"This is ridiculous!" Mick repeated for the umpteenth time as the boys removed their helmets after parking their Suzukis. "Tony Spiropoulos' farm in the middle of the bloody night?" he complained. "What kinda crazy cloak and dagger bullshit is this?"
"It's 8pm, not the middle of the night."
"Why can't we ride through the gate? Why park out here by the road? It's insane!"
"You're asking me, Mick? What the hell do I know?" It was obvious, however, to both boys that they weren't the only recipients of the same invitation; about a dozen cars were also parked by the roadside.
Dickson and Mick entered the property on foot and approached a group of people mingling outside the farm shed used to bottle honey. "What's this all about?" Dickson shouted from a distance. As he drew nearer, he tried to identify at least one of the faces obscured by the night darkness.
"Is that you Dickson? It's me, Cody. I'm over here with Fogsy!"
Dickson finally recognized the mop of spiky black hair. "G'day, mate, what's going on? Who are all these people?"
"Nobody knows what's going on, not even Tony. I thought he was the one who wrote the note."
"You got a note?"
"Yeah, and so did Fogsy. `Spiropoulos farm, honey shed, 8pm tonight. Park outside fence. Extremely urgent.'"
"Same message I got. Who else is here? And where's the damn light? It's pitch black!"
"There's something wrong with the power. Tony's checking it out."
Dickson and Mick moved slowly among the gathering and eventually recognized various people, most of whom, coincidentally, were those named on Doris Fink's list of `suspects'... Ajit, Vodkinksi, Thorne, Swan, Farrell, Dr. Hardy and others. At last, Dickson came across a bald head that reflected what little light there was. "Tom? Is that you?"
"Dickson? What are you doing here?"
"I wish I knew, Rev. You got a note, right? An anonymous note?"
"Yes, I thought it must have been from Tony Spiropoulos... but Tony's none the wiser. He also received the same note. I've asked around and no one gathered here tonight admits to being the author of the message."
Their conversation was interrupted by the noise of a Harley Davidson, which caught everyone's attention. Once the machine's headlight was extinguished, a black figure made its way toward the shed. "This'd better be fucking important," the voice growled. "And somebody turn the fucking lights on!"
"Bob's not amused," the Rev. commented.
"So what's all this bullshit?" the biker demanded before recognizing Tom Samuels. "Bishop? Is that you? Sorry about the language, mate. So what's the story?"
"No one knows... at least, no one I've spoken to. Tony's checking the power. It's all a mystery, my friend."
"Could I have your attention, please!" Everyone turned in the direction of the voice, which apparently emanated from within the shed.
"If I'm not mistaken," the Rev. speculated, "that's Horace Fink's voice." Again the voice asked for everyone's attention before issuing an invitation to gather inside the building.
"That's Horace alright," Bob agreed. "He'd better have a bloody good explanation for all this crap."
"You can forget about fixing the lights, Tony," the voice continued from the darkness. "I cut the power for a reason that will soon become clear. Be patient. All will be revealed within the next few minutes. Meantime, there is a dispenser of surgical gloves in this shed--they're used during the honey bottling process. Tony knows where they are--he can find them by feeling his way. Tony? Please get the gloves and distribute them among the guests--one each. Make sure everyone gets a glove."
"Horace?" Bob Down yelled. "What is all this shit? Show yourself!"
"I will in a minute, Robert, but before I do, I warn you not to approach me. I have a gun, a handgun, Smith and Wesson. If I detect any sudden movement toward me, or any suspicious noise, I'll shoot wildly. If I miss my attacker, you can be sure at least one of the bullets will find a target. It could be any one of you, so stay put. Once Tony has finished distributing the gloves, I'll continue."
"Everyone has a glove," Tony announced after a few minutes.
"Reverend Samuels," Horace continued, "are you here?"
"Good. Dr. Hardy?"
