A Long and Winding Road (by Kenda)

Summary: An Alternate Universe Story to the 7th Season Episode: May The Road Rise Up 
Category:  Simon and Simon
Genre:  Detective
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  12,000


A man stood by the front windows in the elaborately furnished drawing room. He cautiously parted the lace curtains just enough to see out, being careful not to allow anyone to see in. He watched as the limousine pulled into the circular driveway, coming to a stop by the front step. A distinguished looking grey-headed gentleman exited the back of the long vehicle, briefcase in hand. The limo driver pulled away before the man had a chance to enter his expansive residence.

The man standing in the drawing room let the curtains fall shut. He moved to a secluded corner of the room.

The grey-headed gentleman entered his home, putting his briefcase on a small table in the foyer before looking through the mail his housekeeper had left there for him. Nothing required his immediate attention so he placed the mail back on the table, then walked into the drawing room. He approached the small bar in the far corner and began mixing himself a drink.

“I could use one of those, too, if you don’t mind. Though I never did go in for the hard stuff the way you do. A glass of that good vintage red wine you keep would be wonderful. Or one of those beers you import from Germany and serve in a chilled mug.”

The glass in the startled man’s hand dropped to the floor, shattering.

The intruder stepped out from the shadows of the large potted palms. “Sorry, Matt. Didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

Matthew Haskell looked as though he was seeing a ghost. “Jack?” he whispered in wonderment while moving out from behind the bar for a closer look.

Jack Simon chuckled sadly. “I haven’t heard anyone call me that in what? Almost thirty five years now? As you well know Jack Simon is officially dead. He has been for a long time now. You can refer to me as, oh let’s see, Ellis, David, Bradford, Alan, Thane, or a number of other names I’ve used over the years. How about my favorite? Richard Andrews. I bet you can’t guess where I got that one from.”

“Jack,……don’t.”

“Don’t? Don’t what? Sound bitter? Sound angry because my life was taken away from me? Because my wife and children were taken away from me?”

“You agreed to it,” Matt gently reminded. “As a matter of fact it was your idea.”

Jack Simon’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “And that’s what makes the pill all the more bitter to swallow as each year passes.”

Matt indicated to his old friend to sit down on the sofa. It was then that he took note of the passing years. Jack Simon was still a handsome man by anyone’s standards, still trim and muscular at sixty nine years old. But the face showed the telltale signs of aging everyone’s does as time marches on. And there was a sadness, a loneliness about the eyes that told Matt how hard these past thirty three years had been on Jack. The boyish blond hair was also losing its hue, grey taking its place as Jack’s predominate hair color now. The hairline had receded a bit, too, the way the hairlines of most men do as they age. The trademark moustache was still present, though virtually grey as well.

Matt moved back to the bar, returning after a moment with the remembered dark rich German beer poured in an icy cold mug.

Jack smiled as he accepted the drink.

“You look well, Jack,” Matt appraised of his physically fit friend.

“No, Matt, I look old. Just like you look old. As a matter of fact I didn’t realize how old I did look until I saw you coming up the walk a few minutes ago. The first thing I thought was, oh shit, if that old geezer’s Haskell then I must be an old geezer, too.”

Matt laughed. “Same old Jack. Always ready to make a joke at your own expense.”

The smile faded from Jack’s eyes as he looked at his friend over the top of his mug. “It’s how I’ve survived all these years. By making jokes at my own expense.”

Matt merely nodded his understanding.

The two men sat savoring their drinks for a moment, each lost in his own thoughts of their past friendship and of that night thirty three years earlier.

Matt finally rose to mix himself another drink. Tonight he was definitely going to allow himself two,……maybe even three. “How about another beer?” he offered.

“No. I’m fine. Thanks.”

Matt eyed his old friend as he made himself another martini. “How’d you get in here without being detected?”

“I wasn’t the head of security at Nemesis for nothing, you know. Plus I’ve done a large variety of……….security work since that time,” was all Jack would confess to.

“You’re lucky my housekeeper leaves at noon on Wednesday’s. Otherwise she’d have been screaming bloody murder and calling the police if you’d snuck up on her the way you did me.”

Jack smiled slyly. “I was well aware that your housekeeper leaves at noon on Wednesday’s. And that the gardener is here on Monday’s and Friday’s, and that the pool man is here on Thursday’s.”

An astonished Matt asked, “How did you find all that…….never mind. Like I said before, same old Jack.”

Matt came back to his seat on the sofa. “As much as I’d like to believe you came by here for the sole purpose of rehashing old times with me, I have a feeling it involves a lot more than that.”

Jack nodded. “I want to see Cece and the boys.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Matt admitted, then shook his head. “Jack, you know that’s not possible. You knew when you left thirty three years ago that it would never be possible.”

Jack’s fist came down hard on the arm of the sofa. He shot off the couch, pacing the room in pent up anger. “Yes, and I was also told that someone would keep me regularly informed as to how they were doing! That someone would keep me up to date regarding the goings on in my boys’ lives! I don’t call two sentences every ten or twelve years up to date!” Jack whirled, turning on his old friend with accusing anger. “You said you’d let me know, Matt! You promised to keep me informed about my family! And not once, not one god damn time did you even drop me a postcard! Not one time in thirty three years!”

“Jack,…….Jack, please,……..I know. I’m sorry.”

Jack stared at the seated man. “You’re sorry? That’s it? You’re sorry?”

“Jack, please. Sit down. Please, just sit down and listen to me,” Matt Haskell attempted to calm.

When Jack could see that Matt wasn’t going to speak again until he reseated himself he did as his friend requested, perching stiffly on the edge of the sofa.

“Jack, after we helped you…….disappear, they were too close. For a long time myself, Drapper, Hamlin, and the big guys in Washington feared the enemy hadn’t fallen for your ‘death’. We knew I was being watched, so was Vern Drapper. They were watching your parent’s home, and even the homes of some of your close friends like the Wells’ and the Krelmin’s.”

“Michael? And Bud, too?” Jack asked with disbelief, not realizing until today how much the enemy had known about him.

Matt nodded gravely. “But what really scared me was the fact that for a year they watched Cece and the boys. The day two of our men observed one of their operatives follow Cecilia and the boys to the beach was the day I knew we were going be lucky if they ever stopped looking for you.”

Jack shook his head in dismay. “But no one ever told me. All they said was that everything had gone off without a hitch. That everything was fine.”

Matt shrugged. “What else could they tell you? If they’d told you things looked suspicious you’d have done everything in your power to get back here to protect your family. If you’d done that, Jack, and you know you would have, if you’d done that you would have been killed. And they would have taken Cecilia and the boys with you without giving it a second thought.”

