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 6: Blood on the linen
Gotta phone Janet, tell her about my big break. About Manny being dead, me on the case.
Then it dawns on me, she’ll want to know, a body on the beach is front page news. Janet thinks she’s an investigative reporter, but mostly she writes pieces on charity events, tourist trends, the weather, or rewrites press releases.
She could have been here, on the spot, but this morning she and the other triathlete freaks are on a training ride to Montville and back - 40 ks straight up the mountain, then straight down again. Janet hasn't had sex in a year, transfers her excess energy into exercise.
I try her phone – know it’ll be in the back pocket of her lycra suit.
She breathes hard. “What's up?”
“Manny washed up on the beach this morning, shot dead, shark got his arm.”
“What? Hang on.” She yells to the others, “Keep going, I'll catch up.” Silence, then, “Manny's dead?” It comes out between gasps for air.
“Pulled him out of the ocean. Bullet hole in his forehead, shark must have got his arm.”
“I'm on the case, with Red. Looks like he was into drugs. That's why he turned me down on Friday night.” I know Janet was pleased I lost my 100% record.
“You ring the paper?”
“Still in bed.”
“How's the ride?”
“Nearly there. Have breakfast then ride back.”
“You need to get a life Janet.”
She ignores me. “I'm going to call the chief. What're you doing?”
“Following up leads.”
“She's working on her own leads.”
She pauses. “Be careful.”
“I'm a professional.”
I hang up before she can say anything else. Reminds me of my father, “Think before you act, Dusty”. Never tells the boys to be careful. It’s my turn for some real action.
I find the marina office, knock on the door. A security guard opens it.
“Hi. I'm Dusty Dexter, PI,” flash one of Red's cards at him. “Manny West just washed up on the beach at Mooloolaba. I wanna check out his boat.”
“No shit. Sure.”
He unlocks the gate.
“Big one, up the end. Can't miss it.”
The Dog House is impressive, dwarfs every other boat in the marina. Looks like something out of a James Bond movie - sleek, shiny. Cobalt blue on the waterline, with a white top, decking's pale timber. Spotless.
I jump aboard, slide my hands across smooth off-white leather upholstery. The instrument panel's hi-tech, big silver wheel, dials sunk into the console.
Downstairs a lounge, this time in charcoal leather, complete with plasma screen. There are several doors. A toilet and shower, very civilised, two bedrooms. I walk towards the pointy end, open the door to the master bedroom with ensuite, lots of chrome detail, windows over the marina. A king-sized bed almost fills the room; Thommo, lying on it, blood all over the expensive linen.
Episode 7: A body on the boat
TWO dead bodies in one morning. Part of the job, I guess.
I close the door behind me, step closer.
Blood's still wet, looks like spicy barbecue sauce. There's a gun on the bed, the murder weapon, better not touch.
No signs of a struggle.
A laptop plays a slide show.
Frame 1, Manny stands on the deck. Dissolve to frame 2, Thommo puts a gun to Manny’s forehead, then frame 3, Manny thrown backwards. Same three frames over and over.
The conversation from the decoy job on Friday night runs through my head, then Red’s talk about drugs.
Simple. Thommo and Smart wanted his boat for a drug drop off, but Manny didn't want to be in it. So they took him, and his boat.
Red said Manny wasn’t into drugs. Bet he threatened to dob them in to the cops, so Thommo shot him. Suppose they threw Manny over the side for the sharks to finish the job.
Who took the pictures? Clay or Smart?
Anyway, Thommo's fingered for Manny's murder, and he's dead.
I've done a pretty good day’s detective work, and it's only 9am. This’ll show them I’ve got what it takes.
It also proves Manny was forced to leave the bar on Friday night. My 100% success rating as a decoy, and my self-respect, are intact.
I’ll call Red, tell her what I've found. Make sure she knows I’m one step ahead.
I fish around in my handbag for my mobile.
The door opens behind me. I turn.
Senior Sergeant Stern has his gun drawn, points it at my chest.
He yells, “Keep your hand in the bag, no sudden movements.”
What the? “I know how this looks, a dead body and all, but-”
Behind him another sergeant appears, gun also drawn.
They can’t be serious. “It's my mobile, I was about to call Red.”
