Dickson and Mick took advantage of the warm and starry night and moved the kitchen table and chairs to the front verandah where they served the evening meal, complete with a bottle of red altar wine. "It's not a bad drop," Tom explained as he uncorked the bottle, then took a sniff. "I'll just let it breathe a little."
"Would you like something for starters?"
"Perrier would be nice. My, my, I can't get over the position of this house. Were you worried about the recent tsunami?"
"I don't blame you... reminds me of the ride over here."
"You arrived safe and sound."
"That, my friend, is because I recited the entire Rosary as I clung on for dear life. I hope you don't mind, Dickson, but I'll phone a taxi for the return trip. Besides, I don't want to be responsible for any damage I might inflict on your rear suspension. Actually, I must say that's the first time I've ever prayed inside a helmet."
As the conversation meandered throughout the meal and covered many different topics, Dickson waited patiently for the Rev. to reintroduce the subject of Robert Down's dilemma. Meanwhile, Tom couldn't resist touching on the matter of religion and God's creation. "Do you boys believe in creation, or the `Big Bang' and evolution theory?" Both boys chose the latter option in unison. "I see. Well, God saw fit to give us all a free will so I suppose it's your prerogative to use it as you wish."
"Is that the way you chose your path in life, Tom?"
"I didn't need to, I simply followed in my parents' footsteps."
"So you didn't exercise free will."
"No, not per se."
"Does that sound to you like you never used your free will to make a choice?"
"You're splitting hairs, Dickson."
"You've never been tempted to deviate from your belief?"
"Would you like me to vacate the pulpit next Sunday and introduce you as the guest speaker?" No one could resist a hearty laugh at Tom's joke, including the Rev. himself. "After all, Jesus also wore sandals when he delivered his sermons. However, Dickson, I do admit that you have a point. Blind and unquestioned faith in any circumstance can be negative. By the same token, it's impossible to be both the devil and an angel at the same time."
"You don't know Dickson like I do," Mick grinned.
"Goodness--or God, if you like--is in both of you boys--trust me, I know about these things."
"Do you see God in Robert Down?"
"Why do you ask?"
"He's pretty rough around the edges and he used to belong to a bikie gang."
"Sometimes, Dickson, God takes a vacation."
"And the Devil steps in?"
"The Devil never misses an opportunity. How much do you know about the situation between Horace and Robert?"
"You mean the loan?"
"Ah, so you do know."
"It would be cool to know how you feel about the problem, after all you're a man of the cloth." Dickson gambled on the fact that the Rev. had consumed quite a bit of wine as well as port with his coffee, and might consequently be more inclined to speak freely.
"It began honourably enough. $100,000 dollars is a lot to pay for a prize bull but I can understand the reward potential of putting it to stud and profiting from its services. At $5,000 a service-which I've always thought an amusing term--it wouldn't take long to recoup the capital. Obviously, Horace thought so too or he would not have lent Robert the money. And that was where Horace made his mistake; he should have purchased the bull himself instead of leaving the transaction dealings to Robert. When the sale fell through because of a higher bid, and Horace demanded the return of his money, Robert should have obliged and then discussed Plan B with Horace afterward."
"Yes, I agree."
"It was a terrible mistake."
"And as you know it led to this disaster."
"It certainly did, but we're all wiser in hindsight, Tom."
"Very true, Dickson. I wonder I might have another port?"
"By all means."
Tom was far more rosy-cheeked than inebriated and thoroughly enjoyed the company and atmosphere. "As you're no doubt aware, my friends, Plan B was to purchase the farm and use the $100,000 as a deposit. But when that also fell through, and the O'Reillys reneged, Robert's gambling problem got the better of him, exacerbated by that horrendous home brew he makes. He offered me a glass one time and I almost expired on the spot."
"He didn't blow it all, though."
"No, no, no, not all of it, and he's convinced that he can recoup his losses by gambling the remainder, or at least some of it. And that's what happens, my friends, when God takes a vacation and the Devil moves in."
"'Vacation' seems a strange word to use."
"We're God's hosts; it's up to us whether or not we invite him into our hearts."
"Have you tried to talk some sense into Robert?"
