Dermot Mustangonavich never had a real sense of his own identity until he reached the age of thirteen—and he attributed this to his mother shortening his surname to Mustang at the age of four. And as young as he was, he can still recall the blazing row his mother had with his father ending with, “Dermot is not going to start school with a surname no one can pronounce!”
At the age of five the school head bully Zac Crump punched Dermot to the ground, sat on his stomach and nose to nose snorted, “What kind of name is Mustang anyway?” as one of his goons spat in Dermot’s face and another threw his school bag onto the back of a passing truck, laden with gravel—an after-school activity that would dog Dermot for many years.
Luckily Dermot had many good friends he could play with to make up for the short comings the educational system was offering him. His mother was forever having to listen about Mackie, Bugsie, Bob, Charlie and Wendy going on missions to find lost cats, dogs and neighbor’s missing newspapers! She wasn’t initially concerned as Dermot seldom left their street or that she hadn’t met any of her son’s friends, but when he added Buster, an imaginary dog to the list, she took her son to a Psychiatrist. “...and he’s crossing his own name out on his school books and replacing it with the Bugsie lot,” his mother whined. She was told, “He’s a lonely kid. You need to work on your relationship with your son, get him to confide in you. But, fortunately, it’s just a stage he’s going through!”
Happily, Dermot had his buzzy bee, a brightly painted wooden toy on wheels he could pull along behind him. Buzzy knew why Dermot did what he did and he told buzzy bee all his secrets and always, always asked for advice.
At the age of eight, Mackie, Bugsie, Bob, Charlie and Wendy had apparently all left the district and Dermot discovered the internet. The internet provided him with enough scenarios to fill the void his friends had left. His mind was agog! All too soon he evolved the art of deception which ended the bullying. When Zac Crump was shown the family tree listing Dermot as a Grandson of a fictitious Mustang Car Empire, not even the spelling mistakes were noted by Zac and his runny-nosed bunch of followers, and the noteworthy document shot Dermot up the playground hierarchy to at least someone to be sneered at in a sort of enviable manner, but never again to be punched to the ground, sat on and snorted at.
At home Dermot started spinning little white lies to appease his mother. His school reports were appalling, so until he improved, he wouldn’t get an Xbox—he figured trading his fictitious Grandpapa Mustangs autograph for a decent school report was a worthy cause and when he handed the report to his mother, his much-coveted Xbox was in his hands!
One day in his early teens Dermot discovered silky satin, delicate lace and brightly colored woman’s lingerie. It was the day of the big storm and all sorts of garments (mainly women’s underwear) ended up on Dermot’s back lawn. He had used their return as an exercise on his investigative aptitude and matched each garment to the posteriors of his neighbors.
It was at that moment with the wondrous feel of the sheen fabric between his fingers, two knickers never made it back to their rightful owners. Instead, they were carefully wrapped in bubble-wrap and placed at the bottom of his double door wardrobe—hidden by his black lace up shoes, but easy enough to get to when he needed to study them further.
He’d recently made friends with Sophie whose main ambition in life was to become a model and her first gig was modelling knickers. She loved Dermot’s bubble wrapped, faded and fingered knickers and wanted to wear them for her first shoot. And Dermot will always remember the buzz of excitement when Sophie’s bum was too big for the knickers. MAGIC!
He traded his Xbox for a second-hand sewing machine, went on-line to learn the basics of needlework and design, then under the cover of darkness purchased enough material to create Sophie two pair of excitingly daring knickers in red satin and green lace. He sewed them from the secrecy of his double door wardrobe.
It was also at this stage of his life that he’d met Jack who rescued him from being beaten up by a local gang (nothing to do with Zac Crump). Jack had dragged him out of the ditch where he’d been left to die, although it turned out Dermot would have lived had Jack not come to his rescue.
Jack was tall, dark, handsome with a muscled torso and had the clearest light blue eyes Dermot had ever seen and Dermot was in love! But when he met Jack’s sister Ruby, slender and delicate, with long wispy golden hair and also had beautiful light blue eyes—he fell in love with Ruby too. He knew he didn’t have gender dysphoria, he’d googled it pretty damned smart when he’d realized how he felt about Jack and his sister. But to say he had gender confusion attraction, was putting it mildly!
