Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 36-40

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 36: Dial triple 0

THE beer, and a full stomach, have mellowed Janet, or perhaps she’s just coming down from the adrenaline hit after we left Thommo’s house. Instead of turning the trip down the range into a giant slalom, she’s driving sedately.

In the headlights, the incline of the mountain on the other side of the road, the cliffs dropping away beside us.

Then headlights, behind us, close behind us.

"What the!"

"Settle, Janet."

"He’s right up my arse."

I turn around. All I can see are lights, four, shining through a big silver bull bar. They’re getting closer.

Janet blasts the horn, hits the accelerator.

"Take it easy."

She slows, the lights come up behind us again, closer. Too close. The bull bar nudges us. I think Janet swerves, it hits us again, harder. Backs off.

"Don’t panic. I’ve heard about this. Kids getting their kicks. They’ll stop now."

"Getting their kicks on my car."

The lights come up again. This time the bull bar crushes into the hatch, metal buckles, the back window breaks into thousands of pieces, some fly into the front, land in my lap. It pushes us along the road, backs off again.

"Relax, Janet, steady."

I reach down to the floor, grab my handbag, search for the phone. Where’s the bloody mobile?

I pull out the notebook, find the phone. No idea what the number is for the local cops. I could call Red, don’t think she can help much. Triple 0.

I hit zero, zero... but the four-wheel drive rams us. The side of the car slams into a guardrail - it’s all that’s keeping us from going over the edge. The guardrail is about to run out.

Janet’s hands grip the wheel, elbows locked. I brace myself against the roof, the door. We bounce over the edge of the bitumen, nose down, slide down the bank. An airbag inflates in my face. The car bounces off trees like a pinball, pitches over rocks. I hear metal crushing, glass smashing, plastic cracking. Then we stop - silence, breathe.

I can’t see Janet for the air bags. "You okay?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah."

"Better get out of the car."

"Yeah."

I find the door handle, fight with the air bag, but the door’s stuck. I bang it with my shoulder, no good. Janet’s door opens.

Yells. "I’ll come around."

She pulls the door, it won’t open. Bugger. I squeeze under the air bag, over the gear stick, past the other airbag. Free. Janet opens the back door, grabs her handbag. Mine’s on the floor of the front seat, I want it. I wriggle under the airbags, pull it out.

Janet starts to swear.

"F*****g a*******s."

I take control. "Should get out of here. In case it catches fire."

"Look at my car!" Faint moonlight reflects off crushed panels.

I wrap my arm around her shoulder.

"It’s just a car, you can get a new one."

"Just a car." It’s a wail.

 

Episode 37:  Bit of an accident

I PEER through the dark, up to where the road should be. No sign on the four-wheel drive’s lights. We have to climb up the hill, back to the road, get help.

The ground’s uneven, but I don’t want to take off the heels. As we stagger up the slope, swiping aside small branches, Janet continues a tirade against wayward youth.

My eyes adjust to the dark and I make out rocks, scrubby trees, bigger trees. I’m glad the guardrail was there, it would have been a lot worse a few hundred metres back.

Realise the phone’s still clenched in my hand. Call Red.

"What."

"Bit of an accident. Big four wheeler pushed us off the road."

"You okay?"

"Yeah."

"Both of you?"

"Yeah."

"Where are you?"

I explain.

"Cops’ll be there ASAP. I’m on my way."

We make it up to the road, sit on the roadside.

A motorist pulls up, rolls down the window. "You okay?" The waiter from the pub.

"Yeah. Accident, car’s down there."

He hops out of his car, peers over the edge. The broken Yaris, 50 metres down the slope.

"Gotta watch those bends."

"It wasn’t my fault, some idiot drove right into the back of me."

"No shit. Want me to call the cops?"

I hold up my phone. "On their way."

He sits. "I’ll wait with you."

I stop shaking, tune out Janet’s wailing. What if it wasn’t kids getting their kicks? Maybe someone who knew us tried to run us off the road, perhaps even tried to kill us. Maybe someone saw us at Thommo’s house. I don’t mention this to Janet.

Two tow-truck operators arrive, stand around, discuss the situation. The cops arrive, check us out, ask us what happened, take a few notes, discuss the situation. The ambulance arrives, they check us out, suggest we should go back to the hospital. Red arrives, agrees we look okay but insists we get in the ambulance, she’ll meet us at the hospital.

An hour later a doctor gives us the all clear. We have some scratches, mainly from the walk up the hill, will have some bruises. We are lucky. That is, if you call being pushed off the road by a four-wheel drive and crashing 50 metres down an embankment "lucky".

