Doris Fink noticed a second motor bike parked on the rear lawn of the old beach shack...in fact, it was the only lawn, the front yard was beach sand. This time, she didn't bother to knock. Rather, she marched through the house to the front verandah. Sure enough, two surfers, both clad in board shorts, and carrying surfboards, trotted up the beach to greet her with their youthful and endearing smiles.
Dickson took care of introductions: "Doris Fink, this is my partner, Mick Morris."
"Partner? You mean...?"
"I see. You never know these days," Doris smiled and cocked an eyebrow. "I must say, I'm a little concerned about this--uh, case--becoming public knowledge. I hope you young men understand the meaning of professional discretion."
"I like your perfume, Mrs. Fink. What is it?"
"Call me Doris, Mick. It's actually a concoction my husband made in the hope of selling it to commercial interests. He's full of ideas, most of which don't seem to work. However, I admit, I do like the perfume."
"Black with lemon?" Dickson asked.
"Do you have sherry?"
"That'll be fine. Do you cook?"
"Love it." Dickson disappeared into the kitchen buoyed by the idea that, if Doris wanted a sherry, then the guys could enjoy a beer. He returned to the front verandah and distributed the drinks.
"You don't look like a private investigator and you don't look like a cook," Doris smiled as she sat on the canvas chair. "So what's this meeting all about? You want to know more about my husband? It's very simple. Pardon the French, but he's an asshole... a selfish, self-centered, egotistical asshole who thinks the entire world revolves around him."
"Why not leave him?" Mick asked.
"Okay, okay, I see... fair enough."
"My husband won a large amount in a lottery some years ago--5 million dollars--most of which he invested in blue ribbon stocks. We live on the proceeds, which is more than adequate for our needs. But nobody, not friends, relatives or whoever else, got a single cent. I am the sole beneficiary of his will. I never mention it, though. I worry that he might change his mind. I think he's so self-absorbed that he's forgotten about it, and I don't want to remind him."
"Do you get along okay?" Dickson inquired.
"Just fine, but only because I'm the palm tree in a hurricane. Besides, he's away on business much of the time... don't ask me what business, I have no idea and I don't ask."
"Doesn't he mention it when he's home?"
"Vaguely; his references are confined to `it went well' or whatever."
"You mentioned enemies."
"Oh, there's no shortage of those, my dear. Most are peeved that he's a skinflint. Before the lottery win they were all good friends, and he was inclined to be sycophantic. After the lottery windfall, he changed completely. He no longer has any friends, at least none that I'm aware of. There's also Serge Vodkinski..."
"That's how Serge is pronounced in his native Ukraine. He was madly in love with me when I was single--make that impossibly infatuated--he still is, and went into a jealous rage when I married Horace."
"Did you marry Horace before or after the lottery win?"
"Before. He charmed me, treated me like a princess and showered me with gifts and attention. He was every girl's dream, and good looking."
"The money changed him completely. As they say, power corrupts. He no longer needs people."
"No. I'm the only friend he has left, or thinks he has."
"Do you hate him?"
"I'm not sure hate is the correct word; intense dislike perhaps."
"How do you stand living with someone you can't abide?"
"With some difficulty. If it weren't for his regular jaunts interstate or overseas, I don't think I could stand it. But I have the security of the house, a regular income, a nice car, money to spend, friends, interests... I get by."
"A good friend, Tony. He lives on a small farm outside of Taree. It's a hobby farm, but he makes a living selling honey locally. He's an apiarist... a bee keeper. I never visit the farm, though. We keep a low profile."
"Is he married?"
"Separated but not divorced."
"Please don't take this the wrong way, Doris," Mick interrupted, "but if one were to be impartial, even cynical, one might assume that you are also a suspect in the inevitable murder of Horace Fink."
The redhead laughed for some seconds. "Me? I have no intention of spending the rest of my life in prison, dear boy. No, I'm not a suspect."
"May I ask a risky question and, once again, I don't want to offend you. Would you be happy to see your husband murdered?"
"Let's put it this way, I'd order a crate of Dom Perignon. Speaking of which, may I have another sherry? I'm rather enjoying the view... and you two hunks can take that any way you like."
Sherry replenished, the discussion continued. Dickson asked his client if she suspected any particular person more than the others on the list. "I don't want to influence your thinking," she replied. "You need to start from scratch and make your own judgements. My feeling is that all of those people on the list are more than capable of doing the deed, and with good reason."
