Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 31-35

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 31:  A typical Friday night

I DIAL Red, am not going to tell her I lost Smart.

"Lose him yet?"

"No. He remembered me from the surf club, walked up to me, we had a chat." That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

"Come to the office. Bring the folder."

Yes M’am, but first the bakery. I cross the road, no sign of Smart, buy an apple turnover, and one for Red. Like an apple for the teacher, but with cream.

Red tells me to make a list of everyone who was at the surf club the night Manny disappeared. Then, I am to phone them all, ask them if they remember seeing Manny, if they saw him leave, and, if so, who with. And if they saw the others leave.

She calls this "establishing the scene". It sounds boring, even more boring than the surveillance - I’ve never seen the Angels write lists, trawl through the phone book.

I take the remaining apple turnover out of the bag. Be nice with coffee, could duck out to the café. Might be pushing my luck with Red, head to the kitchen for a cup of tea.

Now, the list. I write down everyone I remember seeing at the club:

* Max Cash, Manny’s boss (he and Manny had been arguing on and off all night)

* Benton Smythe, councillor (thought to be in bed with Cash in a purely monetary way)

* Maynard and Murphy, solicitors (talking to another shirt and tie)

* Turner and Thurton, accountants (possibly discussing the finer points of the BAS)

* Paul Rich, financial advisor (chatting up a recent widow)

* Rosso, Bazza and Ricky, builders (had been there since four, enough said)

* Janet, once gain trying to crack onto Macca

* Janet’s co-workers Tania and Becky (hoping to get lucky)

* Nathan, Grant, Rae, Kathy (TV girls and boys)

There were others. Dozens of 20-somethings squashed onto the dance floor, sweating. A few buff lifesavers. A group of hens wearing tiaras with pink and purple flowers blowing penis-shaped whistles.

A typical Friday night.

Daz, how could I forget. I’ll have to call him to get the names of his hangers-on.

I call.

"Babe. How’d the surveillance go this morning?"

Maybe I need to work on my technique. I ignore him.

"Who was with you the night Manny disappeared? Going to phone them all, see if anyone saw Manny leave."

"Dunno."

"Gimme a break."

"Ian, I think, Sarah. Why don’t you just call the office, talk to them all."

Could do that.

I read through my list with him.

"Sounds about right." He’s tapping the phone, thinking. "Marty Lowe, he was there."

He was. He and Thommo had a chat.

"Decide you don’t like the PI work, got a newsletter I need written."

I hang up.

Marty Lowe. Thommo bought him a drink, they went off into a corner, 15 minutes later Thommo came back. Wonder what that was about? Maybe Marty’s involved.

 

Episode 32:  Nasty piece of work

I POKE my head around the door into Red’s office. She’s studying a magazine, Guns Quarterly. There’s a gun safe in her office, bolted to the floor. I’m not allowed near the guns.

"Red. Know a Marty Lowe? He and Thommo had a chat that night at the club."

"Nasty piece of work. Siddown."

Excellent, I’ve got something.

She closes the magazine. "Talk."

"Thommo must have been waiting for him. Soon as he arrived they went to the bar, looked like Thommo bought him a drink, they had a chat, maybe 15 minutes. Marty left, Thommo came back to the table."

She picks up the phone, dials, then leans back in the chair, one black RM Williams balancing on her knee.

"Senior Sergeant Stern." A pause. "G’day, mate. You know Marty Lowe was at the surf club the night Manny disappeared?"

She hits the speaker phone.

"No one mentioned him."

"Dusty said he was there. He and Thommo had a discussion, Marty left. Know what he’s been up to lately?"

"Same old, same old. Pretty sure he got his stuff from Thommo. Did a few months last year, possession and selling. He was someone we thought might turn up to have a look over Thommo’s boat."

Oops. How was I to know Thommo’s boat was part of an operation? They should have kept me in the loop.

"Haven’t come across him lately. Might be time to catch up."

"Let me know."

"Thanks Red."

She hangs up.

"Thanks Red. Could have told him it was my info. Need to get on his good side, so he’ll drop those charges."

"Up to you to get on his good side. Do some good detective work."

I can’t win.

"Made those phone calls yet?"

She opens the magazine.

I spend all afternoon on the phone, get nowhere. A few people remember seeing Manny, Thommo, Smart. Most people don’t know Clay. No one remembers seeing anyone leave, probably all too pissed by then. I haven’t been able to talk to Benton Smythe, or Max Cash, have left messages. I’ve even talked to the staff on duty that night. I’ve had enough, but I’ve got nothing for Red who keeps poking her head around the corner checking on me.