“Yes, they would have,” Jack softly acknowledged, recalling the reason why his death had been faked in the first place,……….for the sole purpose of keeping his wife and sons safe.

“But there must have come a time when they stopped watching. When you felt they were convinced I was out of the picture for good. Why didn’t you contact me then? Why didn’t you let me know how Cece and the boys were doing?”

With a hint of anger to his tone, Matt confessed, “They wouldn’t let me.”

“Who wouldn’t let you?”

“Our guys. The government. They had……concerns.”

“What kind of concerns?” the enraged Jack asked, beginning to realize that there had been a lot he hadn’t been told or at least not truthfully told over the past thirty odd years.

“I don’t know, Jack. They would never tell me. All I was repeatedly told was that there was still danger. I tried to find out where you were, where they had sent you. Hell, I appealed to practically everyone but Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, and I would have done that if I could have gotten an audience with him. All I wanted to do was drop you a few lines like I had promised. Let you know that A.J. had started first grade and that Rick had broken his wrist riding his bicycle. But I was told it wasn’t possible. That I wasn’t to have any contact with you and that someone would pass the message on to you.”

“No one ever did,” Jack stated bitterly.

“I didn’t think so,” Matt sighed. “I never did find out if they thought someone was still watching me and were therefore concerned about your safety and the safety of Cece and the boys, or if they just wanted to…….sweep it all under the rug and let bygones be bygones. Let everyone start over with their new lives.”

Jack stared into his beer. “I imagine that was it. I’ve come to learn in my fifty years of service that our government is not generally sympathetic in matters such as these.”

“I’ve learned that as well, my old friend,” Matt agreed. “But why, Jack? Why show up now after all these years?”

“This was my first opportunity for one thing. I’ve been so many places in the past thirty three years I can’t even name them all. Some have been so remote I’d venture to guess even you don’t know they exist. Some of the places I’ve been I’ve only stayed a day or two, others I’ve stayed several years. And always, the government made sure I was far away from here.”

“How’d you end up back here now?”

Jack smiled. “Let’s just say I saw a crack and slipped through it.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Oh, great. Then let’s just say if you get caught here both our asses will be in slings.”

“That’s about the size of it,” Jack agreed with a grin.

Matt nursed his drink a moment, studying the mischievous eyes of his old friend. “I don’t think I like the sound of this.”

Jack reached over and clapped Matt on the shoulder. “Come on, Matt, you’ll love it. It’ll be just like old times. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“It left me one night thirty three years ago,” was all Matt would say.

Jack merely nodded, Matt’s words having put a damper on his lighthearted spirits of a moment earlier.

“I didn’t like what we had to do, Jack. To this day I still carry a great deal of regret concerning the way we had to deceive Cecilia. I have much sorrow in my heart over the fact that your boys had to grow up without a father. And most of all I hurt for you, my friend. For the pain and loneliness that I know has been your constant companion.”

“We had no choice, Matt,” Jack whispered. “We had no choice. And as you said, it was my idea. There was no other way.”

Matt Haskell thought back to the night so many years earlier when in the confusion of an explosion and gunfire the decision was made that for all intents and purposes Jack Simon must die. Work on a highly classified government project brought Jack knowledge that others were willing to kill for. A member of the team Jack and Matt worked with found a piece of paper in the pocket of a dead enemy agent that translated read;

We must get Simon and make him talk. We must know what he knows. Start a plan in motion to kidnap his wife and children. He’ll talk if he knows we have them. When we get the information we want we’ll kill him, her, and the children as well. The whole family must die.

It was upon reading that slip of paper that Jack knew he had no choice but to disappear for good. He couldn’t risk the lives of Cecilia and his boys. He knew the enemy wouldn’t stop looking for him until he was dead, so it was then that he came to the conclusion that his death would have to be staged. He had never dreamed that when he had walked out the door of his home that February morning in 1954 that he’d never walk back in.

“For a while I harbored the hope that someday I could return,” Jack said, breaking into Matt’s thoughts. “That long before my boys were grown I could come back to them. But it never worked out that way. Our government saw to that,” Jack ended bitterly.

Matt studied his friend for a moment before saying, “Jack, forgive me for asking this, but in all these years you’ve never started over? There’s never been,……..someone else in your life?”

“You mean another woman?”

“Yes.”

Jack hesitated before admitting, “There have been women over the years that I’ve been close to, yes. But for the most part it was a……physical attraction, nothing more. I was lonely, Matt. And hurting. For so long I’ve been alone and hurting.”

“You don’t have to justify it to me, Jack. I understand.”

“I know. But sometimes I have to justify it to myself. There was one woman once, several years back now. What we had between us was……serious. Special. She was twenty years my junior. She wanted children. For a while I thought it was possible. ” Jack broke into a sad smile. “I even went so far as to begin to hope for two little boys. She didn’t know the details of my past, of course, but she did know I had been forced to leave a family behind. She promised me I’d have a family again.”

“Why didn’t you start a new life with her?”

Jack looked off into the distance. “I,……don’t really know. For a lot of reasons, I suppose. The nature of the work I do hasn’t really changed in all the years I’ve been gone. I feared that what had happened once could happen again. That I might once again find myself in a position where I had to leave a wife and children. I didn’t want to ever put myself through that again, nor put another woman through that again. And I knew this time I couldn’t bear to leave any children behind. I did that once. I’ll be damned if I’ll ever do it again.”

Matt merely nodded, not knowing what to say to his friend that would be of any help.

“And so, now I come home to find you on my doorstep, or rather, in my house. Why, Jack?”

“I need your help, Matt. I want to see Cece and the boys before,……..well before the government boobs that I know are looking for me find me.”

“Have you thought this through, Jack? My God, man, you can’t just walk into your old house and yell, ‘Honey, I’m home!’ And as for the boys,……Jack, they’re not boys anymore. They’re grown men. What are you going to do, walk up to them and say, “Hi, you don’t recognize me, but the last time we were together you called me Daddy.”

“No, Matt, that’s not what I was planning. I told you, I just want to see them. I mean ‘see’ them literally. Just,………see them, that’s all.”

Matt began to shake his head no. “You say that now, but do you really think ‘seeing’ them will be enough?”

“It’s going to have to be,” Jack answered quietly. “I already know it’s going to have to be.”

“Why don’t you try again, Jack? And this time tell me the truth,” Matt said with an intent stare.

“What do you mean by that?” Jack fished.

“You know exactly what I mean.”

Jack Simon leaned casually back against the couch, studying his old friend for a long moment, gaging just how much the other knew. He reached into his pants pocket, unfolding a newspaper article dated two days earlier. He passed it over to Matt.

