Dusty Dexter PI is a continuous novel by Jan Richards. You can read a new instalment each weekday in your local paper, or catch up on the week's happenings online each Saturday.
Episode 131: Amanda got the answer she wanted
Interview over, the detective leaves the room. I look at Hank. "Entertaining. What’s that mean?"
"He’s taking it seriously, or he wouldn’t have asked me to keep an eye on Smart. We’ll put him under surveillance. You two should keep a low profile."
"Not like I can do much." Janet, whingy.
Red drives, doesn’t speak all the way back to her office.
I mention that I should give Amanda an update.
She responds with typical Red brevity. "Keep it short. Then take Janet home, play Monopoly, until I tell you to come out."
I leave Janet in the car under a tree across the road, push a button on the front gate at Amanda’s place. The button doesn’t make any sound. I push again, wait beside the wheelie bin.
She appears as I am about to leave.
"Hi Amanda. Thought you’d like an update."
We sit by the pool. Amanda’s relaxed, barefoot, white yoga pants, an exercise top. She fiddles with a bracelet, one I haven’t seen her wear before.
"The trip was a success. I was right about the drug links, just spent the morning with the police. They’re following up the leads."
"So Manny was killed because he didn’t want his boat used to pick up drugs."
"Looks like it."
Wonder if there’s any chance of a bonus. I’ll give her a bit more detail, let her know I didn’t just have a holiday at her expense. "It was dangerous work. We-" didn’t tell her Janet was joining me. "I had to do some surveillance, very risky. Then they dropped us, me, in the middle of the ocean, had to swim for it."
"Dear. That sounds awful."
She says the words, but I can tell she doesn’t have a lot invested in the state of my health. "So Clay was the brains behind it."
"And his partner Randy. They’ve gone to ground. Actually, they’ve sailed off into the Pacific. Cops will keep an eye out for them."
"Thank you, Dusty. A job well done. At least now I can tell my friends and family that Manny died an honest man."
Looks like that’s it. She continues to fiddle with the bracelet, it looks new. A charm bracelet with just one charm, a quite spectacular black onyx ankh encrusted with diamonds.
The Egyptian ankh is the symbol of rebirth, and a few other things I can’t recall. I know this because I had one tattooed on the base of my spine after I left Daz.
"Do I owe you anything?"
"The expenses covered the actual costs, it was the mental trauma that’ll stay with me for a while."
"Being a private investigator is a tough job for a woman, but you seem suited to it."
There’s not going to be a bonus, she got the answer she wanted.
"That’s a pretty bracelet, Amanda, looks new."
She puts her arm out. "Yes."
"I’m not sure what it is, I just thought it was pretty."
Episode 132: What happened to Manny’s arm?
As I let myself out of Amanda’s place, a black station wagon pulls up – a discrete sign on the door reads Fairborough and Sons Funeral Services.
A big man in a dark suit levers himself out of the car, collects a box from the front seat, walks towards the gate.
I stop him, curious. "Are you looking for Amanda?"
"Yes. Who are you?"
"Dusty Dexter, Amanda’s personal investigator."
He lifts a finger, puffy, to push the button.
I interrupt, more curious by the minute. "I’ll take it in to her. What is it?"
"Remains. Her husband’s."
"He was buried weeks ago." I know he was.
"The other remains."
"What other remains?" Then it dawns on me, he’s talking about the arm. "You mean Manny’s arm?"
"That’s right." He lifts the finger again.
"Thought it would have been buried with the rest of him."
"She wanted to keep part of him close to her. People do."
It’s a couple of weeks since the arm reappeared. I wonder why it took so long to incinerate it. "Was there another ceremony?"
"No." He’s getting pissed with my questions.
I reach my hand out. "Happy to take it in for you."
He backs away from me. "At Fairborough we provide personalised service."
I’ll remember that next time I need something cremated.
He pushes the buzzer.
"When was it cremated?"
"When we received it."
"When was that?" I’m thinking maybe there are some police procedures before it gets handed over.
He pauses. "About two weeks ago."
"And you’re only just delivering it." I’m having a dig.
"Amanda was going to collect it. She must have been busy."
Too busy to pick up the cremated arm she apparently wants to keep close to her, in memory of her murdered husband.
He gives me the benefit of his wisdom as a funeral director. "People react differently to grief."
