After spending an hour in the surf to watch the dawn sunrise, Dickson returned to the house, made coffee, and sat on the rear fence while he waited for the paper boy.
"Good day," the shirtless surfer said in sign as the boy approached on his bicycle. "I practiced."
A beaming smile and a flurry of fingers met Dickson's greeting, but it was way too fast for Dickson to comprehend. "Slower," he said.
"I -- am -- impressed! Thank -- you!"
"Do you read lips?"
"Do you surf?"
"Would you like to learn?"
Furious nodding was the reply, then another flurry of fingers.
"Maybe one afternoon after school?"
Further furious nodding followed and then, more slowly in sign, "my -- telephone - number -- speak -- to -- my -- mother."
"Wait!" Dickson dashed inside and returned in a few seconds with a pad and pen. The boy took them and wrote his number, beaming all the while. Then he blew his whistle and pedaled down the road, turning once to wave goodbye.
While he ate scrambled egg on toast, and sipped a fruit juice, Dickson thumbed though the paper to find an update of the Fink bashing in Auckland. It was a minor article that reported Fink's condition as `serious but stable'. There was also a mention of his wife as having flown to New Zealand to be by his side. `Homicide detectives are investigating,' the article concluded.
The sound of a motorcycle interrupted Dickson's thoughts. He checked his watch: 7:30am. "Had breakfast?" he asked as Mick appeared at the kitchen doorway.
"Coffee at home," Mick answered, then opened the fridge door and peered inside. "I'm starving."
"What else is new? There's some leftover scrambled egg in the pan on the stove."
Mick popped two slices of bread into the toaster. "So what's on the agenda for today--apart from surfing? And ... more surfing?"
"I used sign to speak to the paper boy this morning. He's way too quick for me, though. Anyway, he's gonna drop by one afternoon after school to learn how to surf. He can use my old board."
"You call that assortment of dings a board? What's his name?"
"Name? Dammit! I forgot to ask!"
"So what's so special about this kid?"
"I don't know any deaf people--apart from you when you choose to ignore me."
"He's special because he's deaf?"
"That doesn't make sense."
Mick grabbed a juice, spooned scrambled egg onto his toast and sat at the kitchen table opposite his mate. "Good ol' bum nuts," he said before a forkful of egg disappeared into his mouth. "Mmmmm! So what's the news with Fink?"
"Serious but stable. Nothing new." Dickson turned the paper around to face Mick. "You know something? This business of solving a murder that hasn't been committed is the pits. It's like leaping about with a butterfly net."
"There's an easier way."
"You find a grub in a cocoon and wait."
"Yeah, I can identify with that."
"Hey, I've got an idea."
Dickson listened with some skepticism to his mate's suggestion, but eventually warmed to the idea. An hour later, the two Suzukis parted company as each rider headed toward his own separate destination. Dickson was first to return home, and used the opportunity to phone the paper boy's mom who asked to meet him in person before she gave her consent.
"I'm Dickson," he said as Maureen Parker answered the door of a small flat at the rear of a large house in Old Bar. The pair shook hands and went inside.
"It's ideal," said the petite brunette, who appeared to be late 20s, as she offered him a chair. "The rent is affordable and Paul has a backyard to play in. The people who own the house understand my situation as a struggling single mother on a pension. Paul and I supplement the rent by doing a few chores ... they're an elderly retired couple. Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Just a quickie, thanks."
In the small kitchenette, Maureen filled the jug and turned on the power. "I'm a little nervous about Paul surfing. He's 14 now, you know, and growing up--getting more independent and antsy. I was just 15 when he was born. He has no father to keep him in line." She took two mugs from a cupboard and smiled at Dickson. "But you seem like a nice young man--maybe you'll be good for Paul."
"Do you know Florence Flannigan?"
"She's my aunt, well, sort of, she was the younger sister and lifelong friend of my gran's. If you need a character reference..."
"You've just given me one." Maureen brought the two mugs of tea to the small table and sat opposite her guest. "Paul doesn't have a male role model in his life. Being deaf, or almost, he lacks confidence. He told me about how you learned sign and spoke with him this morning--he was thrilled to bits. Please take care of Paul, Dickson, he's all I have."
"You're making me nervous."
"I don't mean to. I know I can't keep Paul wrapped in cotton wool, but I worry... as all mothers do, I guess. You can't pick up a newspaper these days, or turn on the tele, without seeing kids in some sort of trouble ... or worse."