I pull out the taser, try to flip it open, realise it's not the phone. It's pointed in Stern’s direction.
“Put the taser down now.”
“Lie on the floor.”
They stand, feet squared, knees bent, guns gripped tight, me in their sights.
The taser goes off. Both points hit Stern.
He screams, drops his gun.
“Shit. Sorry. Didn't mean it.”
Stern convulses as he drops to his knees, then pitches face-first into the floor. The other sergeant steps over him, pulls the taser from my hand, turns me around, cuffs my wrists.
“Red'll explain everything.”
“You have the right to remain silent...”
I can't believe it.
“You do not have to answer any questions...”
“I found the guy!”
“I'm arresting you for murder,” on the floor Stern groans, “and assault occasioning bodily harm”, another groan, “with a restricted weapon. You have the right to phone a lawyer...”
Red appears at the door, gun in hand.
She takes in the sergeant on the floor, the cuffs on my wrists, the scene on the bed. Says, “Dusty, what the hell are you doing here?”
Episode 8: Dusty on the case
MANNY’S left arm surfaced a week after I hauled him out of the water.
It floated past lunch-time diners at an a-la-carte restaurant on a canal. Caused quite a stir, what was left of it.
Heard a variety of marine creatures had taken a nibble at Manny's arm, none had found it tasty enough to finish it off. The hand was still wearing his wedding ring. On his wrist the waterproof TAG Heuer kept time.
Manny'd been buried a couple of days earlier. I wondered what the cops did with the arm.
Janet and I discuss some possibilities over our fourth Baileys on ice. We've also drunk two bottles of chardy. Janet trains like an athlete, but she doesn't let it get in the way of her drinking.
“Where'sh the arm? That'sh the queshtion.”
She flails her arm to accentuate her point.
Does she have a point?
“Maybe they gave it to Manny's wife. Put it in a ziplock Glad bag.” I like the idea, go with it. “Put a sticker on it. Arm of Manny West.”
“They'd dishpose of it.”
Janet thinks she knows the legal system because she covered court for the paper.
I take the piss. “Put it in the bin? With the left-over Maccas’ wrappers?” Giggle at a mental image of Manny's hand poking out of a plastic bin, bits of lettuce, pickle on it.
“No, proper dishpose. In a medical bin.”
“They'd pull the ring off first.”
“Give it to hish wife.”
“Maybe they'll dig him up. Put it in with him.”
It's two weeks since I found Manny and Thommo, and the police haven't charged anyone with Thommo's murder, haven't figured out why Manny got killed.
This afternoon Amanda, she’s Manny's wife, called Red, asked her find out why her husband died.
Red asked me to assist. After all I was the one found the bodies, it should be my case. As for zapping Stern, it wouldn’t have happened if he’d listened, instead of pointing a gun at me. They’ll drop the charges, sure they will.
I'm hungry, push myself vertical, head into the kitchen for a packet of chips.
Janet never eats chips, except when she’s pissed. She pulls out a handful, shoves them into her mouth, crunches.
Then she lifts her glass. “Toasht. To the Coasht's newesht PI.”
She drinks, I drink.
Janet staggers to the bathroom, vomits, staggers back.
No staying power.
She picks up her glass, pauses, decides against another drink, puts it back on the table. “Might jush have a little lie down.”
There's a swallow of Baileys left. I drain it.
Tomorrow's going to be a big day, my first day as a PI. I'm going to track down drug dealers, killers. It's going to be exciting, adventurous, dangerous, like Charlie's Angels. I’ll show everyone what I’m made of.
Should have done some preparation, told Red I’d get into the course notes. Plenty of time for that, later. I crawl into bed.
Episode 9: Hungover...
STATIC screeches out of the radio alarm, it's 5.45am.
I roll over, slam my hand on the off button. Bad move. A shrivelled frontal lobe bangs into my skull. I turn my head away from the windows - must get curtains.
Can't swim today, cannot swim today, lie here.
Through the headache and the fog essential information struggles to the surface. Work. First day. Red. I have to get rid of the hangover, have to swim.
Legs over the side of the bed, eyes closed, gritty, mascara caked to the rims. Slide along the walls into the bathroom, pee.
