"This is the Fink residence. We're not here to take your call at the moment. Please leave a message after the tone and we'll get back to you as soon as possible." Dickson then tried Doris' cell phone. "I'm on the way to the airport," she said. "Horace is in hospital."
"I read the article in this morning's paper. Have you spoken to him?"
"He lapsed into a coma shortly after he was discovered. The police are treating the case as attempted murder."
"Are you aware that Ian Ajit is in New Zealand at Lake Taupo? It's not far from Auckland."
"How do you know?"
"Local grapevine. You might check it out while you're there. Let me know when you get back to Oz."
Next, Dickson called Mrs. Ajit and pretended to be unaware of her husband's whereabouts.
"Ian's not here at the moment. Can I take a message?" Dickson explained his recent meeting with Ian and the subsequent cooking of the flathead. "Oh, yes, he mentioned that--and was most impressed by you young fellows. Ian's on a fly fishing trip in New Zealand at Lake Taupo. Do you know it? It's one of Ian's favorites; the largest fresh water lake in Australasia and very famous for fly fishing... so he keeps telling me over and over."
"He didn't invite you?"
"Ha! I can't stand fishing--he married the wrong woman. Besides, he said he had extra business to take care of. He'll be back in a few days--I'll let him know you called. Any message?"
"Just a social call."
"You're welcome here any time, Dickson. I'm dying to meet the boys who impressed my husband. Oh! By the way, have you read this morning's paper?"
"About Horace Fink? Yeah, I met him at the airport the day he left for Auckland."
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"Good, with a friend like Fink you don't need enemies."
"Do you know him?"
"Not really but my husband does... or did. Ian doesn't speak highly of Horace, if I may put it that way. No doubt Ian is aware of what happened, but you can bet your bottom dollar he won't visit the hospital. He can't stand the man. Do you know the story?"
"Ian mentioned it in passing when he was here."
"Did you notice his eyes?"
"Yes, I did. Scary, actually."
"Ian's eyes always react that way when the name Fink is mentioned."
Dickson and Mick took to the surf for the next couple of hours and returned in time for lunch--homemade burgers. "My gran treated me to a burger like this once a week--she called them `Nancy's burgers with the lot'. Her name was Nancy but I always called her `gran'. She was an awesome cook."
"You scrub up pretty well yourself, Dicko."
"So what do you reckon about the Fink situation so far?"
"Dunno... it's a whole string of ifs and maybes that become more complex every day. Dicko? Are you sure you're cut out for this private investigator shit?"
"What else would I do?"
"Open a burger joint--I'll be the kitchen hand."
"And what do we do? Close shop every time the surf rocks? `Back in 3 hours'?"
"Shouldn't we be in Auckland right now?"
"How would we explain that to Horace? Besides, there's plenty to keep us busy here in the Manning Valley."
Conversation gave way to appetite for a minute or two as the boys demolished a huge mouthful of burger. "And what about that sign language chart?" Mick asked before taking another bite. "What's that all about?"
"The paper boy--he's deaf, or almost. He spoke to me in sign and I thought it was interesting, even impressive. So I told him I'd see him again tomorrow morning. Hopefully, my sign will be good enough to engage in a bit of a chat."
"Why bother? You're not deaf."
"It'll make the kid feel good. What's the matter with you, Mick? Don't you get a kick outta pleasing other people?"
"I got a kick outta that hug you gave me last night. Did you get a kick outta mine?"
"That's like comparing oranges and apples--I'm not a very tactile person, you know that already."
"Did you hug your gran?"
"She said hugging was for little boys and girls."
"Jeez, thanks a bunch, Gran."
Taree Wingham Gun Club is a couple of kilometers out of Wingham, along Rifle Range Road. It's a cleared, grassy area surrounded by native bushland. Back in the 1880s it was used by the Wingham Rifle Corps, and for military training during both world wars. Sundays are always popular with club members and recreational shooters.
"You must be the fella who called," the branch president smiled as he shook Dickson's hand and introduced himself to the two teens. "Let me show you around."
One of the shooters they met was Clive Farrell, known locally as `Bumper Farrell' after the famous Sydney cop who ruled Kings Cross during the 50s and 60s with an iron fist--literally. Constable Farrell, a handsome man in his early 20s, had little in common physically with his renowned namesake; no cauliflower ears and no ham fists, but he did share the same no-nonsense attitude when he dealt with local hoodlums.
