By the time Dickson arrived at Taree hospital, Mick had been transferred from emergency to recovery, and had pretty much returned to his normal chirpy self. Dr. David Hardy, a stout man in his mid forties, with gapped front teeth, was in attendance by Mick's bedside. "You did a wonderful job," the doctor said to Dickson, and shook his hand. "Quick thinking saved the day."
"And not only the day, Doc. Thanks for taking the call."
"I've prescribed medication for Mick's allergy. It's permanent--something he'll need to take regularly for the rest of his life."
"I'm glad I'm still around to take it," Mick grinned from his hospital bed. "Whoa! That was way too scary! Never again."
"Only a few percent of people are highly allergic to insect stings, and only a small minority of those are prone to a life-threatening reaction such as yours, Mick. Most of us experience a localized, non-serious reaction. But you'll be fine now--just be sure to take your medication. By the way," the doctor said as he turned his attention to Dickson, "I heard on the grapevine that you're contemplating the sale of your house."
"Horace Fink is not to be trusted--consider that to be my off-the-record advice."
"You know him?"
"I attended to him here in Taree after the Auckland fiasco. It was my duty as an on-call doctor, but I refuse to accept the man as a private patient. Have nothing to do with him, Dickson. You're still young, vulnerable and impressionable. You're fair game for a man like Fink."
"May I ask why you feel this way about him?"
"No, you may not. However, you're my patient as well as my friend, Dickson. My father tended your grandmother. Let's just say that I have a vested interest in your welfare."
Mick was released from hospital that evening. Next morning, he traveled to the beach house by bus and foot. What he saw in the backyard startled him. He rushed inside the house. "Dickson? Dickson?" Then he heard the toilet flush and saw his mate headed for the bathroom to wash his hands. "Dicko? What the fuck...???"
"Settle, settle, mate--chill. I'm okay. You had breakfast yet?"
An anxious Mick listened intently as his friend placed bacon strips in a frypan and began the story. "It drizzled a bit when I left the hospital yesterday after seeing you. You know, that light rain that makes the road slippery as all buggery. Anyway, I'm just out of Taree headed to Old Bar. I was on a straight stretch doing about 50 ks in third gear--4,600 rpm. The car in front, about 2 car lengths away, starts to slow, so I slow as well. The bike begins to slide to the left and I lose vertical. I have enough time to say `oh, shit!' in my helmet before I hit the dirt. I see the top box on the back of the Suzuki slide as I tumble like a rag doll." Dickson paused to turn the bacon. "Oh, the toast--you do the toast, mate."
"So, the bike slides maybe 15 feet when I fall and then I land next to the bike on its side. I figure I was on my knees on the dirt for about two minutes, head down. My knees scream in pain. I keep thinking I gotta get off the road. My face shield fogs but I manage to open the visor. Then I drag myself and crawl to the kerb where I'm on my back, feet up on the top box, looking like an astronaut crouched in a capsule."
"Jesus Christ, Dicko!"
"I look up and see faces peering down at me--some kid and a bunch of older people. "Are you okay?" they keep asking. Yeah, right. Like I do this kinda thing every day. I get my helmet off and stare at my bike, engine still running. I head for it to turn it off but the people hold me back, and they shut down the engine. The indicator lights are still flashing so I break away and turn them off. Someone brings a chair. Then I realize my gloves are missing and my leg is bleeding--probably got caught under the bike."
Dickson paused again while he broke four eggs into the pan. "So I sit down and watch a couple of people lift the bike back onto its wheels. You know how I feel about other people touching my bike, Mick. Grrrrr. All I wanna know is if it's okay or not. They ask if I want an ambulance. Too late; someone called already and there's a siren on its way, and two cops arrive. `Name, age, license.' They want to see my knees. So the ambo blokes check me out. The paramedic says I can't refuse treatment so I say, `I refuse treatment'. The paramedic is pissed off. `Who do you think you're talking to?' So I'm free to walk around and sign a release form, a waiver. So everyone vanishes except one cop; that `Bumper' Farrell bloke."
"That's the one. He says I gotta move the bike off the road. I rock it off its center stand, still in gear because the lever's bent. I grab the clutch lever and nurse the bike to the kerb.
"Dammit, Dicko, why didn't you call me?"
