Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 151-155
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 151: Dusty and Janet chat
MARIA goes back to work. Red goes back to work. Janet and I enjoy a couple more beers.
"Might just call Hank, see how the surveillance is going." I dial.
"Hi babe, enjoy those French pastries?"
"Sure did. See the email I got from Clay?"
"Yeah. Be aware. Keep your eyes open."
"How's the surveillance going? What's Smart been up to?"
"Not much. Went to the gym, watched the bike race."
"Any sign of the boat?"
"Coast guard, water police, sea patrol, all keeping an eye out. Bit hard when we don't know what it's called, but they're checking out anything suspicious. Up and down the coastline, in case they've had a change of plans. We'll get them, don't worry about that."
"Great. Don't want all my hard work to be for nothing."
"See you on the beach tomorrow. Gunna give a few of the lads a gee up, got a team in the tri."
"Cool. See you then." I put away the phone.
Janet's curious. "See Hank last night?"
"Getting to be a regular thing."
"Suppose so. Fixed the railing, and the table."
"Going to keep him around?"
"A while, maybe."
How do I approach the Macca topic? "You said Macca did well in the race."
"He talking to you?"
"So you put your hand on his thigh."
She doesn't say anything.
"Did you just rest it there, or give it a rub?" I'm trying not to laugh.
"I should never have taken your advice."
"Janet, you've been wanting to go out with him for a year. Don't blame me."
"So did you give it a rub?"
"Up and down or..."
"You didn't slip your hand between his legs."
She crinkles up her face in fresh embarrassment.
"No wonder he jumped off the couch. How can you know the guy for twelve months, ride with him nearly every day, and not know he's gay? Particularly when he thinks you know he's gay?"
"Never occurred to me."
"I think you should travel more, Janet. You seem to have better luck with men when you're in a foreign country. Even when you can't speak the language. Particularly when you can't speak the language."
We drink until it's time to eat. I smell plates of seafood fettuccine, lasagne, spaghetti bolognaise, ravioli, spinach and tomato tortellini as they are delivered to tables of triathletes carbo loading before tomorrow morning's race.
Maria has been making sauces for weeks, stocking up for the occasion. We join them.
I drop Janet off and promise to pick her up early so she can be there as we sign in, get our numbers, caps. She wants to be part of the action.
I'm to meet Greg at the registration desk.
At home I head for the fridge, grab one last beer, notice a box on the coffee table.
A box that wasn't there when I left home. Why is it on my coffee table?
I lift the lid, peer inside.
Episode 152: What's in the box?
I lift the lid on the box, the box that has found its way onto my coffee table.
I move away pink tissue paper. Nestled inside is a dark furry ball.
My eyes focus, it's a head, a cat's head. No. There's a collar, and a familiar pink love heart inscribed Bernice. This is not good.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the message light on the phone blinking. I push the button.
Janet's voice wails. "Dustyyy. They've killed Bernice." Sobs. "Those bastards have killed Bernice." She is half choking, coughing, howling. "And I can't even give her a decent burial. They've taken her head."
I swallow. Pick up the phone, dial. "Janet. It's awful, I'm sorry."
She cries. "I'll get those bastards. They took Bernice's head. What're they going to do with her head."
"Janet. I've got the head. It's here."
"What? You killed her?"
"No. They left her head in a box on the coffee table."
"Janet. I'll come right over."
I pick up the box, it's leaking, put it in a plastic bag.
I'm not sure if I should walk in with the box in the bag. I take it out, put the plastic underneath it, open the door.
She's on the couch, curled up in a ball, except for the moon boot which is on a cushion. She's crying. A box sits on the coffee table in front of her. I put the other box beside it. She looks at the boxes, cries louder.
I sit beside her, put my arm around her shoulder, she shrugs it off. I suppose this is my fault too.
She glares at me, eyes red. "If you hadn't got involved in this stupid case and got Clay and Randy offside Bernice would still be alive."
That's probably right, but I was doing a job. "It's a case Janet. They're drug dealers. Do you just want them out there importing drugs so people can die of overdoses."