"Are they friends of yours?"
"Apart from Tony Spiropoulos, no. Occasionally, some `associates', if I may call them that, visit the house for whatever reason, certainly not to see me, and at times I might see them at the supermarket or in town somewhere. I know them well enough to say hello but that's it."
"What about Serge Vodkinski? Does he visit the house?"
"No--Horace hates him. I've also made it plain to Serge that he's not welcome at any time, whether Horace is there or not."
"Does Serge phone you or harass you?"
"No, at least not any more. He did for a while after Horace and I married."
"Is Serge married?"
"Yes... unhappily I might add. I think he married her out of spite, hoping to make me jealous. But the poor fellow bit off more than he could chew. He insists he wears the pants, but she's the one who tells him which ones to wear."
All three dissolved into laughter for some seconds before Dickson asked Doris if she had any thoughts about how the super sleuths might go about meeting the `suspects', all of whom were strangers. "That's your job," she said matter-of-factly. "That's why I pay you. Observant, analytical, intelligent--isn't that how you described yourself?"
"No thank you, I need to drive home... which reminds me, my house is out of bounds for meetings such as this. However, Horace will be in New Zealand for a month starting next week. If you need to see me, phone first. And be careful of nosey neighbors. Enter via the house next door, number 41, mine's 39, and hop the fence like Cody does."
"Cody Callaghan, he's my gardener, a year or two younger than you. People will think you're visiting him as surfer mates or something. I'll warn him of your possible arrival. Actually, you can phone him yourself." Doris took a small notepad from her bag, jotted down the name and number of her gardener, tore out the page and handed it to Dickson. "He's a very nice boy, but be warned, he's... how shall I put it? Even less inhibited than you are. But remember, he's not to know the purpose of your mission. Tell him I promised you a couple of jars of honey or whatever."
At dusk, Dickson and Mick rode their Suzukis to the banks of the Manning River, a mile or two upstream from the twin mouths at Old Bar. They slowed as they neared a lone middle-age fisherman, parked their bikes a few meters away and chose a grassy spot where they unpacked their fishing gear.
"You won't do any good down there," called the fisherman.
"Bream, mullet, an occasional flathead."
"You doing okay?"
"Just arrived. But I usually get enough for a feed. Name's Ian, Ian Ajit." The man spelled his last name and explained that it was Indian. "My father's Indian and my mother's English." The boys introduced themselves, then cast their rods into the river. Mick's hook snagged on the tail of Dickson's T-shirt, which caused Ian to burst into laughter. "You boys are pretty new at this game, I see." He wedged the handle of his rod between two rocks, and offered to teach the boys how to cast.
"The rods belonged to my dad," Dickson said after a few lessons. "This is the first time I've used them. My dad was a keen fisherman--I still have a lot of his trophies."
"What was his first name?"
"Dickson, same as mine. He said he wanted me to suffer as much as he did." The blond's attention was suddenly diverted by a tug on his line. "Hey, I think I got something. What do I do, what do I do?"
"Reel it in slowly, then pause. Lift the rod, reel in some more and pause again. You don't want the line to break. When you feel the fish tire, reel in again. That's it--you're doing just fine, mate."
"Oh, shit!" Dickson exclaimed as the fish broke the surface with a large splash. "It's huge!"
"Easy now, easy now, easy does it. You don't want to lose this fella. Looks like a flathead. Gotta be 5 pounds if it's an ounce."
Some seconds later, the out-of-water fish dangled from the end of the rod. "What do I do now?"
"Get it off the hook."
"You mean touch it? You're kidding! What if it bites?"
"Let me show you." The fisherman took hold of the fish's head as he explained the danger of sharp spikes that could cause a nasty wound to the unwary. "You got a bucket?"
"Bucket? Uh... Did you bring a bucket, Mick?"
"I didn't think we'd catch anything."
"Right, no bucket. Maybe we should throw it back. I heard about this catch and release thing."
"Throw it back? Are you daft?" the fisherman gasped in horror. "That's a prize fish, mate. You got a cleaning and scaling knife?"
"You live around here?" Ian asked.
"A few miles up the road... not far."
"Tell you what, you invite me to dinner and I'll clean and scale the fish, filet it, and cook it. There's plenty there for the three of us, plus leftovers. Besides, my wife and kids are at a church function all night. Deal?"