Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 156-160
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 156: Smart, it doesn't feel right
On the water paddlers are ready to point swimmers in the right direction, make sure we stay the correct side of the buoys. There's also a couple of rubber duckies and a tinny.
By the time I join Janet the first group of swimmers have left the beach, feet and arms churn the water. A horn sounds, the next group sprint down the sand, dive under waves, stand, run, dive, until they get out behind the break.
"You better line up."
Janet has competition nerves even though she's not competing.
I'm relaxed. "How are you getting back down the other end?"
"I'll be right."
I join some yellow caps. There are still a couple more groups before it's our turn. I look at my co-competitors. Men and women, fit and not-so-fit - some with tummies, fat bums, others lean.
I scan the faces. Stop. Smart. It can't be. It is. He's seen me, waves, mouths "goodbye".
Smart can't be doing the triathlon. How can they keep him under surveillance when he's out in the water?
It doesn't feel right. He's a gym junkie, not a triathlete. I'm sure Janet would have told me if he was into tri. I check him out. He's got the yellow cap, goggles perched on his head. No numbers. He has no numbers on his arms, legs. There's something wrong.
I wave to Janet, she waves back. Bugger. I dash back to her, twenty metres through soft sand.
Puff. "Smart's in the yellow cap line-up."
"Can't be, Dusty. He's under surveillance."
I point. She can't see him.
"Near the front, he's got no numbers. It's not right."
She still can't see him. "You have to go they're about to start."
"I tell you he's there. I'm going to follow him. Find Hank, Red. Tell them."
She spreads her arms, indicating the crutches, as if to say, "How?"
"Where's your phone?"
"Didn't bring it."
The yellow caps are moving to the start line.
I run back, push my way to the front to the line, get a few elbows in the ribs for my trouble.
I'm right beside him. I pull on my cap and suck on goggles as the horn sounds. How am I going to pick him out in the water? As we dash across the sand I reach over and pull off his cap.
He lunges at me as I throw it to the sand, bends to pick it up but we are surrounded by athletes, pumped and primed, racing into the water, he has no choice but to keep going.
I'm beside him as we hit the small broken waves on the shore, but he can run, bastard. I lift my legs high over waves, keep going, dive under a small wave, get to my feet, he's ahead of me, and there's a set coming.
Bugger, I don't want to lose him.
Episode 157: Dusty swims, follows Smart
Bodies dive under waves, are thrown back, dumped.
I dive, claw into the sand with my fingers to hold myself down, wait until it's gone, then come up for air. I can't see him, can see the next wave, a big one, broken and rolling in towards me. I take a deep breath and repeat the process. Three more times. The field of swimmers is scattered. I have no idea if he's still ahead of me, or back in the waves.
The set's finished and I swim over smaller waves out behind the break, but I can't see much for the chop.
Swimmers go past me, legs thrashing, arms like windmills. I get a fist in my face, goggles crushed into my eye socket.
Hate bloody triathlon.
I keep swimming, hope to find him on the way out to the first buoy. I do. He got through the waves because he's strong, but he's not much of a swimmer. I stay ten metres behind him, don't think he knows I'm here. What next? Follow.
I wonder how far Janet's got on the crutches. Whether she's gone up the steps over the dunes then along the boardwalk, or along the beach. Wonder if she even took me seriously.
If she did it's going to be ages before she finds Hank or Red. If she can find them. Maybe she found someone with a mobile.
What's Smart's plan? What's he up to?
I tag along behind him, cruising. If Smart's just intending to swim the course, Greg's not going to be happy about my time.
We're almost at the first buoy, the course turns left, but Smart heads wide, gets on the outside of the pack, then he heads further out to sea. He stops, looks around. There's a lot of chop, I'm not sure if he knows I'm there. He puts his head down, starts swimming again.
I hear a motor in the water, assume it's a rubber duckie, possibly going to tell us we're going too far out. I stop. The engine noise is from a tinny that's bouncing across the top of the water. Smart's waving at the tinny.