"You're right about the cotton wool, Maureen."
"I take your point. Thank you for your kind offer, and for taking the trouble to communicate with my son. Hopefully, you're the answer to my prayers."
"Whoa, Maureen! Hold those horses for a minute! You make it sound like I'm a knight in shining armor or something!"
"You are to Paul. He'll be home from school in an hour or so. Should I tell him it's okay to visit you this afternoon?"
Mick was surfing when Dickson returned to the beach house, which was the only excuse the shaggy blond needed to join his mate on the backline. "How did you go with Barbara Thorne?"
"I hope she's not a member of the jury at Simon Swan's trial," Mick laughed. "Jesus, what a bitch!"
"Ditto Simon. Let's compare notes later. The paper boy is due soon to learn surfing."
Paul read the note pinned to the back door of the house and followed instructions. The auburn haired, slender fair-skinned youth walked through the house to the front verandah, collected Dickson's old board that resembled a patchwork quilt made of fiberglass, and trotted down to the surf where he was met by the daredevil duo as they glided to shore.
"I'm afraid today's lesson won't be very exciting," Dickson warned. "I'll teach you how to paddle. You no paddle, you no surf." Lesson 1 began in the small wash--paddling, duck diving, paddling, duck diving--until the young boy was exhausted and headed to shore on an almost spent wave. Dickson arrived a few seconds later and was surprised to see his student beaming from ear to ear despite being out of breath. "Let's go back to the house for a juice, and I'll give you some exercises to strengthen your arms. By the way, you're turning pink already... next time, sun block for you, young fella, and a T-shirt."
While watching from the verandah, Mick removed his iPod headphones as the pair approached. "Hey, Paul did pretty well, he's got natural talent. Oops, sorry, he can't hear me."
"He can lip read... just speak a little more slowly."
Mick repeated his sentence much to the delight of the freckled face that mouthed a few words which Mick failed to understand, let alone the accompanying flurry of fingers. However, the expression of joy on the boy's face spoke volumes. "I see what you mean," Mick said to Dickson, "about the reward you get from pleasing other people."
As the boys sipped their juices, Dickson explained a series of exercises that would improve the strength of Paul's arms, shoulders and chest. "It's very important," he stressed. "The faster you can paddle, the more waves you'll catch. Let me see your biceps. Hmmmm, not bad but they'll be twice as big by the time I'm finished with you. Will you be back tomorrow afternoon?"
Nod, nod, nod, beam, beam, beam.
Maureen Parker called later in the afternoon to thank Dickson for his trouble. "I've never seen my son so excited," she said. "He hasn't stopped talking in sign about... well, about everything. He loves your house. I think you've just adopted a puppy dog, Dickson--or perhaps it's the other way around--I hope you realize the significance of that."
"I think I do, Maureen. I've not experienced anything like this before. But don't worry; I'll do my best to live up to his expectations."
Over dinner of cold roast beef and salad, washed down by cold beer, Dickson and Mick discussed their meetings with Thorne and Swan.
"I didn't mention that we were investigating anything," Mick began, "but I did mention the news article about Horace. She shrugged and said it was no surprise, and that if it had occurred here in Taree, she would immediately suspect Simon Swan."
"I thought they were friends."
"So did I. They work together on projects but she was scathing in her criticism. She described him as an `old woman' with a fiery temper and a hyper-anxiety cot case. She said he flies off the handle for the most trivial of reasons. A `dummy spitter' she called him. According to Barbara, she tolerates him but only because he's the best cameraman and editor in town."
"Did you get the feeling she wouldn't have been so open and forthright if I'd been present?"
"Yeah--it was like she took me into her confidence because it was a one-on-one situation."
"Ditto with Simon and me, and he was just as scathing about her as she was about him. He used the term `Lemon Lips' constantly and pointed the dreaded finger of blame at Barbara as chief suspect if an attempt on Horace's life were to occur here."
"So where does all that leave us?"
"That's not the point, Mick. Where would it leave us if we hadn't unearthed all that information? Have faith, my dear Watson, the pieces of the puzzle will fit when the time is right."
"Do you really believe that?"
"What would you prefer to believe? It's like life, mate, things happen that don't make a lotta sense. Then, one day, they do."
"You mean like us being best mates?"