Matthew Haskell looked down at the front page headline. Well-known Local Private Investigator Found Shot In His Office. Hospitalized In Critical Condition.

Matt had no need to read any further, he was very familiar with the article and the circumstances surrounding it.

“Now it’s your turn to tell me the truth, Matt,” Jack said pointedly.

When Matt remained silent, Jack continued with, “I know my son wasn’t shot by a burglar like that article states. I have a feeling that whatever information was given to the press was deliberately falsified. I am well aware that their operatives have been tailing my boys. Now I want to know why.”

Matt couldn’t meet his friend’s gaze. He looked away, confessing, “It’s my fault.”

“What’s your fault?”

“I’m dying, Jack.”

Jack Simon did a double take, caught off guard by this sudden announcement. “You’re what?”

Matt looked back at Jack with a sad smile on his face. “I’m dying. Liver cancer. At the outside I’ve got another year, though the doctors tell me it could be as little as six months.”

Sorrow etched Jack Simon’s features. “Matt,…….I’m sorry. I…….I didn’t know.”

“You have no reason to be sorry, Jack. How could you have known? Besides, I have no regrets. I’m seventy one years old. I’ve lived a full life, had my share of triumphs and joys,…….and sorrows as well, I suppose. I’ve made a success of myself, seen my children grow to adulthood and have children of their own, buried a beloved wife and precious grandson. I’ve completed the circle, my friend. And now it’s time for the circle to close.”

“But,……but I don’t understand what this has to do with the shooting at the boys’ office.”

“Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Maybe we’ll never know.”

“What……….”

Matt interrupted with his explanation. “When a man’s been told his days here on earth are numbered he finds himself needing closure in regards to certain aspects of his life. Do you know in all my years as a father I never once told my kids I loved them? I took it for granted they knew. After all, they grew up in this beautiful home on the ocean, were sent to the best private schools money could buy, were given anything they asked for and a lot of things they didn’t. But two months ago when I talked to each of them privately and told them how much I loved them, they cried, Jack. They honest to God cried. Turns out that’s all they ever really wanted from me. How do you like that?

“So,……in my quest to tie up the loose ends in my life I sold the Buick on consignment to a dealer here in San Diego. It had been sitting up on blocks locked in the old carriage house for all these years, never moved since the night you disappeared.”

“But why, Matt? Why to a dealer here in San Diego of all places?”

“Because deep down, I guess I wanted your boys to accidently run across it. I wanted to give them some kind of a sign of your existence, even if it was only the memory an old car might bring forth. I felt like after thirty three years maybe it was time they knew the truth, or at least part of it. And somewhere in that truth they’d discover that their father loved them so much that he was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect them. That sacrifice being to disappear from their lives forever.”

“And that’s what happened, isn’t it? My boys saw that car.”

Matt smiled. “Yes, they did. And one night I came home from work much like I did tonight, to find my house already occupied by two strong willed gentlemen who were demanding some answers. Your sons are more like you than you could ever imagine, Jack. I hadn’t seen them for a least twenty years, maybe longer, but I’d have known A.J. anywhere. He looks exactly like you minus the moustache. And Rick,…….well Rick has your smart mouth and bravado. Though I suspect that deep down inside he’s a softie just like his old man.”

“There’s so much I’ve missed out on,” Jack whispered, looking at the picture that accompanied the newspaper article.

“How much do you know about them?”

“Bits and pieces,” Jack answered. “I know Rick drifted from one thing to another after high school, then joined the Marine Corps. I know he made Sergeant, served bravely and honorably in Vietnam, was awarded several medals for various deeds done, including the Purple Heart. I know he could have gone on to have a good career with the military, but left after four years of service. I know he’s had some hard times over the years that are directly related to his service in Vietnam.

“As far as Andy goes, I know he graduated with honors from college. I know he went on to law school and passed the Bar on the first try. I also know he’s never practiced law. Somehow, I don’t know the details, but somehow he got into private investigation work, came to have a great love for it, and eventually got Rick involved in it too. Seven years ago they both moved back here from Florida and opened their own business.”

“And are considered to be the best P.I.’s in San Diego,” Matt supplied. “Or so their reputation goes. I got a taste of their tactics when they showed up here unannounced. Based on that encounter, I’d say they’re good at what they do.”

“And you think they ended up asking too many questions of the wrong people in regards to the sudden appearance of that car?” Jack asked.

Matt nodded. “That’s my assumption. I only gave them vague answers, of course, surrounding their questions about the car. But I heard through the government grapevine that they were investigating your death and rapidly coming to the conclusion that you might yet be alive. I’m afraid our old enemies have long memories and that your boys stirred up a stew that we thought had long ago simmered down.”

“Do you think my son was shot by one of their operatives looking for information?”

Matt nodded once again. “I don’t think it, I know it. As you already guessed, the information released to the press was falsified. He was severely beaten before he was shot. Evidently they were trying to get information out of him he either didn’t know or wasn’t about to give up. Why they didn’t kill him I don’t know. Maybe it was all just a warning to us. Or maybe something went wrong at the last minute and they were about to be discovered. Or maybe they thought he was dead. I’ve been working on getting answers to those questions. But as you can imagine we’re pursuing the matter in a very delicate way. We don’t want to risk putting Cecilia or the boys in anymore danger. Nor you. We’ve been laying low waiting to see what their next move will be.”

“Who’s we?”

“The government, of course. The hospital’s swarming with agents, though very few people know it. A good number of the nurses, orderlies, janitors, and doctors on your son’s floor work for us. I’ve got to tell you this, Jack, you’ve got lousy timing. This wasn’t the time for you to show up here.”

“My arrival here now isn’t by mere coincidence, Matt. I’ve suspected,…….felt something was going on. For the past six months I’ve thought that I was being followed. At first I dismissed it as just my imagination, but you don’t live as long as I have in this business without paying a mindful heed to your imagination.”

“It’s my fault. I should have left that car right where it was. Or I should have had it shipped out East, or down to Mexico.”

“No, it’s not your fault, Matt. One of their agents made me long before you sold the car. Eventually they would have shown up here with the intention of trying to get information out of Cecilia or the boys. The car just hastened matters a bit.”

Things were now becoming more clear to Matt. “So you showed up here purposefully to lead them away from your wife and sons?”

“Exactly,” Jack nodded. Indicating to the newspaper article he held in his hand once again he added softly, “But I see I arrived too late to prevent a tragedy from already occurring. There won’t be any more if I can help it.”

“They’ll kill you if they get a hold of you, Jack. They’ll kill you just as sure as we’re sitting here. Thirty three years may seem like a long time, but they haven’t forgotten. Nor do they intend to forgive.”

“I’m well aware of that. But, much like you, Matt, if my circle closes now I’m ready.”