After his father had died, his mother was forced to become the bread winner, went to evening classes and became an on-line perfume marketer. She saturated their existence in the latest perfumes and colognes. Even his teachers started to look sideways at him, he seemed to have a scent all of his own. Dermot put up with his mother telling him, “Just stand still, you’ll like this one, or at least the gals will.” He put up with it because she was an extremely good marketer and his allowance tripled within a month!
By the age of seventeen he was enrolled on a business course—paid in full by his mother who was unaware Dermot had withdrawn from the course and had the refund transferred to pay for a Private Investigators course. The P.I. brochure promised a life of intrigue, a solid career and financial security for the successful student. They guaranteed to train their students to understand the art of deception and as he already understood the art of deception, he figured he could thwart the plan of any deceiver and do very well indeed!
It was a simple choice—reviewing dry facts and figures in business case studies to train him to run some family corporation miles away, that his mother bleated on about, OR a life of intrigue. It also coincided with Sophie becoming well known on the cat walk for her innovative saucy underwear so Dermot was a very busy young man—most of which was done in the secrecy of his double door wardrobe.
Dermot sat in his bedroom at his globe 22 sewing a pair of lacy thongs wondering what his future would be. He had LOVED the theory side of his Private Investigators course, but when it came to on the job training, shadowing nasty dangerous thugs he’d virtually had a seizure. And he had a gut wrenching reaction when shown colored photographs of actual murdered people. (There was no way he was going on a field trip with the rest of the students to the Mortuary!)
He couldn’t readily see how private investigating was going to be his future...but then he remembered his tutor saying, “Mustang, get yourself a kick-ass partner with balls.” That could be his answer? His friend Jack had balls, and he definitely was a kick-ass! Or maybe his mother was right? Maybe he should have continued with his business course so he could end up running his grandmother’s sugary business down south?
But hang it all—he just may be more suited to creating women’s knickers. Of course, he’d have to keep it a secret!
While Dermot was pondering his future, 1,000 kilometers away, his grandmother was running her successful Pavlova Corporation (P.C.) in Christchurch.
Harriet Mustangonavich (which was shortened to Mustang when her husband, Dermot’s grandfather Harold, set up Pavlova Corporation) was in her late 60’s with a mass of grey fly-away hair she usually pinned up in a bun. After Harold was killed in a car accident Harriet took over the corporation, living in the French village of Akaroa and travelling each day to Christchurch.
At that very moment Harriet Mustang was at her Pavlova Corporation in her small stuffy boardroom. She stood in front of a whiteboard depicting a graph showing declining sales. She slapped one hand against her buxom hip clad in a navy-blue Prada business suit and tapped a low-heeled navy shoe in annoyance.
“Nothing will stop us turning these sales figures around, you hear?” Her deep voice boomed at her ten executive employees, all but one wearing navy or black business suits, the odd one out wore a dusky pink short-skirted suit. Her employees sat hunched around a wooden oval boardroom table and quivered with every bellow Harriet voiced and again when Harriet’s wooden pointer slashed the whiteboard underlining their recent sales failures.
Harriet turned to the group, “I’ve built this company up for 15 years after poor Harold died.”
The group edged back into their white plastic chairs as they looked at the lumbering Harriet, waving her pointer above their heads glaring at them from behind large black rimmed square glasses. She took her sights off her employees for a second and glanced sadly at the photo on the wall of a solemn 50-year-old man wearing the same large black rimmed square glasses, shoulders hunched forward, balancing a pavlova on his knees and holding a silver cup in his left hand.
Harriet continued, “Built it up on hard work and professionalism and nothing will stop my...ah...our corporation from expanding. You hear?” All but one nodded vigorously.
Leo Sheffield, one of Harriet’s most senior employees although he was only in his thirties, sat with shoulders hunched, right in front of Harriet and did not nod his head. Instead he fiddled with his tie as he took a sharp breath—not this again.
Sitting next to Leo Sheffield was Carolyn Baldick, a strawberry blonde wearing the dusky pink short-skirted suit. She interjected handing Harriet a document. “Mrs. Mustang, I’ve drafted a marketing strategy that could turn our corporation around.”
