The two shirtless and barefoot lads strolled along the beach at close to midnight, leaving a twin trail of perfect footprint outlines in the freshly wetted sand. Dickson asked Cody what he'd meant earlier by `guys do things'.
Rather than answer the question directly, Cody side-stepped, "Are you and Mick best mates?"
"I don't have a better mate, if that's what you mean. Actually, I'm not sure what `best mate' really means--I don't have anything to compare it to."
"Does Mick ever sleep over?"
"In the spare room?"
"I don't think I like where this conversation is headed, bro."
"My mates sleep over all the time, in my room," the spiky mop happily revealed. "My dad puts out the spare mattress but my mates don't bother to use it."
"What are you driving at, Cody?"
"I guess I'm kinda doing a research thingy. I'm sorta curious about other guys and, you know, how close they are."
"Are you gay?"
"Like I said, I don't believe in labels."
"Are your mates gay?"
"They've all got girlfriends."
"Yep. Her name is Steph and she's awesome. She's got cute tits, like puppy dog noses."
Dickson remained silent and pensive for a minute or two as the pair occasionally stooped to inspect a shell or toss a stick into the boiling wash. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Mick and I. He's my best friend but I don't know how to ... how to respond."
"Sometimes he hugs me ... you know, like spontaneously ... and I just stand there, arms dangling at my sides, feeling awkward. Then Mick feels awkward as well, and backs off, usually with a sheepish apology."
"He apologizes for hugging his best mate? Shit! That is so uncool, man. Do you have any idea how the bloke must feel? He probably feels rejected or something, and maybe guilty as well because he worries that it's his fault."
"You're forgetting something--if I respond with a hug, what kind of message would that send?"
"You sound like my mate, Mark. He was like that to begin with--all bent outta shape and terrified of expressing emotion, unless it was aggro."
"I was raised by my gran. She was great, don't get me wrong, Cody, but she had this thing about men being men. You know, tough, independent, strong, masculine... all that macho crap. She used to tell stories about my dad and what a real man's man he was, and that I owed it to his memory to be just like him."
"And are you?"
"Not sure. My parents died when I was a small child. The funny thing is, my Aunt Flo says my dad was a very gentle and sensitive man... not effeminate or anything, but... well, different to my gran's perspective."
"Have you ever considered just being yourself?"
"Maybe I would if I knew what that was."
Next morning, after each of the boys had showered, Dickson rustled up scrambled eggs on toast. Cody insisted on making the coffee. "Sleep well?" the shaggy blond asked the mop as they ate.
"Like a log. Thanks for letting me sleep over, Dickson. Can I ask you something? What's the deal with the Finks?"
"Sorry, mate, it's confidential."
"That only makes me more curious."
"That's what killed the puddy tat. By the way, do you know Barbara Thorne?"
"Lemmon Lips? She's a teacher at school. Why?"
"Yeah, right, you're being all damn secretive again. Does she have anything to do with Horace and Doris?"
"That's what I'd like to know."
"Lemon Lips is a media arts teacher at school. Her sights are set on becoming the next Spielberg, or so she thinks. She's got an idea for a television series. When she found out that Horace won the lottery, she approached him for funding. He toyed with the idea for a while, which meant she got her hopes up--and even bragged about it to the other teachers and students--but then Horace gave her the thumbs down. She's still totally pissed off about that."
"How do you know all this?"
"It's all over school, mate. Everyone knows." Cody placed his knife and fork neatly on the plate, then patted his belly. "Good tucker, mate, thanks. I'll help you clean up."
After delivering Cody to school, minus his board, Dickson phoned Mick and asked him over to the house for a conference.
"We're going back to school," he announced when Mick arrived. "It's open day this afternoon; all parents and citizens are invited to meet the teachers and inspect the facilities." Then Dickson informed Mick of what he learned about Barbara Thorne.
"Sounds like she harbors a grudge, alright... sounds like a bitch as well. Anyway, surf's up, let's catch a wave before school." Mick noticed the extra board on the front verandah, and asked if it was Cody's.
"Yep, he said he'd collect it later."