"Welcome everyone--welcome to a night you'll never forget. This is indeed the night of nights--the grande finale. All of you are about to witness something special, a once-in-a-lifetime event... the inevitable murder of Horace Fink. Oh, yes, I'm aware of the conspiracy, if I may call it that. Haha! My wife told me everything. She hired two private detectives to investigate the `suspects'. Is that correct, Dickson Bottoms and Mick Morris? No need to answer, boys. I know the whole story. According to the boys and my wife, each and every one of you in this shed is a suspect; each and every one of you has a reason to wish me dead. Well, tonight you have the opportunity to turn that wish into a reality.
"But first, let me explain a few things. This Smith and Wesson has been locked in a safe for over a decade. It was used in a robbery a long time ago in which I, unfortunately and tragically as a stupid kid, panicked and shot two people. Those two people were the parents of a young man standing among us tonight... Dickson Bottoms."
"Stay calm, Dickson. One false move and I'll fire randomly into the group. I know where you all are."
"I'll kill you, you evil bastard!"
"You'll soon have your opportunity, Dickson. Now, bear with me for a few minutes longer. Yes, I'm sorry. Of course I'm sorry. I've lived with the tragic death of those two people all my adult life... the nightmares, the guilt, the shame. I knew that the ballistics people could trace the bullets that caused those unfortunate deaths back to this gun, which is why I kept it safely locked away all those years.
"And Doris? Yes, poor sweet Doris, my darling Doris, God rest her soul. She never knew about the robbery. She would never have married me if she had. But lately, she began to learn certain things about my ... how shall I put it? ... other life. She knew about Alan Fogarty. Who is Alan Fogarty? You'll find out soon enough--he's here tonight. I won't bore you with the grotty details, other than to confess that I hate myself. Yes, I hate myself... so don't for a moment imagine that any of you have a monopoly in that regard.
"Doris' death? Yes, surprise, surprise, I am responsible--not directly, mind you, but, yes, I did create a particular circumstance which I calculated would bring about her demise. She knew too much. On the other hand, so do all of you gathered here tonight. You all know too much. When I thought about it, it seemed rather extravagant, perhaps even wasteful, to dispose of all of you like so many laughing clowns in a shooting gallery, so I chose to dispose of myself instead.
"Oh, yes, I almost forgot--you must be wondering why Doris accompanied me to the farm on the day she... died. I told a lie. I told her that Tony and I had reached an amicable agreement--one that would facilitate their getting together with no resistance or interference from me--and that he and I had organized a meeting here at the farm between the three of us to discuss certain details. Unfortunately, I neglected to tell Doris that Tony was absent. Tut, tut. Are you mad at me, Tony? Mad enough to murder me? I begged her to wear dark clothing as a symbol of our parting--as a final favor to me. She humored me. Wasn't that sweet?
"Will I put the gun to my head when I finish this little speech? No, no, no, no, I don't have the courage for that. Death by my own hand is not on the agenda, I'm afraid. Besides, I don't want to deprive you--or one of you--of the pleasure of pulling the trigger. Haha! It's rather an interesting concept, don't you think? Doris never mentioned the `inevitable suicide of Horace Fink' so let's not disappoint her, let's be true to her word, let's make it murder.
"Reverend Samuels? Shouldn't you be trying to convince me to stop this nonsense? Shouldn't you be praying or something? I don't hear anything. Why so quiet? Dr. Hardy? I don't hear anything from you either. You're a doctor, a man dedicated to the preservation of life. Why aren't you pleading with me to see reason? Ha! Reason? What a joke. In fact, you're all a joke. Bumper Farrell? Even off-duty and out of uniform, as a police officer you're supposed to uphold the law. Why is it that I don't hear any protest from you? Hahahahaha! I think I can guess.
"I have a flashlight here. In a moment, I shall toss the gun in your direction--be careful, the safety catch is off. Then I will shine the flashlight beam onto my face. That will provide one or, indeed, several of you with the opportunity to rummage around on the floor in search of the weapon. Do me one last favor, please. Whoever finds the gun, take careful aim--I don't want to be wounded. That would be grossly unfair both to me and to Doris. She wanted me dead, not half dead. If you're not prepared to kill me, don't search for the gun.