Now I get it. The bloke in the tinny has seen him, turns in our direction. I swim hard, catch up to him. Am beside him as the boat stops.
He sees me. "Get the fuck out of here."
The tinny stops, motor idling.
Smart grabs onto the back where it's closest to the water, pulls himself up over the side, crawls in.
I'm not letting him out of my sight, grab the top of the boat, heave myself up the side, one leg in the boat.
I hear Smart yell at the bloke in the tinny. "Where's the fucking gun?"
I land on the floor of the tinny with a thud. Look up to see the bloke pull a gun out of the back of his board shorts, hand it to Smart.
Episode 158: Not another gun
Smart points the gun at me. Bent over, still trying to catch his breath, he half yells half gasps.
"Get out of the fuckin' boat."
I don't like the look of the gun, and I'm sure he'll use it. But, I'm not about to let him get away. There's something going on, and I don't want it to upset my drug bust. "No."
"Get out or I shoot, throw you over the side to the sharks."
I don't move, try not to look at the gun. Decide to bluff.
"Janet knows what's happening. She was talking to the cops before we even got off the beach. They'll be out here any minute."
He laughs. "Janet on her crutches."
"She was on her mobile as we ran into the water."
He doesn't know she didn't have a phone, seems to think over the options. "You're right, Blondie. You could be much more useful as a hostage."
That's not quite what I had in mind, but it's better than being shot right now. It gives me time. Gives Janet time.
I look toward the shore. Everything seems to be proceeding smoothly, triathletes are swimming, the stragglers just now going around the first buoy.
I look over my shoulder towards the river mouth, no water police. The guys on rubber duckies are concentrating on the swimmers.
Smart has made his decision. "Let's go."
The driver revs the engine and the tinny bounces over the chop, heads north towards Old Woman Island. I hang on with both hands, it's a rough trip. Smart hangs on with one hand, the gun in the other.
I need to think, come up with a plan. If I'm going to find out what's going on I need to open lines of communication.
"Not much of a swimmer. Kept up with you easy." I yell it over the roar of the engine, the hull smacking against the water.
"Fuckin' poofter triathletes. Good cover though."
"Where'd you get the cap?"
"Followed some dickhead into the toilets, asked him nicely, wouldn't come across. So I king hit him. Probably still out cold."
"How'd you get past the cops on surveillance."
"Easy, thousands of poofters in dick togs. Blended in with the crowd."
"So what's next?"
"Think I'm gunna tell you, Blondie? On the other hand, since I'm gunna shoot you doesn't much matter."
He settles himself on a seat, grabs the edge of the boat with one hand, with the other holds the gun, pointed in my general direction.
Every time we hit a wave the front of the boat lurches into the air, then bangs back down. I'm still on the bottom, pull myself up onto the seat beside him.
"Get the surprise I arranged for you and Janet?"
How could he do that when he was under surveillance?
"Janet'll be after you."
"How far we going in this thing?"
"Into the river, got a plane to catch."
"Where you going?"
Episode 159: Dusty's hostage
Smart continues. "We had to change our plans since a certain person put the cops onto us."
I'm trying to figure out a plan, am beginning to think my best chance is to jump overboard, but I'm not sure when. I don't want to wait too long, the river mouth's shark territory. I'm still hoping Janet will come through. Keep hoping to see the Water Police, or maybe a rescue helicopter.
"So the boat's going to Cairns?"
"No. Boat you saw, it's still coming here. Empty. Cops'll find it and think you got it wrong. Clay and Randy intercepted them last night, transferred the cargo to Randy's boat. They're going to Cairns."
It's slow going through the chop. I decide to stay put, see what else I can find out.
Think of the phone.
"Was it you took the photos of Thommo shooting Manny?"
"Yeah. Nice pics. Amanda was very happy with them."
