Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 21-25

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 21: Now that’s a party

I flick through Janet’s research while we eat.

Manny’s wife, Amanda, has also been in the news - fundraising balls, networking lunches, women’s breakfasts. If it involves dressing in expensive clothes and having your photo taken, Amanda’s there. She’s groomed to within an inch of her Jimmy Choos - blond bob, 40 size 8.

"Find anything on Smart?"

Janet swallows the last mouthful, follows it with juice, hands me some more pages.

"This is where it gets interesting. Smart’s in big-time mergers and acquisitions. He gave up the fast lane a couple of years ago, came home, bought a penthouse. Still associated with that kind of work, just on a reduced scale."

She’s on a roll.

"Known for his parties. I’m not talking Amanda West parties. I’m talking all-night, all-weekend, penthouse roof garden, spa, models, booze, drugs."

That’s a party.

"Last year he held a post-triathlon party. A friend of mine went, reckons she was drugged. Lucy doesn’t do drugs, she’s a serious athlete."

All Janet’s friends are serious athletes, except me.

"Lucy remembers having a few drinks, then feeling really out of it. Woke up the next morning across the road, on the beach. Thinks she was raped."

"Shit. She go to the cops?"

"Too embarrassed. Didn’t know what happened."

"So what are we talking? Date rape drug, something like that?"

"That’s what she reckons."

"Nasty." Very nasty. "You know Smart? What’s he like?"

"Fancies himself, always has. Gym junkie. Thinks he’s popular with girls. Only reason people hang out with him is because he pays the bills. Wouldn’t go near him."

Janet wouldn’t go near Keanu Reeves, unless he said he loved her. "What about other drugs?"

"Coke on tap. Pills."

"Thommo go to his parties?"

"Don’t know. Could ask?"

Must admit I hadn’t taken to Smart myself. "Find out anything about Clay?"

"Resort developments. His CEO is looking after the business in Vanuatu. Came home, not long ago. Doesn’t seem to be doing anything here."

"Except talking to Daz." I explain. "As I was leaving Daz got a call. Clay. Said he was trying to find something for him. Taking longer than Clay wanted by the sound of things."

"Business, investment?"

"Knowing Daz, could be anything."

That’s it. She closes the folder.

I consider cake, mud cake, and coffee.

"How’d it go with Daz?"

"Fine." Should I tell her about the toothbrush? Why not.

"When he was on the phone I had a look around, see if the Galloping Waitress has moved in. No clothes or anything, but I saw her toothbrush, flushed it."

"You didn’t!"

"Couldn’t help myself."

"Thought you were over him."

"Doesn’t stop me being pissed off he cheated on me."

"You have to move on."

"I have to move on. How long have you been hoping Macca will ask you out?"

Macca is clearly not going to ask Janet out, but she won’t let go. She’s totally obsessive, about everything.

 

Episode 22: Looking for Lady Love

Janet picks up her iPhone.

"Going to mark off lunch?"

She ignores me.

Janet religiously records every calorie. Personally, I’d rather not know.

"Had another look at Manny’s boat this morning."

Lifts her eyes from the phone, "Wouldn’t mind having a look at that boat."

"Amanda’s selling it. Bad memories, I guess."

"Show me? Before I go back to work."

We take my car, leave hers in the five-minute zone.

The security guy remembers me.

"Just another quick look."

Hands me the key. "Won’t be able to get inside. Put the cover back on."

"Cover?"

"Weather plays havoc with the upholstery."

There was no cover either time I’d been there – wonder if that’s significant.

Janet’s disappointed she can’t get inside, impressed though. "What do you reckon it’s worth?"

"Several mill. Must be money in designing high-rise."

We jump onto the deck, walk around. Janet peers in through the windows, like Persephonie had earlier. I remember the mobile I found – should try to charge it up.

"That’s the main bedroom, where I found Thommo."

"Which one’s Thommo’s boat?"

"Don’t know." Never got there. Had intended to, but he’d been dead, and then I’d got arrested. "Should check it out."

We head back to the security guy, I hand over the key, do my professional PI thing. "Thanks for letting us through.

You know Thommo?"

"Sure. Poor bastard."

"It was me found him."

"Can’t have been pleasant."

"Part of the job."

"Was it you zapped the cop?"

"Yeah. It was an accident."

A smile. "Wouldn’t mind zapping a few cops meself."

He’s not the first person who’s said that.

"Know where Thommo’s boat is?"

