By: Lacey McBain (pen name)
Date: July 2003
Warnings: Violence, some bad language, hurt/comfort.
Summary: After an argument with his brother, Rick is faced with the
possibility of never being able to apologize.
Time frame: Partway through the series - after the move to the new
office, but prior to the arrival of Abigail Marsh.
Disclaimer: "Simon & Simon" was created by Philip de Guere, for
which I am very grateful.
Part 1 - Occupational Hazards
A.J. Simon was not a happy man. As he drove along the San Diego
freeway heading for home, he kept running over in his mind everything
Rick had said to him at the office.
"Why does he always do this to me?" A.J. muttered half-aloud. The
wind whipped through his blond hair as he drove, and his thoughts
returned to the scene at the office that was still troubling him hours
It had been a perfectly ordinary start to the day at Simon and Simon
Investigations. A.J. was early, Rick was late. When Rick
burst in with a giant grin on his face and a dilapidated cardboard box
in his arms, A.J. braced himself for whatever "great deal" his brother
had found for them now.
"A.J.," Rick said, closing the door behind him with a quick kick.
"You are going to love this!" Rick dumped the cardboard box onto
A.J.'s desk and stepped back looking immensely pleased with himself.
"Which means I'm probably going to hate it," A.J. said casually,
leaning back in his desk chair. "Surplus Sammy's or Death from
Above?" A.J. asked.
"Ah, come on, A.J., just give it a chance," Rick said, starting to open
"Rick," A.J. began, feeling as if he were about to burst the balloon of
a small child. Over the years there had been a parade of equally
shabby boxes dropped onto his desk accompanied by equally eager
grins. They were also usually accompanied by an enormous bill
that A.J. ultimately ended up being responsible for.
"OK, so it's from Surplus Sammy's, but he gave me a great deal." Rick
was busy pulling out a random collection of Styrofoam peanuts and old
newspapers. A.J. stood up to peer into the interior of the box as
Rick withdrew something that looked like a large aluminum salad bowl
draped with an impressive collection of wires.
"Well, what do you think?" Rick said.
"I didn't know Sammy was branching out into electronic kitchenware."
"What? No, it's a Parabolic Hyper-Sensitive Cyber-Ear," Rick said
matter-of-factly. "It can pick up a whisper over three blocks
"And how much did this overgrown microphone cost us?" A.J. said,
suspiciously eyeing the contraption that Rick was holding.
"It was a steal - only 500 bucks," Rick said quickly, settling the
device back into its box.
"500 bucks!" A.J. yelled. "We don't have the money for that."
"Hey, these little beauties usually go for twice that. Sammy gave
us a deal," Rick said, his face colouring slightly and his voice rising.
"Yeah, I bet he did. He knows a sucker when he sees one," A.J.
said fixing his brother with an icy blue-eyed stare. "And how did
you pay for this? Last time I checked, your credit cards had a
date with Mr. Scissors."
"It was a damn good deal, A.J.," Rick said stiffly. "I didn't
think you'd mind."
"Rick, how did you pay for it? And please don't tell me you put it on
my credit card," A.J. said.
"Fine, I won't tell you," Rick said, picking the box up and moving it
to the floor beside his own desk.. He flopped down in his office
chair, and swung his boots up onto the desk.
"Rick, you can't keep doing this," A.J. started. "We're supposed
to be partners."
Rick wheeled around in his chair and adjusted his hat. A.J. could
see the colour rising in Rick's cheeks. The exuberance he'd shown
over his new toy had been displaced by a hardness that A.J. had always
hated. He associated it with the Marine Sergeant from Vietnam,
not the carefree older brother he'd grown up with.
"Here we go again with the partnership speech," Rick sneered.
"Why is it that any time I purchase something for the office, I hear
‘we're supposed to be partners, Rick,' but when you do it, it's just
business. Funny definition of partnership, little brother.
Seems to me that it means you make all the decisions and I just nod and
say thanks for letting me work here."
"That's not fair," A.J. interjected, but Rick's anger was gaining speed
quicker than the bulls at Pamplona.
"Isn't it? You're always telling me what to do: ‘that's
breaking and entering, Rick'; ‘we can't take guns into Mexico,
Rick';‘we can't shoot the client, Rick.'" Rick's voice was a biting
caricature of his younger brother's. A.J. bristled at the
bitterness in Rick's voice as Rick continued his tirade: "You think
you're so damned smart with your college degree and your expensive
suits, but you would have been dead ten times over if it wasn't for me,
and I don't need to be told what to do or how to do it by you."
Rick pointed to the box sitting beside his desk. "This is a
necessary piece of equipment and I made an executive decision. I
thought you'd be pleased that I showed some initiative, but I forgot
that I need to ask permission before I do anything around here."
Rick got up and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" A.J. asked, trying to control his own
emotions. He really wanted to tell Rick to go to hell, but knew
that wasn't going to do anything but escalate a situation that was
already careening out of control.
"Out," Rick said, opening the door. "If that's okay with you," he
added sarcastically as he slammed the door behind him.
A.J. stared at the door, the glass panel still shaking from Rick's
departure. Part of him wanted to go after Rick and yell at him
for being a jerk; the other part of him wanted to throw something at
the door, preferably the aluminum dish parading as the latest high-tech
gizmo that had started all of this. A.J. put his head down on the
desk for a moment and came to a decision. He stripped off his
jacket and loosened his tie, heading for the weight
bench. Maybe pumping a little iron would help, and when Rick
no doubt calmer and slightly humbled, they would go out for a drink and
it up to one of the hazards of working with family.
Except it hadn't worked out that way.
A.J. grabbed his mail out of the box and slid his key into the lock on
his home, his mind still turning over the argument. Rick hadn't
returned to the office and A.J. felt the tension from their argument
still lingering in his muscles despite his attempt to purge the anger
with a good workout. Even a quick shower and a cup of his
favourite coffee from the bistro down the block hadn't done anything to
improve A.J.'s mood. He'd tried to concentrate on paperwork, but
with Rick's words still ringing in his ears, he finally gave up, locked
the office and headed for home. For one
long moment, he thought about taking the turnoff to the marina and
Rick's houseboat, but decided that perhaps it was best to give Rick
some space to cool down. Eventually he'd come around–he always
did. Their fights were sometimes brutal, but the fallout was
A.J. opened his kitchen door, throwing the mail onto the counter.
If he hadn't been distracted by the fight with Rick, maybe he would
noticed that the blinds on his patio doors were slightly disturbed, or
his copy of Antique Cars Quarterly had been carelessly tossed onto the
neatly stacked pile of magazines on his coffee table. Perhaps he
have heard the slight creak of the stairs as he walked from the kitchen
the living room, kicked off his shoes, and settled in the arm chair
a cold beer. He took a long slow draught, willing himself to
and closed his eyes. He'd worry about making up with Rick later.
Without warning, A.J. felt a sharp pain in the back of his head as a
heavy object smashed down upon him. The beer slipped from his
hand and seeped rapidly into his carpet. Through the darkness
that was threatening to overtake him, A.J. struggled. There were
two men, maybe three, reaching for him, holding him. He couldn't
focus long enough to recognize any of the men as they repeatedly rained
blows down upon him, battering him back into the chair from which he
kept attempting to rise. Finally, consciousness left him and he
slumped backwards in the chair.
A deep, gravelly voice spoke from behind the chair: "Take off his shirt
before you tie him up, and make sure the ropes are tight." The
three men in dark suits complied, ignoring the trickle of blood that
dripped onto A.J.'s bare chest as they stripped him to the waist and
secured his hands and feet with heavy-weight rope.
The man, tall and fair-haired, clothed in a white lab coat, walked
towards the chair where A.J. slumped with his back towards him.
The man raised his hand and the glint of a needle shone in the
afternoon sunlight. He admired the straight thin line of the
needle, the way the small drop of amber liquid clung to the tip for a
moment before plummeting to the ground.
"I think it's time to contact his brother," the man said quietly never
taking his eyes off the needle in his hands. "The trace is still
"Yes," the tallest of the three men replied.
"You know what to do," the white-coated man said, as he moved forward
into the living room and stood by A.J.. "Let's hope his brother
as cooperative as we expect he will be," he said, plunging the needle
into A.J.'s upper arm, expelling the amber liquid. A small smile
satisfaction passed over his lips.
Part 2 - Choices
The Power Wagon flew down the highway at an alarming speed, Rick Simon
cursing the late afternoon traffic. It had been a long day
already, and now this. A mysterious phone call telling him to get
over to A.J.'s or else. He'd even called back to A.J.'s number to
make sure that the call had really come from there and the same
dispassionate voice had simply responded: "the clock's ticking."
Now he was heading for A.J.'s not having a clue what awaited him
there. And the only thing that kept running through his mind was
the way he'd stormed out of the office earlier in the day. As he
pulled into A.J.'s driveway, he tried to put that out of his
mind. Whatever was going on, A.J. was in serious trouble.
There'd be time for apologies later.
Rick moved silently around the side of the house to the glass patio
doors, his .44 Magnum clutched in his right hand. The blinds were
askew, and he could just make out a blond-haired figure slumped in the
chair. Rick fought the urge to fling the door aside and rush to
his brother, choosing instead to slide one of the patio doors open as
quietly as possible.
"Come in, Mr. Simon," a voice called pleasantly. "No need to
stand on ceremony. It is your brother's home, after all.
Practically your second home."
Rick, gun still drawn, moved through the door and into the living room,
taking in the scene in an instant. An unconscious A.J. was naked
to the waist, bound at his wrists and ankles, and there was dried blood
his nose and chest. Obviously, he hadn't gone down without a
fight. On either side of him stood tall well-built men in dark
suits, each carrying a handgun. Behind the chair, a fair-haired
man in a white lab coat, blinked slowly at Rick through thick
lenses. A quick glance to the
side told Rick that another man stood guard at the kitchen door.
"Who the hell are you?" Rick said.
"That's not really important," said the man in the white coat.
"The hell it isn't–" Rick started, taking a step towards A.J..
The men beside A.J. raised their weapons sharply.
"Uh-uh, Mr. Simon," said the man. "I wouldn't recommend that. If
you're dead, then you have no chance of saving your brother's life."
Rick glanced across at A.J. who appeared to be stirring slightly in the
chair, although he didn't seem to be any closer to consciousness.
Beads of perspiration were beginning to dot his forehead. Rick
see the stray hairs on his forehead clinging to one another in damp
"What have you done to him?" Rick asked. They'd both been beat up
more times than he could count. Something was different
here–something that scared him.
"I've injected him with a highly toxic poison. I used to be a
chemist, you know," the man said proudly. "One of the best."
A look of horror crossed Rick's face as the pale man continued.
"It's a rather slow-acting poison–it usually takes about 24 hours for a
patient to succumb to its effects completely. First there's a
of consciousness, followed by a fever." The man looked down at
beads of perspiration forming on A.J.'s face and smiled: "That's the
he's entering now."
"Why you–" Rick began, but held his tongue as the men with guns stepped
towards him menacingly.
"Then there will be delirium–that's always the most entertaining if you
ask me–followed by a period of euphoria and lucidity. A nice
that, I thought. That perfect moment of bliss just before the
spiral into debilitating pain and madness. Death is almost a
he concluded thoughtfully.
"Why are you doing this?" Rick asked, trying to take in the
possibility that his brother could be dead by tomorrow evening.
"Because I need a little favour from you, Mr. Simon, and I didn't think
I could persuade you to do it without some, shall we say, insurance?"
"What kind of favour?" Rick asked.
"I want you to kill someone," the man said bluntly. "It's really
very simple. If you do as you're asked, I will provide you with
the antidote to the poison and your brother will make a full
recovery. If not, then he will die and you will be responsible
for his death."
Rick felt as if his heart had been ripped out of his chest. He
felt like he had to will himself to keep breathing. He wasn't a
cold-blooded killer, but this was A.J.'s life. He'd never
articulated the words before, but he knew he would do anything for his
brother. Even kill.
Rick's voice was cold as steel when he spoke again: "Who do you want me
"A man. A police lieutenant. I believe you know him as
‘Downtown Brown.'" The man smiled as he saw the look of horror cross
Rick's face. "Your friend or your brother, Mr. Simon. The
choice is up to you."
With that, the man in the white coat began moving towards the kitchen
exit. His henchmen followed, still covering Rick with their guns.
"You have 24 hours, Mr. Simon. I don't care when you do it or
how, just so long as it gets done. The antidote works quickly
when applied, but I wouldn't leave things to the last minute if I were
"Wait–how do I find you? To get the antidote?" Rick called to the
retreating man desperately.
"I'll find you. Don't worry, Mr. Simon. I always keep my
end of the bargain. Always. I hope you keep yours."
Just before he stepped through the door, he turned back towards Rick,
who was already moving towards A.J.. "One more thing," the man
said. "If I were you, I'd call an ambulance. He should
really be in a hospital, even if there's not much they can do."
Rick didn't even notice the door shut as he reached A.J. and starting
frantically untying his bonds. With the ropes off, Rick felt for
pulse, which was racing like a wild colt. Rick pressed his hand
A.J.'s forehead and felt the skin burning beneath his fingers, drops of
clinging to his hand as he moved it away to examine A.J. for any other
injuries. A small red puncture mark was clearly visible on his
right arm, and for a brief moment, Rick leaned his head against his
brother's bare chest.
"I'm so sorry, A.J.," he whispered to his unconscious brother, his
hands gripping A.J.'s shoulders firmly for a moment before releasing
him. "I'm sorry."
Rick reached for the phone.
Part 3 - Fever
Rick held A.J.'s hand all the way to the hospital, although he doubted
that his brother was even aware of his presence. Rick gave the
paramedics all the information that he had, which he knew wasn't very
much. When they arrived at the hospital, Rick phoned his mother
and asked her to come to the hospital and bring him a change of
clothes. He explained only as much as he felt was necessary,
knowing that his mother was going to have more than enough to deal with
during the next 24 hours–no matter what happened.
"Say what?" Town asked in disbelief. He and Rick were standing on
the roof of the San Diego General Hospital.
"I said someone's put out a contract on your life," Rick
repeated. "The same guy that poisoned A.J.."
"How do you know this?" Town questioned, leaning against the gray
"‘Cause I talked to the guy," Rick said, lighting a cigar and blowing
out a large puff of smoke. "He gave me a choice–kill you or A.J.
Town looked stunned. "You're kidding, right?" But Town knew
immediately that Rick wasn't joking. "And what do the doctors
Rick sighed heavily. "They say the poison's not anything
standard, and they're not sure how to treat it. They're running
tests, but A.J.'s best chance is the antidote, which apparently only
Mr. Lab Coat can provide."
"Did he tell you how to contact him?" Town said.
"Nope, said he'd know when the deed was done and he'd be in touch."
"Then you're probably bugged," Town mouthed quietly.
"Already changed my clothes and went through them. Nothing
there. I'm betting the trace's on the truck, and probably the
Camaro too. They knew I was at home when they called."
"So we've got to get to him–and the antidote–"
"Before A.J.'s time runs out," Rick finished. "The guy said he
was a chemist, one of the best, and he had three suits with him, hired
muscle probably, but they knew what they were doing."
Town wrinkled his brows in thought. "A chemist. Tall?