He waves the gun around. "Think you've got it all figured out, don't you, Blondie. Didn't know that, did you?"
I don't get it.
He gives me the benefit of his superior knowledge. "Amanda paid Thommo to shoot Manny. Wanted proof the bastard was dead. I took the pics, sent them to her, she got straight back to us. Most appreciative."
"Wasn't real happy when the body washed up two days later. Thommo was supposed to wait 'till we got out to the shipping lane, shoot him out there, throw him to the sharks. Body would never have been found. But the bastard was making so much fuss about using his boat for drugs, Thommo popped him just after we got outta the river."
Amanda wanted Manny dead. Amanda the new architect of Green Hectares. Amanda of the ankh, symbol of rebirth. Manny wanted to reconnect with the family, Amanda wanted Manny gone, wanted a new life.
I take time to digest this.
Why did Amanda get Red and me on the case? Maybe she was looking for a reason to dump him, didn't find one, so she arranged to have him shot. The tape I supplied from the decoy job worked in her favour, led them to the drug deal. When the body washed up we ran around after drug pushers. She used me. Very clever. While we were thinking drugs we weren't thinking about any other reason for Manny to be wanted dead.
We proved Manny wasn't into drugs, just a victim, a bloke with a boat they needed.
I reckon it was her own reputation, not her husband's that Amanda was worried about. Be hard to get good architect jobs if your husband was a suspected drug dealer.
I would never have guessed.
What else I can find out? "Who shot Marty?"
"Clay. Marty was a fuckin' liability. Creative, Clay, with the shark tank. Except the sharks didn't finish him off, thought they'd eat the lot. Should have shot you before he threw you in the water."
Episode 160: Dusty' works up a plan
Smart grabs my arm, points the gun at me again. "Fuckin' bitch."
There's a boat high tailing it towards us, might be the Water Police. At the same time I hear a helicopter. Thank you, Janet.
I need a plan. Still think my best bet's the water. Certainly don't plan on getting shot.
The boat's coming closer, definitely the police, and the helicopter's doing a circle around us. I don't want it to come to a hostage situation, Smart with the gun to my head as we bounce across the water. Have to pick my time, then jump, hope he doesn't get a shot off at me as I go over the side.
The movement of the boat in the water will work for me, make a good shot difficult. I hope the boat keeps going and by the time I come up from under the water it's a fair distance away. We're approaching the river mouth and the chop's getting bigger, more unpredictable.
I need to time it, accidentally on purpose lurch to the side, pull myself out of his grasp as we go up the wave, push off as we hit the bottom.
I wait for the police boat to come a bit closer, want to spend minimal time in the water. This is shark territory.
Smart's not happy. He's swearing, waving the gun.
It's now or never.
The boat tips as the front goes up with a wave, I lunge to the side, Smart loses his grip, reaches for me, misses.
As the boat hits the trough of the wave I push against the floor with both legs, full power of my thighs, grab the side and pull myself up and over, hit the water with my shoulder, hard.
It knocks the wind out of me, and I'm swirling around in the current.
This is not good.
Then I feel a tearing red-hot pain in my hip, put my hand down, warm. Look. Blood.
The bastard shot me.
This is even worse. I'm bleeding, I can't see much for the chop, and I don't even know if the police or the chopper have seen me go into the water.
I wave my arms like crazy, but I'm sucked down by the swirling current. I struggle back up to the top, wave again.
The chopper's going away from me, following the tinny, then turns, circles back. I kick up from underneath, push myself as far out of the water as I can, wave, they circle.
I think the crew's seen me.
Great. Hurry. I'm bleeding.
Smart and the tinny negotiate the bar, head into the river. It's not easy and the boat's making hard work of it.
I hear another engine, the Water Police. They head for Smart, leave me to the chopper and the sharks. Thanks. I've got my hand over my hip which is hurting like hell and bleeding what looks like buckets.
Next week: Rescue, but it better be quick.
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