"Down the other end," he indicates the river mouth, "last pontoon before the trawlers."

"Thanks."

This is the wharf end of The Spit, where the trawlers and deep sea fishing boats tie up. Busy trade in fresh seafood – wholesale and retail, dine-in or take-away. At tables in the park people hunch over, protect their crumbed fish and chips or sushi trays from the wind. Kids crawl over the playground equipment, or the memorial statue – tribute to drowned fishermen. Working the ocean’s a tough gig whether you’re legal, like the fishos, illegal, like Thommo, or just plain unlucky, like Manny.

The last pontoon’s locked. We find another security office.

"Hi, I’m Dusty Dexter, Private Investigator. Looking into Thommo’s death, want to have a look at his boat."

"Cops said no one on the boat."

"We’re helping the cops."

He hauls himself out of the chair.

"Suppose the cops looked over the boat, after Thommo got killed?"

"Yeah, spent days on it."

"Anyone been on it since?""Not that I know of."

"Which boat?"

"Lady Love. On the left."

Thommo’s boat isn’t nearly as impressive as The Dog House. It’s half the size, a sailboat, looks lived-in.

Janet’s tentative, as usual. "You sure we should be doing this?"

"Can’t hurt. Thommo’s dead."

 

Episode 23: Boat’s a crime scene

Janet looks at Thommo’s boat, Lady Love, keeps her distance. "Security guard said the cops don’t want anyone on the boat. It’s a crime scene."

"Stay here, if you like." Chicken. I don’t say it, don’t have to.

She follows, at a distance. "Maybe you should let Red know."

Red. How am I supposed to carry out an investigation if I have to let Red know every time I come up with a good idea. "It’s called being resourceful. She’ll be happy, when we find something."

She mumbles.

I ditch the heels, pull myself on board at the back.

She unbuckles flat black sandals. "What’re we looking for?"

We, that’s more like it. Janet just needs a little encouragement, a gentle push in the right direction.

"Clues, information to help solve the crime. Water police pulled Thommo up out in the shipping lane a couple of months before he got killed. Thought he might have been picking up drugs. Didn’t find any."

Ropes and pulleys clutter the deck. The mainsail’s rolled, wrapped in canvas.

Janet trips over the hook where the boat’s lashed to the pontoon, bangs her shin. "Ouch!"

I make my way along a narrow ledge toward the front, peer into windows as I go past, can’t see anything. On top of the cabin there’s a glass trapdoor. I climb up, peer inside, can’t see anything in there either.

At the back I unzip plastic screens. We both climb inside, more ropes and pulleys, steering wheel, lots of gadgets, dials. Not as many as Manny’s boat, but still high-tech.

The entry to the cabin.

Janet looks reluctant. "Bloke said cops spent days looking over the boat. Not likely to find anything."

"Coming?"

I back down the stairs into the dark, it takes a minute for my eyes to adjust. More electronic equipment, radios, bench seats on either side of a table, the kitchen, basic. A bed that fits into the front of the boat. No flash linen here. Two doors. Janet opens one, a cramped shower, basin. She opens the other. I look in and see the toilet, seat up, plastic bags containing what looks like white powder in the bowl.

"Shit."

"Shit."

It’s too obvious, must be planted. Who by? Maybe Thommo’s mates, maybe the cops. Either way, it’s a trap.

"Let’s get out of here."

Janet’s first up the stairs, I’m right behind her. Out through the plastic screens onto the deck, about to jump onto the pontoon when I hear a yell then a gunshot. It misses both of us. A man runs down the pontoon opposite, screams at us. He stops between boats, aims, shoots again. We can’t run down the pontoon, we’ll run straight into him.

I look in the opposite direction, across the water towards the trawlers. The wharf’s not joined to this section of the marina, he’ll have to go through the security gate, out and around.

Janet’s doing the same calculation.

We look at each other.

In unison. "Swim."

 

Episode 24: Swimming with bull sharks

Another shot.

Janet’s face is white. She looks into the river – it’s murky, dark, almost no visibility. I know what she’s thinking – bull sharks. The river mouth’s full of them, they hang around the trawlers, feed on the leftovers that get washed back into the water. I’m shark friendly, but bull sharks have a bad reputation, and this is where they come to eat. I hope they’re between meals.

"We don’t have much choice."

We look at each other, nod.

A couple more shots, I don’t feel anything. Janet’s still swimming so she must be okay. It’s not easy swimming in trousers and a shirt, and I can’t see a thing without goggles. We make it across 30 metres of water, regroup between two trawlers, tread water. No more shots. What now?