Harriet leant forward, snatched the papers from Carolyn, gave her a contemptuous glare as she screwed the document up, threw it into the waste-paper basket and marched out of the boardroom.
“Witch,” Carolyn Baldick whispered to Leo Sheffield.
“Well, what DID you expect? You haven’t been the blue-eyed wonder girl for two years now. We all know you two virtually came to blows. Beats me why you’re still here,” Leo said in a loud whisper. Several colleagues turned toward Carolyn. She glared at them, flicked a lock of her shoulder length strawberry blonde hair behind her right ear, got up and strutted out of the boardroom, head in the air, shoulders back.
Harriet Mustang had left her corporation, stepped out of the building onto the busy Christchurch streets and walked toward her sparkling near new white BMW convertible parked in her reserved car space. Her personal assistant, Emma Johnson had followed her. Emma Johnson was a striking woman—slim, tall and around 40 years in age. She walked with confidence in her black high heels toward Harriet. “I think it worked,” Emma said, pouting her red lips into a sneer.
“Oh yes, I’ve scared the living crap out of those bludgers,” Harriet answered. Pedestrians walked around Harriet and Emma as they stood talking for a few minutes while cars, trucks and bikes slowly trundled past rewarding them with moments of chatter, music, engine noises and exhaust fumes. Harriet flicked a glance at the noisy traffic raising her voice in an effort to be heard.
Leo Sheffield and a tall and lanky employee ambled out of the building onto the busy street. Leo smoothed his brown hair, then they both lit a cigarette displaying not one ounce of their former timid selves.
“You do know why men, Harold in particular, dies before women, Harriet in particular?” Leo tittered and they both answered, “Because they want to, Harold in particular.” Their laughter choked into a pathetic whimper when they realized they had ambled behind Harriet and Emma. Harriet turned, glaring at them. In a trice, they had flicked their cigarettes onto the side walk and stubbed them out with their shoes. With shoulders hunched, the men scuttled back up the steps and into the P.C. building.
The next person to emerge from the P.C. building was Carolyn Baldick, with one hand tugging at her short pink skirt which rode higher up her thighs with each step and her other hand waving, signaling her employer, “Mrs. Mustang.”
Harriet swiveled toward the younger woman and fixed her eyes underneath drawn eyebrows.
“A moment of your time Mrs. Mustang,” Carolyn asked. With a flick of her wrist, Harriet dismissed Emma. She slinked away and stood in the open doorway of the nearby Barista Paradise—close enough to eavesdrop on Harriet and Carolyn.
“What do you want?” Harriet asked, the coldness in her eyes gnawed at Carolyn’s confidence.
“Um...” Carolyn swallowed, took a deep breath, lowered her voice and said, “We need to talk. We can’t go on like this.”
“That’s not what we agreed,” Carolyn said.
“You’re the one who’s reneged on our agreement,” Harriet snapped.
“You’ve pushed me to it. Those threatening letters...I know it was you.”
“Rubbish.” Harriet eyeballed Carolyn for a long moment then said, “We can get back to how things were, if you just do as we agreed.”
“Over my dead body,” Carolyn countered.
A sinister expression flicked across Harriet’s face as she narrowed her eyes, then she heaved a sigh, turned away from Carolyn and maneuvered herself toward her car.
As Carolyn turned back toward the doorway of the P.C. building, Emma who had watched and tried to hear the heated discussion, moved quickly in front of Carolyn and grabbed her elbow. “What was that all about?”
“Nothing,” Carolyn said as she pulled her elbow away from Emma’s grasp.
“You’re still scheming with Leo, aren’t you?”
“Scheming against Mrs. Mustang. You know Leo is a clever manipulator, and nasty with it. Once he gets what he wants, he’ll have no need of you anymore. I’d be VERY careful if I were you.”
Carolyn took a deep breath and as her face colored she answered, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. But—” she stopped short when she noticed her employer lingering on the footpath with one hand on her car door, seemingly eavesdropping. Carolyn turned on her heel and headed back into the P.C. building. Only then did Harriet open her car door and lower herself down onto the driver’s seat wondering exactly what was going on with Leo, Carolyn and Emma—three of her most senior employees!
