"Always warm the pot first," Tom explained as he poured boiling water into the ornate silver receptacle, then rinsed it clean. Next, he spooned in careful measures of loose tea: "One for each cup and one for the pot."
"Isn't it easier to use tea bags?" Dickson inquired as he noticed a jar of Spiropoulos honey on the kitchen shelf.
"Wash your mouth out with soap, my son. There is only one proper way to serve tea. By the way, the porcelain service was donated by a dearly departed parishioner. It's worth a fortune." Once tea was served, the group arranged themselves at the table. "Now, tell me what it is that troubles you boys."
"We've heard a lot of unkind gossip about a certain person, and we're wondering if that constitutes scandal."
"Do you repeat the gossip?"
"Well, yes ... sort of."
"Who is the person about whom the gossip is being spread?"
"If we tell you, won't that be scandal?"
"I'm a priest, a servant of the Lord."
"His name is Horace Fink."
"Husband of Doris Fink? She's normally at the 8am service but she attended the 7am service today for some reason. Anyway, it's no surprise that scandalous gossip about Horace has reached your innocent ears. It's all over town. It's not as if Doris is unaware of it, so I don't think you boys are guilty of `initiating' scandal. Whatever you've heard is most likely common knowledge. However, I would caution against falling into the trap of nurturing the devil's deeds."
"Does Horace ever accompany his wife to church?"
"Not since he won the... not for quite a while, however I do see him socially. He's a troubled man, my young friends."
"Does he confide in you?"
"That, you will appreciate, is confidential--suffice to say he feels deserted by his former associates."
"Deserted? I heard it was the other way around."
"That's not the way Horace sees it. In fact, he feels persecuted."
"And what's your opinion?"
"Judge not..." the gentle man smiled.
"Does he still count you as a friend?"
"I'm a priest. Meanwhile, dear boys, I don't think you need be concerned about scandal per se. You can't help what you hear, but you can avoid its unwarranted and cruel dissemination." The Rev. rose from the table as a signal that the meeting was about to be terminated. "Hopefully, I'll see you at church on a more regular basis from now on. I've prepared a sermon for next Sunday that will knock your cotton socks off." The Reverend, once again, and deliberately, checked the boys' sandaled feet. "Perhaps I should rephrase that last comment."
As the teens prepared to leave and stood at the presbytery door, Samuels said, "I almost forgot to ask: are you acquainted with Doris Fink?"
"We've met," Dickson answered, "but we don't actually know her very well. And if it's okay with you, sir, I'd rather you didn't mention our being here."
Samuels remained at the door while he watched the boys return to their motorcycles. The three exchanged friendly waves before the Suzukis revved into life and headed back to the beach house.
"I reckon we can cross Tom off the suspect list," Mick concluded as the boys removed their helmets and entered the house. "That old bloke wouldn't hurt a fly."
"Not unless it buzzed his chrome dome during a sermon," Dickson laughed, then checked his phone for messages. "Oh, no, guess who? It's Aunt Flo."
After two hours of searching the grounds of the villa complex, Dickson and Mick returned to Flo's apartment with the bad news ... no wedding ring. "I've thought and thought and thought about where I may have mislaid it," she lamented as she removed a tray of freshly baked scones from the oven. "Besides, I always wear gardening gloves when I potter about in the garden."
"Where are they?"
"Outside, of course, where you just came from."
"Oh, silly me. Cream and jam? And tea?" There was never a need for the boys to answer; the scone ritual had always been a rigid tradition. "The gloves? Oh, now let me see... the gloves... yes. They must be here somewhere. You boys enjoy your treats while I fetch the gloves."
Every single crumb had been eagerly devoured by the time Flo returned. "The gloves are normally in the laundry where I keep a few tools and other gardening things, but I can't find them." The boys rose from their chairs, about to search the laundry, but were stopped by the old lady. "Now don't you boys fuss any more, you've done enough for one day already. I'm sure you have better things to occupy your time. I'll keep looking. Meanwhile, you toddle off and do your airs and graces, or whatever you call those surfing things you do."
An unexpected downpour saturated the riders on their way back to the beach house. They immediately changed into dry shorts upon arrival. "We need a company car," Mick complained.
