Cody Callaghan phoned later that afternoon just to say g'day and ask how things were going. "What things?" Dickson enquired. "You mean the tsunami? Yeah, that worried me for a while. Hey, listen, mate, can you do me a fav? Can you check those pics Horace took?... the backgrounds, not you."
"No offence, mate, but I'm not sure Horace was photographing the python."
"Just check the backgrounds, okay? Humor me. I'll phone back in about an hour."
As Dickson ended the call, Mick asked what was on the menu for dinner.
"I dunno, Mick, I'm not all that hungry after today's drama. Maybe I can do something with leftovers--like jaffles--or an omelette."
"With chips? No one makes chips like you do, mate."
"My gran did."
The next call came from Doris Fink who advised that she and Horace had booked a flight back to Australia on Saturday. "But," she explained, "Horace will be in Concord Hospital in Sydney for further observation. He might be there another few days."
"I'll be back in Taree Sunday morning."
"How's the police investigation?"
"The forensic people found a few hairs and bits of other material, but nothing that matches anyone they know of--they checked all the hotel staff for DNA. At the moment, it's a dead end."
"Yes, my faux par, sorry. Perhaps we can get together for a chat on Sunday for lunch? I also need to update your pay check."
Dickson broke 4 eggs into a bowl, whisked them, added chopped onion, tomato, mushrooms, leftover chicken and ham and a generous fistful of grated cheese. At the same time, Mick peeled two large potatoes and sliced them into chip-size lengths which he placed into a wire basket in readiness for stage 1 of the process.
"What now, Dicko?"
"Straight into the deep fryer."
"It's not turned on!"
"That's the whole point, Mr. Wannabe, place them in cold oil THEN turn the heat to medium."
The chips were allowed to partially cook until they'd sweated a coating of sugary starch. Dickson shook the basket to free them of excess oil, and scattered them over a sheet of newspaper to cool. After turning the fryer temperature to three-quarter heat ready for stage 2, Dickson took a frypan, added a knob of butter and heated the pan on low.
Method: pour omelette mixture into a slightly hot pan, replace lid to allow steam to cook the surface of the mixture simultaneously with the base (to prevent burning). Turn off heat after 30 seconds and use the pan's residual heat to finish cooking.
During that time, the cooled chips were ready for stage 2: return chips to deep fryer and hot oil, carefully. Cook until crisp. "It's the sugary starch that forms a crisp coating," Dickson explained as he shook the basket and tossed the chips. "That's the sound you want, mate, like a pile of dry twigs, except these are fluffy in the center."
The boys enjoyed a chilled glass or two of dry white wine with their meal, then Dickson phoned Cody.
"You might be right," the spiky black mop admitted, "just about all the pics have one thing in common--bees."
"Bees? I didn't see any bees."
"It looks like a small cloud that keeps changing position... I've seen those swarms at Tony's farm a couple of times. If you want, I could check with Tony to see what he thinks."
"Of what? The python or the bees?"
"Hahaha! Yeah, maybe that's not such a good idea--I don't want Tony thinking that maybe Horace is gay or something, or quizzing me about whatever."
"So you're pretty sure it's a bee swarm?"
"Not hundreds, but it looks like it could be."
"Why the bloody hell would Horace photograph bees?"
"Search me--maybe he was hoping for a decent pic, but the swarm is too far away. Hey, Dickson, you're the detective, not me. Maybe it's got something to do with that bee farming book I saw at his house. Yeah?"
"Could be--who knows? By the way, Doris will be back in town this Sunday."
"Yeah, she phoned and told me. Hey, she thinks you're one helluva hottie, Dickson."
"True! I reckon her panties were wet when she sang your praises, mate. She's in lust, hehehe."
"Cut the crap, Cody. When are you coming out this way for a surf?"
"Tomorrow after school? Is it okay if I bring a friend?"
Dickson and Mick relaxed on the front verandah and discussed Cody's comment in relation to bees. "The thing is," Dickson pondered aloud, "bees and honey seem to be some sort of recurring theme here. Why that is, I have no idea."
"Probably, but you must admit, it's curious."