Matt shook his head. “You don’t mean that.”

Jack gave a short laugh. “Sure I do. When you think about it, what’s really left for me? I’ve seen things, and called places home that most people only dream about. I’ve lived among royalty, considered several presidents to be close friends, vacationed at Camp David, had a villa in the Swiss Alps, interrogated Lee Harvey Oswald and later Jack Ruby, was with Bobby Kennedy the night he was shot, rafted down the Amazon, hunted Nazis in South America, and briefed Jimmy Carter in regards to the Middle East Peace Accord. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s not a place I haven’t seen or an uprising I haven’t been a part of in one way or another. The only thing I still want,……..my family, I can’t have. So I will be satisfied with one last opportunity to tell them I love them, prove that love by allowing their lives to be safe once again, and from there, if fate conspires against me and I meet my maker, so be it.”

“And there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind?”

“Nothing,” came Jack’s adamant reply.

“Same old Jack,” Matt chuckled once again as he rose to refresh their drinks and invite, “Come on in the kitchen. Since my housekeeper is off on Wednesday evenings I usually go out to dinner, but I doubt that parading you around San Diego is the wisest of ideas. I’ll grill a couple of steaks for us and you can tell me your plan.” Matt looked up from the bar and over at his old friend with amusement. “You do have a plan I assume?”

Jack’s eyes twinkled. “Most certainly.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Matt sighed.

Jack laughed as he rose. He accepted the beer Matt handed him, following his friend into the kitchen.

“This is what I have in mind,” he began.

*****

Long after visiting hours ended the next evening a man dressed in hospital issue scrubs walked confidently down the halls of the sixth floor. He carried what looked to be a patient’s chart in his hand, a stethoscope hung around his neck. His appearance was further disguised by the scrub mask pulled up over the lower half of his face, allowing only his eyes to show.

Two nurses passed him, nodding, “Good evening, Doctor.”

“Ladies,” he nodded politely in return, wondering for a moment if they were real hospital employees, government operatives, or possibly even enemy agents.

He casually glanced over his shoulder to see the women turn a corner.

He passed the nurse’s station next, going virtually unnoticed as three nurses stood grouped in a circle deeply involved in conversation. Jack’s heart skipped a beat as he caught snatches of their discussion.

“Simon.”

“Not good. Bleeding of unknown origin.”

“May have to operate again.”

“Doctor Peadmont is very concerned. He talked to the family earlier this afternoon. Told them to expect the worst.”

Jack rounded the corner, stopping when he came to a closed door that was labeled 207. For security reasons there was no one by the last name of Simon registered at the hospital.

Jack pushed the swinging door open a mere crack, peering cautiously in his son’s room. He saw a nurse bent over the bed checking the patient’s vital signs. Jack let the door close as quietly as he had opened it and quickly stepped around the corner.

Within seconds the door to room 207 was opened and the woman exited, walking across the hallway to enter the room of another patient.

Jack made his way back to his son’s room, stopping for a moment and leaning his head wearily against the door. This was harder than he thought it would be. A small part of his mission was already accomplished. Earlier in the day he had ‘seen’ Cecilia. Jack thought back to that all too brief moment. From afar he had watched as his wife broke down and cried in the arms of his old friend Dr. Robert Bolton.

God, Cece, you’re still so beautiful. So tiny. My tough little lady through it all. What I wouldn’t give to have spared you all you’ve suffered over the years because of me. I wish I could hold you in my arms now and tell you how much I love you, how you’ve never been out of my thoughts or my heart in all these many long years. How proud I am of you and the fine job you did raising our sons alone. I love you, Cece. I’ll always love you.

Jack took a deep breath, willing the tears not to fill his eyes as they had earlier that day while he unobtrusively observed his wife in the busy hospital.

The sound of nurses’ voices growing closer brought Jack out of his musings. He slipped quietly in the darkened room of his son.

Jack stood by the door, slowing pulling the scrub mask down from his face while acclimating himself to his dark surroundings. Equipment stood on both sides of the bed, the steady beeping of a heart monitor the only sound in the room. A dim light was on above the bed, casting eery shadows on the wall.

With uncharacteristic hesitation Jack approached the bed, studying with wonder the injured man lying there. When it was apparent to him his son would certainly not be aware of his visit, he reached out and touched the hand that lay on top of the bed covers.

Matt’s right. He looks just like me.

Jack smiled a soft smile of fatherly love as he bent over the injured man. “You’ve grown up, son.”

He chuckled at his own words. “Forgive me. That sounded rather corny, I know. It’s just that thirty three years ago you were four and a half years old. Just a little guy who would greet me at the door every night like a whirlwind of motion that never tired. Do you remember how we’d wrestle and roughhouse? It would finally end with me tickling you until you begged me to stop. Do you still carry those memories with you, Andy? I do. They’re deep in my heart. Whenever I get scared or lonely, I think of those times we had. Maybe if you think of them tonight, too, they’ll give you the strength you need to hang on.”

Jack ran his hand gently up A.J.’s muscular arm, taking note of the broad chest and shoulders the bare torso revealed. He lightly squeezed a strong bicep, smiling.

“A weight lifter I bet. And you still like to box as well, or so I’ve been told. I had just hung your first punching bag in the garage a month before I……….left. I remember how we boxed together on Saturday mornings. You wanted to dress like a ‘real boxer’ as you put it. You’d be out there with no shirt on and a big pair of gym shorts that kept sliding down your scrawny little hips. There wasn’t much to you back then, tiger. You probably didn’t weigh more than thirty five pounds soaking wet.”

Jack drifted from one subject to the next, talking of things he hoped would mean something to A.J.

“I saw your mom earlier today. She’s still as gorgeous as ever. I wish I could talk to her, but that’s impossible. My love for her has never diminished. I want you to know how proud I am of you and Rick, for the way you’ve taken care of her all these years. She needs you boys.

“I’m going to have to leave soon. I can’t risk getting caught here. I’m going to see your brother next, only I won’t be able to talk to him. I hope both of you boys know how much I love you. I left you because it was the only way to keep you, and Rick, and Mom safe. If there could have been any other path open to me I would have gladly chosen it. But there wasn’t. I hope if you ever find out the truth that you’ll forgive me, and you’ll somehow know how much I love all of you, even after all these many years. Believe me, Andy, it was the only way. Can you understand that, son?”

A.J.’s head moved restlessly on the pillow. Jack reached down to brush sweat matted hair off his son’s forehead. The unconscious A.J. moaned, then mumbled incoherently.

“Ssssh, Ssssh,” Jack hushed. “It’s okay. You’re going to be all right. You hang in there for Mom and Rick. They need you, Andy.”

