Dickson found it virtually impossible to recapture the casual and cheerful atmosphere that he and his mate had enjoyed ever since their friendship began. Mick's confession had suddenly changed all that and the evening meal was eaten in awkward silence as the boys watched the television news.
"Me and big mouth," Mick eventually mumbled during the weather forecast.
Dickson pondered the comment for a while and then shrugged. "You never know--maybe it'll come in handy."
The unexpected and seemingly nonchalant aside took Mick completely by surprise. "Bloody hell, Dicko! I don't know whether to laugh or cry!"
Dickson pushed his empty plate to one side and sipped his Riesling. "Neither do I," he said, "neither do I. Listen, mate, this is all a bit sudden. You know?"
"You never suspected?"
"Yes, I guess I did but it was easy to dismiss as ... ludicrous. And now? Now it's different. I'm sorry, Mick, I don't mean to make you feel bad but ... well, I guess it'll take some time for me to adjust. Do me a fav--let's not talk about it for a while; give it a rest; let me get used to the idea. Okay?"
"Okay--as long as you're not mad at me. That would crush me."
"I'm not mad at you, Mick. It's just that I don't want to be pressured--or to feel pressured. I hope you understand where I'm coming from."
"No worries--end of discussion. Thanks, mate."
Doris Fink phoned about 8pm to ask Dickson if she could sleep over for the night. "I was going to book into a motel," she explained, "but I need someone to talk to. Would you mind? And please have a stiff drink ready." Dickson was too taken aback to ask questions and agreed to his client's request. All would be revealed in good time, he presumed.
The redhead arrived half an hour later, carrying an overnight bag. "Thanks," she said as she took a triple scotch from her host. "I hope I'm not putting you to any trouble. It's just that... well, I'm not sure where to begin."
"Take your time, Doris. How about you finish your drink and we take a walk along the beach? That should settle you down ... it does me."
"I'll stay here," Mick volunteered, "and look after the place until you guys get back."
The three-quarter moon illuminated the fringes of scattered clouds in the starry sky. "Maybe it's true," Doris said, gazing at the heavens. "I mean about clouds and silver linings. God knows I need one. You're lucky living here, Dickson. The beach, the space, the freedom... and walking barefoot. I'd almost forgotten what it's like to walk barefoot on a beach and have the cool wash envelope and caress your skin. It's very peaceful... therapeutic even."
"Yep, I do a lot of thinking and soul searching out here at night. It's my refuge--my special place."
"Robert Down repaid the money he owed Horace--in cash! Can you believe that?"
"I saw the money before Bob left here. What a sight that was! He's crazy carrying all that loot around in a saddle bag, though."
"Crazy? What do you expect of a person like him? I have no idea what Horace sees in him."
"How is Horace?"
"That's why I'm here." Doris then explained Cody's involvement with the black box in the ceiling mystery, and what she saw on the video disk. "I don't know what to do," she added with a sigh.
"He admitted it? I mean, to sleeping with a minor?"
"No, not per se. He offered me a deal--half the fortune and half the value of the house to buy my silence and to move out. That totals about three million."
"I know what I'd be doing if I were in your shoes."
"I'm not wearing any. Anyway, you're forgetting something, Mr. Bottoms. If Horace is murdered, which I believe is inevitable, I get the lot, including an extra million from his insurance."
"With respect, Doris, you're also forgetting something; what if he's not murdered and lives for another 40 or 50 years?"
The pair strolled a further 20 meters in silence before they about turned and headed back to the house. Dickson broke the suspense by asking if Doris intended to report Horace to the authorities.
"Does he know you're here?"
"I told him I was visiting a friend--that's all. Dickson? I can't live with a man like that. The thought of sleeping in the same bed makes me shudder. It's never been easy but now it's impossible."
"By the way, did you recognize the boy in the video?"
"No. He had a mole, though, a small one on his upper lip. Dickson, I'd rather not talk about that--at least not for now, it's far too distressing. Oh, my God, why didn't I have the sense to marry someone like you instead of that creep?"