"You can keep those bloody broomsticks," he said, "I prefer pistol shooting. Besides, it's more in keeping with my job as a cop. You ever fired one of these things? It's a standard issue Smith and Wesson."
"I hate guns," Dickson said as he eyed the lethal looking pistol, obviously designed for a single purpose.
"You're in the wrong place, then, mate."
"No, that's not what I meant--I mean I hate what people--some people--do with guns."
"Does it scare you?"
"Yeah, it does."
"Good. Now hold the thing in front of you at arm's length, with both hands. Okay, now take careful aim and hit the paper target."
"Bullseye!" Mick yelled, then took his turn at firing the weapon. Oops! Not so accurate but passable.
Clive had finished with his target practice for the afternoon and invited the boys back to the clubhouse kitchen for a cuppa. "No booze here, guys. Booze and guns don't mix. So are you guys thinking about joining the club?"
"Not really, we were just kinda curious and figured we'd call in for a sticky beak."
"You should have been a movie star, not a cop," Mick quipped as the group sat on a bench outside the clubhouse to drink their tea and watch other shooters. "You're too good looking."
"Are you hitting on me?" Clive laughed. "No, mate, I like my job. Gives me the chance to take my aggro out on society's trash and keep the peace. It's a good feeling, you know, to play a constructive role in society."
"Did you read this morning's paper," Dickson asked as if he were simply making idle conversation.
"About Fink? Yeah, but I don't think it surprised anyone. Do you know him?"
"Not very well, but we hear stuff."
"Oh, you know, that he's not well liked around town--that kinda thing."
"If he had half a brain he'd move away."
"That bad? Is he known to police?"
"Let's put it this way, we're constantly pestered by people who say we should `do something' about `that man', but you can't arrest a bloke who's not broken the law. There's a local teacher who's written several long letters about Fink. It's all hearsay crap but we have to respond with more paperwork, which wastes our time. Someone should shoot her, not him."
"Change of sub," Mick interjected, "can I ask you something? Does being a copper make you cynical?"
"Can do, it depends. Guys like you? No worries. I can pick the troublemakers... they've got a certain manner about them that stands out like dog's balls... after a bit of experience, that is. By the way, you guys look like surfers to me. Are you locals?"
"Yep... from the old house on the beach a few ks north of Old Bar."
"The old weatherboard shack? I know it. I hear tell it's haunted."
"It is when Mick visits, and he's almost always there."
"I'm a keen surfer myself so don't be surprised if I drop in some time on my days off... if that's cool with you blokes."
"Check first to make sure we're not doing anything illegal."
As the boys returned to their bikes, Mick strongly suggested that Dickson's last comment was a stupid thing to say. "He's a cop, for Christ sake!"
"So? It was a joke. What the hell do we do that's illegal?"
"Doesn't matter. You never say that kinda thing to a cop."
After spending an hour at Aunt Flo's villa, searching once more for the missing wedding ring, again with no luck, the surfers rode their Suzukis back to the beach house. It was late afternoon, but they managed another good session in the surf, which compensated for its lack of size with good shape.
While they showered under the hose in the front yard, they discussed the meeting with Constable Farrell. Mick was adamant that having a cop hanging around the house was a bad idea, but Dickson argued that he could be useful in terms of police information.
"What if he discovers what we're up to with the Fink case?"
"You hope he won't."
Inside the house, Dickson checked his cell phone for messages, one of which was from Cody asking him to call. Following the howzits and a verbal précis of the day's events, Cody revealed that Doris had given him the front door key and asked him to keep an eye on the place. "Is there anything you want me to check?"
"That's a violation of privacy."
"Bullshit... I'll just be my usual nosey self and if I happen to find something interesting..."
"Don't go snooping around, Cody, that's a breach of trust."
"Hey, I got the front door key, right? She gave it to me, so she trusts me! Right?"
"She trusts you not to go snooping around."
"Okay, so if I see something that you guys might find useful and interesting, you don't wanna know about it, right?"
"That's not what I said."
Mick watched over his partner's shoulder as the day's report was typed. "Not a lot of substance there," he commented.
"What seems trivial or unimportant at this stage, my dear Watson, could take on a whole new meaning with the gathering of new information."