Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 51-54

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 51:  Final impressions of Marty

EVAN names each type of fish - they’re pretty but I don’t need to know the details. Janet hangs on every word, asks questions. I want to see the sharks.

"Shark Central?"

He nods, we sneak out of the party, down the walkway. It’s dark. Evan stands us in front of a wall.

"Stay here, I’ll get the lights."

Light illuminates the huge tank, my eyes adjust.

"Didn’t think it was feeding time."

The shark pool is a churning mass. Tails thrash, fins, jaws, teeth. Janet aims the camera. The sharks are pulling something apart.

"Great show, Evan."

The water starts to turn pink. Bits of what look like flesh, float. It continues. Sharks lunge, pull, tails used as thrusters. They shake pieces in their jaws.

Something falls to the bottom, rolls, settles not far from where we stand. Janet points the camera at it, zooms.

It’s Marty’s head. Eyes stare up at us, a startled expression on his face.

Janet screams, drops the camera.

I pick it up, centre Marty in the frame. Click.

I hear Red push the buttons on her mobile.

Evan speaks. "Oh, no."

I turn to him. "Evan, if I were your PR advisor, I’d be telling you to turn off the lights, now, before anyone else arrives."

He strides to the wall, flicks the switches.

We stand in silence in the dark, each processing our final impressions of Marty. The image I captured on Janet’s camera seared into my brain. I hear someone vomit, wonder whether it’s Maria or Janet.

Then Red’s voice. "Stern. Red. We have a situation at Ocean World. Marty just became shark food." They talk then Red clicks the phone closed, issues instructions.

"On his way. It’s a lock down, no-one in, no-one out. I’ll go see to the guests."

"Evan, take Dusty, have a look how he got in there. Janet, come with me. And bring the notebook, we’re gunna need it."

My eyes readjust to the dark. I hand Janet the camera - she takes it, tentatively, as if the picture it holds makes it as distasteful as the event she just witnessed. Then I see Maria staring into the black space where the tank is.

Red sees her too, seems unsure what to do, puts her arm around her shoulder.

"It’s okay love, he was a grub anyway." She steers her away, motions to Janet to follow.

Evan guides me up the other walkway, hand on my arm. It’s dark. At the top he finds a door in the wall, inserts a key, once inside turns on lights. It smells like the ocean, only much stronger. Salty, fishy.

"Better leave your shoes here. Might slip."

There’s water everywhere, not just in the tanks, the pathways between the tanks are wet. Water runs down drains, I’m walking in it. The shark tank’s covered in a wire netting - I guess to stop someone like Marty taking a swim. Water’s murky, fins slice the surface.

SMS Dusty on the fan phone: 0487900144. Messages will be published on Dusty’s Facebook fan page and on the blog. www.dustydexterpi.blogspot.com

Tomorrow: Marty would have launched into the tank like he was riding a waterslide.

Episode 52:  I’m walking in Marty

EVAN leads me around the top of Shark Central.

"How do you reckon he got in?"

"Maybe the feeding sluice."

He points. If Marty had laid in it, he would have launched into the tank like he was riding a water slide. On closer inspection there’s blood, and other bits, probably of Marty. I get the feeling Marty didn’t jump into the sluice of his own accord. What’s worse, I realise I’m standing in Marty.

Evan doesn’t look thrilled.

I encourage him to see the bright side. "They say all publicity’s good publicity."

He huffs, not even close to a laugh. "I’d like your help on this."

"Sure." Can hardly say no. "Seventy-five bucks an hour. Starting now."

I rinse Marty off my feet, slip into the stilettos.

The lights are back on as we head down the walkway past the tank. Life has returned to normal for the well-fed predators - the only reminder of their late-night snack Marty’s head, face up, on the floor in the murky water.

Back at the cocktail party, the music’s stopped and the lights are on. People clutch their drinks, startled expressions on their faces, voices subdued.

Max Cash has his arm around Amanda’s shoulder, shiny bob against his cheek, she appears upset.

Daz has his iPhone out, probably tweeting. Trying to figure out how he can make money out of the situation.

Red talks to Hank and two uniformed police officers who are making a physical barrier between the party room and the hallway to the tank.

Evan finds Paul Waters, takes me over to him. "Dusty’s going to give us press advice."

Waters gives me the company policy. "We have plans for Ocean World. It’s important the public continue to see us in the right light. We’re a family tourist destination. Bad things don’t happen here."

"I listened to the speeches, been doing this 15 years. Do you want my advice?"

They both nod.

"Until we know what’s happened, it’s a terrible tragedy. The media know about the shark tank, would have heard the police communication. I suggest something like: despite stringent safety precautions, a guest at a function has gained access to an area not open to the public and has accidentally fallen into the shark tank and become victim of a shark attack. No names, no details. Terribly sorry. Greatest sympathies to the family."

Waters looks at Evan.

"When we know more we can give them more. I’ll just check with the cops."

I talk to Red and Hank, return.

"That’s it for now. I suggest you both talk to the media. United front. Plug the expansion, spotless accident record."

I see Janet on her phone, no doubt talking to the chief. Wonder if they’ll use my photo of Marty’s head – maybe not. Maybe I can sell it.

Red and Hank huddle. I join them, explain what I saw.

"I don’t think Marty wanted to go into that tank."

Hank. "Let’s take a look."

SMS Dusty on the fan phone: 0487900144. Messages will be published on Dusty’s Facebook fan page and on the blog. www.dustydexterpi.blogspot.com

Tomorrow: Not a nice way to go by the looks…

Episode 53:  Close relationships

I ATTRACT Evan’s attention. "I need the key, so I can take Senior Sergeant Stern up to the top of the tank for a look."