"It's not your fault, Doris--he wasn't a creep to begin with--he became one. Actually, I think there's something else you should know. I'll include it in the report but I'll tell you now anyway--if that boy with the small mole is who I think he is, he was in Auckland at the same time Horace was attacked. I'm not sure if there's a connection yet, but I hope to find out soon."
"You know that boy?"
"Do you enjoy being a super sleuth?"
"Enjoy isn't the right word, Doris."
Back at the beach house, Mick was nowhere to be seen. However, there was a note on the kitchen table to explain his absence. Dickson read it, then folded the note and placed it in his pocket.
"Something wrong?" Doris asked as her host pulled two beers from the fridge.
"If you think it's none of my business..."
"It's a private matter."
"I'm happy to lend a shoulder--after all, I owe you one. And, by the way," she added as she produced an envelope from her bag, "here's another $1500--consider it a bonus. As to the beer, do you mind if I have a wine instead?"
The pair made themselves comfortable on the front verandah. "I never get tired of sitting here," Dickson mused. "It's the space--the feeling of being part of everything I see--a speck perhaps, in the larger picture--but a speck that belongs. Do you know what I mean?"
"I think so. A sense of belonging is important but I think it's more important to know to what or whom you belong."
"Is that why you attend Sunday mass?"
"I guess this beach is my Sunday mass. The thing is, it doesn't preach--it's just there, drawing me into its infinite immensity as if it were somehow my home, the place where my soul belongs. I guess I'm not making much sense here."
"On the contrary, Dickson."
"About Mick's note--I think he feels awkward about something we discussed earlier. I was somewhat abrupt--even mildly critical." There was a long pause that Doris chose not to interrupt before Dickson continued. "He came out to his folks last night."
"More power to him."
The blonde turned to study the profile of Doris' face which gazed out to sea. "More power?"
"I take it you were surprised by his confession."
"Not totally. By the same token, I preferred not to know."
"Not to know or not to be confronted by the reality? Mick loves you, Dickson, I've seen it in the way he looks at you."
"I don't get it. We're mates--okay, best mates. We surf together, we spend a stack of time together, we share a lot and enjoy the same things. But..."
Dickson shrugged and took a sip of beer. "I don't know. A while ago you said you were disgusted with Horace."
"What on earth does that have to do with Mick? Mick is gay, not a molester! Besides, Horace and I have been married 12 years and for all that time he's never mentioned anything about his ... preference. He's been living a lie and, in so doing, has betrayed my trust. Can you imagine what went through my mind when I watched that video? By the way, does Cody know what's on that disk?"
"Did he mention it?"
"Then there's no reason to assume he does."
"You're right, Dickson. I need to keep this whole matter in perspective. Somehow."
Over breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage next morning Dickson asked if Doris had any plans in terms of accommodation. "No, I think I'm too confused. All my things are at the house and... well, it's the only home I know. We do have a couple of guest rooms. Meantime, Dickson, thank you so much for allowing me to stay overnight--I needed a friend, someone to talk to. It's funny, you know, you're almost young enough to be my son but... your maturity is quite impressive. So is your cooking."
"What about Tony Spiropoulos?"
"If I moved in with him it would be for the wrong reason--escaping Horace instead of embracing Tony."
"Apart from that, I will not be intimidated or driven into submission by Horace, directly or indirectly. If anyone should move out of the house it's him."
"Do you think he will?"
"Highly unlikely." At that moment, the sound of Mick's Suzuki announced his arrival. "I should leave, Dickson. Thank you again for your hospitality and understanding."
"If there's anything else I can do, just holler."
Dickson was curious, but said nothing, about the fact that Doris still wore the same perfume despite its being a Horace creation. For some reason, he assumed, she apparently dissociated it from recent events. Both she and Mick met at the rear door and exchanged greetings before Doris drove away in her black VW Golf.
"Sorry about last night," Mick said as he and his mate entered the kitchen. "I felt..."
"Don't worry about it--help yourself to leftover scrambled egg--it's still warm."
"So what's the story with Doris?"
Dickson informed the black-haired, brown-eyed teen of the conversations that took place the previous night and again that morning. "She's still wearing the Horace perfume."
"So I noticed."