Blond?" Rick looked at Town and started to nod. "Gravelly
voice and Coke-bottle lenses?"
"You know him?" Rick said hopefully.
"Yeah," Town said. "That one wasn't easy to forget. I'll
give you the quick version on the way to headquarters."
"So, basically what you're saying, Town, is that the guy's nuts.
A total fruit loop," Rick said, as they pulled into the parking lot of
the San Diego Police Department.
"Pretty much. But Dr. Griffin LeBarge is not your average
psychopath. I mean, he poisoned the entire executive staff at
PharmaLife Industries simply because they had delayed production of his
latest wonder drug. The
man's brilliant, but he's definitely a few bricks short of a load."
"Did they all die?" Rick asked, an image of A.J., pale and unconscious,
involuntarily springing to mind.
"No," Town said. "Fortunately, nobody died, which is why he ended
up serving a short sentence. One of his assistants found the
antidote for us, but LeBarge was livid. We hauled him off still
screaming about betrayal and revenge."
"So why isn't he going after that guy instead of you?" Rick
asked, as they made their way through the crowd of people that
surrounded the front desk of the Homicide division. Town led the
way into his office and closed the door behind Rick, gesturing for him
to sit down. Town sat on the edge of the desk.
"The assistant's already dead. It happened about a year ago while
LeBarge was still in prison, so we couldn't exactly pin it on him."
"Poison?" Rick asked.
Town shook his head. "A single shot from a sniper rifle. We
never caught anyone for it, but I'm positive LeBarge arranged it."
"That still doesn't explain why he wants to kill you," Rick said.
"Well, it was an undercover op; I was on loan to vice at the
time. In fact, it had nothing to do with LeBarge in the
beginning. The company'd been pegged as a major supplier of some
fairly unusual synthetic drugs that were filtering onto the
streets. I went in as a janitor, cleaning the lab and such,
trying to get a feel for who worked in the lab, who had access to
chemicals, who had the brains to run that kind of operation. I
think LeBarge trusted me because I was just a janitor, not smart enough
understand his research or his plans, so he talked about
everything. How his work was undervalued, how no one appreciated
him, you get the idea," Town said.
"So was he involved?"
"No, it was the research assistant, Jonathon Tandy.
Unfortunately, we caught on to him at about the same time that
LeBarge's funding was cut on his major project. The good doctor's
response was to give everyone at the weekly board meeting a little
something extra with their coffee. He thought a demonstration of
his research would help to convince them of its value."
"Good thinking," Rick said, shaking his head.
"Yeah, except the board wasn't too keen on being poisoned to make a
point, and when the CEO demanded that LeBarge produce the antidote, he
refused. He wanted more research funding and a patent agreement,
if you can believe it. Tandy came up with the antidote for us,
and for that he got a walk on the drug charges. Lebarge went to
prison for attempted murder. I was the arresting officer. I
was also the one he'd confided in about his research, and I think more
than anything, he took that as a personal betrayal."
"How long's he been out?" Rick asked.
"Not long," Town responded, opening a file on his desk.
"Apparently just long enough to figure out what kind of personal
betrayal would be the most fitting."
Rick's face turned red and he looked away from Town.
"Come on, Rick, I didn't mean anything. I'm just saying that
LeBarge did his homework. He knows we're friends. He also
knows you'd do anything for your brother. He wanted someone whose
betrayal would hurt me the most; the only other choice would have been
one of my officers, and we can't rule that out either. He's
probably got a back-up plan in the works."
"So, what do we do?"
"We find him and the antidote," Town said.
"What about staging a shooting, like we did with *** when there was a
leak in the department?" Rick asked.
"Too risky, and I don't think LeBarge would buy it. He knows
you're going to come to me and try to swing a deal of some kind.
He'll be looking for something that's staged."
Town gave Rick a reassuring pat on the leg. "Hey, don't give
up. We'll find a way to help A.J., even if you have to shoot me
to do it," Town said with a grin.
Rick looked up at him with a serious expression.
"I was kidding about the shooting, Rick. Jeez. Go back to
the hospital and check on A.J.. I'll do some digging and see if I can
a last known whereabouts on LeBarge. I'll come by the hospital
I've got something, okay?"
"Okay," Rick said, and headed for the door. Part of him was
dreading going back to the hospital, but at the same time, he knew he
couldn't be much help to Town at this point.
"Uh, Town?" Rick said, sticking his head back in Town's open
door. Town looked up.
"My truck's still at A.J.'s. Do y'suppose someone could..."
"Nixon!" Town shouted.
Part 4 - Delirium
Cecelia Simon sat by her youngest son's bedside, holding his limp hand
and praying. The doctors had already told her that there was very
little they could do unless they could determine the exact composition
of the poison, and by the time that happened it would likely be too
late to do anything
for A.J.. Still, they had assured her, they would do their
A tall, fair-haired man in a long white lab coat stopped in briefly to
check A.J.'s breathing, made a note on a clipboard and turned to go
after giving A.J.'s pillow a slight adjustment.
"Is there any change, Doctor?" she asked. He stared at her
through his thick lenses, and patted her sympathetically on the
"Don't give up hope, Mrs. Simon," he said in a rough voice, and left
the room quietly. She gripped A.J.'s hand a little tighter.
Hope was the only thing she had left.
Rick used his key to open A.J.'s front door and slipped inside.
Everything was just as they'd left it a few hours ago. He wasn't
what he was looking for exactly, but he had a feeling that LeBarge was
kind of man who didn't like his puppets to have too much play in the
string. Rick sensed he liked to have control of things. He
could have easily had his suits explain the situation to Rick without
revealing himself, but he'd chosen to face him. This was
personal. And Rick suspected that LeBarge knew he had gone
straight to Town, even though he had tried to
keep the meeting low-profile. Somehow, though, Rick had the
feeling that Town knowing about it was all part of LeBarge's
plan. Prey that knows it's being hunted tends to be more
challenging. Rick just wished he had a clearer idea of what the
man wanted; yes, he wanted Town dead, but there was more to it.
Power, control. All the things he hadn't had at PharmaLife.
Maybe this was his ultimate play for power. Whatever the reason,
he held all of their lives in the palm of his hand.
Rick continued to let his eyes play over the room, imagining the
positions of the men, how they had moved, where they had walked.
His eyes caught the spilled beer on the rug, the bottle carelessly
kicked partway under the couch. He had a sudden urge to clean it
up, as if setting that one
small thing right would somehow make up for what had happened today.
"Concentrate," Rick told himself, and continued replaying the scene in
his head. A.J.'s pile of mail was sitting on the counter.
Rick riffled through it quickly: some bills, a postcard from a
vacationing friend, the usual assortment of junk mail. He was
about to toss it back onto the counter when a small white card dropped
to the floor. Rick stooped to pick it up.
He turned it over and read: "Tandy Pharmaceuticals, The Future of
Medicine." Below it was an address and phone number. Rick
reached for the phone.
A little while later, Rick was making his way through the halls of San
Diego General Hospital. He stopped outside Room 416. The
door was slightly ajar and he could see his mother still sitting beside
A.J.'s bed where he'd left her two hours ago. He couldn't help
but notice how frail she looked sitting there–how frail they both
looked. The steady beeping of the heart and blood pressure
monitors seemed to mark the passing of time, and with every beep Rick
felt seconds slipping away. Even with the info he'd just gotten
to Town, would they be able to get the antidote in time? He
honestly didn't know. With a sigh, he put any thoughts of failure
from his mind and stepped into the room.
"Hi, Mom," Rick said, as his mother stood up to greet him, wrapping her
arms around his waist and squeezing him tightly.
"Oh, Rick," she said, and Rick could tell she was on the verge of
tears. "Any news?" she asked hopefully.
"Town's checking some leads. He's going to come get me in a
little while and we're going to find the guy who did this." Rick
let his mother return to her seat, as he crossed around to the opposite
side of the bed. A.J. was stirring in his sleep, his face flushed
and covered with sweat. Rick reached out a hand and gently laid
it on his brother's forehead. A.J.'s skin was burning up.
"They've given him something to help control the fever," Cecelia said,
"but they said there's not much they can do. He's just started
getting more restless within the last ten minutes or so. Before
that he hardly moved at all."
They both strained to hear as A.J. began muttering in his sleep.
At first it was an incoherent jumble of sounds, but slowly they could
make out a few words, the most prominent of all being "Rick."
Rick leaned closer to A.J. and put his hand on his arm. "I'm
right here, kid. It's Rick. Mom and I are right here."
A.J. continued to mumble in his sleep, giving no indication that he had
heard what Rick said, or even that he was aware of the presence of his
family in the room.
"Delirium," Rick said, breathing out slowly.
"What?" his mother asked.
"The guy who did this–Griffin LeBarge–he said that after the fever
would come delirium. Then he'd get real clear about things,
almost as if there was nothing wrong, and then–" Rick broke off
suddenly, not wanting to
upset his mother.
"Then what, Rick? Tell me."
"Mom," Rick began.
"Tell me, Rick. I'm his mother," Cecelia said, her fierce love
for both her sons obvious in her tone.
"Then pain and madness, and then, if we can't find the antidote..."
Rick's voice was shaking as it trailed off. He paused, trying to
detach from the fear he was feeling inside.
"If we can't find the antidote, we'll lose him," his mother finished
for him. A tear slipped from her eyes and trickled down her
face. She dashed it away, looking embarrassed that she had let
Rick see her that way. "Well, that's not going to happen," she
said with renewed determination. "You and Town will come up with
something. I know you will."
For a moment, neither of them said anything. The relentless
beeping and the steady stream of muttering from A.J. filled the silence
around them. Rick and Cecelia, each holding one of A.J.'s hands,
each uttered a silent prayer. They were still in that position when Lt.
Brown entered the room a half hour later.
A.J. felt as if he were wrapped in layers of white cotton. He
knew his limbs shouldn't feel heavy, yet he couldn't move his body or
even lift his head. He tried to open his eyes, but they seemed to
be glued in place. His muscles were stiff and aching, but he
couldn't seem to will them to move. And he was so unbearably
warm. If he could just toss these blankets aside, maybe he could
breathe more easily. In
his mind, he struggled to free himself, but nothing he did seemed to
A.J. thought he could hear voices–very faint, as if they were coming
from a long distance away. He strained to listen more carefully,
but the steady flow of language was indistinct, chaotic. The
voice seemed familiar, though, and he desperately wanted to move, to
reach out for that voice. It gave him proof that he wasn't alone
in the world. If only he could open his eyes, maybe he'd know who
it was. Maybe it was Rick. Rick was trying to help him,
trying to get him out of this cotton-shrouded nightmare. A.J.
couldn't understand where he was, but somehow he knew that Rick would
find a way to come and get him. He just had to hang on.
But then, A.J. had another thought. Hadn't Rick yelled at
him? He strained to brush the gauzy-cobwebs from his mind and
bring his thoughts into focus. Yes, Rick had been angry at him,
although he couldn't remember why. Something about salad bowls,
he thought, but that didn't seem
quite right. Rick didn't even like salad. Was it a birthday
present for Mom? He hated not being able to remember.
Maybe if he got some sleep, he'd feel better when he woke up. He
would try. The voice was still there, playing in the background
like a familiar tune. He listened without understanding as the
world slipped behind a curtain of white.
"What did he say?" Town asked, looking over at A.J.. He and
Rick were going through the files that Town had brought. Although
Town had wanted to discuss their next move somewhere else, Cecelia had
insisted that she be included.
"Sounded like ‘salad bowls'," Rick said, flipping through papers
detailing LeBarge's past. "Sometimes he's pretty clear, but
mostly it's jumbled. Sometimes he says my name or Mom's, but I
don't think he really knows we're here."
"Somewhere inside he knows, Rick," Cecelia said. "A.J. knows we'd
never let him go through this alone."
Town looked from mother to son, then over to A.J.. He'd known the
Simon family a long time, and there was no one better in a crisis. He
just hoped to God they could find LeBarge before it was too late.
"Did you check out the company on that card I found?" Rick asked,
setting down the file and rubbing his eyes.
"Yeah," said Town. "Now things get really weird. Tandy
Pharmaceuticals is owned by Jonathon Tandy's family."
"LeBarge's research assistant? The one that's dead?"
"That's the one. His sister, Veronica Tandy, inherited the
company from their father about six months ago. Now, Ms. Tandy is
currently in Europe, but her executive assistant was kind enough to
provide me with some information."
"Such as?" Cecelia asked.
"Well, Kimberly–that's the secretary–let slip that Veronica and her
brother had never been close. Apparently Jonathon's father
disowned him; that's why he was working for the competition rather than
the family business."
"Nice family," said Rick.
"It gets better. Apparently, Ms. Tandy has, shall we say,
expensive tastes? In the last six months, she's been actively
spending the company's profits and is desperate for new
investors. Her jaunt to Europe is to entice support for a new
‘top secret wonder drug' according to Kimberly."
"Kimberly's a regular fountain of information, isn't she?" Rick said
with a pointed look at Town.
"Ms. Tandy had better invest in a new assistant when she gets back, I
think," Cecelia added.
"I suspect Kimberly was told to give us that information," Town
said. "LeBarge left that business card at A.J.'s because he
wanted us to call Tandy Pharmaceuticals."
"But why?" Cecelia asked.
"Because he's playing a game with us, because he wants us to know that
he knows every step we're making," Rick said, "and that he's still two
steps ahead of us."
"Not quite," Town said grinning. "After I got through with
Kimberly, I put in another call to the personnel office. The
business card had the number for Veronica Tandy's direct line on it, so
I wanted to see what would happen if we took a different route."
"Good thinking," Rick said.
"Well, personnel told me that they'd recently hired a new chemist who
had revolutionized their pharmaceutical line."
"LeBarge?" Rick said incredulously. Could the man really be
so bold as to go to work for the sister of the man he'd had killed?
"That's what I thought too, but no. It turns out the new hotshot
on the block is Dr. Alice Penner," Town said.
"I've seen that name somewhere before," Rick said, flipping through the
pages in front of him.
"Yup, she was another one of LeBarge's research assistants at
PharmaLife," Town said.
"I don't see the connection," Cecelia said, patting A.J.'s arm quietly
as he continued to toss and turn.
"Well, there might not be one, but it is a strange coincidence.
However, the real news is that they also had a high-turnover in their
just recently. They had a freak accident–a chemical fire–and
of their employees decided the job wasn't worth it. They hired
men and one woman to replace them."
"Get to the point, Town," Rick said with growing frustration. "We
don't exactly have a lot of time to figure this out."
"OK, one of the men they hired was Leopold Griffin," Town said
"Who's Leopold Griffin?" Cecelia asked. She stood up and poured
herself a glass of water from the jug on the bedside stand.
"Griffin Lebarge, Leopold Griffin–it's too close to be a coincidence,"
Rick said, catching Town's line of thought. "Do you have the
address for the warehouse?"
Town held out a piece of paper with an address written on it.
"He's going to be expecting us to look for him at the lab or the main
offices. I don't think he's going to expect us to drop in on him
at work. His shift starts at midnight," Town said.
"We're going to get him," Rick said with more confidence than he'd felt
all day. "I'm going to take Mr. Tall, Blond and Bug-Eyed and feed
his little white lab coat to him piece by piece."
