Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 11-15
Dusty Dexter PI is a continuous novel by Jan Richards. You can read a new installment each weekday in your local paper, or catch up on the week's happenings online each Saturday.
Episode 11: Adrenaline and caffeine
I join swimmers, cyclists, runners for coffee at Seachange.
The cafe’s run by Maria, Red’s girlfriend. She’s a Sydney girl who wanted a change of pace, sold up and moved to Mooloolaba.
She ditched the jeans and Dr Martens for tank tops and board shorts, met Red, and never looked back.
Seachange is on the Esplanade, metres from the beach. It’s sandwiched between a juice bar and a surfwear shop and has seating for 60, partially under cover of the monolith above.
The cafe’s buzzing with adrenaline and caffeine. Maria hands me a latte, goes back to the espresso machine.
Janet chats up a bloke I don’t know. I interrupt their tete-a-tete.
"Dusty, this is Evan; he’s a marine scientist, studying loggerhead turtles, works at Ocean World."
For Janet, journalism’s a lifestyle choice not just a career, almost any conversation can become an opportunity for investigative questioning. She’s been at work on Evan.
I join them. "Hi Evan. Just saw a turtle having breakfast."
"Quite a few live off the Coast here," he indicates the ocean. "We’re studying their habitats. They’re endangered."
He’s mid forties, short cropped hair, dark, some grey. Stocky, but pretty fit.
I nod, down a glass of water, sip coffee.
Janet enlightens Evan. "Dusty’s got a hangover. We had a few drinks last night, celebration. Today’s her first day as a PI. She’s on Manny’s case. You know? Guy who washed up on the beach, shot, shark took his arm."
He shows some interest.
I’ll let him know how close I am to the action.
"It was me found him, pulled him up onto the beach, found Thommo too."
Janet elaborates. "They arrested Dusty for the murder. She got there first, his blood was still wet. The gun was on the bed right beside her when the cops arrived. Then she accidentally shot the sergeant with her taser. That didn’t help."
Can rely on Janet to give all the facts.
I’m not sure if he’s laughing at the story, at me, or at Janet. Don’t like it.
"They dropped the charges. Well most of them."
Janet changes the subject – part flirting, part journalist. "Tell me about loggerhead turtles. How come they’re endangered?"
I leave her to him, concentrate on the coffee.
Pete waves at me, sweaty in running shorts and singlet, elastic bandage around one knee, slurps from his water bottle.
Road bikes are stacked against railings, helmets on the handlebars, backpacks filled with towels thrown on the floor.
I peer between bodies and the blades of pandanus at the water. Three trawlers are anchored in the bay, booms out over their sides, nets in the water. Where there are prawns and trawlers there are sharks, but I don’t mind swimming when the trawlers are out, figure the sharks have enough food to keep them occupied.
Wonder if Janet’s new chum the marine scientist knows about sharks, might be able to shed some light on the mysterious movements of Manny’s arm.
Episode 12: The shark yips
I butt into Evan’s impromptu lecture on turtles.
"Know much about sharks?"
"What do you want to know?"
"How come Manny washed up on the beach, then his arm surfaced a week later down a canal?"
He draws an imaginary line on the table top, the curve of the bay.
"Shark attacked him outside the river mouth." He places two sugar sachets side-by-side to mark the mouth of the river.
"Took the arm off, swam into the river." A spoon acts as the shark, wiggles.
"Manny moves around with the tides, washes up on the beach." A salt shaker rolls along the table, comes to rest.
He picks up a sweetener sachet. "The shark drops the arm in the river, it floats along until someone sees it." The sachet moves slowly in the river.
He continues in an educated tone - it doesn’t match the board shorts and stubble but manages to stay short of arrogant.
"Sharks don’t like people. He was shot wasn’t he?"
"The shark was attracted by the blood, bit off the arm, played with it a while, didn’t like the taste, spat him out."
Janet. "Pretty big bite."
"Healthy shark. Lucky he’s still there, considering the nets-"
"Lucky!" Janet splutters coffee.
"Their ocean." He folds his arms across his chest. "More chance of being struck by lightning than being eaten by a shark. We aren’t their preferred food source."
I give Janet the I-told-you-so look. This is the same stuff I tell her every time she gets the shark yips.
Evan’s on a roll. "Shark nets are a disgrace, destroy the natural ecosystem. They should go. Nets kill dozens of sharks every year, and turtles, and dolphins, and fish, and other marine creatures."