Harriet drove home to the small coastal village of Akaroa an hour’s drive from Christchurch. She had long since ignored the glorious windswept golden downs of the Canterbury plains and the lush green hill sides and valleys, with hardly a glance at the shimmering blue waters of Lake Ellesmere as she sped past at 100 k’s an hour. She passed through the arty town of Little River. She honked at a slow driver. She passed another vehicle close to a bend, rounded the Hill Top Tavern and then headed down toward Barry’s Bay. As she raced around a corner heading toward the small Duvauchelle township, a white goose wandered into her path.
Harriet braked hard, swerved to the left, skidded then hit a tree coming to a standstill. Her head crashed into the steering wheel and the goose ended up on the bonnet, its head and beak facing Harriet through the windscreen.
A short time later, a local builder trundled his truck around the corner and slammed on his brakes, pulling up behind Harriet’s stationery car. The rear of the BMW was angled on the road and the front mudguard rested against the trunk of a small pittosporum tree. Harriet, jacket off, her large black rimmed square glasses tilted on her nose, sat on the grass verge wailing loudly and cradling the very still goose on her lap.
As the man got out of his truck, he took in the unusual scene. “Oi, you alright love?”
Harriet’s face crinkled into concern and she peered at the goose. “Goosy, are you alright?” She cocked her head closer to the gooses head as if she was listening to the bird’s answer.
The man rang 111, “Yeah, it’s an ambulance we need, tow truck. Looks like the old girl’s...well, she’s as silly as a goose. Better bring the men in white coats!”
At Natasha Mustangs Auckland townhouse, the telephone rang. With her honey blonde hair swooped up into a French roll and fastened with a gold clasp, Natasha listened intently, stifling her excitement and grinned, “Oh dear, an accident, how awful. Will she live?” As she listened to the caller she walked around her dining room, grabbing a calculator and tapped numbers vigorously. When the caller had imparted the update, Natasha said, “Uh huh, well thank you. Gran Mustang is so dear to us all.” She slammed the phone down and screeched, “DERMOT!”
In his bedroom, Dermot was carefully sewing one of Sophie’s latest lacey underwear. Small pieces of lace, assorted cottons, a pair of scissors and a packet of pins with brightly colored nobs were stacked beside his globe 22 sewing machine. Beside him on a rollaway table were pages of glossy magazines of young females modelling underwear. At the sound of his mother’s high-pitched order, he pushed the table and sewing machine in mid creation into his double door wardrobe, closed the doors and turned the key. He then flicked back the sides of his dark hair, straightened the collar on his buttoned to the neck white shirt, unlocked his bedroom door and within seconds he stood dutifully in front of his mother.
“I have a mission for you Dermot.” He shifted nervously from one foot to the other. “Dermot, you are flying to Akaroa. You’re going to secure our family fortune.”
“Akaroa? I can’t fly. It’s terrifying.”
“Rubbish. It’s only terrifying when you...ah...don’t land properly.”
Dermot stood rigid for a long moment and then he said, “Family fortune? What family fortune? Whatever, I can’t fly, you know that.” Natasha rushed from the dining room into her son’s bedroom, not the least bit concerned at her son’s admission.
She grabbed his suitcase from the top of his double door wardrobe. “No time for whining. Listen carefully. Your gran has had an accident, she’ll be vulnerable, just how I’ve always wanted her. Charm your way into her affections. Make yourself indispensable. I WANT THE CORPORATION!”
On one hand he was furious, there was only one thing he could think of that was worse than flying and going into a hick town like he’d imagined Akaroa would be, and that was to have to go to the graduation of the business course in five days’ time, the course he wasn’t even enrolled on, so he definitely wasn’t going to graduate from. And he’d had many sleepless nights thinking up excuses to prevent his mother from attending the graduation and discovering his fraudulent secret. Now he could have a really good one!
“Well, I guess I could fly, just for you Mother. But you do realize we’ll miss my graduation?”
His comment hardly registered and it was a long moment before she answered, “I’m sure they’ll send your certificate out to you.” He knew of course, he’d have the certificate his mother could glance at before anyone else had theirs. Then he would conveniently lose it!
