THE INEVITABLE MURDER OF HORACE FINK
In bright mid-morning summer sunshine, Doris Fink drove her black Golf convertible along little more than a track toward a deserted patch of coastline some miles north of Old Bar. `I'm lost', she thought as she stopped the car, brushed her long red hair aside and checked the map. A few meters further along was a dilapidated timber cottage where she decided to ask directions.
The rear of the house backed onto the road, while the front faced the beach. On the lawn was parked a small motorbike. Doris knocked at the open back door and, while waiting for an answer, observed the rear porch with its assortment of roller blades, skateboards, sneakers that had seen better days, beach towels and various other surf-related paraphernalia. Directly ahead, at the end of the long central hall, was the open front door which revealed the surf. After calling `hello' several times, Doris entered the house and emerged at the far end where she saw a young blond man, clad only in colorful knee-length shorts, exit the water and sprint up the beach, surfboard tucked under his muscular, tanned arm.
"G'day," he grinned as he arrived, breathless and dripping wet. "Back in a tick."
The surfer leaned his board against the outside wall, then disappeared down the hall to grab a towel with which he dried his shaggy locks. "What can I do for you?" he asked as he re-emerged through the door.
"I'm lost. I'm looking for a Mr. Dickson Bottoms."
"You're looking at him, pleased to meet you." He offered his hand to Doris, a well-preserved thirty-something, however her brief confusion caused her to respond hesitantly.
"You must be his son. I meant ... Mr. Bottoms ... senior, the private investigator. I phoned earlier and made an appoint to see him at his, uh, office."
"Of course, you're Doris Fink. Sorry I'm a tad late but the surf is rocking big time today. Can I get you a drink? Tea? Coffee?"
"Actually, I think I could do with something a little stronger. There must be some mistake. I was expecting--well, I certainly wasn't expecting you, young man. You can't be any older than 18." And with that, Mrs. Fink bade the boy farewell, left the house, slid behind the wheel of the Golf and sped away. Five minutes later she was back. "I've changed my mind," she explained at the back door.
"That's a woman's prerogative," Dickson smiled, and flashed a perfect set of pearlies.
"I see you pronounce `prerogative' correctly. I'm impressed."
"Honors in English. Tea or coffee...or something a little stronger?"
"Tea's fine...black with a slice of lemon."
"What made you change your mind?" Dickson asked as Doris followed his muscular V-shaped back to the kitchen--a rustic relic of the 1950s.
"You don't look like a private investigator, and I think that could very well be an advantage, given the circumstances of the case. However, I am concerned about your ... youthful lack of experience. Have you solved many cases?"
"Let's go to my office--the front verandah, it's much nicer out there."
The pair sat on rickety old canvas chairs, sipped tea, and spent a contemplative minute or two admiring the vast expanse of beach with its assortment of sea birds, and rolling waves crashing and foaming their way to shore. Only a handful of people dotted the sand, and about the same number of surfers caught rides. "This old place must be worth a fortune," Doris declared.
"It was my grandmother's--she left it to me, her favorite grandson--actually, her only grandson."
"And your parents?"
"Both shot and killed by thieves during a bungled robbery when I was five--my gran raised me."
"How many cases have I solved? To be honest, none, you're my first client. Well, my second--Aunt Flo, my gran's younger sister, hired me to find her wedding ring. She lost it a while back. Her memory is failing so she probably forgot where she put it."
"What kind of training have you undergone?"
"Reading; I love crime novels and whodunits, fiction and non-fiction. I'm intuitive, observant, analytical, a good judge of character, a touch cynical... and modest. My gran always said I'd make a great detective."
"Were the thieves who murdered your folks jailed?"
"They were never found."
"Why not join the police force?"
"Nah, too many rules and regs, too many bosses, too much bureaucratic bullshit. I prefer my independence."
"But you have no qualifications."
"Who says?" Dickson noticed his guest's cup was empty. "More tea?"
"Let's get down to business, first." Doris opened her bag and produced an envelope. "This is a list of suspects... addresses, routines, personal information, habits, associates, etcetera."
"Murdering my husband, Horace Fink."
"Whoa! Wait a minute, Mrs. Fink. Hang on to your horses. Murder? This is a job for the cops! Or are the cops already on the case?"
