"Is this a kitchen or a museum?" Ian asked as the trio entered the room. "I like it, though, very much--it has a rustic homeliness and friendliness about it. In fact, I love the whole house, especially its situation right on the beach. You're a very lucky bloke, Dickson. Ah! I see you have bananas--good. Nutmeg?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I bet Watson didn't have to run errands like this."
"It'll only take you a few minutes... the market's still open."
"And flatleaf parsley," Ian added as he adjusted the oven temperature to 350 F. "Just a small bunch." Once Mick had left the house, Ian asked Dickson what his friend meant by his reference to Watson.
"Just a private joke. You had to be there."
The fisherman used his own filleting knife, taking care to cut the flesh from around the bones that surround the gill flaps and stomach cavity. "They're called pin bones, and we need to get rid of those. Do you have a pair of tweezers?"
Dickson returned in a flash with the requested implement. "You're not religious?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Your wife and kids... going to church while you fish."
"She's very religious. She turned to God for solace when I left her for a younger woman. It's over now, I mean with the younger woman. But my wife remains glued to the church. And now, my friend, now we skin the filets. Do you have any chilled Riesling?"
Unfortunately for Mick, he arrived at that precise moment with the mozzarella and parsley. "Mick? Can you get a bottle of...?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard." A few seconds later, the Suzuki revved into life and took off noticeably faster than previously.
Once the filets were skinned, Ian patted them dry, then seasoned them lightly with salt and pepper. He set them aside on a greased baking dish. Next, he sliced the bananas diagonally and placed the fruit pieces over the fish as Dickson looked on, taking mental notes. The guest then added a light sprinkle of ground nutmeg followed by a generous cover of grated mozzarella. "And now into the oven until the cheese melts and is slightly golden."
"Is that it?"
"Not quite, I'll just whip up a quick salad and chop the parsley. What do you have in the fridge?"
Twenty minutes later the trio was seated at the kitchen table, enjoying the sumptuous dish, caught fresh not an hour beforehand. Dickson served the Riesling in ordinary glass tumblers. "All Gran's crystal is packed away, I'm afraid."
Ian Ajit was mid forties, balding, olive-skinned and equipped with a prominent nose. "It means he who is yet to be conquered," he said in reference to his last name. "But I doubt it now that I've returned to my wife. Women! Stay clear of them, boys. By the way, do you guys share this house?"
"I live at home with my folks," Mick explained, "even though I spend quite a bit of time here with my best mate."
"Best mate?" Dickson smiled. "You never mentioned that before."
"Slip of the tongue. Blame the Riesling."
Uppermost in the minds of the teens was how on earth they could manage to steer the conversation around to the subject of Horace Fink.
"It's obvious that you two young fellas get along very well together," Ian mused. "I had such a friend once, but no more. I hope you blokes never experience a loss like that."
"Who was he?" Dickson asked casually, as if making polite conversation as he polished off the remaining morsel of flathead.
"Horace Fink." The boys almost choked on their food. "Do you know him?"
With some difficulty, Dickson remained calm and collected. "Yeah, I've heard of him. He's rich."
"We were close fishing mates before he won the lottery, and that was it. He treats me like shit now. That hurts--I can't even begin to tell you how much that hurts--best mates and now enemies. Actually, he treats everyone like shit."
"When I left my wife, she was gracious enough to accept me back, but not Horace. I tried a few times to reignite the friendship but he brushed me aside like I didn't exist. Stay away from women and don't buy lottery tickets, guys, that's my advice."
"My gran always advised me not to waste my energy and time on hate."
"Sounds to me like she never met a Horace Fink."
"Do you know of anyone else who carries a similar grudge?" Mick asked as discreetly as possible.
"The list would be a helluva lot shorter if you asked me who likes the mongrel."
"I see. How does he cope with being so disliked?"
"He uses his money as a buffer. The people with whom he associates these days are all newbies, people who are attracted to his wealth and power. However, they soon realize, much to their chagrin, that they'll never get their sticky fingers on either."
"From what you tell us," Dickson interrupted, "it's a wonder the bloke hasn't been bumped off."
"It's only a matter of time, mate."
"Would you do it?" Dickson asked as Mick cringed at the directness of his partner's question.