Rick and Town both turned at the sound of a plastic tumbler hitting the
floor. Cecelia let out a small cry as she looked at them with
Rick was at her side in an instant, his hands on her arms, bending down
to look into her eyes. "Mom? What is it?"
"Tall? Blond? Thick glasses? A lab coat?"
Cecelia said, her voice catching with each descriptor. Rick
"He was here, Rick. I thought he was a doctor. He checked
A.J.'s breathing and told me not to give up hope. He patted me on
the shoulder before he left," Cecelia said, shaking her left shoulder
if trying to shake off the memory of the man's touch.
"There are lots of tall, blond doctors–" Town began, but Rick cut him
"A deep voice with a rattle in it?" Rick's eyes were locked with his
mother's. She nodded, and he pulled her to him in a hug.
The bastard had been in this very room with his mother, with
A.J.. He'd laid a hand on them both, and there was nothing Rick
could've done to stop him. As he
held his mother, who was now sobbing against his chest, he vowed that
the night was through, Griffin Lebarge would pay for what he'd done to
family. Rick would make sure of it, if it was the last thing he
Part 5 - Euphoria
"Just calm down, Rick," Town said, as they left the hospital. The
sun had already set when they climbed into the Power Wagon and headed
for A.J.'s house.
"Nixon and Murphy will make sure that no one gets into that room
without proper I.D.." Town tried to sound reassuring.
"I just can't believe that bastard was there," Rick said slamming his
hand on the steering wheel.
"We're going to get him. We've got the element of surprise
working for us. He probably figures he doesn't have to worry
about us til Tandy reopens in the morning, or at the very least, he'll
think we spent tonight going through their records. He knows he's
safe til the end of his
"There's something else that keeps going through my head," Rick said
quietly, following the dark curve of the highway along the ocean
"What if there's no antidote?" Rick said, glancing across at
Town. "I mean, what if there's no way to win this game?
What if LeBarge never had any intention of saving A.J., even if I did
what he wanted?"
"There's no way to know for sure," Town replied. "But Lebarge is
nuts, he's not stupid. I don't think anyone who messes with
poison would neglect to make an antidote–just in case."
Rick didn't reply, and Town grasped his shoulder lightly. "Hey,
it'll be okay, man," Town said. He looked at Rick's face and
there was more going on than just worry. "Something else is
you. Spill it."
Rick took the last turnoff to A.J.'s. "We had a fight," he
said. Town sat quietly in the dark, waiting for Rick to go on
with the story. "It was a stupid fight. I bought something–"
"Surplus Sammy's or Death From Above?" Town interjected before he
realized he would've been better to keep his mouth shut.
"That's not important. Anyway, I yelled at him, told him he
couldn't tell me what to do, and I stormed out." Rick's voice got
quieter. "Next time I saw him, Town, he was tied up and
drugged. He hasn't been conscious since, and he might not even
come outta this. And the last things I said to him. . .well, it
wasn't one of my finer moments."
"You and A.J. fight. It's what you do. Some of the time
it's even moderately entertaining. Everyone who knows you knows
that you don't mean a word of it most of the time."
"This wasn't one of those times," Rick said.
"Even so, you're brothers. Brothers fight. Not only that
you're partners and you're friends. I've never known two people
who were closer than the two of you; A.J. knows how you feel, even if
you're acting like
a big jerk."
Catching a less than friendly look from Rick, Town hastened to
continue: "And you still love him when he's acting like a big
jerk. After we get the antidote, you can both apologize, okay?"
By this time, they had reached A.J.'s driveway. Rick turned off
the truck, but made no move to get out. Town waited; Rick was
feeling guilty and Town suspected there was at least one more
confession Rick had to get off his chest before they could move forward
with their plan.
"There was a moment when I considered it, you know?" Rick said
softly. The words seemed to hang in the air between them like a
"You don't owe me any explanations, Rick."
"He's my little brother, Town. He's the most important person in
the world to me. If I lost him–"
"That's not going to happen."
"I would do anything to save him. Anything. If LeBarge'd
asked for my life in exchange, it would've been an easy choice."
"I know. And A.J.'d do the same. But guilt's not going to
do any of us any good tonight, Rick. Let's just get it done."
Town gave Rick another pat on the shoulder, thanking his lucky stars
not for the first time that Rick Simon considered him a good
friend. If it had been someone else that LeBarge had asked Rick
to kill in order to save his brother's life, Town was almost certain
that person wouldn't still be walking around or breathing.
They hopped out of the truck and did a quick sweep of the perimeter
before entering the house. Seeing nothing had been disturbed, the
two men lowered their guns, flipped on the lights, and Town placed a
black duffle bag on the kitchen counter.
"What's that?" Rick asked indicating the duffle as he headed for the
locked gun cabinet that formed part of the bookshelves in A.J.'s living
"A little insurance," Town said with a smile, lightly patting the bulky
bag, and for the first time all day, Rick actually felt like grinning
Cecelia was dreaming. She was running down a long corridor with
doors on all sides. She didn't stop to try the doors; she knew
would be locked. A man in a white lab coat and Coke-bottle lenses
was sitting in a chair at the end of the hallway. As she
she could see he was writing on a clipboard and pointing to an enormous
clock on the wall. Beneath the clock, a small blond boy was
on a chair, swinging his feet and humming to himself. Cecelia
quite make out the tune, but it was both sad and sweet, and it filled
with a sense of longing for things long gone. Her parents.
Jack. Things she hadn't thought of in years. Cecelia stopped and
tried to make out
the time on the clock, but the hands were spinning so rapidly, she
"Make it stop," she cried out to the tall, blond man, who only shook
his head and smiled.
"Don't give up hope, Mrs. Simon," the man said politely. "You
still have one son left."
He pointed to a door that had opened to her left. Cecelia looked
through it and saw Rick frantically searching a room that was lined
with white shelves. On the shelves were thousands of bottles of
all shapes and sizes, each filled with a different liquid, each with a
different label. As Rick discarded each bottle, it would break on
the floor at his feet. A pile of glass and multicoloured liquid
was forming around him, but he didn't
seem to notice. Finally, he seized a bottle that was shaped like
miniature cowboy hat and filled with amber liquid. The label
"Drink Me." As Cecelia watched in horror, Rick opened the bottle
drank. The floor turned dark red and when she looked down, Rick
lying in a pool of blood and broken glass.
She tried to scream, but something stopped her. The little boy
that had been sitting under the clock was suddenly standing beside
her. He reached for her hand and she saw that his eyes were the
clear blue of cornflowers.
He smiled and said, "Mom? It's okay. It's A.J.." She
his grip tighten on her hand, and it was so warm and so strong, she
to believe it was real.
She heard his voice again, but this time the little boy's voice sounded
much deeper and farther away. With a start, she awoke. The hand
that was grasping hers was A.J.'s.
"Hey, Mom, it's okay. I didn't mean to scare you," A.J. said,
cornflower-blue eyes looking at her with concern. Before he could
say anything else, she had flung her arms around her youngest and held
him tightly. When she finally let go, A.J. looked at her.
"I know this is going to sound a little strange," he said, "but what am
I doing in the hospital?"
Rick and Town arrived at the Tandy Pharmaceuticals warehouse just after
midnight. They had decided to wait until after the shift change
just in case LeBarge was watching for them, although Town was positive
he wouldn't be expecting them.
"No security guards and no dogs," Rick whispered triumphantly after
returning from a recon around the exterior of the warehouse.
"Two exits, the secondary exit is poorly lit. One skylight
accessible from the fire escape. That might be our best option
given that it opens into a loft storage area that doesn't look like it
gets much use."
"OK, let's do it. Whatever happens, Town, we've got to get that
antidote before we take LeBarge to the police," Rick said.
"I am the police!"
"You know what I mean. Get moving," Rick said as he followed Town
up the fire escape to the roof of the warehouse.
If his room hadn't been on the fourth floor, A.J. would have long since
woven his sheets together and escaped out the window. For what
seemed like hours, he had sat impatiently as a steady stream of doctors
and nurses had poked and prodded, measured and felt, drawn blood and
other bodily fluids. If one more person asked him how he felt, he
swore there was going to be bloodshed.
His mother stuck her head in the door. "A.J.? How are you
feeling?" she asked.
A.J. smiled and held his tongue. "I'm fine, Mom. I'm still
not sure what all the fuss was about. I feel great now," he said
swinging his legs over the side of the bed, grateful some nurse had
seen fit to leave him a pair of pale-blue pajama bottoms to change into.
"You stay right where you are, young man," Cecelia said before A.J.'s
feet could touch the ground. "This is still a very serious
and you are not to move one foot out of that bed. Understood?"
It never failed to amaze A.J. how formidable their five foot three inch
mother seemed when she wanted to be. "Yes, ma'am," he said, still
sitting sideways on the bed, but not venturing to let his feet touch
floor. For a moment, Cecelia remembered her dream with the little
blond boy swinging his legs back and forth. She hastened to hide
smile as she watched her grown son do the same thing.
"A.J., honey, I told you everything that Rick told me." Well,
almost everything, she corrected mentally. She'd withheld where
Rick and Town had gone and the information about Griffin LeBarge and
Leopold Griffin being the same man. She didn't want to worry
about A.J. running off half-cocked to that warehouse to try to help his
"LeBarge said that there would be a period of time when you would feel
really good, and then–" Cecelia broke off, unsure of how to continue.
"Let's not worry about that for now," A.J. said gently. "And
where's Rick? I need to talk to him."
"He's with Town," Cecelia said evasively.
"You already said that. That doesn't tell me where he is," he
pointed out. He knew she was worried, that she'd just sat at his
bedside for eight solid hours, that without an antidote to whatever
poison was coursing through his system, he'd probably be dead before
the sun set. Still, at this moment in time, he felt fine, better
than fine, and he'd be damned if he was going to spend what might be
his last day stuck in a hospital bed while his brother and one of his
best friends risked their lives for his.
"Are you hungry?" Cecelia asked in an effort to divert A.J.'s attention
from Rick's absence.
He was about to say no, when a thought struck him. "That would be
great, Mom. Why don't you get something for yourself too?"
"I can just send Nixon down for something," Cecelia said, starting for
"No, Mom, you need a break. Why don't you take Murphy with you to
help carry the trays; I'm really starving. Nixon will be right
outside." A.J. flashed her his best smile. "Besides, I
don't have any real pants and I'm on the fourth floor. I can't
exactly scoot out the window, can I?" A.J. stood up and gave his
mother a hug.
"Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to stretch my legs for a few minutes,"
Cecelia said heading towards the door. "But I won't be long and
I'm leaving Nixon with instructions to shoot if you so much as stick
your nose outside this door."
As soon as the door swung shut behind her, A.J. moved to the
closet. He opened the door, once again grateful for his mother's
efficiency. The clothes that Rick had changed out of when he was
checking for bugs were hung neatly in the closet beside his own grey
"A little long," A.J. said to himself, "but they'll do." He
slipped off the hospital pants and slipped into Rick's faded blue jeans
and denim shirt. His brother's dark green field jacket was also
hanging in the closet. As A.J. slipped it over his shoulders, he
caught a faint whiff of Old Spice. A.J. smiled. There was
something comforting about the familiar smell and the slightly too-long
jacket and pants. For a moment, A.J. remembered being a boy and
wondering when he would ever be able to fill Rick's shoes.
"Guess I've still got some catching up to do, big brother," A.J. said,
folding a neat cuff at the bottom of each leg. "And speaking of
shoes..." A.J. looked down at his bare feet and then back into the
empty closet. Somehow one-size-fits-all hospital slippers didn't
seem like the best choice for a speedy escape.
"You could've at least left me a gun, Rick," A.J. said, still carrying
on his one-sided conversation as he finished tucking in the soft denim
shirt and fastened the large clasp on the belt. "Well, at least
I've got this in a pinch," A.J. said patting the brass buckle
lightly. Rick's hidden knife had gotten them out of more than one
tight situation. A.J.
retrieved a small white business card that he'd found tucked beneath
pillow when he'd awakened, and looked at it again.
"Well, at least I know where I'm going," he thought, slipping the card
into the pocket of Rick's jacket.
A.J. edged over to the door and chanced a quick glance through the
glass. He could see Nixon leaning to the left of the door, but
Murphy was nowhere in sight. He hoped his mother had taken his
advice to have Murphy help her bring back the food.
It was now or never. A.J. waited til Nixon appeared to be looking
down the hall to the left, then opened the door quickly, grabbing Nixon
by the belt and pulling him sideways into the room. With more
than was probably necessary, A.J. pushed Nixon up against the inside
and whispered, "I'm really sorry about this Nixon, but I need your
and your gun." With his left hand holding Nixon in place, A.J.
with his right for the police officer's sidearm which he transferred to
pocket of the jacket. He also unhooked the badge that Nixon had
to the front of his shirt and relieved him of his extra ammunition clip.
"Your shoes, Nixon. Now."
"Ah, A.J., your Mom's gonna kill me, not to mention what Brown's gonna
do when he finds out," Nixon complained, but slipped off his brown
loafers and kicked them aside.
"I know where Town and Rick are. Tell her everything will be
fine. I have to do this, Nixon," A.J. said, releasing his grip on
him. "Just give me five minutes." A.J. gathered up the
shoes and ran, leaving Nixon wondering if he could convince Cecelia
that A.J. had knocked him out before taking his gun, his badge and his
shoes. He sat down glumly and
waited for all hell to break loose.
A.J. managed to make it to the stairwell with only a few puzzled
looks. He'd neatly avoided the main nurses' station, and there
were very few people roaming around at midnight. Once he made it
to the ground floor, he paused for a moment to slip on Nixon's shoes,
lacing them tightly to keep them from slipping off his bare feet.
Then he walked casually out the front door and motioned to one of the
A dark blue sedan rolled forward and A.J. hopped into the back.
A cheerful black man greeted him as he clicked the meter to the ‘On'
"Where can I take you, man?" he said with a light Jamaican accent.
A.J. pulled out Nixon's badge and flashed it at the man. "I need
to go to this address immediately," A.J. said handing the man the
business card with his free hand.
"Police business?" the man asked as he pulled away from the hospital,
his grin filling the rearview mirror so that A.J. had the impression
were being followed by a set of giant teeth.
"Uh, yes," A.J. stammered. Maybe this was going to be easier than
he thought. A.J. didn't actually have any money on him–his mom
taken his wallet for safekeeping. If he could convince the cabbie
charge the police department, all the better.
"I do believe this place will be closed at night, officer, if you don't
mind me saying so."
"I have reason to believe it will be open. Part of an undercover
operation, you see," A.J. said, watching the night slide by. He
tried to keep his answers brusque, to the point. He was, after
all, a highly-trained member of the S.D.P.D..
"And how long have you been an undercover officer, if you don't mind me
askin'?" the cabbie asked. His tone was friendly, but
persistent. A.J. guessed he was the kind of cab driver who could
extract your life story from you on a drive to the airport.
"‘Bout five years," A.J. said, as if midnight rides to unfamiliar
places were part of his regular routine.
"And did they never teach you to remove the little band that the
hospital puts around your wrist?" the man continued in the same
A.J.'s face turned scarlet as he looked down at his left wrist, the
hand he'd used to pass the cabbie the business card. A clear
plastic band containing his name and all his information was fastened
to his wrist like one half of a pair of handcuffs.