That night (after Natasha had booked Dermot’s flight to Akaroa for two days’ time) they sat at the kitchen table, Dermot ate his favorite dinner, bangers and mash, and Natasha had her own lentil and chick pea patties—she couldn’t abide anything that was forced into the scrubbed salted intestines of a pig!
“Grandmother’s never going to let me into her life,” he complained.
“Listen, Dermie,” Natasha drooled, “we have to play her.”
“Play her? She doesn’t even know I exist. You’ve kept me out of her life. I don’t know anything about her.”
“Listen up, Dermot.” Natasha’s voice demanded obedience. “We’ve got the next two days and I’ll school you up on what you need to know. The medic who rang said she was ‘not quite her normal self,’ and as we both know, we don’t know what her normal self is anyway.”
“But what do you expect me to do?”
“Charm your way into her life. Help her...physically, you know, if she’s wheelchair bound, and you could run the business while she’s poorly. You did get A+ grades in your business degree.”
Fortunately, Natasha didn’t see his face scarlet, she was too busy glancing in the mirror on the far side of the wall hoping her re-growth didn’t show from ten feet. And she didn’t hear him suck his breath inwards in a sudden reaction to his mother’s beliefs in him—because she was tapping on her calculator. Dermot peered over her shoulder, he could see a five followed by several 0’s. Millions? His grandmother was worth millions?
“So, Grandmother is worth a mint, is she?”
Natasha flushed, quickly deleted the figures and set her calculator down on the table. “We’ve always told you, your father (God rest his soul) and myself that your grandmother is a very wealthy woman but she’s MEAN! We could have had a better life, but your grandmother prevented that!” she ended her statement with the shrillness that would match the early morning rooster.
From an early age, Dermot was aware of his mother’s highly-strung nature, her ‘must blame someone else’ and an unusual sense of entitlement that had never been full-filled because after she had extricated herself and her family from her husband’s family, she would not grovel. “I refuse to grovel,” she’d told Dermot on numerous occasions. And after Dermot’s father had died when Dermot was 14 and she had every reason to grovel, she wouldn’t, but she did complain to Dermot that his grandmother was, “Rich, mean, nasty and wouldn’t loan your father and I any money years ago. And as for your father...he was a selfish Mustangonavich to leave us like this!”
Dermot shook away the the accusations his mother had reeled out to him, numerous times.
“But, first things first Dermie. Never call her Grandmother. When you were born—which incidentally is the only time she has ever been in your midst—”
“The only time Grandmother has clapped eyes on me? And you want me to march down there and demand the family fortune?”
Natasha took a deep breath and leant close to her son’s face. “Yes, I damned well do! You need to call her Gran. She told us all those years ago, she couldn’t abide Granny, or Nanna or Grandmama. ‘Train the lad to call me Gran,’ she said. Huh! And then we never set eyes on her again. Anyway, you are going to have to keep an eye on her and if she’s as sick as they say, we can put her into an institution.”
A look of horror slid across Dermot’s face and he pulled back from his mother.
“You need to have Power of Attorney to have any authority over her future.”
Natasha smirked and patted the side of her nose.
“You haven’t?” Dermot eyeballed her.
“Not yet. But I know some damned smart lawyers. And we are her only...” Natasha hesitated and looked around her townhouse. Tiny, yes. But she had a flair for interior design and ability to cram a complete kitchen in half the space normally required by adding sweeping white Formica benches and red leather and chrome stools that straddled into the dining room amongst red leather loungers. But she yearned for bigger, better and a damned lot more expensive than this, “her only living relatives,” she finished.
Dermot squirmed in his seat, he couldn’t believe his mother could be so malicious. “No. I can’t be part of this,” he said firmly.
“Be practical. If she’s now a nut job, where’s the harm? You’ll be doing her and everyone a favor. Running her corporation was always your destiny.”
“Me running her corporation was always your destiny for me, not mine. And I dare say not Grandmother’s...ah...Gran’s.”
Natasha ignored her son and continued, “You could end up learning the ropes much earlier. Making some real money.”
“NO!” But even as he said NO, he was in conflict with his wants and needs, one of which was to get away from his domineering mother and start to stand on his own two feet. He knew she had his best interests at heart, but damn it all, he was sick of her telling him what to do all of the time and at the top of the list was her obsession for natural remedies. It was okay for her to swallow this that and the next thing, but he drew the line at her harping on at him to take this and take that to prevent this and that!