Janet’s stopped swearing, but she’s pretty shaken. She phones her mother, bursts into tears, I take the phone.

"Hi Fran." I’ve known Janet’s mum since we were kids. She’s like a mother to me, or thinks she is. "We’re okay, car accident. The car’s totalled but we’re fine."

"Janet’s new car?"

"Yeah."

"You sure you’re both okay? Do I need to come up?"

"Doc said we’re fine. Janet’s in shock. I’ll take her home, keep an eye on her."

"Thanks Dusty. Have Janet call me tomorrow."

"Sure Fran."

Red arrives, with Stern. Excellent, I’ll tell them about my successful investigation, the drug lab, show them the notebook. Impress Stern, Red with my skills.


Episode 38:  Dusty shows her skills

STERN takes control, asks questions.

No, we did not notice anyone following us.

Where had we been?

I tell them about knocking on Thommo’s door. I assume this is correct procedure when carrying out an investigation. How we walked around the house, saw the shed. I’m going to lie about the back door being open, but decide to go with the truth.

"We looked for the key, Janet found it under a pot plant." I wait for a comment, nothing, must be doing okay. "We went inside, kitchen’s been used."

Stern. "How do you know?"

"Macaroni and cheese in the sink."

I think he’s impressed by my detective skills.

"In the dining room there’s this big chemistry set, bags of chemicals, plastic baggies. A notebook, I got it for Red." Peer in my handbag, no notebook, "Must be in the car."

Red scowls. "You stole a notepad?"

"It wasn’t stealing. They’re drug dealers."

She shakes her head.

Stern. "Did you look at it?"

"Yeah, names, numbers. Looks like deals."

Stern pulls his phone out of his jeans pocket, talks to the cops at the accident site.

"Want you to find a notebook," he raises his eyebrows at me, wants details.

"A4, spiral."

"A4 spiral. Was in the car, passenger seat. Get it to me." Snaps the phone closed.

"What then?"

"We left. Put the key back, went back to the car."

Red. "No one saw you?"

"We didn’t see anyone."

"No four-wheel drive, like the one pushed you off the road?"

"There was a four-wheeler in the shed. Shed was locked."

Stern. "I’ll get it checked out."

Red. "What did you do then?"

"Had dinner at the pub. Nice steak."

Red. "I told you to call me if you found anything."

"I was going to tell you in the morning."

Stern and Red huddle, talk to each other like we’re not there.

"Not what I expected. If they’re bringing in drugs by sea we’re talking heroin, coke. This sounds like amphetamines."

Red nods. "Maybe they’re doing both."

"Pulled in Marty, had a chat to him. Reckons he knows nothing, of course. Might have stirred things up, made a few of them uneasy."

They discuss drugs, deals, busts, use code words like some secret society.

I heard they stood up for each other, Red and Hank, right to the end. Red still left the force.

Janet’s pulled herself together, is busy with her iPhone.

"What’re you doing?"

"Nothing."

Now I’m curious, lean over her. "What’re you doing?"

"Redoing my training schedule."

When Janet’s stressed her obsessive compulsive side takes over.

"In case you didn’t notice I no longer have a car."

Her tone says it’s my fault.

"So, I’ll be doing more riding. Unless you’re going to pick me up every time I want to go somewhere?"

"You’ll get another car through insurance."

"By tomorrow morning?" This is not a question. "Means I should do less riding in training."

I see.

"Tri’s less than two weeks away."

Like I could forget.

 

Episode 39:  Call me Hank

JANET concentrates on the iPhone. I sense an opportunity for some friendly needling.

"So how far do you think it is from home to work?"

"Four ks."

"I reckon it might be more like three-and-a-half." I have no idea.

"No, it’s four. Clocked all my normal routes when I got the computerised odometer, uploaded all the data."

I’m surprised, although I shouldn’t be. "What about that new roundabout, it’d add a couple of hundred metres."

She gives me the evil eye - it is apparently not an appropriate time for needling.

Stern and Red finish their discussion, slap each other on the back. Comrades.

"I’ll drive the girls home, Red, have a chat with them about police procedures."

"Don’t hold back."

How can I be in trouble? I found a drug lab, a book full of leads.

Red clamps a hand on Janet’s shoulder - her idea of compassion. "Can always get another car, it’s the people who count."

Janet opens her mouth, changes her mind, shuts it.

Red turns to me. I don’t get the shoulder treatment. "Get a good night’s sleep, work to be done tomorrow."