"Who will be my murderer? Hahahahaha! No one but he or she will ever know. Isn't that deliciously devious? It's a pity I won't be around to enjoy the finger-pointing and suspicions that will torment your feeble minds forever; as well as the minds of the police. Haha!
"And one final thing, ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not I do sincerely regret everything I've done... with one exception, and that is what I am about to do. Thank you all for coming."
In the pitch blackness of the shed, an object was heard to hit the wooden floor and bounce once. Then followed the shuffling sounds of many feet. Dickson felt himself buffeted a few times by lurching bodies involved in a sudden scuffle.
During the invisible melee, a flashlight beam appeared at the far end of the shed, and immediately commanded the attention of everyone present. The beam shone upwards and onto the face of Horace Fink. Shadows caused by the light gave the contours of the face a ghostly, sinister appearance as it remained eerily calm and expressionless, staring unfocused into middle distance.
A few seconds later, the sound of a metallic click was followed by a loud crack, then, almost immediately, by a second. Fink's forehead exploded. The flashlight beam jerked sideways before it tumbled to the floor. Fink's descending body caused a dull thump as it came to an abrupt halt. A human hand, palm side up, with lifeless fingers curved inward, toppled into the horizontal path of the flashlight beam. All was deathly quiet and still until Fink's Smith and Wesson, thrown by the killer, landed with a thud next to his motionless hand.
"Mister Goldstein will see you now," the receptionist at Goldstein, Nicholls and Blogg announced. She led Dickson and Mick to the lawyer's door, knocked once, then opened it to allow the boys access to the sumptuous oak and green leather interior.
"Good afternoon," Abraham Goldstein beamed and offered his hand. "Please take a seat. It's been a trying time for all of us, and must have been a harrowing experience for you--I mean, being present at that horrendous event." Goldstein waited for the lads to be seated before he continued. "Horace was here in this office on that fateful day, you know, but gave no indication, at least to me, of his intention. He came here on business to make certain changes to his will."
"Did you inform the police?"
"I did later. I told them he was here in my office. However, Horace didn't say where he intended to go following his meeting with me so, obviously, his whereabouts thereafter remained a mystery until... until, of course, the other night. And now you young lads must be wondering what this is all about. Let me get straight to the matter at hand. Horace changed his will and left his entire estate to you, Mr. Bottoms; shares, cash, house and all other assets ... every single penny. I estimate the total value of Mr. Fink's estate to be somewhere in the vicinity of six million dollars. I'm not certain about the life insurance at this point because of the uh, unusual circumstances surrounding his death. That will be a matter for the court to decide, should you wish to pursue it."
Both Dickson and Mick were lost for words, and exchanged several glances before Dickson managed to speak. "Me? Why me? I don't understand this, Mr. Goldstein. Why on earth would Horace... wait a minute. Of course--ah, yes, I see it now. Horace confessed to the murder of my parents. Now it makes sense--it was Horace's way of compensating me. Did he explain to you why he nominated me as sole beneficiary when he made those changes to his will?"
"My job is to advise my clients, Mr. Bottoms, not to question their reasons. Besides, Horace Fink was not the type of person with whom one argued; especially not someone like me within his employ. Yes, of course, I asked Horace if he understood what he was doing when he made the changes. He said he knew perfectly well what he was doing and that it was none of my business--that it was a personal matter. However, Mr. Bottoms, the changes to Horace's will do contain a certain condition."
"I'm afraid so." Goldstein adjusted his bi-focals, took the document in both hands and read aloud, "To wit: In the event of the death of Horace Fink by unlawful homicide prior to the exchange of any monies, property or other assets as a result of this Last Will and Testament it is an irrevocable condition of this document that the hereinbefore mentioned sole beneficiary Dickson Bottoms be innocent of any direct involvement whatsoever in the perpetration of such homicide and furthermore be able to prove such innocence beyond doubt in an Australian Court of Law."
No, that's not the end. The sequel, The Fink Curse, will be ready for publication on Nifty Jan/Feb 2008.