I get it – a greenie marine scientist.
He presses his point. "When the nets were put in, people thought differently, we’re more environmentally aware now. The shark nets should be removed."
Janet counter attacks. "There’s hardly ever shark attacks on netted beaches. Before the nets, people were often attacked, and killed, at popular swimming beaches."
She’s right, although the past couple of years haven’t been good for the figures.
"Besides, I’ve never seen a shark, been swimming out there for years."
"Bet they’ve seen you. That’s my point, they’re not interested. The nets aren’t a force field. Run 200 metres, parallel to the beach. Sharks get around them. A third of the sharks caught in the nets are on the inside."
He pauses for effect, sips his coffee, then delivers the clincher. "The nets attract the sharks."
Didn’t know that.
Can see Janet’s mind spin. "Attract!"
"Lumps of meat on hooks, sharks eat the meat, get hooked, or caught in the nets. I hope a decent number get a feed, move on."
Janet stares into her coffee.
"Now you’ve scared the shit out of her."
Evan shrugs, "Just telling it as it is." Then, "Remember, they don’t like the taste, but they are out there."
Episode 13: Dusty shows initiative
How does a PI dress? I’m thinking Charlie’s Angels – skin-tight black leather, stilettos, plunging necklines, hair.
I go for professional, yet sexy. Slim-fit short black skirt, fitted white business shirt, some cleavage. Add a wide belt, red, heels. Hair washed and blow-dried.
This is it. I’ve been asking Red to put me on a job. She said I’ll be doing paperwork, background checks, but I’m going to show initiative. No more writing press releases, not that there’s been much work since I dumped the ex, and his account.
Wonder what Red’s paying? Guess it won’t be much, at least the rent’s cheap.
The mobile rings from the depths of my handbag.
Red. "Where are you?"
"On my way."
"Good." She hangs up.
I toss the phone back into the handbag with the capsicum spray, replacement taser, (the cops commandeered the one that zapped Stern), digital recorder, leopard print wallet, sunglasses, perfume, make-up, hair clips. Slide my laptop into its case.
Show initiative – a return visit to the marina, scene of the crime, that’d be a good place to start, won’t take long.
I park, grab one of Red’s cards and head for the office.
"I’m Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator. I want to have a look at Manny West’s boat." I flash the card. Maybe she’ll get me cards of my own, now I’m official.
He looks up from his newspaper. "Wanna buy it?" The grin says it’s a joke. "Not much interest, what with the murder."
"Boat’s for sale?"
"Yeah, wife wants to get rid of it. Can’t blame her."
He pulls the master keys out of his pocket. "Cops know who killed Thommo?"
"No. My job now."
He unlocks the gate.
I walk along the pontoon. Some expensive boats, and by the clothes and towels hanging here and there some are occupied, not that there’s any sign of life.
When I found Thommo his blood was still wet. Did the killer walk down the pontoon, right past me, out through the gate? Can’t recall seeing anyone, but I wasn’t looking for a murderer. Maybe he came from one of the other boats?
I arrive at The Dog House, impressed again – hard not to be, it’s worth several mill, I checked.
I discard the heels, hop up on the boat, walk around the deck.
Wonder where Manny was when they shot him, whether he fell over the side or was pushed? Cops must have found blood.
The bedroom’s been cleaned, but I can almost see Thommo lying there, blood all over the bedding.
I lie down, position myself as Thommo was, head rolled to the left, right arm flung out, gun beside the hand, legs splayed, the laptop between them.
It doesn’t give me any insights, but something catches my eye, on the floor, wedged under a cupboard on the side wall.
I put my hand down and tug it out – a mobile, flash, metallic red case. I slide it open, the battery’s dead, slip it into my pocket.
Episode 14: Visualising the crime
I roll back over on the bed, put my hands behind my head, cross my legs and stare at the ceiling.
Visualise the crime, that’s what I should do.
Where was the murderer standing? Probably at the door, surprised Thommo when he was asleep. He shot him, probably wiped the gun clean, placed it on the bed beside his hand, so it would look like suicide.
Was it suicide? Maybe Thommo felt guilty for killing Manny.
Red reckons Thommo wouldn’t have known what guilt was, cops agree. They reckon it was murder.
So the murderer set up the laptop with the slideshow, then left.
Not long afterwards, I arrived.