Stern leads us to an unmarked police car. Janet slides into the back seat, I’m tempted to join her but he indicates I should get in front.

I don’t think it’s the time to try sweet-talking him, keep my mouth closed.

He gives us a lecture, stresses the dangers of dealing with criminals, our complete lack of training, his concern that if we were in the police force we wouldn’t be allowed to just wander around doing what we did today. I tune out, wait for him to mention the undercover operation, how we stuffed it up. He doesn’t.

He drops Janet at her front door.

"Be careful. Someone tried to drive you off the road tonight."

Comforting parting words. I wonder what he’s got saved up for me.

I study him as he drives. Strong hands on the wheel, fair hair on his forearms, a tattoo starts at his elbow disappears under the sleeve. Mid thirties I guess, clean shaven, messy sandy hair.

Just my type, not that it’s ever done me any good.

He stops opposite my house, slides down his window.

"Suppose you lock all the windows and doors on that balcony at night?"

They’re obviously not locked at this moment.

"That lattice, easy for someone to crawl up, get in. Old house, bet the locks don’t work properly. Should look at your security."

"Yeah, no worries."

I’ve got my hand on the door handle, ready to open it.

He gives me an intense look.

"Dusty. I’m serious. Don’t want you to get hurt. You were lucky tonight."

He called me Dusty, it had a tone. He’s warming to me.

"Try not to get into too much trouble tomorrow."

"Sure. Senior Sergeant Stern."

I’m flirting.

"Hank."

So’s he.

"Wouldn’t like to drop those charges, would you?"

"Don’t push your luck." But he’s smiling.

 

Episode 40:  Amanda, she’s all style

I’M WITH Amanda, Manny’s wife, we’re sitting beside the pool.

Red sent me, told me to give Amanda a progress report, and to come up with some new "avenues of investigation". I think she wanted to get rid of me, she and Senior Sergeant Stern, Hank, are meeting.

It’s the first time I’ve met Amanda, and I’ve taken an instant dislike to her. She speaks properly, every syllable pronounced correctly. I can almost see the punctuation marks hanging in the air.

In fact, everything about Amanda is proper, from the sculptured blonde bob, to the manicured fingernails she taps on the embossed glass table.

Amanda’s as natural as her surroundings. The pool lining is faux riverbed, at the far end a waterfall - water spurts from behind a gutter and falls into the pool, behind it silver tiles sparkle in the sunlight.

Even the grass looks fake, vibrant green, palms stand in line. I reckon the moment a frond drops it’s spirited away by a vigilant gardener.

Amanda’s not attempting to make small talk.

Concentrate Dusty, investigate, a question would be good. I remember the boat cover.

"When I saw Persephonie the cover was off the boat, and it was off when I found Thommo. The security agent said it’s usually covered, something about the upholstery."

"I wouldn’t know. The boat wasn’t my thing."

It sure was Manny’s thing, he couldn’t talk about it enough.

"Why were you having Manny followed?"

She sighs, lowers her head. "I thought he was having an affair."

"Why’d you think that?"

"He had been preoccupied."

Preoccupied. Poor bastard would have had to work his arse off to keep you in the state of luxury to which you have clearly become accustomed.

"Even more preoccupied than usual."

"Red said her investigation hadn’t uncovered anything."

"No. I asked her to keep looking for a while longer."

Red hadn’t told Amanda about the decoy job, it was a last resort.

"Did you discuss this ‘preoccupation’ with Manny?"

"Of course not."

Nothing like communication. Not that I could talk, I hadn’t given Daz much right of reply when it came to the Galloping Waitress.

"Manny have enemies?" Those letters to the editor weren’t all glowing praise.

"He designed waterfront high-rise, not everyone liked his work. He was threatened, Max, the developer, was too. People don’t understand progress."

Progress. I’m no greenie but I think we need to moderate our use of steel and concrete.

"What sort of threats?"

"They were all talk."

I think back to the bar. "Manny and Max were arguing, that last night at the surf club."

"Who said that?"

"I saw them." Oops, doesn’t know about the decoy job. "Was having a drink with a friend."

"I didn’t know you knew Manny."

"My friend, Janet, she’s a journalist, knows everyone. Any idea what they’d be arguing about?"

She shrugs. "That was Manny’s way of communicating."

Looked like arguing to me. Max Cash. He hasn’t called me back, I should talk to him.

Monday: Amanda’s not much help, and Dusty wants to get back to Red and Stern.

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Who was driving the four-wheeler that pushed Janet's Yaris off the road?  Tell us your suspects and reasoning in the comments section below.



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