The job of collecting and bagging cow manure and hosing the floor was given to Dickson and Mick, both of whom privately wondered why on earth they chose to suffer this indignity. "So, you're a friend of the Bishop," Robert Down said. "He's a top bloke. I took him for a spin on the Harley one time and he was white as a sheet when we got back to the presbytery. Haha! So you young-uns are here because he told you I talk to the cows. Well, it's a fact. They know their names and they understand what I'm saying. When they crowd around the feed trough, I tell the pushy ones to piss off and stop being so bloody impatient. `You'll all get fed,' I say to them, `so stop buggerizing around.' They're no different to dogs and cats, ya know. And when you look into those big brown moo-cow eyes with their long lashes, you realize the lights are not only on, but there really is somebody home. By the way, the cows with no white specks in their eyes are the most placid and give better milk."
"You make me feel guilty about eating beef, Robert," Dickson admitted.
"Bob. Call me Bob. Bob Down, haha! I eat beef, no worries. When a cow's dead it's dead, mate. That's when the lights are out and nobody's home. Nature is nature, and blokes like me weren't designed to eat grass."
Once the clean up was finished, Bob invited the boys to his shack for a drink. "I make the stuff meself--it'd kill a brown dog--true!--but I'm not a brown dog, haha! The Italians call it grappa--it's 100% spirit made from grape skins."
"Maybe we shouldn't have any," Dickson suggested as the trio approached the front door of the shack. "We're riding."
"On those rice rockets? That's not riding, mate, that's bloody farting." The first thing the boys noticed inside the dilapidated corrugated-iron building was a coffin. "This is open plan living," Bob chuckled as he pointed to various corners of the large single room. "Kitchen there, bed there, couch there and bits and pieces over there. The thunder box is out back."
"Why not? Listen, mate, when the lights are out and nobody's home, you're not in a position to choose a coffin. Right? Sometimes I sleep in it... sort of acclimatizing myself to my final resting place. And the Harley's coming with me in the same hole. Besides, that coffin is where I keep my Winchester. I guess Mrs. O'Reilly told you about that." Bob grabbed an old blackened percolator, spooned in coffee, added water, and placed it on a kerosene cooker, which he lit with a match. "The idea is to throw the grappa down the hatch all at once, then drink the coffee. Take a seat, boys, and tell me what else the Bishop said about me."
"He mentioned your friendship with Horace Fink."
"One of the finest gentlemen God ever put breath into is Horace. He's been very good to me. I went through a tough time a few years ago--ended up in the slammer for a year. Horace helped me out, got me this job and loaned me the dough to buy the Harley."
"We heard Horace is not very well regarded in town."
"Horace and I have that much in common," Bob guffawed as he stroked his orange beard. "Maybe that's why he took to me. One of his conditions was that I resign from the Rebels." Bob took a minute to pour three coffees into enamelled metal mugs, which he placed on the coffee table situated in the middle of the room. Then he opened the antique, round-shouldered fridge door and produced a billy can of milk and a scoop. "Straight from the teat, mate, non-homogenized, non-pasteurized, just as the calf drinks it. Sugar?"
"One and a half for me."
"Now, where was I? Oh, yeah... the Rebels. Let me tell you something, mate, you don't resign from the Rebels--no way--not unless it's in a box. But I arranged a friendly chat with one of the higher-ups and managed to `retire' from active duty provided I didn't join another club."
"Why did Horace stipulate that as a condition?"
Bob postponed his answer while he poured three nips of grappa into small glasses. "He knew what went on in bikie clubs--you know, the anti social stuff. He said I needed to settle down. I'm 50, mate, too old for all that aggro crap."
"You must have some amazing stories to tell."
"Yeah, I do, but if I did, I'd be strung up by the cobbler's awls. And now, my friends, time for the nectar of the gods. Straight down the hatch, no buggerizing around, then sip the coffee." Bob watched the boys as they threw the contents of the small glasses down their throats. "Well?"
"Feels like I'm on fire," Dickson wheezed as he made a desperate grab for the coffee. "Whoa!"
"Me too," Mick agreed. "Jesus! I'm glad I'm not a brown dog."
Bob pulled up a stool and arranged himself opposite the boys. "So, what's this visit all about?"
"Have you heard the news about Horace?"
"I don't read the paper and I don't listen to the news. I live alone and that's the way I prefer it. The world can go hang itself."
Dickson explained the story of Horace's situation in Auckland. "The cops are treating it as attempted murder," he added.