She blows her nose loudly. "I don't care." Splutters. "You're not even an investigator. You think you're undercover, but they know you're there. It's not you watching them, they're watching you. Your idea of undercover's a joke."
Nasty. But I decide not to bite back. She's upset. "Look, I know how much Bernice meant to you."
"You don't know. Ever notice I never leave Bernice with you when I go away? I leave her with mum. That's because you're hopeless. I can't trust you."
That's a big rough.
"It's true." She pulls a tissue out of the box, blows her nose again. "You have no sense of responsibility. And, you drag everyone else into your mess."
"Hang on a minute. That's not fair."
"You just don't see it. You're blind to everything but what you want. You're selfish. You walk through life creating disasters, and you don't even know. And I'm the one who picks up the pieces, or gets hurt. I'm sick of it."
Episode 153: Dusty tries an apology
Janet continues her rant. "Janet's car gets totalled, so what. Janet's ankle gets broken, no big deal. Janet'll swim 10 kilometres in the bloody Pacific Ocean with the sharks. Stupid bloody Janet."
She's red faced, features contorted.
I open my mouth to speak but she's not finished.
"Well, Janet's had enough. Janet's sick of being the bunny. Sick of being taken advantage of." She blows her nose on a wad of sticky tissue, takes a deep breath. I wait for more but she seems be running out of steam.
She looks at the two boxes on the coffee table, glares at me. Then she lifts the moon boot off the cushion, plants it on the floor with a bang, stands.
As she hobbles towards the bedroom she yells back at me over her shoulder. "I don't know why I hang around with you."
"I admit I can be a bit selfish, but I'm not that bad. I do care."
I follow her to the bedroom. She throws herself on the bed. I lift the moon boot up off the floor, sit beside her. "Give me a break."
"It's always about Dusty. Never Janet."
I try an apology. "Hey, I'm sorry. But, you have to admit we have some fun."
"Dusty, your idea of fun and my idea of fun are not the same thing." She closes her eyes.
What now? "Can I get you a cup of tea?"
I make tea, go over what she said. Am I really that selfish? Possibly. I take two cups of tea into the bedroom. We drink in silence, except for Janet's occasional sniffles.
I try to think of the best way to dispose of Bernice.
We can't dig a hole in Janet's six metre square paved courtyard. I could suggest Janet's freezer, but it's always full of Lean Cuisine and frozen low-fat yoghurt.
I figure she's going to want some sort of proper goodbye.
I have an idea. "Janet, I guess you want to say goodbye to Bernice, properly."
She looks at me through swollen eyes, snot on her top lip.
"Why don't I take her home, put her in my freezer until Monday. Then we'll take her and get her cremated, have a ceremony, so you can have her ashes."
She seems to like the idea.
"It might be nice to go to the RSPCA, get a kitten. When you're ready."
She sniffs. "Bernice was special."
Finally, she's calm. I say good night, put both shoe boxes into plastic bags, drive home.
The boxes won't fit into my freezer, even if I remove a bottle of vodka and a bucket of chocolate fudge ice-cream.
I'm not too keen on taking Bernice out of the boxes. Think. I don't really need to freeze her, just keep her cold. So I put the boxes, in their plastic bags, into the fridge, beside the cheese slices, and full-fat rhubarb yoghurt.
Then I take a couple of slugs of the vodka, eat some ice-cream.
Episode 154: Dusty registers for the triathlon
Why did I agree to swim in the triathlon? I slam the off button on the alarm, crawl out of bed. Regret the vodka I consumed with the ice-cream. Nice combination.
I text Janet: R u still coming?
I shower, climb into a red and white racing bikini, tank top, short shorts. I pour a bowl of muesli clusters, see Bernice, nicely chilled, as I take milk out of the fridge door.
It's ages until the race starts, there will be hours of milling around, talking tactics. I check the backpack - goggles, towel, sunburn cream - throw in my mobile, some cash.
Janet's wearing sunglasses. The sun's not yet over the horizon. I guess she spent most of the night crying, figure I should be sympathetic, but it's too early for sympathy or conversation.
She doesn't speak either. I drop her at the same spot as yesterday, take the car home.