“Dad?” came the mumbled words Jack could barely understand.

Afraid he’d revealed far too much already, Jack simply hushed while caressing the hot forehead, “Sssssh. It’s just a dream. Take it easy now. You’re okay. Sssssh,” over and over again until A.J. seemed to slip back into a deep state of unawareness.

Jack was just rising from his bent position over the head of the bed when the door swung open.

“Hey, what are you doin’ in here?” came the gruff question. The gruff question that was followed by a quick apology when the intruder caught sight of Jack’s scrubs.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to run across a doctor in here at this time of night.”

Jack waved the apology aside while cautiously observing this stranger. Was he an enemy operative sent here to kill Andy? “No need to apologize, young man. An honest mistake, I’m sure.” He held out his hand, “I’m Dr. Farnstead. Dr. Ellis Farnstead. And you’re………..?”

The tall lanky stranger shook the offered hand. “Rick Simon.”

Jack fought to control his racing thoughts and reeling emotions as he held onto the hand of his eldest son. If Rick noticed the momentary lapse in Jack’s charade, or the fact that his hand was being squeezed a bit too tightly, he made no mention of it.

Jack composed himself, releasing Rick’s hand. His eyes followed his oldest son as Rick approached the bed.

Playing his role of deception to the hilt Jack asked, “You’re the patient’s…………?”

“Brother.” Rick supplied succinctly.

Jack walked to the opposite side of the bed, standing across from Rick. “It’s past midnight, son. Visiting hours ended some time ago.”

Rick looked down at A.J. “I know. I left here at eight and drove our mother home so she could get some rest. But I had no intention of stayin’ away tonight. A.J.’s surgeon, Doctor Peadmont, said tonight could be critical. That things could go either way. If things don’t go like we hope they will, if A.J. doesn’t pull through,………well he’s not gonna die alone. I’ll be here with him to the end.”

Rick reached over to the nightstand, wet a washrag with cool water and began to gently wipe it over the face of his perspiring brother. Jack’s steady gaze on him went unnoticed by Rick.

I’m so proud of you, Rick. You’ve grown up to be quite a man. I wish I could tell you that, son. My God, Rick, I have to look up at you. Where in the world did you get those long legs from? Maybe Cecilia’s father and brothers, huh? They were over six feet tall and always skinny as rails. I guess it was appropriate that we chose Lawrence for your middle name after your Grandfather Collins. You look somewhat like your Uncle Ray, though. And still fond of cowboy hats, I see. My little Rough Rider. How well I remember.

Jack ventured to ask casually, “You and your brother are close I take it?”

Rick looked over at ‘the doctor’, the dim light over the bed heavily shadowing the older man’s face. “He’s my best friend. Always has been.”

“I’m sure your parents are proud of that fact.”

Rick shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so. We’re a close family. Our dad died when I was nine and A.J. four. Our mother never remarried. The three of us have been real tight knit since that time. We all kinda watch out for one another.”

“It’s nice to hear that there are still some close knit families left,” Jack commented.

Rick smiled. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re not exactly the Waltons. A.J. and I have our differences of opinion on occasion. On manyoccasions, as a matter of fact. But, through it all we always seem to manage to keep in mind what’s really important.”

“And what’s that?”

“Family. The fact that we’re brothers, and best friends. Even though we were young when our dad died his passing left a lasting impression on us. You can’t ever take for granted the time you have with someone on this earth. All too quickly it can come to an end.”

“A hard lesson to learn at such a young age,” was all Jack would say.

“Yeah, it is,” Rick acknowledged. He reached down and grasped his brother’s limp hand firmly in his own while he continued to wipe A.J.’s face and chest using the other. “And that’s exactly why I’ll be by his side until this thing is over one way or another. I won’t take for granted what time we may have left.”

Rick looked over at ‘the doctor’, asking, “How is he?”

“Resting comfortably at the moment, though running a bit of a temperature,” Jack bluffed with the obvious. “It may be touch and go for a while yet. But Doctor Peadmont discussed that with you earlier, am I correct?”

“Yeah, he did. I told him A.J.’s tough, stubborn. He’s too damn bullheaded to give up just ’cause some doctor says his chances of pullin’ through aren’t good. Besides, we’ve both got some unfinished business to attend to. Unfinished business doesn’t sit well with my younger brother.”

“What kind of business is that?”

“We’re private investigators. We were on a……case when this happened. A case A.J. wants,……..we both want to solve real bad.”

“Considering what happened to your brother, maybe it would be best if that case was laid to rest permanently,” Jack advised.

Rick gave the older man a dark look. “No. It’s too important to us. I just had this same discussion with our mother a few hours ago. Only with her it turned into being more of an argument.”

“How’s that?”

“She has………bad feelings about this case we’re on. It’s bringing up a lot of old memories that she says are best left in the past. It’s kind of a family matter. She’s been fighting us tooth and nail since we started our investigation. Now with what’s happened to A.J.,………well it’s only cemented her opinion that we should drop what we were working on.”

“She may be right, you know. Some things are best left in the past,” Jack agreed. “Sometimes you’re better off with the memories of what was, as opposed to the thoughts of what could be. You might find yourself greatly disappointed.”

“Have you been talking to my mother?” Rick asked with puzzlement.

Jack chuckled. “No. No, I haven’t. Why?”

“You sound just like her. And you seem to know all about something only a very few people have knowledge of.”

Jack chuckled again, sounding nonchalant. “Well, son, with age comes wisdom. No, I don’t have any knowledge as to what circumstances brought your brother to this hospital. I was just speaking in general terms as a man who’s done a lot of living and has left behind a multitude of regrets.”

Rick nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got a few of those myself that haunt me every now and again.”

“Then learn from them.”

“Huh?”

“Learn from them. Don’t compound them by continuing to work on an obviously dangerous case.” Jack nodded toward the injured A.J. to emphasize his point. “I’m sure your mother has been going through hell over what has happened to your brother. Then on top of that you say the case you’ve been working on has caused painful memories to surface for her. Does she really deserve to be put through any more? I”m sure your father would want you both to respect her wishes and quietly drop the case.”

Rick’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What’s my father got to do with this?”

“Nothing,” Jack replied innocently. “Only that you mentioned he’s been deceased for many years. I’m assuming therefore that you and your brother have taken care of your mother over the years, so to speak.”

“That we have.”

“I have two grown sons of my own. When the day comes that I’m no longer on this earth I’ll expect them to take care of their mother just as you and your brother have taken care of yours. If my sons were involved in something that caused one of them to be seriously injured and the only thing my wife asked of them was to cease their activities I would expect them to heed to her wishes.”

“Yeah, but what A.J. and I are involved in, the case we’re workin’ on, is a little more complicated than that.”