I call Janet.

"We going up to look at Thommo’s place?"

"Yeah. I reckon." Better tell Red.

"Pick you up just after 5. Get up there before it’s dark."

Forgot Janet was driving. "Why don’t we take my car?"

"Feel like a drive."

Bugger, Janet thinks she’s a great driver, she’s not.

I’ve had enough, pick up the folder.

Red’s still examining the guns, glances up. "Get anything?"

"Thommo’s got a house, up on the range, registered address. Thought I might go up, have a look. Janet said she’d come."

She thinks it over. "Find anything, anything at all, get straight on the phone. Don’t touch anything, don’t do anything." Back to the guns.

 

Episode 33:  Dusty is bad-girl Drew

I SHOWER, choose a short black denim skirt, frayed hemline, tank top with Porn Star stretched across the front, chunky heels. Skewer the hair on top of my head, more out than in, and touch up make-up, lipstick.

I’m doing bad-girl Drew Barrymore, my favourite Angel.

A horn toots from the street, Janet.

I clatter across the timber floor. The house is an old beach shack, Red helped me find it. After I left Daz, I spent three days with Red and Maria, three days swearing, ranting and occasionally crying. Three days of Maria being sympathetic, and Red telling me to get my act together. It was long enough for all of us. I took the house because it was available, and cheap. It has character. By that I mean it has peeling paint, questionable stains on the floorboards, prehistoric plumbing and rusted guttering that turns into a waterfall when it rains. But it’s light and airy, and the view’s the same as the million-dollar apartments next door.

Janet hands me a map, a big red circle around Thommo’s place. I buckle in. She hits the motorway like a rally driver.

This is more like it, we’re on the trail of a stash of drugs, if we survive the trip up the range.

I’ve talked to Janet about her driving before, she just gets defensive. It’s not like I’m a cautious driver, I like to drive, and fast, the difference is I’ve got the skills.

"The sign said winding road, 40ks."

"That’s an indication sign. Not a speed limit."

"Then it’s indicating you’re going 40ks too fast."

She ignores me, accelerates through the corners. On a passing lane she revs the head off and passes a Mercedes at 130kmh.

Janet has turned it into a competition.

I imagine, with Janet, even sex would be like competing in a triathlon. A strong physical performance with a sprint to the finish line, a quick check to see if it’s a personal best, followed by a debriefing and performance evaluation.

Wonder if Macca can go the distance, maybe that’s what he’s scared of.

"Love this car." She’s pumped. "Okay, where to now?"

No idea. "Should have GPS."

She pulls over, grabs the map.

I look out the window. Green. The range is different to the coast, but it’s more attitude than altitude. Rolling hills, rural views, trees and cottages. Cows.

City people come here for a weekend in the country, sit in small timber huts, toast marshmallows in the fire, pretend they’re roughing it in the country.

People who live here think they’re superior, think us coast dwellers are brash, shallow, sun-surf-and-sand worshipers. They chew on organic oat bran muffins, wear hemp cardigans, commune with nature.

They can have it.

Janet hands me the map, puts the car into gear, kicks up stones.

Let’s go shake this town up a bit. Life as a PI hasn’t exactly been exciting today. I want to do some real investigation work. Gotta find some leads at Thommo’s place.
 

Episode 34:  Bingo! Drug lab

THOMMO’S house isn’t far off the main road, along a dirt track on the western side of the range. There’s a gate, with a heavy chain and a big lock, the house hidden among trees. Janet parks.

No sign of activity and there’s only 15 minutes sunlight left. We hop out, Janet slides through a gap between the fence and the gate, I wriggle through after her.

It’s a small timber house with shutters on all windows. We march up to the front door, I knock, no answer. I try the door knob, it’s locked, then I peer through the shutters, can’t see anything.

"No one here. Guess we should go."

The minute we get to the fun stuff, Janet starts to waver.

"You sit in the car. I’m going to investigate."

I walk back down the steps, around the side, Janet about six inches behind me. Through the carport, a window, but it’s too high.

Around the back. A hundred metres away is a shed with a roller door, but with windows on the side. It’s a garage, inside is a big four-wheel drive.

Back at the house I can see clutter through a kitchen window.