"It's really important that I get to that address," A.J. said slowly.
"Aye, I figured that out on me own. It's a little ways, so why
don't ya just settle back and relax. Nervous men with guns make
me nervous too."
A.J. looked at the cabbie in amazement. "You knew I had a
gun? Why did you–"
"Why'd I pick you up? I figger any man runnin' from the hospital
at midnight with a gun has got some powerful business to tend to.
you look like a decent sort. Figger you might need some help
gettin' where you're goin'."
A.J. settled back against the smooth upholstery, breathing in the faint
smell of cigarettes and pine air freshener. "Thank you," A.J.
and he meant it. For the first time since he'd woken up in the
hospital, he felt the stir of hope.
"What's your name, man?" the cabbie asked.
"A.J., A.J. Simon." He didn't see any point in lying to the man.
"And what does the A.J. stand for?"
A.J. gave a little laugh. "Would you believe Andrew Jackson?"
"Your folks was patriotic. Well, man, you're talking to Abraham
Lincoln Brown, but you can call me Al." For a moment, A.J.
if he had just imagined leaving the hospital and if he were really
trapped in his own mind.
"You're not by any chance related to M.P, I mean Marcel Proust Brown,
are you? He's a police officer." A.J. asked. He knew Town's
family was huge.
"Not directly. I think he's one of the San Diego Browns.
I'm one of the Jamaica Browns. They call me ‘On the Town'
Brown." The man gave a hearty laugh. "If you're friends
with one of the Browns, you're friends with all of the Browns. I
knew there was something I liked about you, man. Well, here we
are: Tandy Pharmaceuticals."
Part 6 - Pain
The gleaming glass monstrosity in front of A.J. looked like nothing so
much as a collection of crystals that had been thrust violently upwards
the earth. An intimidating construction of glass and steel, it
into the sky like a sword.
"Man's greatest monument to himself," A.J. said quietly as he got out
of the cab, waving off Brown's offer to wait for him. He'd dated
drama student in college who used to call this building "the phallic
palace." Every time they'd drive by it, she'd say: "Is this a
dagger which I see before me?," and burst into a fit of giggles
watching A.J.'s face turn redder than a tropical sunset.
A.J. hurried up the granite steps of the building, not sure how long
his energy was going to last or even what he hoped to find. He'd
seen no sign of Rick's truck or anything that looked like an undercover
that didn't mean anything. He was sure they would be here
somewhere–why else would the business card have been tucked under his
pillow? Rick would have known that their mom wouldn't let him
leave the hospital, even to help Rick, so clearly Rick had left him a
clue to follow. They had done the same thing when they were kids
and needed the other person to provide them with an alibi. Of
course, their parents had eventually caught on, but still, the card
under the pillow was a classic Simon brothers' manoeuvre.
A.J. withdrew the business card from his pocket and looked at it again
in the bright glow of the flourescent bulbs that illuminated the front
of the building. Even at this hour, A.J. could see people moving
through the floors of the building, much like tiny ants in the
see-through world of an ant farm. Science never slept,
apparently. Well, he certainly hoped that Dr. Alice Penner, Lab
849-B, wasn't sleeping tonight. Hers was the name on the card he
was holding, and at the moment, she was his only lead.
"Would you get off me?" an irritated Town whispered, as he gave Rick a
shove. The climb down through the skylight had been less than
graceful and more than a little noisy.
"I thought you'd done this before," Town growled as he and Rick
"I have! Usually my partner is a short blond who knows enough to
get out of the way once he's through the skylight," Rick replied with
equal hostility. They were standing in a disused storage loft
that overlooked the main warehouse area. The area was dimly lit
and the outline of several empty boxes and crates cast lengthy shadows
on the walls around them.
Both men checked and re-checked their equipment before making their way
to the edge that looked down into the warehouse proper. For a
the two men, both dressed in black, Rick's face smudged with the burnt
camouflage that had been second nature to him in Vietnam, stood and
The building was silent except for the occasional fluttering of
pigeons in the upper rafters, and the rhythmic hiss and wheeze from the
and other mechanical equipment.
"It's awfully quiet," Town said.
"Too quiet," Rick replied.
"Will you stop that!?" Town said, hitting Rick in the arm. "This
ain't no Mickey Spillane novel. There's supposed to be at least
three people working down there. Where the hell are they?"
whisper sounded loud in the empty loft, and Rick felt a chill crawl
down his spine.
"We've been set up," Rick said in his regular tone. There was no
need for stealth or secrecy now, nor was it likely there had been the
need for them since they'd arrived. LeBarge was here, and he was
waiting for them. Worse, he'd been expecting them. Rick
hated the feeling of being led by the nose, the feeling of being
predictable. If there was anything he'd fought against in his
life, it was being predictable.
"We've been set up," he said more loudly, Town looking at him as if
he'd suddenly lost his mind.
Town was pulling at his arm, begging him with his eyes to get a grip,
although he'd been a cop too long not to realize that Rick was
This had all been too easy, too neat. Deep in his gut, Town felt
sliver of fear stab at him. They had grossly underestimated
A.J. swung the large glass door open and strode purposefully across the
lobby of Tandy Pharmaceuticals. The security guard at the main
desk glanced up as A.J. approached.
"I'm afraid the building's not open to the public now, sir.
You'll have to come back tomorrow." The guard's manner was
polite, but firm. He had a trace of a Southern accent that A.J.
couldn't quite place.
A.J. smiled, hoping that he looked sincere. This time he made
sure to keep the sleeves on Rick's field jacket pulled down as far as
they could go. He didn't need the guard to see the plastic tag
from the hospital and assume he was some escapee from the mental ward.
"I know. I work here. Just started." A.J. tried to
appear young and zealous and a lot more naive than he felt.
"Is that so?" the guard said suspiciously. "Where's your I.D.?"
"I left it in the lab," A.J. said trying to look sheepish. "I
know they told me not to take it off, but there was a risk that the
hydro-chloric solution might contact the plastic and destabilise the
"And ya forgot to put it back on, right?" The guard smiled.
"Ya guys get so wrapped up in your experiments, don'tcha? I'm
surprised ya took the time to go home and get somethin' to eat."
"Man cannot live by science alone," A.J. said.
"Why didn'tcha just order in? That's what most of ‘em do."
"My mom was expecting me," A.J. said looking down at his
slightly-too-large loafers, trying to look like the kind of guy who
probably still lived with his mother.
"Why didn'tcha just wait and pick up the badge in the mornin'?"
A.J. wished the man wouldn't ask so many questions. "There are so
many people around in the morning," A.J. said, "and I didn't want
everyone to find out I messed up in my first week." The guard
nodded in a knowing way, and A.J. knew the con had worked.
"Well, ya'll know for next time. Who ya workin' for?" the guard
said, continuing to glance occasionally at the monitors in front of him.
"Dr. Penner," A.J. said.
The guard let out a low whistle. "Working with the Dragon Lady,
huh? What's that like?"
"It's only been a week," A.J. said, not sure that he liked the sound of
"Well, I'd better not keep ya here. Her highness might get mad if
she's kept waiting. I'm surprised she let'ya out at all.
Just sign here," the guard said, thrusting a clipboard towards
handed him a key card. "Make sure ya don't forget your badge
Mr...." the guard turned the clipboard around to read A.J.'s
A.J. took the key card that was offered, gave a quick salute, and said:
"No, sir, I won't," as he walked towards the elevators. As the
shimmering steel doors closed, he breathed a deep sigh of relief, slid
the key card into the slot beside the door, and pressed the button for
the eighth floor.
Rick would have laughed hysterically aside from the fact there was
absolutely nothing funny about their predicament. He had a
tendency to laugh at the worst possible times–it had earned him more
than one detention during his school years and groundings too numerous
to count. Other people always thought he was "failing to take
things seriously" when he laughed; Rick knew, though, that sometimes
laughter was the only response when you realized you were totally and
Rick moved closer to the edge of the storage area and looked down at
the empty warehouse floor. Nothing moved.
"LeBarge," Rick called. "Or should I say Leopold? Or maybe
"Really, Mr. Simon, we're not exactly on a first name basis." The
voice was louder than Rick had expected it to be, nearer too.
Still, he couldn't pinpoint its exact location.
"Why not? You asked me to kill a friend of mine, you poisoned my
brother. You seem to have taken a pretty personal interest in my
"I have no interest in your life whatsoever, Mr. Simon. You have
so far failed to keep your end of the bargain. I can only hope
that your bringing Lt. Brown here was part of your clever plan to lure
him into complacency so you could deliver the fatal blow." Again,
the gravelly voice seemed to emanate from all around them. The
structure of the warehouse was making it difficult to tell exactly
where LeBarge was hiding.
Town approached the edge, but Rick waved him back. This was still
a man who wanted Town dead, and Rick was quite sure that he didn't care
who did it or how.
"Listen, Griff," Rick began.
"If you insist on using that ridiculous moniker, Mr. Simon, I will
shoot you where you stand. And don't think I'm not capable of
such a thing. Lt. Brown knows perfectly well. I might not
exactly pull the trigger myself, but I certainly know where to find
people who can. After graduate school, prison was certainly the
biggest learning experience of my life. Yes, a man learns a great
deal in prison." As if to punctuate his point, a shot rang off
the edge of the loft less than a foot from Rick's hand. He pulled
back in alarm.
"You may address me as Dr. Lebarge, Mr. Simon. We are all
civilized men here," LeBarge continued, as if the shot in the dark had
been nothing more than the annoying sting of a stray insect.
"Surely we can come to some agreement. You have five minutes,
gentlemen, to remove your weapons and to exit the loft area via the
back stairs. My men will help you to remember where you've stored
any additional weapons, but it would be best if you removed them
yourself. They're not always the most gentle of creatures."
Rick and Town looked at each other. They had known it might come
to this, but somehow they had expected to get further, accomplish more,
before this moment of surrender.
"And, please, Mr. Simon, don't even think about trying to shoot your
way out of this. I do so detest bloodshed, but I'm not
above it and I assure you there is no way out. Now is not the
time to fulfill your childhood fantasies of Butch and Sundance going
out in a blaze of glory."
Town and Rick looked at each other. Town clapped Rick briefly on
the back, and a faint smile crossed his face as he started to undo his
shoulder holster: "Which one of us does he think is Sundance?"
A.J. stepped out of the elevator into the deserted corridor of the
eighth floor. He could hear the faint whirr of a vacuum from
somewhere down the hallway, as well as a steady bass beat that seemed
to have permeated the floors and the walls. He couldn't hear any
music, but the beat was
enough to cause a slight vibration in the floor. A.J. could only
that the cleaning staff had pumped up the volume to be heard over the
He wound his way down the hallway, following the numbers until he
arrived at 849 A and B. The areas appeared to be identical labs
across the hallway from one another. While 849-A was cast in
semi-darkness, 849-B was a flourescent nightmare. Every light in
the place appeared to be on, and as A.J. peered through the wall of
windows, he knew without a doubt that the steady bass beat originated
in this lab. If he'd pressed his hand to the glass, he was
certain he would feel it reverberating with the relentless thump of a
heavy metal musical orgy. A young woman with bright
pink spiked hair and a matching tank top was slowly spinning herself
on a lab stool and haphazardly attempting to insert a limp piece of
into her mouth at the same time. A.J. banged on the door as
The young woman, startled by the knock, stopped spinning and promptly
fell off her stool and disappeared from view. A.J. waited.
a moment, he could see pink spikes emerging over the rim of the lab
just like the first rays of a spectacular sunrise. The hair was
by a small, heart-shaped face, but it was the eyes that caught A.J.'s
attention immediately. If looks could kill, he would've been dead
where he stood.
The young woman continued to cast wordless daggers in his direction as
she stood up, ripped a cord out of its nearby socket–miraculously the
pounding beat stopped–and walked towards the door with all the timidity
of a ravenous mountain lion. A.J. steeled himself as the door
He was standing face to face–or rather face to hot pink hair–with a
young woman who could have been no more than 27 or 28, by A.J.'s best
guess, and who, even in her clunky leather boots, stood no more than
his mother's height. In spite of this, she seemed to fill up the
doorway in front of him. She was not someone that you'd
immediately describe as good-looking, but with her dark eyes and fair
skin, she was far from unattractive.
"Who the hell are you?" she asked, and her tone meant business.
"And what exactly are you doing interrupting my work at this time of
"Work?" A.J couldn't help it. He'd come too far and taken
too big a risk to be scolded by a girl who looked like a beauty school
dropout. "Is that what you call swinging on a stool and polluting
the air with that garbage you were listening to?"
The young woman raised one eyebrow. A.J. had always wondered how
people seemed to do that so effortlessly. "I suppose you'd prefer
soothing sounds of Barry Manilow? Gee, I didn't bring my albums
work today, pops!" She looked like she was about to slam the door
A.J.'s face when he reached out and gripped the steel edge of the door.
"Look, I don't have time for this. Why don't you run along
somewhere else–I need to talk to your supervisor, Dr. Alice
Penner. Is she here?"
"Oh, my supervisor," the girl said sarcastically. "Why didn't you
say so? Of course, I'll just run along and get her." She
backed away from the door with a slight curtsey–which looked
unbelievably difficult to do in a pair of what appeared to be leather
pants–and waved A.J. into
the lab. "Have a seat," the girl continued, as she moved towards
small office at the back of the room. "I won't be a minute," she
sweetly, and disappeared.
"Well," A.J. said mainly to himself as he looked at the pile of notes
and complex calculations that were spread out over the table.
I can finally get some answers."
"And just exactly what answers are you looking for, mister?" a female
voice said behind him. A.J. turned around and found himself face
face with the business end of a revolver. The young woman with
pink hair looked at him darkly as he raised his arms in a gesture of
"Look, miss, you've got the wrong idea," A.J. said. "I really
need to speak to Dr. Penner. It's an emergency."
"Emergency, my ass," she replied. "You've been talking to her,
bozo. Now tell me why you're here, and it'd better be good or
you're going to have a few more holes in you than when you came
in." She sat down on a
lab stool about six feet away from A.J., never taking her eyes off of
him. "Talk, or I might just shoot you for the hell of it."
Judging from the look on her face, A.J. didn't think this was a threat
he would want to put to the test. He started talking.
Griffin LeBarge stood in the soft light of the warehouse and waited for
his men to bring Rick and Town to him. His white lab coat was
gone, replaced by an only slightly less formal white shirt and blue
striped tie. Clipped neatly to his pocket was his Tandy
Pharmaceuticals badge identifying him to the world as Leopold Griffin.
The warehouse itself was relatively quiet. He'd managed to
convince his fellow workers to take the night off. LeBarge smiled
to himself. Well, they hadn't exactly volunteered to take the
night off, but they were all resting comfortably now, tied up in one of
the storage rooms, and when the drugs wore off they likely wouldn't
even remember what had happened.
LeBarge looked at his watch. It was almost 1:00. If he was
correct–and he was so rarely wrong–all the players should be in place
within the hour. Then the real fun would begin. Then there
would be nothing left except revenge and pain and death.