"Too expensive. Besides, what's the diff between getting wet in the surf and getting wet in the rain?"
"What are your thoughts about Chrome Dome?"
"The Rev? A little eccentric but a helluva nice old guy."
"Are you gonna write a report for Doris?"
"Hey, Einstein, what is that you don't earn when you don't write a report?"
"True, true, true. But I thought you asked the Rev. not to mention our little chat this morning?"
"If Doris wants to speak to him about it, fine, if not, at least he won't broach the subject with her."
"You trust him?"
"He's a man of the cloth."
"So? And by the way, he expects us to turn up at church each Sunday. I'm not into all that religious stuff."
"It might do you some good. You wanna help me with this report? The surf's mush."
"Yeah right, what's this `do me some good' crap?"
Just as the boys finished the report, and agreed that it was comprehensive but not biased, they heard a familiar voice at the front door. "Hey, guys! Anyone home?"
"Hey, Cody, come on in, mate--and leave your board on the verandah. How did you get out here?"
"Hitched a ride," the spiky mop grinned. "I always get a ride when I'm shirtless, hehe."
"Careful, mate, you might end up getting more than a ride."
"Anyway, the surf's crap. What are you guys up to?"
"Bugger all, mate," Dickson replied as he sealed the envelope containing the report. "And your timing is perfect."
"Another message for Doris? Hey, my mom said she saw you blokes at church today. I didn't know you were churchies."
"Is your mom a regular?"
"No, not really... she goes sometimes to pray for me, so she says, hehe. She says teens need all the help they can get. So, I guess I better not swear around you guys, huh?"
"That's up to you, Cody. Swearing is dumb, anyway; it's peer pressure crap."
"All my mates swear. If I didn't swear like they do, they'd call me a wuss."
"I'm a wuss?"
"You're being pressured."
"So you blokes are churchies?"
"No," Mick smiled, "just mature."
"Ouch! Anyway, I was kinda hoping I could sleep over tonight. That's if it's cool, I don't wanna interrupt anything. My school togs are in my bag outside, and a toothbrush. I can even help cook dinner--I'm a whiz with toasted cheese sangers."
"How about lasagne alla Bolognese?"
"Does your mom know the Rev. Tom Samuels?" Mick interrupted.
"Kinda. She said there's a rumor he's gay, and some of the guys at school reckon he molests altar boys."
"Do you believe in rumors?"
"Maybe not," Cody admitted, a little embarrassed. "But I'll tell you what I don't believe; I don't believe in labels. Guys do stuff, you know, but I don't think they should be labeled. Anyway, is it cool if I sleep over?"
The conversation over dinner encompassed a variety of topics of interest to teens; girls, sex, bikes, cars, surfing, school, music, movies--but eventually focused on the Spiropoulos honey. "It's organic," Cody explained, "that's why it tastes so different. It's awesome! Tony..."
"You know Spiropoulos?"
"We've met. He was at Doris' house one day when I was skinny dipping in the pool. Hehe, his eyes nearly fell outta their sockets. I think Doris had a fair bit of explaining to do, hehe."
"Was Horace there?"
"Away on some kinda biz. So, anyway, we got to chatting and he told me about the farm. It's fulla rainforest stuff and native plants, so the bees do their thing and he collects the honey. Cool, huh?"
"Have you visited the farm?"
"Not yet, but he gave me an invite. He says he's immune to the stings but strangers need to wear the whole protective thingy."
"Do you think Spiropoulos would mind if we tagged along?"
"I'd need to check, but I reckon it'd be cool. Tony's real proud of his honey. Doris gets hers free but everyone else has to pay for it. Do you reckon Tony and Doris might have a thing going?"
"Who knows? What do you think?"
"She's a bird and he's a beekeeper... birds and bees. Get it? Besides, I don't think Doris and Horace get along all that well."
At 11:30, Mick bade the guys farewell and rode home. Dickson checked the spare room to ensure that everything Cody needed was in order. "Time to turn in, mate," he said, "sleep well."
"But it's only early! I figured maybe we could chat a bit longer, like out on the verandah or something--or maybe walk along the beach. Anyway, I dig your company, and Mick's too. You guys are outtasight."
"How do you know? We hardly got a bloody word in."