A black 1951 Wolseley 6/80 entered the driveway of the beach house. Horace Fink alighted, observed the two Suzukis and a bicycle, and approached the back door. "Anyone home?" After several attempts to alert someone to his presence, Horace stepped through the back door and followed the hall to the front verandah where he took a seat and watched the boys in the surf. He checked his watch: almost 5pm. Horace then wandered around the exterior of the house, inspecting the size of the block. He was obviously more interested in the land area than the building itself.
At 5:30, the boys--two bronzed Aussies and one whitewashed carrot-top--returned to the house to shower. "This is our friend Paul," Dickson explained. "We're teaching him how to surf." All four shook hands. "Can I offer you something to drink, Mr. Fink?"
"I'd kill for a light beer... and call me Horace."
As the guest sipped his beer and watched the boys take turns under the shower hose, he explained that his visit was business rather than social. "I don't mean to be rude, Dickson, but I'd prefer to speak to you in private. If now is not convenient for you..."
"No, no, no, it's fine, Horace. I'll just see Paul out."
When Dickson returned to the front verandah with two Cokes, one for Mick, he remarked on the Wolseley. "Beautiful car, Horace; it's in magnificent condition--a genuine classic."
"It was my father's. I've always been fond of that model--it featured quite often in those old black and white Scotland Yard movies I watched as a kid on Saturday afternoon television."
Mick made himself scarce in order that Dickson and Horace might chat in private. "This is a prime piece of real estate," the balding man said, "ideal for what I have in mind."
"I understand from what I've heard around the traps that you have no intention of selling the property, Dickson--that you have been approached on previous occasions. Is that correct?"
"On what you have to say."
"I see... Mr. Poker Face," Horace smiled. "A man after my own heart. What I'm proposing, my friend, is this: you keep the property and the title. The house will be demolished and, in its place, I provide the finance to build a block of apartments, one of which is yours to occupy for life at no cost. In return, I collect the rents from the remaining apartments for a period of 25 years after which time the entire estate reverts back to you, lock stock and barrel. So, basically, the land remains yours and you have the right to occupy the apartment of your choice. Meanwhile, I collect the profits. How does that sound?"
"Is that all you have to say?"
"For now it is, I would need to discuss the matter with Mick before I make any decision."
"I see, so you and Mick are...?"
"No. We're best mates and partners."
"In... in... various endeavors. That is, we have plans... business plans... sort of. Nothing concrete yet."
"Be careful of partnerships, Dickson. Partnerships are the only ships guaranteed to sink."
"Thanks for the advice, Horace. By the way, any news about the attack in Auckland?"
"I'd rather not discuss it, Dickson. It's over and finished as far as I'm concerned."
"And the business trip?"
"Obviously, I didn't get the chance to pursue anything. Another time, perhaps. Thanks for the beer and the chat. I'll look forward to our next meeting. I find you to be an impressive young man, Mr. Bottoms. Quite impressive."
Before Horace departed, he took the time to show the boys his prized Wolseley in great detail. "They don't build cars like this any more," the proud owner boasted.
"If they did, it wouldn't be so special," Dickson grinned.
"Very astute observation, my friend."
As the boys returned to the house, Mick asked the usual question about what was for dinner. "Chicken a la Mick," Dickson replied.
"Chicken a la... what?"
"BBQ chicken from the chicken shop. I'll see you when you get back--I'll take care of the vegetables and gravy."
As Dickson prepared the potatoes and broccoli he pondered his conversation with Horace. Partnerships are the only ships guaranteed to sink. Isn't Horace's proposal a partnership? It seemed a contradictory comment to the blond chef which he nonetheless dismissed with a shrug. After all, he had no intention of selling the house.
"So what was the business chat all about," Mick asked as he entered the kitchen and placed the bagged chicken on the old red Laminex bench top. "As if I needed to guess. You said no, right?"
"I said I'd discuss it with you."
"Discussion over--you're not selling the house."
"Don't you even want to hear his offer?" Dickson went on to tell his mate about Horace's proposal. "So," he concluded, "I get to keep the title and one of the apartments."
"And share your private sanctuary with umpteen other people? They might all be boring old farts who complain about barbecues and noise. Dickson? Are you considering Fink's proposal?"
"Considering is not deciding, Mick."