"Don't ask" Ian shrugged. "Anyway, enough of that asshole. Let's not spoil the evening which, I might add, I'm enjoying immensely as well as the company. So tell me about yourselves--what do you do for a crust?"
"Crust?" The boys glanced at each other. "Uh, well, we kinda work around the `hood, you know--odd jobs, that kinda thing."
"Jacks of all trades, huh?"
"It gives us time to surf."
"Any permanent plans for the future?"
"Mick and I are business partners--whatever jobs I can't do he can do and vice versa. We get by okay."
"You got a business name?"
"Dicko and Micko," Mick laughed. "Cute, huh?"
After washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, the trio retired to the front verandah where they continued the conversation over a beer each. The rising full moon, barely above the horizon, bathed the ocean in shimmering silver, and illuminated the few streaky clouds that hovered above. Closer to shore, the phosphorescence of the scampering foam added to the romantic magic of the warm night with its gentle sea breeze.
"This is paradise," the fisherman commented. "You guys are blessed. And I don't just mean by this location, but also blessed by your friendship. I envy you guys, you know that? I'm married, have a delightful family--a lovely daughter and a wonderful son--own a nice house, car, all the usual trappings, but you guys have something money simply cannot buy. Maybe you should invite Fink here one day; it might influence him to see the error of his ways." Ian took a swig from his can of VB and continued. "There's something very special about Aussie mateship, you know. Don't ask me what exactly, I think it's impossible to describe in words. I've traveled the world a few times. Sure, there are buddies and friends and whatever else, but mateship is different somehow. >From what I've read, the tradition began during the First World War and the diggers at Gallipoli. They formed inseparable lifelong bonds, and would clearly sacrifice their lives for their mates. A greater love hath no man..."
"Is that what you had with Horace Fink?"
"Yes." Ian checked his watch. "Oops! Must be off home, my wife and kids will be wondering where I am. I've thoroughly enjoyed tonight, guys, and I hope it's not the last time I visit. Next time, I'll hook a six-pounder and prove to you young whippersnappers that tonight was just beginner's luck."
As the headlight beam of the visitor's car vanished into the night, the boys returned to the house. "Did you notice his eyes?" Mick asked.
"Not just green, mate, neon green. I noticed them become incredibly intense, like smouldering green fire, when he first mentioned Horace Fink. He seems like a nice enough bloke, actually a pretty good bloke, but I reckon there's a lot of hatred deep inside that guy."
"Hell hath no fury like a fisherman scorned, huh?"
"You feel like a coffee before I head home? I'll make it."
"You can sleep over if you want."
"Nah, better not--my folks are expecting me home. You know, they freak easily--it's the teenage son thing, and all the bad publicity teens get in the news headlines and whatever."
"They worry about you because they love you."
"Yeah, I know, but I'm not exactly still wearing nappies, I'm going on 19. I wipe my own butt these days."
"Really? Well, you learn something new every day. Anyway, you don't remember the nappies, Mick, but your mom does, just like it was yesterday. To her, it's like the years have vanished into thin air."
Steaming mugs of coffees in hand, the boys headed for the `office' where they discussed the night's proceedings. "What's your honest assessment of Mr. Ajit?" Dickson asked.
"He seems like an okay guy."
"You haven't answered my question."
Mick pursed his lips, blew air over the surface of the steaming coffee, then took a sip. "The word sinister comes to mind. I'm no shrink, mate, but I sensed something sneaky about that guy, especially after his eyes went all weird and fiery. It's kinda like he tries too hard to be pleasant. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I got the same feeling... sort of, as though he's hiding something."
"I liked what he said about mateship, though. I thought that was cool. Do you reckon he's totally pissed off with Fink for dumping him like that?"
"He was happy to do that to his own wife."
"Yeah--double standards, huh?"
"Do you like him?"
"He's likeable, but... I don't think I could trust him. Don't ask me why, exactly, it's something about his smile--like an Indian carpet salesman or a snake charmer."
"A person charmer."
"Yeah, a person charmer; Mr. Silver Tongue. You got it, Sherlock."
"I need to write a report for Doris. You wanna hang here for a while?"
"I'll make more coffee. Woohoo! This is exciting, Dicko! I wanna be a private dick all my life!" Mick's comment surprised even himself. "Hey! Did you hear what I just said! Private dick! Hahahaha!"