"If you were going to hide a spare key, where would you hide it?"

Janet reaches up around the door, nothing. Around the window, nothing. I pick up the mat, a cockroach runs out, nothing. Janet picks up a pot, half dead marijuana plant. Bingo!

As I open the door, I wonder if this is something I should clear with Red. The phone’s in the car, I’ll call her when we get back.

I turn on the lights.

"Do you think we should be doing this?"

Wimp. "We used the key, it’s not break and entering."

Dirty coffee cups and dishes caked with macaroni and cheese fill the sink. More cockroaches.

Janet kicks a couple of empty beer bottles, they bang together, roll across the lino floor.

"Quiet."

"Sorry."

In the cupboards are some old pots and pans, mismatched bowls, plates - not exactly well-equipped. The pantry’s empty, except for more boxes of macaroni and cheese. Thommo didn’t care much about his diet.

A bathroom, won’t be good if the state of the kitchen is anything to go by.

"Janet. Wanna check out the bathroom, I’m going in here." Well, I’m the investigator.

A dining room.

Janet’s behind me again.

"Bathroom?"

"Filthy."

In the lounge room there’s a couch with a cheap cover over it, coffee table littered with newspapers, an old TV.

The dining room’s to my right. A few plastic chairs, an old laminate table. On the table is what looks like a giant high-school chemistry set.

Drug lab. This is more like it.

There are bags of chemicals against the walls, pieces of equipment, gas cylinders, cookers, scales. Plastic bags full of little plastic bags. The chemistry set is not working, but it looks well used.

"We better get out of here."

Janet’s probably right.

"Red said don’t touch. That doesn’t mean don’t look."
 

Episode 35:  Dusty finds evidence

JANET stares at the drug lab.

"Check the date on the newspapers, I’ll check out the equipment."

It’s clean, the scales look expensive, Thommo was keen to get his recipe right. Bags of acetylene, pseudoephedrine.

On the end of the table is a notebook, A4 spiral. It’s open - names and numbers, amounts.

Jackpot. Red will be pleased. I tuck it under my arm.

Janet reports back. "Yesterday’s papers. And this week’s TV guide, open to yesterday."

Thommo wasn’t watching TV yesterday. "Must have visitors."

A bedroom. Bed’s a mess, clothes in a pile on the floor. We haven’t exactly turned the place over, but I think we’ve got enough.

"Let’s go."

We retreat. Janet kicks the bloody beer bottles again.

I close the door, replace the key, then we sneak back around the house.

Safe. In sight of the car we run up the drive, squeeze back through the gap, and leap into the car. Janet revs the engine, chucks a U-turn, wheels spin on the gravel. She starts laughing, half hysteria.

Now that’s what I call adventure. I found a drug lab, I’m an excellent private investigator. I even have evidence.

The hysteria is passing, Janet’s knuckles are white on the wheel. "Glad no one turned up while we were there."

She turns into the car park of the Mapleton Pub. We find a table and order a couple of Blonds.

I pull the notebook out of my handbag.

"You sure that was a good idea? They’ll know someone was there."

"Don’t know it was us. Could be important names, information. Red and Stern will want to have a look." Stern will see I’m being pro-active. Red said I had to give him something to get something back, like dropping the charges.

I go back over what we saw. "Yesterday’s newspapers. And that food in the sink had only been there a day or so."

A nod.

"Since Thommo’s death, two weeks ago, they’ve been using the chemistry set. Who? That’s the question. And where were they?"

Janet has regained composure. "Wonder if the drugs were there somewhere?"

"We could go back, have a better look."

She pales. "Think we’ve got enough."

I also think a return visit would fall outside Red’s rules. Should phone, do it in the morning.

We eat steaks, jacket potatoes, mine with sour cream. Janet’s protein loading. Her diet program for the next week focuses on meat and more meat. The following week she’s carb loading, in preparation for tri day.

I flick through the notebook - columns of figures, equations, names with amounts and dollar figures.

I consider dessert, decide it wouldn’t be worth the grief from Janet, besides I’m full.

We head down the range.

"What’re you wearing to the cocktail party?"

Has to be my favourite red dress, lots of cleavage, stilettos.

"Red cocktail dress. You?"

Black. Janet always wears black.

"The black sequin two piece."

There’s a big four-wheel-drive behind us, right behind us, lights bore through the rear window of the Yaris.

Monday: The four wheeler gets closer, bumps the Yaris from behind

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