"A glorious start to the day," LeBarge whispered softly in the
darkness, and a smile stole across his face like the shadow of a storm
"You really expect me to believe that?" Alice Penner was still
holding the gun on A.J.. He had told her everything that he knew,
including his own unimaginable predicament.
"Why would I make up something like that?" A.J. replied.
"Until I woke up in the hospital, I'd never heard of Griffin
LeBarge. I only came to you because someone–I thought it was my
brother–left me a card with your name on it. I thought maybe you
would know something that might help. I guess I was wrong."
A.J. was tired of talking and his head was beginning to ache. He
rubbed his eyes, which felt like they had tiny grains of sand rolling
around their surface. He sighed heavily and looked across at Dr.
was staring at him skeptically.
"You know, you don't look so good," Alice said. "Maybe you're
telling the truth, but there's nothing I can do. Griffin's
insane. If I help you, he'll just kill me too."
"But you must know something. Otherwise, why would I have your
name? You worked with him, you know him. Please, if there's
anything you can do, you have to help me. Please, I'm
desperate." A.J. knew he must sound pathetic, begging this young
woman to help him. Suddenly he couldn't help it. He felt so
afraid. The pounding in his head was worse than the steady beat
of percussion that he'd followed to the lab earlier. The lights
in the laboratory were beginning to shimmer and take on different
shapes. He passed his hand in front of his eyes to try to block
out the glare. For a moment, he could have sworn that his hand
disappeared completely in the glare from the lights. He leaned
forward, trying to get a better look, and promptly slipped off the
stool he'd been sitting on. His hand reached out to grab the edge
of the counter,
but only succeeded in upsetting a file folder and a pile of
fluttered around him like a flock of tiny white birds. Alice
leaped up, still holding the gun on A.J..
"What are you doing? What's wrong with you?" she said.
She'd been trying to figure out how much she could afford to tell him
when all of a sudden the blond guy had just keeled over. He
didn't appear to be able to get up, although he was struggling
to. His arms were flailing about ineffectively and he looked like
he was drunk.
"Is this some kind of trick?" Alice demanded, afraid to give up
the edge of having the gun. A.J. suddenly broke into
laughter and began to roll back and forth on the floor, scattering
everywhere. Alice put the gun down and ran over to him, reaching
feel his pulse. It was fast and erratic. She wasn't a
doctor, but she'd taken enough biology courses to know that something
"Mr. Simon," she said loudly, grabbing A.J. by the shoulders and
shaking him as hard as she could. "A.J.! A.J.!" He
was now gulping for air as the bout of laughter seemed to leave him
breathless and spent. "A.J.!" she yelled, putting her face right
up to his. His eyes seem to focus momentarily.
"Alice?" he said between breaths.
"Okay, I believe you," Alice said, slipping an arm under one of A.J.'s
and helping him get to his feet. "We've got to get you out of
here, get you some help."
"What the hell's happening to me?" A.J. said as he regained his feet
with her help. He leaned against the counter for a moment and
tried to catch his breath. Glassy spots were still dotting the
air in front of his eyes and his head was pounding, but he didn't seem
to be in danger of falling again. At least not for the moment.
"It's Griffin's poison. You're entering the next stage that you
told me about. We've got to get you back to the hospital."
"No–no way," A.J. said. "I have to find my brother. If he
didn't come here, where would he go?"
"A.J., be reasonable," Alice said. "I don't know what to
do. I'm a bio-chemist. I work in a lab all day–"
"–and all night apparently," A.J. added, glad for the moment to have
regained his sense of balance, but certain that this was only the
beginning of what was to come. He noticed the flurry of papers at
his feet and started to gather them up as Alice went on.
"Sometimes, yes," Alice continued. "Griffin was my mentor, my
hero. He was brilliant and totally unafraid of discovery.
He taught me everything I know. I looked up to him, I practically
"You loved him," A.J. said simply, looking over what appeared to be
some kind of order form or invoice for laboratory chemicals.
"No," Alice said, shaking her head. "If he'd been a different
sort of man, I could've loved him. But no, I was afraid of
him. And I still am. Just because science can achieve
something, doesn't mean it should, but Griffin doesn't have any kind of
a moral compass. If he ever found out..." her voice trailed off
as she realized she'd said too much.
"If he ever found out what?" A.J. pressed, his hands full of
paper. "Please, Alice, you're the only hope I've got right now."
A.J.'s clear blue eyes held Alice's dark brown ones for a moment.
Alice looked away and sighed deeply.
"After Griffin went to prison, Jonathon Tandy and I stayed in
touch. We'd been let go, of course, from PharmaLife. They
didn't want anything to do with any of us on Griffin's team, even
though we hadn't known about his plans. Jonathon had taken
extensive notes on everything–notes that he took out of the lab," Alice
looked at A.J. pointedly.
"I take it that's not allowed," A.J. said.
"It's highly illegal. Research findings belong to the
company. We were planning to start our own lab, continue the
research that Griffin had been doing. He had some really
wonderful ideas, drugs that could make a real difference in people's
lives. But then Jonathon was killed, and I got scared. I
applied for a job here, hoping I could just fade into the
woodwork. A nice simple research position, a smaller company."
"What happened?" A.J. sat down. He was beginning to feel
feverish again, and his stomach was doing backflips. Just keep it
together a little longer, he told himself. He knew that Alice
Penner was the key to finding Griffin. He just had to figure out
why. He grabbed a pile of the invoices he'd been stacking and
used them to fan himself.
"Veronica Tandy. She had heard Jonathon mention me, I
guess. They were never on as bad terms as Jonathon and his
father. In fact, she had promised Jonathon a job here whenever
their father died, but Jonathon was killed before that could
happen. When she realized who I was, she put a lot of pressure on
me. Jonathon had hinted that Griffin had
been working on a super-drug that could deal with antibiotic resistant
strains of disease, and that he and I were close to bringing Griffin's
work to fruition. This was her chance to make her father's
company into a big success."
"So she blackmailed you, right? If you didn't continue Griffin's
work, she'd let it be known that you had appropriated the research from
PharmaLife," A.J. said, struggling to make his brain work. He
could feel the beginnings of sharp stabbing pains working their way up
"And I'd never be able to work again. I couldn't let that
happen," Alice said softly. "I'm the first person in my family to
go to college. I couldn't give up everything I'd worked for my
whole life, especially when I know that it's for something that will do
so much good. I don't care if Tandy Pharmaceuticals gets rich off
it–the fact is, the research can
help save lives. That's why I went into this field in the first
A.J. was beginning to drift out of focus again. The pain in his
legs was intensifying, and his arms were beginning to feel numb.
Alice's pink spikes were forming and reforming into cotton candy
mountains in front of his eyes. He shook his head to clear his
vision. He put down the stack of invoices he'd been using to fan
himself, afraid that they might end up littering the floor again.
As he did so, something caught his eye.
"Alice, what's D1-hyoscyamine?" A.J. said stumbling over the
words and pointing to the stack of papers he'd gathered up off the
"It's a drug. It's also called atropine. We use it in the
lab all the time. Why?"
"When Griffin poisoned the people at PharmaLife, what did he use?
I mean, did he use a regular poison, like arsenic or something?"
A.J. was starting to sweat profusely. He reached into the pocket
of his jeans for a handkerchief, then remembered these were Rick's
settled for wiping the sleeve of Rick's jacket across his
forehead. It came away wet.
"No, he made his own out of materials in the lab," Alice replied.
She suddenly understood where A.J.'s line of thought was going.
"Something like atropine can be both a drug and a poison depending on
what it's combined with and in what quantities. If Griffin's
still making his own poisons, he'd need easy access to chemicals.
Do you think he's getting them from here?"
"It seems likely. Would anyone here know him?"
"Probably not. He certainly wouldn't use his own name, I'm
sure." Alice looked at the invoices A.J. had been
arranging. "These are all things we use in the lab. They
come from the Tandy Warehouse–it's not far from here." Suddenly
she stopped and picked up one of the invoices. Alice let out a
"It's Griffin. He's somehow got a job at the warehouse. I
don't know why I never noticed this before," Alice said pointing at the
initials at the bottom of the page. A.J. clutched her arm loosely
as he followed her finger to the initials "L.G.".
"The initials are reversed, but that's got to be Griffin. He had
the most exact handwriting of any man I'd ever met."
A.J. looked closely at the sharp angled letters, and thought back to
the crisp white Tandy Pharmaceuticals business card with Alice Penner's
name and lab number written precisely on the back in the same
"And he always signed one initial below the other, with the letters
joined. Exactly like this. See how the bottom of the L
forms part of the G. That bastard," she finished, stamping her
foot on the hard linoleum. "He's going to ruin everything.
She turned sharply as she realized A.J. had slumped against the counter
"A.J.?" she said.
"It really hurts, Alice," A.J. said, his voice muffled as he rested his
head face-down on the counter top. "Feels like knives under my
skin," he said breathlessly.
"Let me take you to the hospital. I'll call the police and tell
them where he is."
"Won't do any good. Can't prove anything," A.J. said, his arms
wrapped around his stomach, trying to keep from throwing up or passing
"I don't know what to do, A.J.!" Alice said helplessly. "You need
help that I can't give you."
"Just give me some aspirin or something to help with the pain, and then
get me to the warehouse. Rick'll be there."
"I can do better than that," Alice said, popping open a small door on
the counter top and taking out a small bottle with a prescription label
on it. "Valium–food of the gods, staple of lab rats
It should help with the pain and the convulsions you were having
She popped out two tablets and pushed her water bottle towards
A.J. took the pills and a swig of water. The room still felt like
was about to slide out from underneath him at any moment, but he knew
had to keep going. At least til they found Rick. If he
just find Rick, he knew that everything would be all right.
Part 7 - Madness
"Left. No, left! Your left," Rick said with exasperation,
turning his head as far as he could to try to get a glimpse of what
"It's too tight, Rick," Town said. They were tied back-to-back on
the floor of the warehouse's main level, near a set of wooden chairs
scattered around a small table. The floor around the table was
littered with crumbs and old candy wrappers.
"Didn't you used to carry a knife in your belt buckle?" Town
asked as they continued to struggle.
"I still do," Rick said.
"It's on my other pants," Rick said, shrugging his shoulders.
Town hung his head. "How do I let you get me into these things?"
"Would you rather I'd just shot you?" Rick replied.
"Would've been quicker," Town said.
"But not nearly as entertaining," a gravelly voice interjected.
Griffin LeBarge walked towards where the two men were tied
"I do hope you're enjoying your bonding experience," he said, smiling,
perhaps I should say, bondage?"
"What exactly do you plan to do with us?" Rick asked. "If all you
wanted was to kill Town, you've got him. What are you waiting
"Don't help me, Rick," Town said between clenched teeth.
"So many questions, Mr. Simon. Are you so anxious for your
friend's death? It still won't save your brother," LeBarge said,
walking in a tight circle around them.
Rick felt a cold knot in the pit of his stomach. Griffin LeBarge
squatted down to look Rick in the eye. "It's almost two," he
said. His voice was soft and intimate, as if the two of them were
old friends sharing a secret. "Little brother's moment of
euphoria will have passed, and you will have missed it. Your one
shot to talk to your brother again while he's still a reasonable, lucid
human being. By now, he'll have started to experience shooting
pains in his arms and legs, numbness, and
a blazing headache. He'll start seeing spots, distorted images;
he'll experience blurring, double-vision. And that's just the
beginning." LeBarge leaned closer, so that his lips were close to
Rick's ear while they spilled their words like slow poison. "It only
gets worse from there. The pain intensifies. He'll feel
like he's being ripped apart from the inside. But that'll be
nothing compared to the horrors that his mind will create.
Paranoia, fear, panic, hallucinations. He'll be living in his
worst nightmare, and it will be all...your...fault." LeBarge
whispered the last three words directly into Rick's ear, and the
of the man's hot breath made Rick's skin crawl.
Rick kept looking straight ahead into the dark corners of the
warehouse. He wasn't about to give LeBarge the satisfaction of
seeing the pain he was feeling inside. He could feel the truth of
the scientist's words sinking in. He'd left A.J. at the hospital,
planning to catch LeBarge off-guard, force him to hand over the
antidote, and race back to give it to A.J.. His brother would
recover, he'd tell him how sorry he was about their fight, they'd have
a laugh over how close they came to checking out of the game–again–and
life would return to normal. Instead, he and Town were tied
together in an empty warehouse, A.J. was lying in a hospital bed
halfway across town, and they were all very likely to be dead in a few
hours. Rick silently cursed himself for being so wrong about
Rick felt a sharp pain in his leg. He looked up to see LeBarge
now standing over him with an icy glare. "Where'd you go,
Simon? It's not polite to zone out when someone's talking to
you." LeBarge kicked him in the thigh again, and this time Rick
"And I thought you cared about your brother," LeBarge continued.
"Perhaps I was wrong. You obviously care a great deal about the
lieutenant here, or you would've just killed him outright. You
took a terrible risk letting him in on things, you know. You
risked your brother's life.
And you don't seem too broken up about the painful death A.J.'s going
suffer. Maybe you're not as close as everyone says, hm?
maybe it'll be different when you have to watch him die. Would
make a difference?" LeBarge needled Rick with the edge of his
"Look, LeBarge, we know you were in A.J.'s room at the hospital."
Town strained to see where LeBarge was. He felt funny carrying on
a conversation with someone standing behind him. "But he's under
police protection now. You'll never get near him again."
"So trusting, Lt. Brown," LeBarge said. "But I have it on good
authority that Mr. Simon–the other Mr. Simon–will be here shortly."
"What?!" Rick and Town said together.
"So help me God, if you've hurt him any more," Rick said.
"Calm yourself, Rick. May I call you, Rick? It's going to
be too confusing with two Mr. Simons here. I haven't done
to A.J.. I'm afraid you simply underestimated his desire to have
hand in his own destiny. He left the hospital of his own accord."
"I'm gonna kill, Nixon," Town said shaking his head.
"Not if Mom gets to him first," Rick added under his breath. "But
how would A.J. know to come here?"
"He didn't. He went to Tandy Pharmaceuticals to pick up a former
associate of mine, Dr. Alice Penner. A well-placed business card
really does wonders, you know. I must think of getting myself one
when this is all finished. Of course, I knew that they would
eventually figure out that I was here." LeBarge looked casually
at his watch. "I expect A.J. and Alice should be arriving any
time. Just relax, gentlemen. I assure you, you'll have
front row seats for all the action."
Something outside seemed to distract LeBarge momentarily. He
turned and headed for the front entrance of the building, the sound of
his shoes echoing loudly against the concrete floor.
"Any chance he's lying, Town?" Rick asked, struggling again to get a
grip on the ropes that bound them securely.
"I doubt it," Town replied. "And A.J.'s just stubborn enough to
come after us, which LeBarge suspected he would. He's been
us from the beginning. Like pawns in a chess game, he's just been
moving us all into position."
"Yeah, but position for what?" Rick asked.
"I guess we're about to find out."
"Can't this thing go any faster?" A.J. said as Alice's Festiva jolted
down the street towards the warehouse. "I could've walked there
quicker. It's like an icebox with wheels."
"Keep it up, A.J., and you will be walking. Frankie doesn't go
any faster when she's insulted."