The side streets are already packed with cars, my driveway half blocked by a four-wheel-drive with bike racks on the back.
I park the car in the carport, then I join the throng of triathletes heading towards the beachfront. Fit ones, side by side with fat weekend warriors. Thousands of people in Speedos, bike gear, runners.
Greg's waiting for me at the registration tent. "Ready Dusty? Pumped?"
I give him a forced smile, join the line. A Mooloolaba Triathlon official asks our details, marks us off the list, hands us a bag full of gear - a map of the course, sun cream sachets, sponsors brochures, Mooloolaba Triathlon official singlets, my swimming cap (yellow) for the team event, and the timing anklet.
Janet is subdued, but manages a few words of encouragement to friends.
We get numbered - another official draws big black Niko 1277s on our upper arms and thighs.
Greg wants to check his bike, show me where he'll be waiting, so we head to the transition area.
The carpark's a sea of bikes with little piles of gear beside them. Literally thousands, most of them worth thousands of dollars.
This is possibly what Thug 2 and the others in Red's team were securing.
After the swim, which is only 1.5ks, I have to run, make that jog at a leisurely pace, to T1, transition area one. There I hand Greg the timing anklet, wave him off then head to Seachange and tuck into a post-race breakfast of bacon and eggs.
We still have more than an hour to the start. I suggest coffee.
He orders a double espresso.
"You'll get done for doping."
"Just want to get a buzz going."
Greg's only semi-serious about triathlon. If he was serious he wouldn't have chosen me to hold down the swim leg. That said, he's been training for months.
"You have to run to T1. It's only a few hundred metres. I don't want a slow time. People check out the records, you know. I have a reputation to think of."
"You know I don't run."
Episode 155: At the start line
Greg downs the coffee, legs vibrate under the table. I wish he'd get a grip. I wish I hadn't found the vodka in the freezer.
Hank arrives, board shorts and t-shirt. Looks great.
"Hank, Greg. I'm the other part of Greg's team."
They shake hands.
I pull Hank aside, whisper in his ear.
"Clay came good on his promise."
I explain about Bernice.
"Janet's a mess."
"Wonder who he got to do it?"
"Obviously has contacts."
"Where's the cat?"
"In my fridge."
"Don't think I'll be over for dinner tonight."
"Couldn't think of anywhere to bury her. She's going to get her cremated, tomorrow hopefully."
As we talk Hank has his hand on my butt. Possessive. I'm not sure about that.
Janet hops over on the crutches.
"Hi Janet, Dusty told me about Bernice. Sorry."
She looks like she's going to cry, nods.
"I'll look into it for you."
I whisper. "What can you do?"
"Probably not much."
It's time to go. Hank heads off to find his mates.
I put my hand on Janet's shoulder. "Do you want to stay here?"
"No. Want to see the start."
It'll be pretty hard going on crutches, the swim start is 700 metres down the beach.
Greg heads off to drop his backpack at the gear tent. I had intended to leave mine with Maria but she's talking to Janet, obviously about Bernice, the tears have started again.
I'm not up to coping with tears so I head off with Greg, hand my backpack to the official.
Greg checks I have the timer properly strapped around my ankle, gives me a high five. I tell him I'll jog as fast as I can to T1.
Janet's composed by the time I get back and we join the throng, wind our way through a maze of temporary fencing designed to keep triathletes on the right track, and spectators in their place.
Instead of heading straight onto the sand we stick with the pathway up to the surf club where Janet spies a lifesaver with a buggy and cons a ride up to the start line.
I join the togs and racing suits and walk, the sand cool under my feet, early morning sun low on the horizon.
I'm numbered, I have my goggles around my neck, my black cap. I'm ready, as ready as I ever will be.
The tide's almost full so there's not much firm sand, and, as I expected, the south-easterly's picked up since yesterday, so has the swell.
Out near the buoys there's wind chop, in close there's dumping waves. The course is a W shape.
We are to swim out from the beach a couple of hundred metres towards the river mouth, back in around a buoy, then back out into the ocean before heading for the sand. After that it's a jog across the beach, up the stairs and down the road to the carark and T1.
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Next week: Is that Smart?