Janet pants. "We’ve got to get out of the water."

She’s right, but how?

The trawlers are big boats, we can’t just pull ourselves up onto the deck, even the wharf’s 15 feet above the water level. How do we get out? We can’t go back, and we can’t get onto the boats. A ladder hangs over the side of the wharf, about 20 metres away, but it’s more open over there.

No more shots.

I point at the ladder. "We chance it?"

"Yep."

We breast stroke, silent in the water. No sign of the gunman. When we make it to the ladder the bottom rung’s five feet above water level. I kick underwater, try to propel myself up, I’m a good six inches short.

"Try again."

No better.

The athlete in Janet takes over. "I’ll hold onto your hips, give you a push up from underneath. On my call."

She grabs my bum. "Now." Pushes, I miss.

"Try again."

Pushes, grab it. I hang in mid air, feet in the water, heave myself up to the second rung, third, get my knees up onto the bottom rung.

"Hurry." Janet treads water below me.

I put my arm down to her.

"No. Just get out of the way, I can get it."

I pull myself up another couple of rungs.

Janet disappears under the water, then launches herself out, grabs onto the bottom rung on the ladder, swings up onto the second rung in one movement.

"Very impressive. Should play water polo."

"I did."

Of course.

We cling to the ladder. Now what?

We might have escaped the sharks, but there’s still the matter of a man with a gun.

Police sirens, and they’re coming closer.

I think that’s good, but I don’t think it’s going to be all good. Several cars screech to a halt. At least no one’s going to shoot at us now.

I decide it’s safe, crawl up the final rungs of the ladder, over the edge of the wharf, Janet right behind me. I emerge, dripping, as Senior Sergeant Stern leaps out of his car and races down the wharf, gun pointed. Red pulls up behind him.


Episode 25: Red and Dusty have a chat

On balance, I think there were more positives than negatives in my first day as a PI. I don’t think Red agrees.

It was exciting, well bits of it, the bits that didn’t include research, or paperwork.

I push Charlie’s Angels into the DVD player, sit on the couch with take-away - butter chicken, rice and riata. I take mental notes, watch Cameron, Lucy and Drew, female dynamos on a mission. The scene ends in a wall of flame, the Angels escape in a speed boat, James Bond-style, and roar off into the distance.

That’s what we needed today, a speed boat, ready and waiting, when that cop started to shoot at us.

Instead we got Senior Sergeant Stern. He took Janet and me back to the police station. He wasn’t happy, said we’d blown his undercover operation. The white powder we found on Thommo’s boat was just that - white powder.

The cops put it there, hoped some of Thommo’s cohorts would check out whether there were any supplies on board. We were the first visitors.

The bloke who shot at us was an undercover cop; he’d been keeping watch from the next pontoon.

Stern didn’t arrest us, or charge us, but he did demand I discuss future investigations with Red.

He and Red had a chat. Red and I had a chat.

It went like this:

Red. "What part of ’notify me of your activities at all times’ don’t you understand?"

Me. "I thought-"

Red. "You, don’t think. You do what I tell you, when I tell you, nothing more, nothing less. Do you understand?"

Me. "Yes."

Red sent me home with the file and orders to "know the file backwards" for a meeting with her first thing. Asked me to come up with "avenues of inquiry". Said we would discuss them before I took any action.

I go over my notes.

• Thommo killed Manny on Manny’s boat.
• Someone took photos of the murder.
• Thommo was killed on Manny’s boat.
• The murderer left the photos to show Thommo was guilty of Manny’s murder.
• Who took the photos and why?
• Who killed Thommo?
• Were Smart and Clay also on the boat?
• Was there a drug link?
• The cops thought Thommo was importing drugs.
• Smart has been linked with drugs.
• Manny had no known involvement with drugs.
• Did they want Manny’s boat for a drug pick-up?
• If so, what happened to the drugs they picked up?
• Did the fact that the cops were onto Thommo make him dispensable?
• Clay has no link to drugs but the cops think the drugs Thommo was bringing in may have come by boat from the south Pacific. Clay has business interests there.
• The cops are trying to find out who Thommo was working with.
• Daz is doing something with Clay.
• The ballistics reports show Manny and Thommo were killed by different guns. Neither have been found.

Red’s gotta be impressed with that.

 

Next week... Dusty is doing surveillance, but who’s following who?


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