"You named a Ford Festiva?" A.J. said incredulously. "I
hate to break it to you, Alice, but this isn't exactly a classic."
"She gets the job done," Alice said, downshifting as she squealed
around a corner. A.J. said a silent prayer of thanks that the
streets were relatively empty at this time of night since Alice's
driving seemed more suited for the Paris-Dakar road rally than the
streets of San Diego.
"And what is it with you and pink?" A.J. asked as the
bubblegum-coloured car picked up speed.
"It's my favourite colour," Alice said. "Got a problem with that?"
"No, ma'am," he replied with a grin, as she glanced sideways at him and
stuck out her tongue. The stud in the middle of it flashed
in the glow from a streetlight. A.J. wanted to ask her if it
but decided that he'd better not considering the kind of response it
likely to produce. He kept his mouth shut and concentrated on
his stomach in check as the car lurched towards its destination.
He closed his eyes for a moment and let his head rest back on the
seat. He wasn't sure what waited for them at the warehouse, but
he was almost positive that Rick would be there with Town. There
was no way that Rick would let LeBarge hurt Town, so they were either
going to make some kind of a
deal, or try to take LeBarge by force. Either way, A.J. suspected
they'd need backup.
"Here comes the cavalry," he muttered, eyes still closed. Alice
glanced over at him with concern and gave his arm a quick shake.
"A.J., are you hallucinating again? There's no cavalry here,"
Alice said as the car made a chugging sound as she braked for a red
"No, we're the cavalry. A semi-conscious hallucinating P.I. and
a pink-haired Dragon Lady," A.J. said. The words were out of his
mouth before he realized it. A.J. opened his eyes and saw that
Alice's face had grown tight, her lips were pressed together as if
holding her emotions in check.
"Alice, I'm really sorry–" A.J. started to say, but was cut off by a
burst of raucous laughter from beside him.
"Dragon lady?" she said. "You were in the building, like ten
minutes, and someone already told you they call me the Dragon
Lady? God, that's hilarious. Of course, no one's ever
actually said it to my face," she continued. Alice looked over
and glimpsed the horrified look on A.J.'s face. She gave him a
quick pat on the arm.
"It's okay, really. I've always been ambitious. And way too
smart for my own good. I'm not trying to sound like a big shot or
anything, it's just the truth. You tend to rub people the wrong
when you finish your PhD when you're 26. And when you've got pink
and a tongue stud and you're the daughter of Chinese-Dutch immigrants
than part of the accepted scientific pedigree, well, you tend to cause
to break out in a rash."
The Festiva suddenly made a hard right turn, and rumbled through a
gravel parking lot beside a large warehouse. Alice pulled up
close to the building, and turned off the lights.
"Tandy's warehouse," she said triumphantly. "Told you it wasn't
"Well, it seemed farther than it was," A.J. said stepping out of the
passenger side unsteadily. The Valium had taken some of the edge
off the pains he was having, but he could tell they were starting to
get worse. His head continued to pound as if someone was chipping
away at a stone wall inside his head. The ringing and the
vibrations were getting worse all the time–so much so that he hoped he
wouldn't pass out. If that happened, they were in big trouble.
"Well, do you see your brother's truck anywhere?" Alice asked, looking
around. The parking lot appeared to be deserted.
"No, but he probably would've parked it around the block anyway."
"Oh, should we've done that?" Alice said, looking suddenly
concerned. "I'm new at this private detective stuff, you know."
In spite of himself, A.J. smiled. "LeBarge knows we're coming–he
sent the invitation, after all–so I don't think there's any real point
in trying to disguise our arrival. However," A.J. continued, "it
never hurts to have a few surprises." He pulled out the gun he'd
gotten from Nixon, made sure it was loaded, and slipped it back into
"Cool," Alice said, obviously impressed. She reached across to
the glove compartment, opened it and removed a small handheld
device. "Now we've both got something," she said with
"What's that?" A.J. asked, finding it difficult to focus on the object
as she slid out of the car and came around to stand beside him.
"Stun gun–every woman's best friend," she said with a smile.
"Shall we?" She linked her arm though A.J.'s, and together they
walked towards the warehouse.
"Just because they're expecting us, doesn't mean we have to go in the
front door," A.J. whispered as the two of them quietly made their way
the side of the warehouse. When they reached the back, A.J.
to take a quick glance around the corner. Two guards were
by the door.
"There are two of them," A.J. said. "I'll see if I can distract
them. I can definitely take one of them, but you may have to zap
other with your stun gun there. Think you can manage that?"
"You bet!" Alice whispered. A.J. thought she was enjoying this a
little too much. Obviously she needed to get out of the lab more
A.J. walked towards the men standing by the door. Both of them
appeared to be dressed in identical dark suits and carrying
semi-automatic weapons. The men raised their weapons in perfect
precision as A.J. ambled towards them trying to look casual.
"I believe you were expecting me, gentlemen," A.J. began as he
approached the men. "I'm A.J. Simon." He reached out his
hand towards the first guard in a gesture of friendship, and as the man
naturally glanced downward, A.J. grabbed for his weapon. He
struggled to pull the gun from the man's hands and stay on his feet at
the same time. A quick blue flash and the noise of an electrical
discharge, and A.J. lost his grip on the man as they both tumbled to
"Sorry, A.J.," Alice said, helping him to his feet. She turned
around to look at the prone figure of the guard lying in the
dirt. "But I got him!"
"Where's the other one?" A.J. said frantically, looking around.
"Um, there was only one," Alice said, picking up the man's
weapon. "I think you were seeing double, ‘cause you didn't seem
to really be focussed on the guard." Her voice was almost
apologetic and there was more compassion in it than A.J. had heard from
her all evening.
"Do you want me to take the gun?" Alice asked cautiously.
"Do you think you could use it?" A.J. said, shaking his head to
try to clear it. He had been positive there'd been two men, even
though it had seemed odd that their movements were so in-synch.
"I think I could use the one you brought," she said and A.J. traded her
Nixon's handgun for the guard's Uzi.
"Dammit," A.J. said suddenly. "We should've brought the .38 from
"It didn't have any bullets," Alice said sheepishly. "Maybe we
should just go in, now that we have two guns," she said, hoping to get
A.J. moving and thinking about something else.
A.J. nodded and carefully opened the door. The area was dimly lit
and A.J. motioned that Alice should keep to the shadows as much as
possible. The longer they could delay their inevitable discovery,
the better chance they might have to get out of here. A.J. fought
down a whimper that threatened to burst from his throat as his legs
suddenly flashed with intense pain. He leaned back against the
wall and clenched his teeth together, concentrating on staying
conscious. He needed to be able to walk and move. He was of
no use to anyone if he couldn't do those things. He'd needed
Alice to help him get here, but he wouldn't be able to live with
himself if something happened to her because of that.
Concentrating on keeping Alice safe was the one thing that was keeping
his brain functioning at the moment.
A.J. listened. He thought that he could hear voices and footsteps
echoing in the cavernous space of the warehouse, but he couldn't be
if they were real or imaginary. He didn't think it was wise to
and ask Alice either; somehow he didn't think it would inspire a great
of confidence if the voices were just in his head. She'd already
his stunning attack on the guard and his invisible twin.
A.J. tried to get a feel for the layout of the warehouse. The
area they were looking into appeared to be the main transit way for
moving materials in and out, since it was large and very
spacious. To his right, appeared to be large storage areas,
containing boxes and barrels of what he could only assume were various
chemicals and other types of equipment needed to run Tandy
Pharmaceuticals. To his left there were some small office spaces
and a set of stairs leading to an open area above the offices, which
A.J. assumed was used for additional storage.
A.J. was still scanning the area when Alice tugged lightly on his
sleeve. She pointed to an area near the centre of the warehouse,
where a table and chairs had been set up, probably as a lunch area for
workers. Through the jumble of furniture legs, A.J. could just
make out two dark figures that appeared to be tied together. He
could now see the figure of a third man walking around the other two
figures, but their conversation was muffled by other noises.
Stretching his vision farther, A.J. thought he could see two more men
by the front entrance, but given his last attempt at counting guards,
he couldn't be sure.
"Alice," A.J. whispered. "Do you think you could make it around
to the front door without being seen?"
"Yeah," she responded.
"I need a distraction."
"What kind of distraction?"
"Anything–just so long as it gets LeBarge and the guards out the front
door and away from Rick and Town. But be careful."
"Got it," she said and slipped back the way they came.
A.J. took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Every part of his
body was hurting. He had never been so aware of pain in his
entire life, and yet he knew that if he stopped, if he gave into it,
they would all die because of it. He knew he'd been the bait for
the trap, but he was also the only chance they had at the moment.
LeBarge was waiting for him.
"It's now or never, A.J.," he said to himself, taking a deep breath and
feeling his lungs catch fire. If he had to run, he thought he
would probably die on the spot, but if he could continue a slow steady
pace towards Rick and Town, he might be able to do it. He had to
make sure he was close enough to them, when Alice created her
distraction, whatever it might be. He just prayed that it would
be enough to draw everyone out of
the building, at least for a few minutes.
As A.J. drew nearer, edging along behind the first set of shelves, he
could hear voices. The man speaking was someone who was
to A.J., but he knew immediately that the voice belonged to Griffin
"A well-placed business card really does wonders, you know. I
must think of getting myself one when this is all finished. Of
course, I knew that they would eventually figure out that I was
here. I expect A.J. and Alice should be arriving any time.
Just relax, gentlemen. I assure you, you'll have front row seats
for all the action."
A.J. could hear the beginnings of some kind of commotion out
front. The pair of guards headed outside, and LeBarge walked
sharply across the floor to the front entrance, his shoes clicking
soundly against the concrete.
"Any chance he's lying, Town?" A.J.'s heart almost skipped a beat as he
heard Rick's voice.
"I doubt it," Town replied. "And A.J.'s just stubborn enough to
come after us, which LeBarge suspected he would." A.J. couldn't
but grin as he moved closer. In spite of the enormous effort it
taking for him to move from one end of the warehouse to the other, he
so grateful to hear Town and Rick talking. Somehow, if he could
get to them, he knew they'd pull him through.
"He's been playing us from the beginning. Like pawns in a chess
game, he's just been moving us all into position," Town concluded.
"Yeah, but position for what?" Rick asked, and A.J. finally got a clear
glimpse of the two of them, both in black and bound back-to-back.
Rick's face was camouflaged with burnt cork, but the pattern was
where it looked like someone may have taken a swing at him. A.J.
that Rick was not one to go down without a fight.
"I guess we're about to find out."
At that moment, the building seemed to shake as if something large and
heavy had plowed into the side of it. They could hear yelling
from outside, and the guttural rumblings of some kind of engine.
A.J. hoped that Alice's distraction did not involve crashing the
Festiva into the front entrance, but he supposed it was too late to say
He stumbled out of the darkness of the shelves and dropped to his knees
"One rescue, coming right up," he said, trying to grin as his brother
whipped around to look at him.
"A.J.," Rick said. "You shouldn't be here."
"Nice to see you too, Rick," A.J. said as he patted Town on the
shoulder. "Hey, Town, I told you you'd get into trouble hangin'
around with this guy." A.J. could tell from the expression on
Rick's face that he must look terrible. He was staring at him as
if he'd seen a ghost.
A.J. fumbled with the buckle on the belt he was wearing, and withdrew
the small concealed blade. He sawed awkwardly at the ropes
Rick and Town's hands together.
"Why are you wearing my clothes?" Rick asked suddenly, but A.J. ignored
the question and kept working on the ropes.
"My technique's a little off tonight," A.J. said, and he could feel
exhaustion creeping into his voice, "but I can still get the job
done." He focussed on keeping the blade in one place, sawing
downwards with the knife, keeping it clear of Rick and Town's
wrists. The only sound was the tearing of the rope and A.J.'s
laboured breathing. The building shook again and there were
shouts from outside.
"What the hell is going on out there?" Town asked unable to see what
was going on behind him. He could feel the ropes loosening, but
the tension that had frozen Rick in place when A.J. had appeared gave
him an inkling of how bad things really were.
"A distraction," A.J. said briefly. "I think Alice is ramming her
pink Festiva into the building, but I wouldn't bet money on it.
perception's a little off at the moment."
"Alice Penner?" Town asked. "LeBarge wanted her here too for some
"She and Tandy used his research ideas when he went to prison," A.J.
said, still working at the ties.
With one final slice, the ropes slipped apart. Rick tossed them
off, then took the knife from A.J. and cut his ankle bonds in one
motion. He got to his feet and handed the knife down to Town who
the same, before passing the knife back to A.J. who slid it back onto
"We'd better move," Rick said sharply, stepping away from the ropes,
and reaching for his .44 Magnum that LeBarge had left on the nearby
"Guess he didn't think we'd be escaping," Town said as he grabbed his
.9 mm handgun and headed for the darkened area that A.J. had just come
Both men stopped when they realized that A.J. hadn't moved. He
was still kneeling on the floor beside the spot where the men had been
tied. Town looked at Rick for direction. Rick waved him on
and then moved towards his brother. He knelt on the concrete in
front of A.J..
"A.J.?" Rick said quietly. A.J. looked up. His face was
flushed and his usually clear blue eyes looked cloudy, distant.
His hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat. Rick pushed
his guilt and anger back down inside and put his hands gently around
A.J.'s face. "A.J.? Listen to me. You're real sick,
but we've gotta move. Okay? You've gotta get up and you've
gotta move. Now."
A.J. nodded weakly and allowed Rick to haul him to his feet by his
jacket collar. For a moment, Rick thought about swinging him up
and over his shoulder, but he figured the longer he could keep A.J. on
his feet and involved, the better it would be in the long run. He
slipped an arm under A.J.'s to give him some support. If A.J.
passed out, it probably meant that he was getting weaker and closer to
death. Rick gripped his brother a little tighter as he helped him
stumble out of the open area and over
to the shelves.
"He brought reinforcements," Town said as Rick and A.J. joined
him. Town raised the Uzi that A.J. had liberated from the outside
"Not bad, kid," Rick said to A.J., still supporting his brother.
A.J. grinned weakly, but didn't seem to be able to formulate a
response. Town and Rick exchanged a worried glance. They
were losing A.J. fast; they didn't have a lot of time. They had
to get that antidote and get out.
The commotion outside seemed to have stopped. LeBarge and one of
his men re-emerged through the front door. The guard was limping
slightly as if he'd been kicked in the shins. LeBarge was
half-dragging a young woman with bright pink hair who was putting up an
"You let me go, Griffin, you bastard! You killed Jonathon, and
now you've poisoned A.J. Simon. You're not going to get away with
it this time."
LeBarge held her as she struggled, but her fight was no more effective
than a child's would be against a grown man's. LeBarge's sheer
size and weight gave him the advantage and he knew it.
LeBarge looked at the guard pleadingly. "Would you please bring
me something to stuff in her mouth? You always did tend to go on
and on, Alice."
As if for the first time, he glanced around to assess the reactions of
his prisoners. A pile of tattered ropes lying on the concrete was
that remained to show where Rick and Town had been moments before.
"Wonderful, Alice! Bravo," LeBarge said with real bitterness in
his voice. "A clever little diversion so A.J. could come in here
release the others." He took the ragged cloth that the guard
him and roughly tied it around Alice's mouth while the guard held his
against her side.