Need water. Slurp great mouthfuls from the tap at the basin then brace myself, force open the eyes, peer into the mirror, not good. Bad, bad hair. I grab a tie, lift my hair on top of my head - every follicle strains against the scalp.
Splash water on my face. Can't bear the thought of the electric toothbrush so I put paste on my finger, rub it on my teeth.
Togs. Bugger, must still be in the backpack. I pull out the wet towel and they fall onto the floor. The racing bikini sticks to my skin as I pull it on, wriggle into the top. I stuff the towel back into the bag. Throw it over my shoulder.
Janet's gone - never gets a hangover, never misses a training session. She needs to find a boyfriend.
I need to get over the ex, get back on track, get some life into my life. That’s the plan - today's a new job, a new start.
I back down the drive, round the corner, crest the headland. Sky and ocean fill the front windscreen. I fumble for sunnies, jam them on my face, watch a small swell roll into the beach.
A smile cracks my face - good conditions for swimming.
I park between cars, road bikes already back on the racks. Six is a late start, the real athletes start at five, earlier.
The triathlon's in a couple of weeks, they’ve been in full training for months. Constant conversation about kilometres covered and times. Soon it’ll be the right diet before the race, when to start tapering. I’m always tapering.
Janet wheels up on her bike, throws one leg over the seat, glides along on one pedal, stops beside me. Probably done a 20k ride. She chains the bike and helmet to a light pole, strips. Janet has abs.
I pull a silicone cap over my hair, should have taken Panadol.
“You look like shit.”
And you look well, healthy, bitch.
I suck goggles into my eyes, wince.
“Come on, wind'll get up while we're standing here.” She’s pumped, full of adrenaline.
I follow her to the beach.
Why am I doing this? That’ right. Today I am Dusty Dexter Private Investigator, working with Red, and the cops.
Haven’t seen Stern since I zapped him. Wonder if he’s still bummed about it? It’s not like I meant it.
Episode 10: Who’s afraid of sharks?
JANET and I walk across cool sand.
In front of the club house, not far from the spot I dumped Manny, there's a rip. We wade in, water swirling around our legs, then launch into it, let it take us out through broken waves, past the break. We stop, float in the swell.
Janet, the athlete, takes over.
We swim pretty much every day, all year. It’s exercise and it’s fun, and I figure it means I can have a drink, or a slab of chocolate cake, whenever I feel like it.
So happens, it’s also a good hangover cure.
Two laps, one kilometre each way, to the end of the Spit and back. I lift my head, line myself up with the high-rise on Point Cartwright, swim. The sand below me lifts, a small ray takes off. My heart thumps, settles.
With each breath I look under my arm, see walkers on the beach, the dunes. On the other side, it’s all ocean, a couple of prawn trawlers, Old Woman Island.
At the end, near the rock wall I stop, look for Janet, see her big kick heading back. I should try to stay with her, put in an effort, but I haven't got it today.
A turtle feeds near some coffee rock. I dive down beside it - shell a mottled brown, crusted with barnacles. Its flippers move back and forth, hold it still in the current, the mouth, lipless, opens and closes.
The turtle ignores me. I'm tempted to tap on its shell, say hi, but I have a pact with the marine life - I won't bug them, if they don't bug me. It’s worked, so far.
Out wide, a few hundred metres from the river mouth, a couple of hundred metres from the shark nets, same from the shore, I stop, enjoy the feel of the water on my skin as it supports me.
Janet never stops. For her it's about the training, and getting back to shore as fast as possible. Janet's afraid of sharks.
Arms and legs spread, I drift, sun on my face. I let my legs drop, dare a shark to take a bite, then I roll over and peer down. No sharks, not even a fish.
Back near the surf club the rip sucks me into its churning water. I have to swim through it - two hundred strokes, no stopping.
1, 2, 3... pull hard, strong kick.
19, 20, 21... today’s my first day as a PI, need to make a good impression.
40, 41, 42... going to find out why Thommo killed Manny, who killed Thommo.
64, 65, 66... need to develop a professional relationship with sergeant Stern - might take some work.
154, 155, 156... Lift my head, shoulders out of the water. Lungs burn.
173, 174, 175... I will, as requested, advise Red at all times of my activities. Control Freak.
188, 189, 190... Better do some study...
Next week ... Janet’s tete-a-tete with Evan the marine scientist provides some clues.