Thanks for the tip.
I give the buzzer a good long push, hurry across the road to the car, can’t wait to tell Janet.
She’s on the phone, I give her a wind-up signal.
"Thanks Macca. Everyone’s being so supportive." She’s milking the ankle injury for all its worth.
I look back over my shoulder. The man’s still waiting. I signal Janet again.
She talks. "I’ll catch you at the Criterion, wish you good luck." Hangs up. "What?"
I point at the man, now talking to Amanda. He still has the box in his hands, offers it to Amanda.
"It’s Manny’s arm. He’s a funeral director. They cremated it."
"Manny was buried."
Amanda takes the box and the man stands, head bowed, then she puts out her hand, they shake. As Amanda closes the gate the man walks back to the car.
I knew Janet would be curious. "So they cremated that arm but they buried Manny."
"The bloke said she wanted to have something of Manny close to her."
The station wagon drives past. I’m about to start the car when I see the gate open again.
Episode 133: Smart, supposed to be under surveillance
The gate to Amanda’s house opens. She walks out, box in hand. She looks down the street, both ways, then walks to the wheelie bin. She lifts the lid, drops the box inside, closes the lid, dusts off her hands and walks back inside the gate.
Janet and I look at each other, gobsmacked.
"So much for wanting Manny close to her."
"She must have taken the ashes out, put them into something else." Janet, always thinks the best of people.
"She was only gone long enough for the bloke to drive down the street." I laugh. "Well, we know what happened to the arm."
Janet laughs. "Sure disposed of it."
"Wouldn’t think there’d be too many ashes, was just an arm." I giggle.
Janet giggles. "Be a bit odd. Sitting on a shelf, someone asks: ‘What’s that Amanda?’ ‘My husband’s ashes, well, just his arm’."
We giggle more. "Probably the best thing. Just get rid of it."
"What if someone finds it at the tip. Did it have anything on it, like a plaque?"
"No." I repeat the funeral director’s comment. "Everyone copes with grief differently, Janet."
She gives me a look like she knows they’re not my words. "I’ve had enough. Take me home."
I’ve still got the thousand dollars Amanda gave me for expenses. "How about we go to the Plaza, nice and cool there, I need to replace my handbag, and get a phone, among other things."
I don’t say it, but she knows it’s her fault my handbag got destroyed.
As we head to Maroochydore I remember the handbag I saw when I was tailing Smart, the red one. I change course.
"Where are we going?"
"We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile."
"Just duck in and out."
I park, intend to leave her there but she refuses, so I help her out of the car.
The handbag’s still in the window, it’s gorgeous and so are the shoes, they’re mine too, if they fit.
Janet sits on the only customer chair, bad tempered. I head for the display window, the handbag and shoes.
Janet calls me, her voice a loud whisper. "Dusty!"
"Won’t be long."
I have the handbag in my hands – red leather, crocodile skin finish, black trim, big silver clasps, and a chunky silver key dangling from a chain. I love it.
Janet has her head down, arm in front of her face. She points out the door, I follow her finger, see Smart walking across the foyer.
"Don’t worry. He’s under surveillance. What can he do?"
Hisses. "Doesn’t look like he’s under surveillance."
He sees me.
He looks surprised.
I give him the finger.
He walks to the door, Janet still has her head down.
"Should have finished you two off on the mountain."
I’m not taking that. "Too late, Smart. You’re the one who’s finished."
"Don’t bet on it, Blondie."
He makes a gun with his fingers, points it at me, at Janet. Leaves.
Episode 134: Spending the expenses cash
Janet's face is white, eyes follow Smart as he walks away, grin on his face.
"Don’t worry. We’ll tell Hank he threatened us. They’ll step up security."
I buy the handbag and the shoes. Killer heels. I can see Drew Barrymore in them, teamed with skin-tight black, a plunging neckline. Just my style.
Janet’s spooked by Smart. I need to do more shopping but she refuses to go to the Plaza, insists I take her home.
I drop her at the gate, watch her struggle up the stairs. "I’ll bring back some booze." Yell it after her.
On the way to the Plaza I dodge triathletes on bikes, herds of them – vibrant lycra and corporate logos, heads down bums up, dart in and out of the traffic.
I pick up the essentials for the new handbag: lipstick, perfume, some toiletries.