Why was Thommo on Manny’s boat? And how did the murderer know he was here?
I sit up and look into a mirror, reflected through the window behind me is a face. There’s someone on the deck, looking in at me.
I smile, wave. I mean, I’m investigating the case, I’m allowed to be here.
The face scowls, indicates I should go outside.
I slide off the bed, take my time as I go through the lounge and up onto the deck.
In front of me is a woman – tall, slim, long black hair. She’s wearing white linen trousers, a low-cut print top, solarium tan. She has one hand on her hip, the other twirls a pair of designer sunglasses complete with diamante encrusted logo.
"Who are you?" she asks.
I take an instant dislike to her – partly the attitude, partly the look, mostly the sunglasses.
I slide my Ray Bans off my head and onto my nose.
"Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator. I’m looking into Manny’s murder, wife hired me. Who are you?"
"Persephonie Milton. Marine sales."
A sales rep. She thinks because she sells expensive boats she’s got class. I’ve met her type before, the ex employs several of them to sell waterfront mansions. I’d like to throw the brand name specs into the harbour, followed by Persephonie.
I walk off, inspect the surrounds for blood.
"What are you doing?"
"Checking out the scene of the crime, before I start work on the case."
She’s not happy, but she lets me go. "It’s been professionally cleaned since the... incident."
I ignore her, take another walk around the decks. When I get back she’s waiting for me, on the lounge, the breeze whipping the professionally straightened hair off her face.
"Why’s she selling?"
Persephonie’s not exactly forthcoming. She ushers me off the boat like she owns it, unlocks the gate at the end of the pontoon, walks through after me, locks it behind us.
"In future it would be appropriate to let someone know, before you go wandering around on private property."
Prissy bitch. "Just doing my job."
I head for the car, grab keys out of my pocket, feel the mobile I found near the bed. I unlock the door, throw the phone into my handbag.
Episode 15: Not paperwork!
Red Hot Security and Investigations operates from a bunker in the industrial area at Kawana.
I hit every red light down the Nicklin Way, arrive an hour after Red phoned.
Beside a metal door is a buzzer, I push it, wait.
A security operator’s voice comes through the intercom, all business.
"Who is it?"
I know he can see me on the monitor, wave.
"Dusty, let me in."
The door clicks open.
Red’s business has most of the big security contracts around, makes good money. But it comes with a price – security guards are on duty, patrolling premises or watching monitors, 24/7, and when something goes wrong, Red likes to know about it.
She doesn’t get much sleep, or much chance to spend the money.
Red meets me in the small windowless brick foyer, buzzes me through another door. "What the hell were you doing at the marina?"
Persephonie tells tales - must have called Manny’s wife, who’s then called Red.
Defensive. "Investigating. Checking out the scene of the crime. Thought it would be a good idea to go back, have a look, get a feel for it."
"What happened to advising me of your whereabouts AT ALL TIMES?"
She stalks into her office, I understand I am to follow.
On the desk is a file, she slides it across to me, starts the briefing.
"This information is confidential. The only reason we have this file is because of the personal relationship I have with Senior Sergeant Stern."
Red and Stern worked vice together, before the incident. Details of the incident are sketchy. The investigation was held behind closed doors, and when it was over Red left the force, and Stern moved to homicide. Red wasn’t sacked, left by choice, or so the story goes.
"Go through the file, line by line. Decide on lines of inquiry, make notes, then report to me. Don’t do anything."
She’s out of the office before I open the file.
The folder contains: photographs of Thommo on the bed; photographs of Manny on the sand; autopsy reports; copies of the photos on the laptop, and a report on the laptop; a transcript of the relevant section of the conversation I taped on the decoy job; statements from Clay and Smart and background information; my statement and a list of charges against me; a ballistics report on the gun used to kill Manny; a second ballistics report; pages of handwritten notes, probably Stern; a statement from Amanda.
I flick, need coffee. I grab my wallet, find Red harassing an operator who monitors calls, responds to alarms.
"What happened to reading the file?"
"Need coffee. Then I’ll get into it."
An exasperated sigh. "Long black."
The guy in the chair tears his eyes away from a screen, mutters, "Double shot espresso, three sugars."
Guess he needs it.
I get buzzed out.
In the sun I stride along the street, hair bounces. I’m Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator, I have a case.
Next week ... Dusty works the case, under Red’s close supervision.