"There is no case--yet. I believe that my husband's murder is inevitable; he has many enemies who would like to see him ... removed. Your job, Mr. Bottoms, is to get to the bottom...sorry...investigate the suspects, discreetly of course--I don't want my husband to know about this--and narrow the list down to one. When my husband is eventually murdered, we'll know who the culprit is. And now, your fee?"
"Fee? Oh, yes, fee. Uh, well, I figured maybe $50 an hour..."
"$30, inclusive of expenses." She produced a second envelope. "There's $1000 in there, Mr. Bottoms; that should take care of things for a while. By the way," Doris smiled knowingly, "how much are you charging Aunt Flo?"
Dickson watched the black Golf disappear down the road in a cloud of dust, then he set about studying the list of suspects. He knew none of them. How was he supposed to investigate total strangers? He re-read the list and, this time, paid closer attention to the detailed accounts of occupations, addresses, routines, habits and photographs.
The familiar sound of a motorbike at the rear of the house interrupted Dickson's concentration. A few seconds later, following the bike's motor shut-down, a young man breezed inside the house and greeted his mate with a hi-five. "How ya goin', Dicko? Surf's up."
"I wish, but I'm on a job, Mick."
"You should call me Micko, then we could be Micko and Dicko. Whoa! Check out the cash, man. You win a bet or something?"
"It's an advance on my fee from my client."
"A good looking woman. You know any of the people on this list?"
Mick scanned the pages. "Yeah, a couple. They belong to my dad's golf club."
"Let's go meet your dad."
"My dad? I meet him every damn day, man! Besides, he's out of town for a while on business. What's this all about, Dicko?"
Dickson informed his black-haired, brown-eyed mate of what little he knew about the case, which Mick Morris nonetheless found intriguing to say the least. In fact, he suggested that Dickson could do with a partner. "Where would Sherlock have been without Watson? Or Steve McGarrett without Dano?"
"I can't afford a partner."
"You can't afford not to have a partner, mate. Besides, what about all that loot on the table? Tell you what, I'll work for $20 an hour."
$10, inclusive of expenses."
"Hey, this Doris chick sounds like a real hottie. Are you... ?"
"She's a client, mate. No hanky panky. She's expects professionalism, and I won't disappoint her."
"You're a dud lay, anyway," Mick laughed.
The two strapping surfers grabbed a cold beer each and sat on the front verandah to discuss tactics. They agreed that their first priority was to elicit more information from Doris in relation to her husband. After all, the better they understood him, as well as her, the better equipped they would be to extract relevant information from the `suspects'.
"You're right," Dickson concluded, "two heads are better than one."
"As long as it's not in the groin department. One would get in the way."
"Think positive, mate. You could get two simultaneous BJs."
Dickson ignored Mick's giggling to answer a call on his cell phone. It was Aunt Flo; she wanted to know when the super sleuth would visit again to search for the missing ring. "C'mon, Mick," Dickson ordered as he ended the call, "we got a job to do."
"But the surf's up!"
The boys threw a naked leg over their respective Suzuki saddles and rode the short distance to Flo's house, a small villa unit closer to town. Following introductions, and the obligatory fresh scones, cream and jam, the boys did a room-by-room search, despite the failure of Dickson's previous attempts.
"God knows what the neighbors think," Flo smiled, "two half naked boys arriving here on motor bikes. Don't you own a shirt?"
"Don't worry about it, Aunt Flo; it's good for your rep as the town siren."
Florence Flannigan was well into her 80s, but quite spritely and independent. She wore her white hair in a bun and always dressed in smart clothes that befitted her natural dignity. "Siren? Those days are well and truly over," she laughed. "But I suppose it gives the neighbors something to gossip about."
After a thorough search, the ring was not to be found, and everyone agreed to postpone the investigation for another day. "You must stay for lunch," Flo insisted. Over sandwiches and tea, the group discussed various scenarios as to where the missing wedding ring could possibly be. The conversation eventually included the Horace Fink case and, as it happened, Flo was familiar with many of the `suspects', or at least had some knowledge of them through friends of friends. Old Flo had lived in the Manning Valley district all her life, and was very well known.
By mid afternoon, Dickson and Mick had returned to the old house. There, they took advantage of an off-shore breeze and enjoyed two hours of ideal surfing conditions.
Shortly after 5pm, Dickson called Doris Fink's cell phone number. She had instructed him previously not to call the home phone in case it was answered by Horace. They arranged to meet again the next day at Dickson's `office'.