"Another excuse to visit, huh?"
"Is that a problem?"
"Nope, just the opposite--I like the guy." As the pair trotted down to the waves, Mick added: "Did he sleep in the spare room last night?"
Barbara Thorne was quite small in stature, and wore her brown hair in a bun. However, she exuded an air of authority that bordered on intimidation. Her feet were encased in sneakers that appeared to be a child's size, and her mouth was unusually thin-lipped. "Are you boys interested in media arts?" she asked as they introduced themselves.
"We've heard a lot about you," Dickson answered, "all of which is most complimentary, of course."
"Really? From whom?"
"The students and others, such as Horace Fink."
"It's time for a short break. Would you like to join me in the teacher's canteen for a cuppa?"
Soon afterward, the group was seated at a table, sipping their tea. "How do you know Horace Fink?" Barbara demanded as though she was entitled to an answer.
"Well, we don't really... we just know people who know him."
"I see. Are you aware of his reputation?"
"Uh, yes... kind of."
"He's a man... Let me rephrase that, he's a creep who should be avoided at all cost. He makes promises he doesn't keep. He's a liar. He's a cheat. His word means nothing to him. He's the most despicable person I've met."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"You mentioned you know people who know him--what have they told you about him?"
"Reverend Tom Samuels said he was a troubled man."
"Troubled! Ha! What a joke! Fink causes trouble, he creates it, and he brings trouble to those foolish enough to trust him." Barbara went on to explain the professional relationship she had with Horace before her dream was shattered. "I made a fool of myself," she said. "I had every confidence in both my television project and Fink's support. I spread the word as if it were a fait accompli, and then, out of the blue, the lying bastard reneged."
"Have you tried to attract interest from other funding sources?"
"Ha! You're kidding, nobody will touch my project with a barge pole, not after blabber-mouth here got carried away. I'm a laughing stock, a joke. So I'm puzzled about those to whom you refer when you say you've heard complimentary things about me."
"Have you considered suing him for breach of promise?"
"With what? I'm on a teacher's salary. Besides, there was no contractual arrangement, nothing legally binding. If you need to substantiate my version of the story, go talk to Simon Swan, he's a local cameraman, a stringer for some of the television networks around here, and involved in quite a few projects of his own. He operates his own digital editing suite, Swan Video, at Cundletown. If you boys are really interested in media arts, I suggest you talk to him. He's a fountain of knowledge, and tell him I sent you. But phone first, he's a busy man, often on call. He's filmed quite a few of the school's concerts and other events. He was to be the chief cameraman on my project."
The more Dickson learned about Horace, the more tempted he was to meet the man himself. "There must be another side to this coin," he told Mick as they walked through the school gates, only to be accosted by the spiky mop.
"Hey, guys, what's cookin'?"
"Just visiting the school, Cody."
"Yeah, right, I saw you with Lemon Lips earlier. So what's the story here?" Before his friends could answer, the mop continued: "Yeah, I know... confidential. The envelope is still in my bag, I'll give it to Doris when I get home."
"Like a lift?"
"Thanks, but I'm waiting for my mate Mark. We'll do our homework together at my place. He's a real brainbox, hehe, so I plagiarize his answers. Cool, huh?"
"What about your board?"
"I'll collect it later, maybe tomorrow, if that's cool."
Back at the beach house, Dickson and Mick discussed the question of how they might meet Horace face to face despite Doris' strict instructions that Horace remain totally unaware of their mission. Nonetheless, both boys agreed that the `other side' of the story could be vital to their investigative endeavors.
"But how?" Mick asked.
Just before dinner, Dickson answered his cell phone. It was Doris. After discussing the report about Barbara Thorne, Dickson asked when Horace was due to leave for New Zealand.
"He's booked on the 8am flight to Sydney airport tomorrow morning, but I still prefer you not to visit this house unless it's absolutely essential, and even then, go via next door over the back fence. By the way, what does Cody have to say about all this cloak and dagger routine?"
"He's obviously curious."
"I'll have to invent some sort of red herring to satisfy his curiosity and steer him away from the truth. But that won't be easy--he's a bright boy."