"If they find the bastard who did it, he's dead meat--I'll see to that. Even if he's in jail, I'll arrange to have him eliminated." Bob poured himself another grappa, put it to his lips and tossed it down. "You got Horace's contact number? I don't have a phone here, but I can use Mrs. O'Reilly's. So, is that the reason you came here--to tell me what happened to Horace?"
"Partly. We've met a lot of people who say uncomplimentary things about Horace. When Tom told us you were his friend, we thought... well, we figured maybe you might tell us the other side of the story."
"We met Horace at the airport before he flew to New Zealand. He expressed interest in buying my house--the old weatherboard place north of Old Bar."
"Let me tell you something, boy, Horace is the kinda bloke who can read a person's character like a book. If he smells a rat, you're finished. Look at me, what do you see? Shaved head, beard, piercings, buck teeth? Horace looked beyond that, he looked inside me and he liked what he saw. And I'll tell you something else; all those fuckwits who don't like Horace have something in common--they're assholes, and they resent the fact that Horace knows it. It's like the bloke has x-ray vision and, for that matter, so do I. Haha! Horace is kinda like my cows, I talk to them and they talk to me through their eyes." Bob stood, gathered the empty mugs and glasses, and took them to a bench near the kerosene cooker. "I got things to do, boys. Maybe I'll take a ride out to the beach house sometime."
Dickson and Mick trudged their way across the grassy fields as they headed back to their `rice rockets'. "Scary bloke," Mick commented. "No way I'd wanna be on the wrong side of that fella. Do you think he meant what he said about `eliminating' Horace's attacker?"
"He's a former Rebel and probably still has contacts--if you get my drift. But I don't understand how a bloke like Horace ever got involved with Bob--those two are from different planets--no, make that galaxies."
"Maybe we should talk to Doris."
Back at the beach house, Dickson worked on the latest report before the teens took to the surf until shortly after lunch. Then they visited Aunt Flo's villa. Once again, their search for the missing wedding ring proved fruitless.
"Have you thought about putting an ad in the local paper?" Dickson enquired as the trio sat down to scones and tea. "The ring could be anywhere."
"Do you know what a hunch is?" Flo asked. "You should you know--you're in the detective business. I've read every Agatha Christie novel and she always talks about hunches."
"You have a hunch? About what?"
"The ring is still here in this house--I just know it. What I don't know is exactly where."
Later that afternoon, Paul visited the beach house for his training session. The boy experimented with catching a few short rides while lying flat, chest-down on the board. "Pretty soon," Dickson said with an encouraging grin, "I'll teach you to stand. By the way, when's your birthday?"
"Four weeks, three days and... uh... about 7 hours."
"But you're not counting."
Dickson and Mick relaxed on the front verandah with a beer each as the sun began to set behind them. "Are you staying for dinner?" the blond asked. "I think I'll do a bolognaise."
"You know I love your bolognaise, mate! Woohoo!"
"Don't your folks get peeved about your always being here?"
"Not really. I'm an adult."
"But it's like you're never at home."
"That depends on what you mean by home. I feel like this place is my home."
"I'm not sure how to take that."
"Hey, if I'm intruding, just say so and I'm outta here."
"That's not what I meant, Mick, and you know it. I enjoy your company but... well, I never thought about it as being permanent--I mean like 24/7. Am I making sense?" His mate took a swig of beer and stared at the sea. "Okay," Dickson continued, "let me explain: when you leave for home at night, it's like I own myself again. I enjoy the solitude. BUT, and this is important, I look forward to hearing the sound of your Suzuki again in the mornings and the sight of your goofy face at the kitchen doorway. Do you see where I'm coming from here?"
"Can I tell you something, Dicko? I can't imagine not having you around. I feel kinda lost when we're not together, like I'm not the whole me. You know? I think of us as brothers--two peas in a pod. The sum of the something or other..."
"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
"Yeah--so my question is, how important am I to you?"
"Compared to what? You're losing the plot, Mick. How can I compare you to anyone else when there is no one else?"
"Why isn't there anyone else?"
"I don't know, for Christ sake! There just isn't. To be honest, I kinda worry about your dependence on me; it makes me nervous."
"I get the feeling I shouldn't stay for dinner. We might end up arguing."
"You'll not only stay for dinner, Mick, and, by the way, that's an order, I'll also teach you how to make bolognaise MY way. It's about time you learned how to feed your dumb face without resorting to take away pizza. And that's that--don't argue."
"I don't understand you at all, Dicko."
"That makes me more interesting."