"Then why bother to discuss the idea with me?"
"Because your opinion is important to me."
"Stop stressing, mate. By the way, Paul said he had something important to tell me about Horace."
"He didn't say--he said he would tell me tomorrow afternoon."
By this stage, Paul's skill at riding the surfboard had improved remarkably as had his confidence. Other surfers were intrigued by the way the young red-head used sign on the back line to express his sheer delight after having ridden a wave. Even when he was dumped into the washing machine, which was quite often, his face beamed with joy. He was a natural. His strength and muscle definition had also improved noticeably. Now all he needed was a tan.
"You can get it in a bottle," Dickson joked as the trio showered.
"I want to look like you and Mick," Paul's busy fingers said. "I want to be bronzed like all the other surfers. I want to be a hero!"
As the boys relaxed with a Coke on the front verandah, Dickson asked his little mate what it was about Horace Fink that he had to tell. "I saw him the other day when my mom and I were eating lunch in the park. He was sitting at a bench nearby with another man, the one with the beard and all the piercing and the Harley Davidson."
"Not so friendly... they were arguing."
"You heard them?"
"I read their lips."
"Could you see what were they arguing about?"
"The bearded one was very aggressive--he said he couldn't afford to pay back the loan."
"He didn't say, but he said that if the other man insisted on getting his money back that he would tell people about his trips."
"Yes, trips. The other man stood in anger and waved his finger at the bearded one. I couldn't read his lips right then but he stormed off in a huff."
"Why are you telling me this, Paul?"
"Because he seemed like a bad man to me--both of them did. I was frightened and thought I should warn you. Do you owe money to the man who was here yesterday?"
"No, but thanks for telling me--and being concerned for me. I appreciate that, mate. You're a good lad... and... a hot surfer!"
Once Paul had pedaled his way down the road, Mick expected Dickson to phone Doris right away. "She might know something about the loan to Bob."
"I'd rather speak directly to Doris after I have a chance to think about it. Actually, I'd rather speak to Bob first."
"I've got a better idea."
When Tom Samuels answered the phone he was both surprised and delighted to hear Dickson's voice, and even more surprised to be offered a ride on the pillion seat of Dickson's Suzuki. "Goodness me! I've never been on a motor bike!"
"First time for everything, Rev. You can borrow Mick's helmet."
The odd couple arrived at the beach house at 6:30. Mick had already prepared the meatloaf and vegetables which were in the process of baking. "Mmmm! Nothing like the smell of home cooking," Tom remarked as he entered the kitchen and placed two bottles of altar wine on the table. "If you don't mind, lads, I'd like a glass of something rather robust to steady my nerves after that terrifying trip on the back of that ... thing."
Dickson poured a double scotch on the rocks and invited Tom to the front verandah while the meal remained in the oven to cook. "It'll take about an hour," he explained. Dickson and Mick settled for a beer each.
"Do you always issue dinner invitations at such short notice?" Tom asked as he settled into a canvas chair. "My, my, what a stunning view this is--you boys are indeed fortunate. You must be on better terms with the Lord than I am. However, I am mindful of the tenth commandment."
Dickson's plan was to ease the Rev. into chatting about the relationship between Bob Down and Horace Fink as if the subject were to raise itself by coincidence. "Mr. Fink made an offer the other day."
"Oh? You mean to buy this property?" Dickson briefly explained the details to Tom, who seemed most intrigued. "I hope you tread warily, my friend," the Rev. continued. "Horace's reputation in business is less than impressive. As a matter of fact... no, perhaps I shouldn't discuss that."
"A personal matter between Horace and a friend of his."
"You know him?"
"We've been to the farm and he's been here at the house."
"Oh, so you must know about the problem between him and Horace--terrible affair."
"Yes, it is."
"And all the more reason you should exercise extreme care when dealing with Horace in any business venture."
"So who told you about the problem--Horace or Robert?"
"Robert, of course. Horace never discusses his business dealings with me--or Doris, for that matter. I asked her if she knew about it and she didn't. However, she was most curious but I was reluctant to tell her what I know. In any case, she doesn't like Robert at all and I'm sure she would not show any sympathy toward the man whatsoever."
"Of course! I'm not mankind's judge, I leave that to the dear Lord. And now, if I may, I must visit the little boys' room."