“Things are only as complicated as you make them, son. Would your lives become less complicated if you dropped this case?”

Rick thought a moment before reluctantly nodding. “Yes. I suppose they would.” Rick smiled sheepishly, able to confess more to this stranger than he could to a friend. “To tell you the truth this case has been nothing but a pain in the ass since we first started it. It’s brought up a lot of old feelings that have been difficult for all of us to deal with, me, my brother, and my mother. It’s caused our mother to be angry with us. And it’s caused us to be angry with each other. None of us seem to agree any more on which is the best way to proceed. Mom has flat out wanted us to drop the case since the day we started it, while I’ve been on the fence. At first I disagreed with her, but as time went on and we ran into more and more roadblocks, roadblocks that were obviously carefully orchestrated to keep us from obtaining pertinent information, I came to agree with Mom. I was beginning to think it might be best to simply drop the whole thing and let it…….rest in peace so to speak.”

“And what about your brother? A.J.? What did he want?” Jack needed to know.

Rick looked down at his sibling, shaking his head. “He had no intention of dropping the case, that’s for sure. Pound for pound A.J.’s got more tenacity than any human being I’ve ever run across. This case is important to him. Maybe even more important to him than it is to me. He’s like a dog with a bone on this one and he just won’t ease up. We almost came to blows over the whole thing the day before he was shot.”

“And so you think you should drop it?” Jack probed.

Rick looked up. “I didn’t exactly say that.” He shrugged in defeat after a moment of further thought. “Yeah, that’s what I think. The whole thing is only causing my family more pain. If A.J. dies,……….if he dies I don’t know how my mother will take it. She just doesn’t need any more bad memories tied into and woven around this case.”

“And if A.J. doesn’t die?”

Rick’s eyebrows drew together. “What do you mean?”

“Will you be able to convince him to let it drop?”

Rick studied his brother for a long moment. “I don’t know. I really just don’t know. He’s so damn stubborn. But on the other hand he’s also very sensitive to others’ feelings. If he knows how scared Mom has been these past three days, how many times she’s stood here and cried, how many times she’s said that she wished we’d never taken this case in the first place, then maybe he’ll find a way to let it go and still be at peace with himself. It’s something Mom will have to discuss with him. And I’m sure she will. Up until he was shot I woulda’ stayed on the case for his sake even if I didn’t think we were gonna find what we were lookin’ for in the end. But now, …….well now that I’ve had a couple of days away from it, a couple of days stuck here in this hospital with a very ill brother, I just want to put the whole damn thing behind us. I know now that we’re never going to find who we were looking for. I seriously doubt that he’s alive to find. Now I just gotta convince A.J. of that fact. And that might not be so easy. He had his hopes up.”

“Hopes up for what reason?”

“Hopes of finding someone who we were once close to,” was all Rick would say. “A.J. was very young when this person left our lives. I think he harbors the hope that if we are able to find this person alive he could be a part of this person’s life in a way he never was before. He was just too little to have any strong memories of this person and lately that’s been something that’s been hard for him to deal with.”

The room was too dark for Rick to notice the tears that suddenly welled up in ‘the doctor’s’ eyes.

You’ll always be a part of my life, son, was Jack Simon’s thought as he gazed down upon his youngest.

Rick’s voice broke into Jack’s thoughts. “Doctor Peadmont told us this afternoon that if A.J. does pull through he’s going to be facing weeks of convalescence. First here in the hospital and then at home.”

Jack, remembering his role as physician, nodded his head gravely agreeing, “Yes, he will.”

“I’m hoping that will allow this whole thing the time it needs to blow over. Maybe by then, when we’ve got some distance between us and this case, he won’t be quite so eager to get back to it. The only loose end I have left to tie up is finding the guys who did this to my brother. Once that’s done I’m ready to wash my hands of the whole damn thing.”

I’m going to find the guys that did this to your brother, Richard, and I am personally going to see that they pay. And as far as putting some distance between yourselves and this case, I’ll handle that too. By the time Andy’s well enough to begin thinking about this case again there won’t be a trace of anyone to be found, not me, not the men who shot him, nor any stray government agents whether they be from our side or theirs’. Your father will take care of his family, boys, just like he always has.

As much as he hated to leave, as much as he would have liked to sit in that hospital room for the rest of the night with his two sons, Jack knew it was past being safe for him to remain. Unnoticed by Rick, Jack reached down and gave A.J.’s right hand a squeeze. He then extended his hand across the bed to Rick.

“I have to leave now. I have other patients to check on. I’m glad I got the opportunity to meet you, Rick. It helps me to better know the patient I’m working with if I get to meet his family. I know that right now A.J.’s injuries seem both frightening and overwhelming, but it’s obvious to me he has a family who loves and cares for him deeply. That’s far better medicine than any I can prescribe.”

Rick shook the offered hand. “Thank you, Doctor.” The detective glanced at his watch. “Isn’t it a bit late for you to be making rounds? I thought most doctors were off the floors by early evening.”

“Not if we have seriously injured patients to attend to, of which I have three tonight,” Jack bluffed. “I know I’m not part of the team that’s been attending to your brother, but one of the nurses saw me on the floor and asked if I’d check on him.”

“Oh,……well thanks for lookin’ in on him then. I hope to see you again sometime.”

“I hope I don’t see you,” Jack teased.

“What do you mean by that?”

“My wife and I are scheduled to leave on a Caribbean cruise tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be gone for several weeks. By the time I return I expect A.J. here to be up and about and long gone from this hospital.”

Rick smiled back. “We’ll work on it, Doc. We’ll work on it.”

“Glad to hear it, Rick,” Jack nodded as he headed for the door. Before exiting the room he turned around. “Oh and, Rick?”

Rick looked up. “Yeah?”

“Tell A.J. that sometimes it’s best if the past is left where it belongs. Not every mystery in life has a solution. Or at least not an easy one. Sometimes that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.”

Rick studied the grey headed man a moment, then nodded. “I’ll tell him.”

“You do that,” was the last thing Jack Simon said to his son before exiting the room for good.

*****

Jack made his way down the hospital corridor, lost in a sea of mellow thoughts. So distracted was he by the events that had just occurred in A.J.’s room that he almost missed the doctor who brushed by him in rush. Something aroused Jack’s suspicions however, and he turned around. He caught just a flash of a gun barrel as it was brought out from underneath a scrub shirt.

He’s headed for Andy’s room!

Jack Simon quickly looked around, mentally marking his bearings.

I sure hope Matt’s still in place. I was gone longer than I planned to be.

“Hey!” Jack yelled to the back of the ‘doctor’.

The long legged man turned around.