He hands it over.

Red’s keen to come with us, but I want Hank to myself. "I’ll take Senior Sergeant Stern, it’s just up the walkway."

He changes his focus from the garnet dangling at the top of my cleavage to Red. "You can find out more down here."

Red’s not happy.

I run him through the visit to Shark Central, Evan’s dramatic turning on of the lights. As a first-hand witness to the event I give him a description of the feeding frenzy.

"At first I didn’t realise what was happening, it was pretty spectacular. The sharks attacked him, ripped him apart, shook him. Then the head fell down, rolled a bit. I got a photo."

Hank looks at Marty’s head, bug eyes staring. "Not a very nice way to go by the looks of it. Where’s the entry?"

"Up the path." ‘

At the top I unlock the door, take off my shoes, turn on the light. "This way."

Hank looks around, sniffs. "Not what you expect, is it?"

"No. Smelly. Must take a lot of fish to feed these big bastards."

"Won’t need as much tomorrow."

I point at the feeding sluice. "Evan reckons he went in there. Looks like it."

He walks around, sinks to his haunches, peers into the chute, around the entry. "Have to get forensics up here. Maybe someone knocked him out, bashed him, maybe shot him, then threw him to the sharks. He was bleeding. Once the sharks got a whiff of it they went nuts."

"They did. Be hard to spin this one." I’m thinking of the job I’ve just taken on with Evan.

"Let’s go."

He follows me back to the door and I hold onto his arm as I slip back into the shoes. He’s very close to me, neither of us move.

"Better get you back to Red, Senior Sergeant Stern, she’ll be wondering what’s taking so long." I’m teasing.

"You don’t understand. We worked together in dangerous situations. It’s common for undercover police to develop close relationships - we had to rely on each other."

"Sure."

There’s a connection - that familiar tug in the pit of my stomach. He reaches for the door, brushes me with his hand, pauses.

It opens from the outside.

Evan. "Sergeant Stern, Red wants you, she found a gun."

"Better go, Red wants you."

He smiles. Slides his fingers down the skin of my back as we walk through the door, heads off to find Red.

Evan commandeers me. "Now what do we do?"

"Panic."

He looks alarmed.

"Just joking. A dead body in a shark tank, and a gun. Not good. Let me think."

"Would you like coffee? I’ve got a plunger in my office."

Coffee is the last thing I want. I want more champagne. I want Senior Sergeant Stern.

SMS Dusty on the fan phone: 0487900144. Messages will be published on Dusty’s Facebook fan page and on the blog. www.dustydexterpi.blogspot.com

Tomorrow: Dusty puts a PR spin on a shark attack.

Episode 54:  Passing the blame

I FOLLOW Evan through another hidden door, along more damp walkways, through more fish smell, buckets of what looks like squid. The sound of a big engine running, filtration system I guess. Be working overtime tonight.

The floor’s slippery and I nearly fall. He grabs my arm, holds me up.

"Is there a water-free way to your office?"

"Yeah. Long way round though. Nearly there."

His office, even with the door closed, smells like fish. I guess if you’re a marine scientist that goes with the territory.

He spoons coffee grinds into a plunger, boils water.

"So is there something going on between you and Sergeant Stern?"

Perceptive, makes passable coffee too. "Work relationship. Have to be close to people when you work in dangerous situations."

I turn the conversation to business.

"You need to deflect, pass the blame. Ocean World was simply hosting the function. I guess you don’t want to dump the Chamber in it?

He shakes his head, "We’re a member."

"They’ll do their own PR."

I continue, on my game.

"Never any guns on the premises, even security guards don’t carry guns. Family tourist attraction. Someone must have brought the gun with them. The person who went into the tank illegally accessed high-security areas only available to appropriate personnel.

"Media will be all over it. You’ll be on TV tomorrow morning. Stick to the basics until we know more."

His phone rings, he hands it to me.

"It’s Red."

"What are you doing?"

"PR."

"At least you shouldn’t get into trouble doing that."

Nasty, what’s with Red? I’ll bet it involves Hank.

"We’ve done all we can here tonight," she says. "I’m leaving. Cops will keep an eye on things. People are being allowed to leave once they’ve given a statement. Stern’s taking Smart back to the station for a chat, found cocaine on his person. You and Janet are going home. That’s another dead body, probably connected to the other dead bodies. I want you out of here."

"Tell Janet I’m on my way."

Evan wants to talk to Red. "Red. Can we clean out the shark tank?"

A pause.

"Sergeant Stern. Can we clean out the shark tank? Not good for the fish."

Wasn’t much good for Marty either.

"I’ll do it."

He hangs up. "Wants someone to retrieve the head."

"You?"

"Who else? Then I can clean out the tank."

"How will you get it?" I’m thinking a big fishing net. It’s not like you can put someone in there, with the sharks. Take a big breath, go down and pick it up.

"We have ways of getting things out of tanks."

Now I’m curious. I want to watch, but Red’s probably waiting for me.

"I have to go. Grounded. I’ll drop in tomorrow morning. What’s the other way out of here?"

I follow him down a hall, the smell of fish recedes, out another door, fresh air.

SMS Dusty on the fan phone: 0487900144. Messages will be published on Dusty’s Facebook fan page and on the blog. www.dustydexterpi.blogspot.com

Monday: Exciting Wednesday night viewing, and it’s not on TV.


Note: There is no Dusty Dexter episode 55 due to Good Friday. Check out episodes 56-60 now.
 



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