Cody's friend Mark is an impressive youth, not just physically but in terms of his entire demeanor. The impression he gave Dickson and Mick when they met the second time was that here was a young man destined to go places. He oozed confidence and success but not ego. Both Mark and Cody wore straight black hair, but Mark's was cut short, and he stood a little taller. His T-shirt hid little of his well-developed chest, and hung loose over his obviously flat stomach. His shorts revealed a pair of muscular and powerful legs that matched his strong tanned arms.
The pair had hitched a ride to the beach house. "It took a while," Cody explained, "not too many drivers have room for a surfboard. Mark doesn't ride--he body surfs."
When Paul arrived shortly afterward for his regular surfing lesson, Mick and Cody volunteered to be his coach for the afternoon while Dickson acted as Mark's host. They took a beer each to the front verandah and watched the boys in the surf. "You remind me of Code's surfing mate, Steve," Mark commented. "He looks a lot like you."
"Cody's a very likable bloke."
"He can be a real pain in the ass but, yeah, he's one of a kind. He and his folks have helped me a lot."
"In what way?"
"I was... how shall I put it... antisocial... a bully with a major chip on my shoulder. Cody changed all that... not at first, but eventually. His middle name is `Persistence'."
"And his folks?"
"They showed me what a real family is like... my dad split when I was just a kid... now it's just my mom and me. I've not spoken to my dad--if you can call him that--in ten years. He lives in Perth. Cody's dad, though, is the coolest, the best, and he treats me like a son but not as a kid, as an equal. And what about you?"
Dickson explained the death of his parents when he was a child, and being raised by his gran.
"So it's just you now?" Mark asked.
"Yep, just little ol' me. I have an aunt... my gran's younger sister."
"You should get a girl, mate, it'll do you good... unless..."
"Nothing. Anyway, it's a good thing you're doing for young Paul. That's the kinda thing Cody does--always helping people--when they're not on the wrong end of his fists, that is." Mark paused to shake his head and grin. "He can be pretty damn fiery, that bloke."
"That's what he says about you," Dickson laughed.
When the surfers returned to the front yard to shower under the hose, Cody was full of praise for Paul. "He's got natural talent," he said. "It won't be long before he's riding 20 footers. His only problem is he has no bloody fear. You're gonna need to keep your eye on this bloke, Dickson. He's crazy!" It was a comment that caused Paul to beam with pride.
As the guests prepared to leave, Dickson and Mick offered Cody and Mark a lift into town. "I'll race you!" Paul said excitedly in sign. "Give me five minutes' start." The redhead jumped onto his bike and took off down the dirt road, pedaling for all he was worth. When the Suzukis began to catch up, both riders slowed a little to ensure that Paul won the `race' by a whisker, then they dropped their pillion passengers at Old Bar, from where they would hitch a ride back home.
"Hey, Dickson," Cody said before the group parted company, "have you spoken to Paul about his deafness?"
"Not in great depth, no."
"It occurred to me in the surf that he couldn't hear the sound of the waves and all the other sounds we take for granted."
"He wears a hearing aid."
"Not in the surf. Can you imagine that? Lots of furious action with no sound? It must be eerie. How do you explain sound to someone who hasn't experienced it? Like the whooshing of the green room when you're inside, and then the silence that follows for a few seconds before you hear the roar of the crashing falls again?"
"Did you discuss it with Paul?"
"I wasn't sure how to approach it--I don't know how sensitive he is to... well, you know. I'd like to get to know him better--he's a great kid."
All four shook hands and then separated.
"What's for dinner?" Mick asked as he and Dickson entered the supermarket. "How about fish and chips?"
"We had chips last night."
In the beach house kitchen, Dickson placed two filets of barramundi on a hot, oiled griddle while Mick attended to stage 2 of the chips. "What do you think of Mark?" was Mick's unexpected question.
"Almost as impressive as you."
"Really? Do you mean that?"
"Isn't that what you wanted to hear?"
"That was below the belt, Dicko."
"Listen, Mick," Dickson said firmly as he turned the filets, "I don't compare you to anyone else. Okay? You're you and Mark is Mark. Do you have a problem with insecurity or something?"
"Maybe I do. It's just that you don't say much--I mean, about us, about me."
"Actions speak louder than words, Mick."