He was 19 years of age and still living at home. This could be his best opportunity. BUT it was wrong.
And he noted that as per usual, his mother took no notice of his decision. She sniffed politely and continued, “Find out all you can, get into the corporation, spy on her, ask questions,” and ever so slowly Dermot could see that maybe he could at least go to Akaroa, spend some time keeping an eye on the old girl and treat it like his very first case. Once he worked out how the land lay—whatever he ended up finding out about his grandmother...his gran—he would chalk it up to experience. Yes, Gran Harriet Mustang would be his very first case. He’d sleuth about, write notes, ask questions and complete a report for his mother. Then he’d start his own life, ON HIS OWN.
Dermot gave his future as a budding private investigator some thought. It was time to act responsibly. He decided there and then his forged business certificate was going to be the last use of his deceptive abilities. If his investigative career was to have any chance of success—he knew he would only take on finder’s cases, cheating wives that sort of thing, definitely nothing to do with dead bodies—he had to keep his nose clean from then on after. He would model the rest of his life as a God fearing and law-abiding citizen!
“She may be about to peg it at any moment,” Natasha continued as she filed the nail on her index finger and for the next four hours Natasha gave him an overview on the ways and wherefores of Gran Harriet Mustang and Granddad Harold.
By the time he slid into bed his head was swirling with information, much of it he should have asked over the years if he had been the slightest bit interested in his family history. He knew a hell of a lot more about the fictitious Mustang Car Empire family tree than his own Russian heritage. Russian?
As Dermot lay nervously in bed at 8 a.m., imagining all the perils that could befall him during his pending flight—suicide bombers were definitely the worst and a plane hijacking to Syria was almost as bad—1,000 kilometers away on Banks Peninsula, the locals were starting to awaken in a small village. Akaroa village meandered alongside the striking Akaroa Harbor with the Takamatua headlands in the distance. The main street, Rue Lavaud meandered between old characteristic buildings displaying a lavish amount of French colonization. The Rue was virtually deserted as a middle-aged woman Rene, draped in colorful hand-painted silks emphasizing her large bottom, opened her artisan shop. Tufts of grey hair protruded from underneath her pink and purple turban which sat firmly on her head. Rene chatted to Audra, a shortish, solid 30-year-old dark haired woman and Audra’s little girl Ellie, wearing pink fairy wings who was jigging around on one leg.
Rene and Audra looked down the Rue toward Henri, a bespectacled short thin elderly man biking toward them. A little Jack Russell trotted behind the bike.
“Did you hear we won?” Rene called out.
Henri glided toward the group and anchoring his gumboots on either side of his bike, he stopped, “Aye,” he answered.
Ellie rushed toward the little dog, “Scooter, scooter,” she called and she knelt down and patted his ears. Scooter licked her nose. She crinkled her face underneath her dark pixy-hair-cut and giggled.
Henri nodded his graying head forward as Rene puffed her chest out. “Well, that’ll put a poke in the damned City Council. They won’t want to mess with us again. The Akaroa Syndicate is a might to be reckoned with,” she gushed.
With the familiar click, clack echoing down the Rue, Audra, Rene and Henri turned toward 19-year-old Francesca Yobbotti wearing her trade mark impractical footwear for Akaroa, or at least that’s what Rene thought and told her on numerous occasions. Today Francesca was sporting high heeled red crocodile leather shoes.
Rene called out excitedly, “We won, we won.”
Francesca clicked and clacked toward the group. “I don’t understand you old people,” she said. “A subdivision at Red Point would’ve bought more tourists buying your paintings and knick-knack’s Rene. And you, Henri, you silly old sea fart—more tourists venturing out in your clapped-out old boat, and more people for your Guest House Audra.” Francesca gave them a stare of disbelief and shook her head with a swish of long wavy brunette hair. “And it’d be the only bit of excitement that ever happened in this boring little backwater village.”
Rene pursed her lips. Audra looked indifferent. Henri shook his head slowly and Francesca scowled. After a long moment Rene said, “We like it quiet and we have to preserve the quaintness of this little town. All those petitions were worth it.” She smiled contentedly and surveyed the surrounding shops and houses.