A phone. I talk to the girl about plans and prices. Walk out with an iPhone. Amanda’s expenses cash long gone.
Back at home, I change into shorts and a tank top, find the plastic bag which contains the old handbag and its decimated contents, grab my shopping. I’ll sort it all out back at Janet’s place, get her to show me how to work my new phone.
I arrive with a bottle of white and a six pack, hand her the new phone, sit the plastic bag and its contents on the coffee table in front of her.
"I’ll look after dinner." I browse take-away brochures. "What do you feel like? Thai? Noodles? Indian? Pizza?"
I can do pizza, haven’t had pizza for a while. "How about Supreme? No anchovies."
"No pineapple." As usual.
I dial. Talk to a friendly young man, place the order. Say no to a side salad, drinks and garlic bread.
The cat winds itself around my legs, meows. I give it a shove, it returns. Bernice, a pampered Burmese with an attitude problem. I shove it again, decide it’s easier to give in. "Want me to feed the cat?"
"Tonight, pussy cat you are having, hmmm... Snapper Surprise. Fresh from the aisles of Woollies."
Bernice purrs, continues to purr as she laps it up.
I pop the tops on two Blonds, find holders, join Janet on the carpet in the lounge, moon boot propped on a cushion.
She has the phone connected to its adapter and plugged in, hits buttons at random, or what appears to be random but probably isn’t.
"Why’d you put Clay’s number in your address book? Think you’d call him to chat?"
"I haven’t got Clay’s number."
"No I don’t."
I look at the mess on the floor, my destroyed handbag in the middle, the smashed red metallic phone in pieces.
"Where’d you get the SIM card?"
She looks at me as if I’m an idiot. "Your phone."
"Which phone did you take the SIM card out of?"
She must catch the edge in my voice, points at the red phone.
"That’s not my phone. I found it."
"Whose phone is it?"
Episode 135: It could be evidence
Janet asks the obvious question. "Where’d you find the phone?"
I pause. A warning bell has stated to ring in the far recesses of my brain. "Manny’s boat."
"First morning I was on the case."
She shakes her head. "You kidding me?"
I try to think it through. The phone belongs to someone who knows Clay, may even be involved with Clay. It may hold important clues to the case. It is probably evidence. I have had it a week-and-a-half. It occurs to me this is good, but it’s not all good.
Janet holds up the phone.
"It didn’t occur to you that it might help the investigation?"
I don’t like where she’s going with this. Deflect. "Case is solved. If only the cops would realise it, do their jobs."
She persists. "Cops can trace phones, find out who owns them."
"I don’t know, some number."
"What’s the point?"
"If we can find out whose phone it is, and who they were calling, it could give us a motive."
Motive, what does Janet know about motive? "We don’t need a motive, we know who the killers were."
She’s determined not to let it go, trying to one-up me. "Where on the boat did you find it?"
I mumble. "Master bedroom, where Thommo got killed. Beside the bed, kind of wedged under the side cabinets."
"You stole evidence from the scene of a crime."
Since when did Janet talk crime-scene jargon, and who made her detective inspector?
"I didn’t steal it, I found it. I slipped it into my pocket and forgot about it."
"You’ve gotta tell Hank, Red."
No way. Tell them even though I found it nearly two weeks ago, I have just realized its significance. It might not be any use anyway. No point handing it over, if it’s not necessary.
"Maybe if we go through the numbers we can figure out whose phone it is."
"Don’t be ridiculous. Any number of people could have Clay’s number, like his wife. Or a murderer. Besides, you also need to search the memory not just what’s on the SIM card."
"What’s that mean?"
"SIM card holds the address book. Other things will be stored on the memory."
"Photos, maybe videos."
"Can you do it?"
"No. Reckon Macca can though."
The pizza delivery man bangs on the door.
I peer into my wallet. "Got any cash?"
She glares at me, points at her handbag.
I deliver pizza, plates to the floor.
Janet’s all business. "I’ve taken the SIM card out, put it back in the old phone. I’ll call Macca later."
She spends half an hour teaching me how to work my new phone.
"You going to tell Macca about Mr Holiday Romance."
She gives me a death stare. "What happens on tour, stays on tour."
"Sure." If I keep her secrets, she may just keep mine. "Should ask Macca out, got nothing to lose."
"Think I will."
Next week: Dusty tries to get back into Evan’s good books.
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