Jack pulled the scrub mask from his face. “Hey, you asshole! It’s me you’re looking for!”

Jack saw the gun raised, pointed in his direction. He dived behind two sheet draped gurneys using them for cover as he crawled to the stairwell. He knew when the door to the stairwell opened he’d give his position away and the chase would be on.

Jack hit those stairs running. You’re not thirty years old anymore, Simon, he chastised himself. Jack pulled out his own gun as he heard the clambering of footsteps behind him. His heart raced and adrenalin coursed through his bloodstream with the excitement of it all. Just like the fox and the hound, Jack thought with glee. Neither the passing years nor advancing age could put a damper on Jack Simon’s taste for adventure.

Jack was pursued all the way to the basement. The older man smiled when he saw a door up ahead marked Morgue. I’ve got you just where I want you, sucker, was the last thought he had before bursting through that door and into that pitch dark room. Jack crouched down among sheet covered bodies and waited.

Matt, you better have the car running and your foot on the gas pedal because if I manage to get out of this alive we’re going to have to beat feet. I’m willing to bet every operative they have will be right on our tail all the way to the border.

The door to the morgue burst open a second time. Gun shots were exchanged. Only one man left the room alive.

An elderly black janitor approached the room cautiously with the intent on investigating the noises he had heard coming from within. He was knocked to the ground when the door swung open suddenly and a man flew out. “I’m sorry, Sir,” was called in the black man’s direction.

The last sight anyone in California had of Jack Simon was that janitor who ended up on his rear end in a bucket of dirty mop water, watching as a handsome grey headed man dressed in doctor’s scrubs ran for all he was worth for the parking lot.

*****

Rick and Cecilia Simon were totally unaware of the events that had

unfolded down in the hospital morgue, as were most people. U.S. government agents moved in quickly, sealing off areas and making sure the few who had seen anything didn’t talk. Nor were Rick and Cecilia aware that many of the people whom they mistook as hospital employees were really government agents assigned to discreetly protect them and A.J. Jack Simon had friends in high places. Those friends didn’t want to see any harm come to his family, the family he’d had to leave behind a second time.

Thirty six hours after Jack’s visit A.J.’s condition finally changed for the better. It was his doctor’s opinion that though he had a long road to travel until complete recovery, A.J. would eventually get there and be back to full health once more.

Cecilia leaned against Rick’s chest and cried when they were brought that news. These past thirty six hours had been even worse than the three days proceeding them. A.J. had continually run a high fever. In his delirium he was constantly calling for his father. He didn’t seem to realize that Cecilia and Rick were with him, nor did he take comfort in their voices. Cecilia cried and Rick looked grim as over and over again the delirious A.J. kept insisting that he wanted his dad, and that his dad had been there with him, and won’t somebody please go find my dad for me.

At times during his recovery period in the hospital A.J. would insist that Jack had been there with him. Rick and Cecilia would gently smile then and remind him that he’d been very ill and running a high temperature and that it was only a dream brought on by the case the brothers had been working on prior to the shooting.

A.J. would grow quiet at those times and become lost in his own thoughts. Thoughts that he finally came to realize were best not shared with his mother and brother.

Cecilia had a long talk with her youngest on his first day home from the hospital regarding him continuing to work on the case that had brought him injury. At first the blond Simon was adamant about not ceasing his probe into his father’s death, but when his mother broke down and sobbed so hard it scared him, A.J. had a reluctant change of heart.

To prove this to his mother the blond detective had Rick bring home from the office all the notes A.J. had made in regards to the search for their father. Cecilia watched as her youngest son threw those notes onto the burning fire within the fireplace in his living room.

She smiled up at her blond son in gratitude as she hugged his waist.

Finally, she thought. We can all put this behind us.

A.J. gave his mother a smile in return and pulled her to his chest. He felt just a trifle guilty over what he was keeping from her and Rick. Those notes he had just burned had been transferred to a floppy disc weeks earlier. A.J. had buried that disc underneath a pile of sweaters in his dresser drawer the day before he was shot. Someday, without the knowledge of his mother or brother, he knew he would reopen this case. He had every intention of finding out exactly what had happened to his father on that night in February, 1954.

The only mystery that remained surrounding this case as far as Rick was concerned was that of the existence of one Dr. Ellis Farnstead. Rick had mentioned to their family doctor and friend, Bob Bolton, that Dr. Farnstead had been with A.J. the night they all feared the blond man might not pull through. Dr. Bolton looked slightly puzzled for a moment, then hesitated before telling Rick that there was no Dr. Farnstead on the staff. Rick insisted that there must be which prompted Dr. Bolton to check with personnel on this question. No, he told Rick later that same day, no one’s ever heard of the man.

Rick spent several days deep in thought, trying to recall what the man had looked like. The room had been too dark and Rick’s concern and worry for A.J. so great that he freely admitted he had not paid much attention to the man’s looks. His mind brought forth enough of a picture to allow him to come to the conclusion that the doctor, or whoever he was, had been in his late sixties or early seventies, had a full head of hair that had once been blond but was now for the most part grey, a moustache, and a very trim muscular build considering his advanced years.

Rick hadn’t mentioned his conversation with Dr. Farnstead to his mother, and after what Dr. Bolton told him decided it was best to never mention it to her. He knew she’d be thinking the same things he was. Had this mystery man been sent to finish the job of killing A.J.? Had Rick interrupted him before he could get his mission accomplished? Rick mulled those possibilities over for a few days before deciding they were unlikely. Whoever the man was he seemed to be very compassionate, very concerned about A.J. and A.J.’s family. Besides which if he was a professional killer wouldn’t he have swiftly and silently killed Rick that night and then done the same to A.J. before slipping out of the hospital unnoticed?

The other thought that haunted Rick’s brain concerning the unidentified man was one he kept pushing aside whenever it would float to close to the surface. Hadn’t A.J. insisted that their father had been there with him? Even after his fever had broken and he had begun to feel better, hadn’t he been adamant about that fact?

Could it have been? Rick wondered. Could he have really been Dad? He seemed to know an awful lot about what we were goin’ through. Why wasn’t I payin’ more attention? Why didn’t it click with me then?

It didn’t click with you then, Rick’s brain told him, because you were beside yourself with worry for your brother, had just spent a stressful day consulting with doctors and holding your mother while she cried, and you were bone tired from going three days without sleep.

Two days before A.J. was released from the hospital Rick made an unannounced trip out to Matt Haskell’s. He didn’t really expect Matt to give him any straight forward answers, therefore he wasn’t greatly surprised when he didn’t get any.