“I wonder if Harriet Mustang put money in Red Point?” Audra said.
“No, it won’t be the Pavlova Magnet. She’s way too smart. Anyway, she wouldn’t have gone into business with that snake in the grass Gerard Heathrow,” Henri growled.
“Well it won’t be worth much now,” Rene said gleefully.
“That bastard Heathrow will always find a way to get his money back,” Henri said. Rene nodded sadly and they shared a forlorn moment.
“All he has to do is find more suckers,” Henri mumbled.
Francesca narrowed her eyes and asked, “Do you want me—?” Henri shook his head vigorously.
“Don’t you dare put a curse on him or anyone,” Rene warned.
In a flash of heavily mascara dark eyes Francesca turned a sultry glance at Rene, “It’s too late to warn about old Mustang the sugar muncher, after she bad mouthed me last week, I spelled her three days ago.”
“Ha ha, we know you only pretend,” Rene said lightly.
“Are you really sure about that?” Francesca demanded.
Rene smiled and nodded her head, but Henri worried as he studied the mystery in Francesca’s expression, her eyebrows were drawn together, her full purple painted lips curled into a sneer.
“Don’t be stupid Henri, if Francesca could really manipulate destiny she would have conjured up a man by now.”
Rene had hit a sore spot and in defense Francesca snapped, “He will come in two days’ time. Right past us...um, in a black car. Then you will not laugh at Francesca Yobbotti.”
A slight tug pulled at the corners of Henri’s mouth as he realized Francesca’s bold statement was bluff and he climbed back onto his bike and peddled toward the Harbor with Scooter trotting behind. As he cycled down the main wharf maneuvering around wandering tourists, Gerard Heathrow, a solid middle-aged man wearing a dark suit, white shirt and red tie stepped in front of Henri’s bike. Henri braked to a halt.
“Still trying to make a go of that old rust bucket?” Gerard Heathrow sneered as he pointed to a time worn fishing boat tied to a bollard. The old fishing vessel Henri had recently converted into a tourist boat gently rocked with the tide, between two new red tourist boats. Even Henri could see his boat would be second choice to any discerning tourist.
Henri dismounted. “Scooter, here boy.” As the little dog ran to Henri’s side, Gerard lashed out with his foot kicking Scooters back legs. Scooter whimpered and limped toward Henri. Henri raised his fist, “Bugger off you crook. Clear off before I—”
Gerard laughed nastily. “Can’t help it if you’re such a crap businessman, can I? Still going on about the land? It was there for the taking. And I’m warning you—keep your opinions of me to yourself, if you know what’s good for you.”
“I’ll tell who I like, what a crook you be. You see if I don’t. Twas our land and you just took it. Nothing to do with business, was it? Screwed me over, just like you did to several other good town folks.”
Gerard came forward, grabbed Henri’s shirt collar making him lose his grasp on his bike, it clattered to the ground. “I’m warning you. I’ll have you up for defamation of character,” Gerard spat with a low hoarse voice. Henri eyeballed Gerard and willed his body against outward tremors, he would not give Gerard Heathrow the satisfaction of knowing he was scared witless!
A teenager on a skate board zoomed along the wharf and stopped short of Gerard. He was joined by a woman with a backpack, she frowned at Gerard and then asked Henri, “Are you alright?”
Before Henri could answer, the young man in charge of the tourist chartering kiosk hurried toward Henri and yelled at Gerard, “Hey you. Cut it out.”
Gerard’s lips set into a grimace as he twisted toward the teenager. He let go of Henri’s shirt, turned on his heel and called out behind him, “Call that a tourist boat? I reckon I could get the Work Safe Department to close you down,” and he laughed loudly as he walked back down the wharf toward the township.
Dermot wore an expensive suit and sat in the back seat of a taxi driven by 30-year-old Lucca Yobbotti. As they swept around the last bend and down into Akaroa, Dermot was awestruck by the beauty of the headlands and the harbor. It was high tide and the aqua waters sparkled in the sun, the lazy waves ebbed the muddy sands and a dozen yachts, their masts tall and stately slept motionless at anchor. Children paddled the shallows while parents watched from the sands and nearby seats.