"Really well done, Mr. Simon," LeBarge called to the empty
warehouse. "Especially given your current condition. I
imagine that you're hurting pretty bad right now, if you're still
conscious that is. Truly, I have to give you credit. You
accomplished much more than I thought you
LeBarge said something quietly to the guard who nodded and moved away
towards the entrance, after handing Griffin his handgun. Alice
to mutter beneath her gag, but with LeBarge's left arm wrapped solidly
around her throat, she dared not struggle too much.
"And getting Alice to sacrifice that hideous little car of hers.
I give you points for that, A.J.. A distraction and the removal
of a vehicular eyesore all in one stroke. I couldn't have planned
it better myself." LeBarge scanned the area all around him,
looking for movement, listening for the sound of a footfall, the
cocking of a gun. These weren't
exactly the odds he had planned on, but he still held the ace
card. If they wanted A.J. Simon to live, they would do whatever
In the dark shadows behind the shelves, A.J., Town and Rick stood
motionless and listened to LeBarge's rant. Peering around one of
the boxes, Rick could make out LeBarge, who still had his arm draped
around Alice's throat.
"You've had your fun, boys, but enough's enough," LeBarge
continued. "Time's up. I can snap Alice's neck without even
breaking a sweat and you know it, so why don't you just come out.
She doesn't have to die like this." But she does have to die, he
added internally. Nobody stole his ideas and got away with
Rick had his gun out and was assessing his shot. He was too far
away to be certain of making it, and if LeBarge moved even a little and
he missed, he'd know exactly where they were.
"Too risky," Town whispered. "You could hit the girl."
Rick turned back towards Town and said, "She's a foot shorter than
him. I'm not that bad a shot."
A.J. had slumped to the floor beside Rick and now he started to mumble
loudly: "Alice, gotta help Alice." Rick squatted down and clamped
hand over A.J.'s mouth. A.J. didn't even open his eyes, just
continued to mumble against Rick's hand.
"We'll help Alice, but you gotta be quiet, A.J.." Rick looked up at
Town, his eyes a burning question mark. What were they going to
do? If they made a move to help the girl, they'd have to leave
A.J. here. Whatever they decided, A.J. wasn't going to be able to
help them. Yet, if they left him, there was no telling what
condition he might be in when they returned. He seemed to be
moving in and out of reality as the
seconds ticked by and Rick didn't like the thought of leaving A.J. even
a moment. It was too great a risk.
LeBarge was talking again: "There's nowhere to go, you know. One
way or another, I will have my revenge. My guards have locked the
building from the outside. There's really no way out unless I
allow you to
leave. And I'm prepared to do that, Rick. I'll let you and
brother leave. All I really want is Lt. Brown and Dr. Penner to
for their crimes. You and A.J. were just a means to an end, and
end is now in sight." LeBarge paused and the silence in the
seemed to fill up the darkness around them. "You don't have very
Rick. You know that. You can see it in his eyes, the colour
of his skin, the disjointed ramblings. He can barely walk without
help and you wonder if he even knows you're there. You could put
end to all of that suffering, Rick. You can still get your
but you have to give me Brown."
Rick, still sitting with his hand over A.J.'s mouth, looked up at
Town. LeBarge's words washed over him like a cold shower.
He couldn't sit here and watch A.J. die, and yet there was no way he
could give Town up either. Town knelt down beside Rick, and
placed a hand on his shoulder.
"This is what we're going to do," he said, and Rick leaned closer to
Part 8 - Death
LeBarge was getting tired of this. He'd told them what he
expected, and they weren't doing it. He hadn't even heard so much
as a shuffle of feet or a whisper since he'd spoken. He wasn't
used to being ignored like this and it was making him angry. He
gripped a handful of Alice's pink hair and pulled her head back
sharply. Beneath the gag, she let out a small sharp cry of pain
and tears began to well up in her eyes.
"I'm tired of playing games, gentlemen," LeBarge said. "If I
don't see someone out here in two minutes, she's dead, and you'll never
get that antidote."
At that, Rick emerged from behind the shelves about thirty feet away,
half-holding, half-dragging a semi-conscious A.J.. Rick stopped
gently laid A.J. on the ground beside him. He stood up slowly and
raised his hands in the air.
"You win, LeBarge," Rick said, his voice sounding hollow in the large
empty room. "I'll do anything you want, but you can't let A.J.
"That's much better, Rick," LeBarge said smiling. "I knew you'd
come around to my way of thinking."
"Where's the antidote?" Rick asked desperately.
"Not so fast. Where's the lieutenant?"
"Right here, LeBarge," a voice from the opposite side of the warehouse
said. LeBarge turned, still keeping an eye on Rick and never
loosening his grip on Alice. Town stepped out from behind a
forklift, holding the Uzi and shifting its barrel slowly from LeBarge
"So much for friendship, eh, Rick?" Town yelled and his voice was
bitter. "In the end I knew you'd sell me out."
"He's my brother, Town. I can't let him die," Rick yelled back,
desperate for Town to understand his position.
"But you'll let me die? You'll even pull the trigger?"
"I'm sorry, Town. I didn't think it would come to this," Rick
said lowering his hands.
"Sorry, old friend, but I don't go down that easily," Town said,
spraying a quick burst of gun fire in Rick's direction. Rick spun
around and dived beside A.J., shielding his body with his own.
LeBarge, taken aback at the sudden turn of events, kicked over the
wooden table with a solid blow, and pulled Alice with him as he sought
refuge behind it
"Town," Rick was yelling. "Don't make me do this." From
beneath the jacket A.J. was wearing, Rick withdrew his concealed .44
Magnum and aimed it at Brown who dove back behind the forklift as
Rick's shot glanced off
the metal frame. Another round of machine gun fire pounded into
stacks of boxes just above Rick's head.
"I'm not going to stay here and wait for you to kill me," Town yelled
moving away from the forklift, setting down a rain of bullets that kept
the rest of them from moving. Rick could feel A.J. struggling
beside him, and Rick put a hand on his chest. His heartbeat
fainter than it had been before. Rick whispered, "Just hang in
A.J.. It'll be over in a few minutes."
LeBarge peered cautiously over the edge of the table as Brown let off
another short burst. Wooden splinters shot over their heads, as
gag stifled a scream. LeBarge let go of Alice, and cocked the
handgun his guard had given him. If he could just get a clear
shot of Brown, this would be over in a moment. Alice scrambled up
and ran in the direction of Rick and A.J., and LeBarge couldn't be
bothered to try to stop her. He'd deal with her later; there was
no getting out of here for any of them. He looked around the edge
of the table, saw Brown still working his way
towards the front entrance, staying alert for any movement from the
Simons. LeBarge noted that Rick still had his head down, now
pressed to A.J.'s chest and the younger Simon seemed like he'd stopped
Alice tore the gag from her mouth as she ran towards A.J.'s prone body
threw herself down beside him.
"Town," Rick suddenly yelled, sitting up, and the tone of this voice
had changed completely. Brown stopped in his progress towards the
entrance and looked back at Rick with concern.
"He's not breathing. Dammit, he's not breathing." Rick tore
open A.J.'s shirt and bent his head to his bare chest to listen
again. The heartbeat was fainter, and the usual rise and fall of
his chest had
"Come on, A.J., breathe," he said desperately, pressing on his chest as
Alice tilted A.J.'s head back and blew a deep breath into his mouth,
filling his lungs.
For a moment, everything in the warehouse seemed frozen in time.
LeBarge watched the action around him as if he were watching characters
a snow globe that had suddenly and inexplicably been turned upside
down. It had all been an act. Rick would never actually
shoot Brown. Brown's shots had clearly been high. They were
simply trying to get in position to launch an assault on him, and now
he had lost his most important leverage. Alice Penner was gone
from his side and A.J. Simon was dying in front of him. He had
nothing left to bargain with.
"You tried to trick me," LeBarge said as he rose up like a ghost from
behind the wooden table. Town turned to face him, but moved too
his attention still caught by Rick and Alice who were trying literally
breathe life back into A.J.'s limp body.
Town shuddered as the first shot pounded into his chest. He
looked up in shock as he saw LeBarge aiming at him. A second shot
rang out and a third, and Town toppled backwards into darkness.
At the sound of the first shot, Rick was on his feet, Magnum in hand,
wheeling to fire at LeBarge. His first shot went wild as two more
bullets ripped from LeBarge's gun. Rick saw Town fall and his
leapt into his throat. Then there was no more time to think as
turned on him and emptied the rest of his clip. Rick felt his
erupt in pain and he could have sworn he heard his ribs cracking as he
backward onto the floor. He struggled to hold onto consciousness
he fell, still gripping his .44 tightly. Breathlessly, he raised
head and saw LeBarge walking towards A.J. and Alice with a leer on his
face. Without another thought, Rick raised his gun and
fired. He kept firing until he heard the soft click of the hammer
hitting the firing pin and the roar of the bullets had faded. The
smell of smoke and gun powder hung thickly in the air. His last
thought as his head hit the floor was that the world had exploded in a
burst of red.
Alice blocked out the gunfire and the blood and the yelling of angry
men. The only thing she knew was the rise and fall of A.J.'s
chest, the steady rhythm as she exchanged her breath for his
life. She didn't even notice the tears that were trickling down
her face as she continued. Breathe out, turn, listen, breathe
in. Repeat and repeat, like an endless loop in one of her
computer programs. Breathing to the power of infinity. She
didn't think it was doing any good, but she wouldn't stop, couldn't
Then she heard it. A sputtering cough as A.J. started to breathe
again. It was weak, but it was still breath. She turned him
onto his side, as he began to cough more intensely, and finally he took
in a deep breath with a shuddering sound. She knelt behind him,
head resting on his side, her heart whispering a prayer of
sat up and looked around, taking in the world around her for the first
since she'd pressed her lips against A.J.'s.
Rick was lying a few feet away, sprawled on his back, his gun still
clutched in his hands. It looked like there were torn patches in
the front of his shirt, but she couldn't see any blood. Across
the warehouse floor, Town was getting to his feet, checking his own
body for damage. Behind her, Griffin LeBarge lay in a pool of
blood. His body was a macabre patchwork, and Alice thought for a
moment that she might be sick. She saw LeBarge's hand move
jerkily beside his body, as if still reaching for something in his last
A.J.'s erratic breathing brought Alice back to her senses. These
men had risked everything to stop LeBarge and she wasn't going to let
A.J. die if she could do anything about it. She got up and ran
towards LeBarge's body, trying to ignore the sound as her boot splashed
in a pool of blood. She leaned over him and saw he was
miraculously still alive, although it
would have been more merciful if he'd died immediately. His eyes
unfocused and his pale blond hair was dark and sticky with blood.
"Griffin," she said, and he seemed to register that someone was talking
to him. He couldn't move his head, but his eyes turned in her direction
and the corners of his mouth pulled upwards in a caricature of a smile.
"Alice," he whispered and blood ran from the side of his mouth.
"Where is it, Griffin? Where's the antidote?"
"Such a smart girl, Alice."
Alice heard footsteps behind her and gasped as she saw Rick and Town
coming towards her, both apparently unharmed..
"Bulletproof vests," Town said patting his chest, in answer to her
unasked question. "They stop you from getting killed, but the
bullets can still do a certain amount of damage."
"Yeah, I think my ribs are busted," Rick said clutching his
abdomen. Alice noticed his breathing was ragged.
"You said we had 24 hours, Griff. It's been less than twelve,"
Rick said, as he got closer to the dying man. "Where's the
antidote?" If he'd had the strength left or if there'd been any
point, Alice was sure that Rick would've beaten an answer out of him.
With obvious effort, LeBarge turned his face upwards, the overhead
lights reflecting brightly in the cracked lens of his glasses as his
blue-gray eyes met Rick's. "I lied," he whispered and what seemed
to be a laugh bubbled from his throat. LeBarge's head slipped
listlessly to the side, and one final stream of blood tumbled from his
Alice, Rick, and Town stood speechlessly. They could hear A.J.'s
sputtering cough in the background, and Rick knew that he didn't have
long before A.J. would be slipping into eternal darkness as LeBarge
Alice took a deep breath, ignored the blood and torn flesh, and started
pulling at Griffin's pockets. Rick and Town looked at each other
in horror, as the young woman's hands became slick with blood.
"Alice," Town started, moving to pull her back from Griffin's
body. "He's dead."
"I know that," she said, continuing her frantic search. "He
always makes an antidote. Always. Where did you find the
antidote at PharmaLife?"
"Tandy gave it to us," Town answered.
"But where did he get it? Jonathon was a good chemist, but even
he couldn't have pulled that rabbit out of the hat for you." Town
felt the sharp stab of memory, as Alice continued talking.
about this was familiar. There was something important he was
something just out of reach.
"Griffin is–was–just that much better than all of us. Jonathon
must have said something to give you a clue. He had to have found
where Griffin had hidden it."
Town looked at Rick helplessly. "It was three years ago, Alice."
"I'm going to check on A.J.," Rick said softly and left the two of them
alone with the body. Town watched Rick walk away, leaving a trail
of bloody footprints. When he reached A.J., he knelt down behind
gently rolling A.J. backwards so that his upper body was cradled in
lap. Town saw Rick check A.J.'s pulse and he could hear Rick
speaking to his brother. He turned away, not wanting to intrude.
"Dammit, lieutenant, you've got to think. We're not going to let
A.J. die. That antidote is here somewhere. We just have to
find it," Alice said with frightening determination. "When
Jonathon brought you the antidote, did he say anything at all?
Anything unusual. Jonathon liked to play little mind games with
people. Say things without really saying anything at all."
"Something you said just a minute ago seemed familiar. Something
"Was it about the White Rabbit?" Alice said excitedly. "That's
what we used to call Griffin because he was always wearing that damn
lab coat. Even outside of work."
Town looked confused. Alice's explanation hadn't helped
any. "You know Alice in Wonderland? The book?
We used it as a paradigm for one of our experiments, and then we just
kept using it as a kind of inside joke. Because I was Alice and
there's a character of a Gryphon–you know, with the head of an eagle
and the body of a lion? Anyway, only Jonathon and I called
Griffin the White Rabbit, but I always think he knew about it."
Suddenly Alice turned and looked at Griffin's body. "He's not
wearing his lab coat. We've got to find it. That's where
the antidote is; I'd bet my life on it."
Rick barely looked up as Town and Alice passed by him at a run heading
for the office area of the main floor. A.J. stirred restlessly in
arms. His breathing had settled into a shallow, but regular
pattern, but his pulse and heartbeat continued to rise and fall
Rick brushed a few stray hairs out of A.J.'s eyes, and was surprised to
see A.J.'s eyelashes fluttering open in response. Rick stared
into his brother's cool blue eyes.
"Hey, kid, are you with me?" he said, hardly daring to believe that
A.J. was really conscious. The past few minutes, sitting here
listening to his breathing and his heart beating, Rick had been
readying himself for what seemed the inevitable conclusion of this
"Rick?" came the soft and unsteady answer. "What's going
on?" A.J. said, struggling to focus on Rick's face.
"Nothing important. It's just you and me."