The most Matt would indulge Rick with was a smile and the words, “Sometimes, as the circle of life draws to a close for those of us who are no longer young men, it’s important that we take one last opportunity to tell our children how much we love them.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Matt gave Rick a fatherly pat on the shoulder as he showed him to the door. “I think you know perfectly well what it means, Rick. It doesn’t really matter what happened that night in 1954, son. Suffice to say it was horrible and things could not have been handled any other way than how they were. I know for a fact the greatest sacrifice your father made was the one that did not allow him to raise you and A.J. to adulthood and to grow old at your mother’s side. It’s all he really ever wanted out of life.”

Rick left Matt’s estate that day with a lot to think about. He drew his own conclusions in regards to his father’s demise in 1954 and as to who the man was that he found in A.J.’s hospital room two weeks earlier. It took Rick a long time to come to terms with his conclusions, but because without even being aware of it he was truly his father’s son, Rick did eventually come to accept and understand Jack Simon’s reasonings for the life he had been forced to live.

One night weeks later, Rick sat reclining on a lounge chair on his boat, Marlowe at his side. He took a sip of an expensive dark German beer he recalled as being his father’s favorite, held the bottle up to the night sky that was filled with twinkling stars and toasted, “To you, Dad. Wherever you are. I know if things could have worked out differently you’d be here with us today.”

And with that Rick reached down and scratched Marlowe behind the ears, finished off his beer, and put the case of Jack Simon to rest for good.

*****

That same evening a recuperating A.J. Simon could be found five miles from the marina in his own home, savoring a bottle of dark German beer as well, his first drop of alcohol now that he was off all medication.

The blond man carried his beer bottle up to his bedroom. In deference to his healing left side he sat down carefully on the floor in front of his closet. From a dark corner he pulled out a shoe box.

A.J. sat for a long time with that shoe box in his lap, then opened it pulling out a treasure from long ago. The favorite teddy bear that everyone had thought was lost in the confusion of visiting relatives and a funeral thirty three years earlier had mysteriously been awaiting A.J. upon his arrival home from the hospital. When the blond man had first spotted the bear propped up against the pillows on his bed he smiled, thinking the current woman he was dating had placed it there for him as a way to say welcome home. But upon closer inspection A.J. quickly discovered this bear had not just been purchased, but rather was old and worn, and had a well-traveled air about him. A.J. swallowed hard that day as picked the bear up. There was a neat row of brown stitches that attached the stuffed animal’s leg to its body. Stitches that A.J. could clearly recall his mother putting there when he came to her in tears at age three, that limb in hand, and explained how he had been playing doctor but had never meant to hurt Farley and couldn’t she please fix him?

A.J. had stood there that afternoon, his thoughts running off in a multitude of directions as he wondered where that bear could have possibly come from. When he heard his mother coming up the stairs asking him what he wanted for lunch and Rick following her carrying A.J.’s suitcase and a box of gifts he had received while in the hospital, the blond man had instinctively shoved the bear under the bed. Why, he didn’t know. Maybe it was simply because he needed time to mull a lot of things over before he could discuss the sudden appearance of this long lost toy with his family.

A.J. sat now with the teddy bear in his lap and reread the note he had found pinned to its chest.

Not every mystery in life is meant to be solved, son. Sometimes the past is best left alone. If I have the right to ask anything of you, it’s to say please don’t put your mother through any more heartache. She’s had more than her share in this lifetime. She loves you and needs you healthy and safe.

You have always been a part of my life, Andy. A big part. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you, and Rick, and your mother.

If those words weren’t enough to prove to A.J. who had left behind the teddy bear, the next ones made him sure.

May the road rise up to greet you,

May the wind be ever at your back.

May the sun rise warm upon your face.

May the rain fall soft upon your leaves,

And until we meet again may the good Lord hold you in the hollow of his hand.

A.J. reread that note now, and the words to the Irish sonnet that had been a favorite of his father’s. The sonnet that had been read by Michael Wells at his father’s funeral.

Long after A.J.’s beer had grown warm the blond man sat on the floor of his room that night cradling the teddy bear, lost in thought.

He finally seemed to reach a solid conclusion concerning the case that had plagued him for almost three months now. He gave Farley a fond smile before returning him to his hiding place in the shoe box, then placing that box deep in the recesses of the dark closet.

A.J. rose and walked over to his dresser on stiff legs. He opened a drawer and dug underneath several sweaters until his hands came in contact with a floppy disc. He held that disc for several moments, contemplating all the possibilities it contained. He seemed to reach a decision when he crossed the hall to one of the spare bedrooms that doubled as a home office. He popped the disc in his personal computer and erased the files it contained, then added it to the stack of blank discs he kept in a desk drawer.

The blond man walked back to his bedroom and bent down to retrieve the almost empty beer bottle. He crossed over to the French doors and walked out onto the balcony. He lifted the beer bottle to the star lit sky in the gesture of a toast and said softly, “Until we meet again, may the good Lord hold you in the hollow of his hand, Dad.”

A.J. tilted his head back and finished off the last warm swig of beer that was left in the bottle.

*****

Jack Simon sat in a dim corner of a favorite little pub of his in a small country whose name to this day he could still not correctly pronounce. He read the letter he had received that day from Matt that had found its way to him in quite a round-about fashion.

Though the words Matt wrote were careful and coded their meaning came through clearly to Jack. Andy was out of the hospital and doing well, on his way to a complete recovery. The boys had agreed to end their search for Jack. And best of all, Matt reported that all the enemy operatives seemed to be out of the area and he felt that as long as neither Rick or A.J. ever got the pot to simmering again by looking for their father, Jack’s family would be safe.

Jack smiled as he folded the letter and placed it in his shirt pocket. He could now find peaceful sleep at night once again knowing that his family was no longer vulnerable to an enemy that was bent on retribution for an event thirty three years earlier.

Jack’s thoughts lingered on his grown sons and Cecilia until he saw a dark heavily bearded man enter the bar.

Enough of wallowing in this sentimental melancholy state, Simon. Time to get back to work, Jack chastised himself.

The burly man casually strolled over to Jack’s table and pulled out a chair. The two greeted one another as though they were old and familiar friends, though in truth they had never met before.

With an accent Jack couldn’t quite identify the man introduced himself simply as “Lazarus.”

Jack smiled at the meaning of the name.

Lazarus. The Lord will help. How appropriate in this business.

Jack nodded. “Richard Andrews,” he introduced. In the tongue the man had chosen to speak Jack said, “We have many things to discuss this evening about something that happened a long time ago. I’m not a young man any more. I need some guarantees in regards to my family’s safety before my time on this earth comes to an end. I have an unqualified sum of money at my disposal as an….insurance policy, shall I say, for my wife and sons. Is it all right to talk openly?”

At the man’s affirmative nod the two began to talk business.

***The End***

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