"When Robert refuses to listen he refuses to listen. By the time he realizes the gravity of his mistake it will be too late."
Tom drained the remaining port in his liqueur glass and shrugged, "That's anyone's guess." He checked his watch. "My goodness, how time flies! I've had such a good time I didn't realize how late it is--way past my bedtime." Tom went on to thank the boys profusely for their generous hospitality, then used his cell phone to call a taxi.
"You're a genius," Mick said as the taxi drove away, "a bloody genius."
"Compared to what or whom?" Dickson asked, and led the way back inside the house.
"The Rev. has no idea that you and I were ignorant of all those details about Robert. As far as he was concerned he told us what we already knew. Ha! I don't believe it!"
"You make it sound like trickery."
"No, not trickery. Tom opened up of his own volition, and you didn't tell one single lie. Anyway, the bottom line is that we now know the full story."
"Do we? Let's sleep on it and discuss it tomorrow."
Dickson, however, couldn't sleep so he busied himself by writing another report for Doris. After that, he took a stroll along the beach in the glow of a full moon whose pale yellow luminescence flooded the ocean and danced like a thousand fairy lights on the undulating peaks of the chop.
Life can be so simple, he thought, so why do we humans have such a penchant for complication? For a while he entertained the idea of quitting his private investigator role in order to pursue something less complex and demanding. This business is with me 24/7 he thought--I have no life outside of the Horace Fink affair.
A larger than average wave swept ashore and enveloped his bare feet to a height above his ankles. During its rapid retreat, it caused the boy's feet to sink a few inches into the sand. "I wonder how far I'd sink if I stood here too long," he said aloud, then compared that situation with his professional one.
Next morning, over breakfast of cereal and fruit, Dickson and Mick discussed Tom Samuels' revelation the previous night. "I included that information in the report for Doris," Dickson admitted.
"Do you think that's wise? What if it sparks an argument between Doris and Horace?"
"What's the point of a report without all the information we've gathered? Anyway, I included a warning to Doris about keeping mum about this, and to discuss the issue with you and me before she goes any further."
"As far as Bob Down is concerned," Dickson continued, "what Tom knows about the situation was revealed in confidence to a priest. Bob thinks that only he and Horace are aware. If either Bob or Horace discovers that the situation is known to `outsiders' it could lead to ... who knows what?"
"Have you delivered the report to Doris yet?"
"I think you should deliver it in person, Dicko, as in invite her over here or arrange a meeting somewhere in private."
The black VW Golf convertible arrived mid afternoon at the beach house. It was no surprise to Doris to see the boys out surfing. She felt sufficiently familiar with the boys to help herself to a glass of cooking sherry while she sat on the front verandah and watched the spectacular gymnastics display out on the waves.
When the lads returned to shower under the hose, Doris complimented them on their youthful agility and skill. "If Horace were out there I'd need to call the rescue helicopter," she laughed. "You chaps are a joy to watch, and I don't mean just in the surf. If only I were 16 again."
Once towelled, Dickson gave Doris the report to read while he and Mick changed into dry shorts and grabbed a beer each from the fridge. By the time they rejoined their guest on the front verandah, she was reading the report a second time.
"I'm not sure what to think of this," she said, shaking her head. "However, I am annoyed that Horace would go ahead and blow all that money without firstly consulting me. Sometimes he forgets that we're married, either that or he doesn't care."
"What do you intend to do about it?"
"Do? What can I do? As you suggested, Dickson, it would not be wise to discuss this with either party. I suppose I could discuss it with Tom Samuels but I'm not sure what benefit might result from that. Besides, he may be cross with you for speaking out of line. Any suggestions, Mr. Holmes?"
"I'm tempted to speak to Bob Downs, but I don't quite know how to broach the subject without getting my head blown off."
"We can't have that, darling, you're far too handsome for that. I like your head where it is."
"I'm not too sure about that," Mick chirped, and received an elbow in the ribs. "Ouch! Touchy, touchy."
"However," Doris resumed, "I think a meeting between you boys and Mr. Down could be most beneficial. You know, a woman rarely proposes to a man. Instead, she manipulates the situation to inspire the man to propose to her. Call it devious, if you will, but it works."