Janet quickly interjected, "Okay, I'm getting the picture now. You got stuck in the tree, and Rick ran to the tree house trying to rescue you…"
"HA! He didn't make even halfway to the tree house—he just tripped and fell face first and said 'hello' to a broken branch on the ground."
"Hey, I really did try to save your undeserving ass! You lost your footing, dangling from the tree house platform and squealing like a stuck pig!"
"Okay, the intent was there, I give you that much, but I would never have lost my balance if you hadn't yelled and startled me in the first place. And, as I recall, I fell out of the tree anyway!"
"Oh, you poor thing!"
Rick was getting ticked off as Janet cast a sympathetic glance in A.J.'s direction sounding like a young mother consoling a tot with a little boo-boo.
"Hey, wait a minute! I got stitches. All he got was scrapes and bruises, but he was the one who was crying and screaming his head off."
"Your face was all bloody. You scared the hell out of me because I thought you'd lost an eye!" A.J. raised his voice to match Rick's.
Janet could not help wondering how a simple, innocent question about the scar could lead to a raucous argument like this. "Hey, you two! Don't you think this is kind of silly…?"
"I was really traumatized by the whole thing!" A.J. yelled at Rick completely ignoring Janet.
"YOU…were traumatized? What about me? Huh?"
"You got hurt physically, but I had a recurring nightmare for weeks!"
Janet threw her hands up in the air and headed for the door. She knew it was futile to reason with them when these two brothers were at each other like this. Breaking up the Simon brothers' fight was a lot tougher than getting into a law school, she lamented. In any case, Rick and A.J. seemed relatively intact after completing the nightmarish case. By the time she closed the office door behind her, their argument had spiraled down to "No, I did not!" "Oh, you sure did!" "Did not!" "Did too!"
A slam of the door startled Rick and A.J., silencing them for a moment.
"Janet… Why'd she leave?" A.J. wondered aloud.
"You and your whining drove her out," opined Rick.
A.J. glared at Rick and started to say, "My…" then stopped. The momentum was gone, and he was running out of steam. With a shrug, he conceded, "I guess we both did. I know we can be pretty obnoxious when we are bickering."
"That's what Mom says," agreed Rick, who seemed to be trying very hard to suppress a grin.
"So, you had a real scare over this, huh?" Rick pointed at his scar.
"THAT would be the understatement of the decade," said A.J. letting out a short, shrill laugh.
Getting caught up in the childhood memories, Rick rubbed his chin reflectively.
"You know, when you think about it, we got off easy when you fell from the tree house and I got banged up."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I didn't keep an eye on you like Mom told me to, but because I got hurt and looked worse than I actually felt, Mom and Dad felt sorry for me and didn't ground me. All I got was a stern lecture."
A.J. cocked his head and thought back on it.
"And they let me sleep with them for a week or so because I kept waking up in the middle of the night screaming despite the fact that I broke their rules."
The two brothers looked at each other, and a conspiratorial grin slowly emerged on their faces.
Rick rose to his feet and slung his jacket over his shoulder.
"Hey, you want a beer?"
"I thought you were going to Ensenada."
"It's still early, and I feel like celebrating. It's Valentine's Day after all."
"May I remind you that we didn't get paid for this case?"
A.J.'s protest was half-hearted, and he too got out of his chair.
"Oh, come on! Don't spoil the fun. Besides, I'm buyin'."
In mock amazement, A.J. gasped and clutched his chest. "Be still my heart!" Then he quickly added, "You do have your wallet with you, don't you?"
Rick laughed and gave A.J. a slap on the back.
As the Simon brothers stepped out of their office together, a passerby saw them coming out of the building and thought nothing of it. To him, they appeared to be just a couple of ordinary Joes trying to salvage and enjoy what was left of the weekend.