"Call you? You were in hospital, you dickhead. Anyway, I hurt like HELL and the cop's beady eyes are drilling me, wanting to know if I was wearing my helmet. He accuses me of speeding. I say 50 ks. He asks how can I be sure? I say I pay attention, I was in third gear at 4,600 revs and at 4,600 revs it's 50 kilometers per hour. But he still tries to stare me down." Dickson added butter and milk to the pan, and stirred the egg mixture with a wooden spoon. "Yeah," he continued, "so I look a mess and I refuse treatment. I stare the cop dead in the eye and tell him not to fuck with me. I'm pissed off. He backs down right away."
"Whoa! You said that to a cop? That's not the Dicko I know."
"I say `surely you can understand my situation, mate'. He wishes me good luck and I'm alone again. I phone the NRMA for a truck to bring the bike home and the driver gives me a lift. I get home and clean the dirt and crap out of my knees with a toothpick. It's cool, though. My wrist hurts but it's okay. The headlight's buggered, the shifter lever is bent, clutch lever's had the sword, turn signal is stuffed--other than that the bike's just fine and dandy."
"The bike? Bugger the bike, mate, you're more important."
"Oh, bloody hell...," Dickson complained as he noticed black smoke pouring from the toaster.
"You burnt the bloody toast, Mick! That's the trouble with you, you don't concentrate!"
"It's my fault, mate."
"Of course it is!"
"No," Mick said as he placed two more slices of bread in the toaster, and lowered the setting. "I mean about the accident. You were thinking about me."
"Yeah, even subconsciously, and that's why you weren't concentrating properly."
"You bloody dingaling! You had nothing to do with the prang. BUT... you can help me with repairs. Give me a lift to the wrecking yard after breakfast."
Most of the day was spent working on the battered Suzuki. By late afternoon, the machine was almost back to normal, apart from a few scratches and dings. Then Dickson answered a call on his cell phone. It was Alan Fogarty. "Hey, man, I was wondering... I mean, like about your offer."
"To talk? Sure, any time, mate."
Dickson explained the situation to Mick, and suggested that perhaps Mick could conveniently find something to do during Alan's visit. "I think he'll feel more comfortable talking one on one."
"Sure, Dicko, no worries. I'll ride into town and get some touch-up paint and see what I can do about the scratches."
Fogarty arrived late afternoon, after school, and joined Dickson and Paul for a surf. Once the young redhead had pedaled home, and Mick busied himself with repairs to the Suzuki, the two blonds relaxed on the front verandah with a Coke.
"About Fink," Alan began after an awkward silence. "I do know him--that's why I took off when he arrived here. And I lied when I said I'd never been to Auckland."
"Take your time, mate."
"You gotta promise me something, though. This convo stays between you and me. Okay? It's just that I gotta tell somebody. It's eating me up. You promise?"
"Listen, Fogsy, I want you to be sure about something; that you feel comfortable telling me whatever it is that bothers you. I can't promise anything if I don't know what it is."
"I trust you--you've got an honest face, Dickson, and you seem like a fair dinkum bloke. Cody says you're a totally cool guy." Alan spent a while in silent contemplation, gazing out to sea before he bowed his head and continued. "Fink molested me."
"Why didn't you report him to the cops?"
"Because ... well, it wasn't like he forced me. He's rich, he promised stuff."
"That's the oldest trick in the book, mate. So, you wanna tell me about Auckland?"
"I heard from a teacher at school that Fink was going to New Zealand on business, so I took the next flight." The boy took a deep breath, then a sip of Coke. "I wanted to kill him. Do you believe that? When I got to his hotel room, the door was open. He was slumped on the floor--bleeding from the head. So I split real fast and caught the next flight back to Sydney. I'm scared shitless, Dickson. People are gonna think I did it; that I hit the bloke over the head. I read about it in the newspaper."
"Do you know who did it?"
"When I hightailed it outta that hotel, I saw a guy--a young guy about my age--part Maori, I think. He had blood on his shirt and he looked kinda freaked out. I only saw him for a few seconds."
"Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"
"I never wanna see that guy again. I never wanna see Fink again. I never wanna see Auckland again. What am I gonna do, Dickson?"
"Would you have killed Fink if the coast had been clear--if someone hadn't beaten you to it?"
"Not sure--guess I'll never know."
"Was anyone else aware of your mission?"
"Only the teacher."
"I see. Have you spoken to the teacher about what happened?"
"She thinks I'm lying. She thinks I did it."
"Was she involved? I mean, a co-conspirator?"
"It was her idea. Hey, Dickson, what am I gonna do? I can't talk to anyone else about this and my brain is fried. I don't wanna go to jail, man."