"I feel cold," A.J. said, and Rick gathered him closer, wrapping the
green field jacket more closely around his little brother. He
could feel how cool A.J.'s body had gotten, how pallid his skin
looked. He pulled him more solidly into his chest, so that A.J.'s
head was resting on Rick's shoulder.
"We'll get you warmed up in a minute," Rick said, attempting to sound
positive. He clung to A.J. fiercely, trying to pour his own body
into his brother by the sheer force of his will.
"What's wrong?" A.J. said. There was something in Rick's
face that he couldn't place. Something that didn't seem to fit
with his tough, no-nonsense older brother. A.J. could feel Rick's
arms tight around him and the warmth of Rick's chin leaning against his
head as he shifted his body slightly. A.J. heard Rick's sharp
intake of breath as he moved, and he struggled to make sense of what
his senses were telling him.
"Don't worry. Everything's fine."
A.J. closed his eyes for a moment. It was such an effort to keep
them open. Every part of him felt heavy, as if he had weights
tied to his arms and legs. Suddenly, he realized what seemed out
of place about Rick's face. The look he'd seen in his brother's
eyes had been fear.
"A.J.? A.J.?" Rick's voice was louder and there was an
undercurrent of panic in his tone.
"Yeah" A.J. said softly.
"We might not have a lot of time, A.J., so just listen, okay? The
stuff that happened at the office. I'm really sorry. I
didn't mean it. You know I can be such a stupid jerk sometimes,
and I don't always think about things, or how they're going to affect
I'm just so sorry." Rick's voice was shaking. He didn't
if A.J. could still hear him, but somehow it didn't even matter.
had never been much for talking about how he felt, but somehow
just kept tumbling out of him. All he could do was keep hanging
to A.J., rocking him gently back and forth, and saying how sorry he was
and over. He could feel tears welling up in his eyes, but he
care. A.J. was dying in his arms and there was nothing,
nothing, he could do to save him.
"It's got to be here somewhere," Alice said as she pulled open drawers
and cupboards in the main office of the warehouse.
Town popped his head in a moment later. "Anything?"
"No," she said, not looking up from her search. "I found his lab
coat, but there was nothing there. I was so sure that's where it
"Nothing in the staff room, the washrooms, or the storage rooms either."
"Well, this is the last place we have to search, and we're running out
"I already called an ambulance. They're on the way," Town
said. "But without that antidote, there's not much hope."
glanced out the door of the office where he could see Rick cradling
and talking to him softly. Town wasn't sure, but it looked like
might have been tears on Rick's face. He felt his own insides
up, and turned back towards Alice.
"If A.J. dies, I don't know what Rick will do," Town said, starting on
"He's not going to die," Alice said, as she began pulling open filing
cabinet drawers and riffling through them for anything that looked like
it might help.
The distant howl of sirens could be heard, as Alice and Town continued
their search in silence. Town let his thoughts drift back to his
years with the Simons as his eyes scanned up and down the rows of
scientific journals and reports, binders and textbooks. The Simon
brothers drove him crazy, interrupted him with requests for favours,
screwed up his undercover work, and inevitably ended up saving the day,
whether they intended to or not. He'd seen them tied up, locked
up, beaten up, dead drunk and stone cold sober. He trusted them
more than he trusted most of his officers, and there was
no one he would rather have backing him up when it came down to the
wire. If A.J. died. . .Town tried to block the thought from his
mind as his hand settled on a small threadbare volume with a dark green
"Alice, I think I found it," Town said. In his hand he held a
dog-eared copy of Alice in Wonderland.
Alice took the book from Town and flipped it open. A small white
envelope fell out. Alice bent to retrieve it and saw that her
name was printed on the outside of the envelope in distinct, angular
letters. With Town peering over her shoulder, she tore open the
envelope. A white piece of paper was wrapped around two small
vials. Printed on the paper were the words: "You're late."
"This is it," Alice said. "We've got it."
Rick had no idea how much time had passed as he sat holding A.J. and
talking to him, telling him that he was there, that somehow things
would be all right. Rick didn't know if he believed that, but he
couldn't bear to give up hope. A.J. was counting on him. He
had always looked up to Rick, depended on him. Rick ran his hand
gently through A.J.'s fine hair, tried to ignore how cold and pale his
skin was. Willed him to keep breathing just a little longer.
"God, A.J., where did our time go?" Rick whispered. "I'm
going to be 40 soon–well, okay in a couple of years, but hey, it's
still coming. Can you imagine me at 40?" He chuckled softly.
He knew that Alice and Town were searching the offices; he heard the
distant swell of sirens, and knew that both police and ambulance were
on their way to help them. Rick didn't know what they would be
able to do, but he was grateful for their efforts nonetheless.
"Where's that little kid who used to follow me around all the time?"
Rick said. "I'll tell you something, A.J.. Something I
don't think I ever told you before. Remember when I used to act
all annoyed when you'd want to hang out with me and my friends?
Well, I didn't really mind. I was always happy to have you
around. You were a good little kid, A.J.. You still
are." Rick felt his throat catch, and he knew his eyes were
welling up again.
"Don't you die on me, A.J.," he said hoarsely. "Dammit, don't you
dare die on me. Not here, not like this." Rick pressed his
lips gently to his brother's cool forehead. "I love you, you
whispered against A.J.'s skin. "You can hang around with me
kid. I want you hanging around for a long time. Please
Rick looked up as he heard running footsteps coming towards him.
He quickly dashed the dampness from his eyes and turned expectantly to
Town. The sound of sirens was right outside the building.
Town pointed in the direction of the front entrance. "I'll go see
if I can help let them in."
"We've got it, Rick," Alice said, waving an envelope in the air.
She dropped to her knees beside A.J. and pulled out the two vials, each
containing a small amount of yellowish liquid.
"Why two?" Rick said. "Which one is the antidote?"
"Well," Alice said, "I'm not exactly sure, but I have an idea."
"He's barely breathing, Alice. I'll take any idea you've
got." Rick looked at A.J.'s still face.
"One of the vials says: ‘Drink Me'; the other says, ‘Eat Me.'"
"You lost me," Rick said, confused.
"It's from Alice in Wonderland. She drank one thing to
make her grow larger, and ate something else to shrink ." Alice
Rick's haggard face and knew that he didn't care about the explanation,
long as it worked. "One of these is the poison; the other, the
"But which is which?"
"Well, I'd say the one marked ‘Drink Me' should be the poison and ‘Eat
Me' should be the antidote. But there was a long passage in the
book about how Alice was unsure about drinking the first one because it
might be poison, but when she found it didn't say poison, she drank it
"So, you're not sure," Rick said, finding it hard to believe that
A.J.'s life was dependent on some obscure reference from a children's
"Griffin was brilliant and psychotic. He could've switched
things, knowing how I'd think if we got this far."
"What happens if we give A.J. the poison by accident and then give him
the antidote?" Rick asked.
"I think we'd kill him," Alice said quietly. "The antidote
probably wouldn't counteract another dose at this stage."
In the distance, they could hear Town and the ambulance crews working
to get the doors open. Griffin's other men had apparently split
soon as they'd heard the gunfire inside.
"It's up to you, Rick," Alice said. "He's your brother.
There's nothing those people outside can do to help us if we choose
wrong. If we don't make a choice, A.J.'s going to die
anyway. At least this way we have a chance." She held out
the vials towards him.
"Just tell me one thing. Did Griffin like games?" Rick
"Yeah, he loved them ‘cause he usually won."
"Did he ever cheat?"
"No. He was a real prick about playing by the rules," Alice said.
Rick nodded and reached for the vial that said "Eat Me." He
uncapped it, and tilted A.J.'s head back, gently parting his lips with
"Let's hope this leads to Wonderland," Rick said grimly as he tipped
the amber liquid between A.J.'s parted lips.
Part 9 - Epilogue
"You bet my life on whether or not you figured the guy would cheat at
games?" A.J. asked incredulously. It was a week later and he and
Town and Alice were sitting on the deck of A.J.'s house, enjoying the
sun and the breeze off the canal.
"Well, A.J., it was much more complex than that," Rick said, puffing
thoughtfully on his cigar. "My brain went through a thousand
calculations in that fraction of a second to arrive at the answer that
saved your life."
"It's a wonder your brain survived the strain," A.J. said rolling his
eyes. He ducked as Rick fished an ice cube out of the cooler and
it at him. "Hey, you just wait til I tell Mom!"
"Tell Mom what?" Cecelia Simon said as she walked around the corner of
the house and onto the deck. "No, no, don't get up," she said,
waving the men back into their seats. She walked over to hug
Rick, and then embraced A.J..
"Tell Mom what?" Cecelia repeated looking from one son to the
other. She saw the two of them exchange a look that said they had
no plans to tell her whatever it was they had been discussing before
she walked in. "I see everything is back to normal around here,"
she said. Cecelia turned to Alice with a smile. "When they
were little and they didn't want me to know something, there was
nothing I could do to make them talk."
"Well, almost nothing," Rick added. "A.J. would rat me out pretty
quickly for chocolate chip cookies."
"I was five," A.J. said, "and it was oatmeal."
Rick made a face as he looked at Alice. "I told you he was a
weird little kid. Who likes plain oatmeal cookies when they're
five?" Alice couldn't help but laugh. She hadn't known the
brothers long, but she had some idea of exactly what they would've lost
if A.J. had died that night in the warehouse. She couldn't
imagine one of the Simons without the other, now that she had spent
time with them both together. They were as different as night and
day, but somehow they seemed to complete one another. They played
off one another, depended on one another, and
clearly they cared deeply about each other, although she suspected they
had any heartfelt talks about exactly what had transpired a week
ago. Still Rick's joy at having his brother back in the land of
the living was written all over his face.
"How are you feeling?" Cecelia asked, looking A.J. over with a mother's
appraising eye when the laughter had subsided.
"Just fine, Mom," A.J. said. "Really, you can stop
worrying. The doctors said there would be no lasting effects."
"Thank God for that."
"Rick," she said, turning to her eldest son and reaching for the canvas
bag she laid by her chair, "I brought that book you wanted to borrow,"
Cecelia said, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small paperback.
Rick scrambled quickly out of the lounge chair, but A.J. beat him to
it. He grabbed the book and sidestepped his brother gracefully.
"What's this? Rick wants to read a real book for a change?
This should be interesting," A.J. said, keeping his back to Rick,
book held tight against his chest as if they were playing a game of
"It's nothing," Rick said, trying to reach beyond his brother's arms to
grab the small book. The others on the deck just smiled and tried
to stay out of the way.
"Hey, big brother, you reading any book that doesn't have pictures is
big news," A.J. replied. "Let's take a look shall we?
It's...Alice in Wonderland?" He turned around to face Rick
with a small smile on his face.
"I just figured that it's something I should probably read. You
never know when this stuff might prove important on a case," Rick said,
grabbing the book out of A.J.'s hands and returning to his seat.
"Besides," Rick said with a bold wink at Alice, "it can't hurt to learn
more about somebody named Alice."
Later that evening after everyone had gone, Rick and A.J. found
themselves alone in A.J.'s living room. Rick had taken the couch,
and A.J. his usual chair.
"That Alice is a real smart lady," Rick said, taking a sip of beer.
"Way too smart for you, big brother," A.J. said smiling. "It's good,
too, that she didn't get into any real trouble over borrowing Griffin's
"Yeah, it sounds like PharmaLife and Veronica Tandy are working out a
compromise. Since Tandy is in a bit of financial trouble, but
have a solid reputation, I guess PharmaLife is going to take them on as
a subsidiary. That way the research technically remains part of
larger corporation, and both companies benefit. A reasonably
ending for everyone."
"And a profitable one, too," A.J. added. He took a long drink of
his beer and the smile slipped from his face as a sense of deja vu came
"What's wrong?" Rick said, catching his brother's look.
"Nothing," A.J. said quickly.
"Come on, it's me. What's wrong?"
A.J. set his beer down on the coffee table and Rick could see that his
hand was shaking slightly. "It's just that the last time I was
sitting here having a beer, I got hit over the head and a needle stuck
in my arm."
"I'll watch your back this time," Rick said, but he knew exactly how
A.J. felt. He could still remember the sick feeling of walking
through the patio doors and seeing his brother tied up and unconscious
in the very chair he was sitting in now. Rick leaned over and
gave A.J. a quick pat
on the leg. "Hey, we got through it, like we always do.
try to put it out of your mind."
"That's not that hard considering I don't even remember most of it,
Rick," A.J. said, "but I think that's what bothers me most. I
just have bits and pieces of memory."
"Well, maybe that's not so bad," Rick said. He remembered every
detail of what happened, every moment of believing that A.J. was going
"Alice did fill in some of the gaps for me," A.J. said, looking over at
Rick. "She said you saved my life and that you never left me."
Rick felt his face growing warm. "Well, I couldn't exactly leave you
there, could I? I mean, what would Mom say?" Rick finished
his beer, and jumped off the couch to return the bottle to the kitchen.
"I know that must have been hard on you. I know how I would've
felt if it had been you instead of me." A.J. knew that Rick
didn't want to talk about this. He could see in his eyes that
he'd already stuffed those emotions back down where they came
from. But he needed Rick to know that he understood, that he was
grateful, and that he was sorry.
Rick left the bottle on the kitchen counter and walked over to stand
behind A.J.'s chair. He didn't really want to talk about this,
and he certainly didn't want A.J. to see his face. He was having
a hard time hiding his emotions these days. Every since that
night in the warehouse, he'd felt like a floodgate had opened and it
wasn't as easy as it used to be to hold back what was behind the gate.
Rick sighed heavily and rested his hands lightly on A.J.'s
shoulders. "A.J., I'm only going to say this once and then I
don't really want to talk about it anymore. That was the worst
night of my life and I don't ever want to go through anything like that
again, so you'd better plan on being around for a long time because I'm
not ready for you to not be around." Rick paused, trying to keep
his voice steady. "You're the best part of my life, and it would
kill me if something happened to you."
A.J. reached up a hand and clapped it over Rick's hand that was
squeezing his shoulder with the force of emotion. "I love you
too," A.J. said quietly, and for a moment the only sound in the room
was their breathing.
Rick's hands slipped off A.J.'s shoulders and A.J. felt a light touch
tousling his hair, just as Rick had always done when they were
"You'd better get some sleep, kid," Rick said gruffly. "We've got
to do tomorrow."
A.J. heard Rick cross the room and slip out the garage door. That
was just as well, A.J. thought as he rubbed his eyes. Neither of
them did that well with showing their emotions. They were a hell
of a lot more comfortable with yelling at each other than being honest
about their feelings. But still, hard as it was, sometimes they
just had to do
A.J. finished off his beer and set his bottle on the counter beside
Rick's thinking how grateful he was that he was still able to share the
simple things they'd been doing for years. Taking the boat out,
fishing off the
coast, having a beer, teasing each other about women and just about
else. They'd come so close to losing it all.
A.J. was about to head up to bed when he noticed that Rick had left the
copy of Alice in Wonderland on the table. A.J. remembered
reading it as a child, but it had been a very long time. He
flipped through it and chuckled to himself.
"Trust Rick to find a classic that actually does have pictures!"
He tucked the book under his arm, turned out the lights, and headed up
to bed, thankful to live in a world that still provided a happy ending
every now and then.
to Lacey's Fan Fiction Web Library