Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 61-65

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 61 : No guns on the premises

TRAGIC death, sympathies to his family. Safety procedures in place, no risk to the visiting public. She asks him about the gun. He looks uncomfortable as he reinforces the security story. No guns on the premises. Family tourist attraction. He's getting into the swing of it, starts on the expansion when she pulls him up.

“Dr Evans, I heard a number of guests at the function witnessed the attack. Are these people being offered counselling? It must have been a traumatic experience for them.”

He looks non-plussed, recovers. “We will certainly be happy to offer help to anyone who was at all traumatised by last night's tragic accident.”

Should sign up Janet.

That's it.

I dress. Today I'm a PR girl. Black skirt, well above the knee, V-neck red knit top with a black ruffle down the front. Heels. Hair on top of the head. I add two spikes to the hair - one black, one red. I think Lucy Liu would approve. I pick up the laptop.

Evan's in his office.

“What's with the glasses?”

“Good morning, Dusty. I usually wear contacts.”

“So why the glasses?”

“Ex-wife used to say they made me look intellectual.”

“No. Surveys have shown people with glasses are seen as less trustworthy than people without glasses. Look like they're hiding something. Tank looked clean.”

“Spent all night cleaning it.”

The glasses accentuate his eyes, they're red. He's had as much sleep as Hank.

“Heard you pulled the gun out of the sea snake tank with your bare hands.”

“Not that stupid. Only got small mouths, but if they bite you you're dead.”

Wonder where Hank got his information. And if Evan was wearing the gloves how did his finger prints get on the gun?

“How did the gun get into the tank?”

“Panels above the tanks lift up.”

“So anyone could put their hand into a tank?”

“You have to know what you're doing.”

“Show me.”

“Thought you were off the case.”

“No. Just keeping a low profile. A quick look, then work.”

Workers in overalls and wellies are cleaning. Last night's cocktail bar is a viewing room with signs and diagrams on the walls.

He takes me to the sea snakes. Shows me how to reach under the lip of the display cabinet, slide it up. Easy.

“So that's how you got it out?”

“Yeah. It could have been dropped in from the top. Think someone would have noticed though.”


“Up where we were last night, bit further around.”

“Show me.”

We walk past Shark Central.

“Nice and peaceful. Did they get fed today?”

“Not hungry.”

A three-metre shark, dozens of teeth, eyes us as it swims past.

“What sort's that?”

“Tiger, nasty. Probably the first in last night.”

“You reckon they don't like people, seemed to like Marty. Could be looking at us thinking 'wouldn't mind some more of that'.”

“I see you're not traumatised by the experience.”

“Janet is.”


Episode 62: Lose the glasses

UPSTAIRS the shark tank is to the left, the fish tanks to the right. Whoever shot Marty could have dropped the gun into any of the tanks, although it would have made a splash.

“Are there any exits over that way?”

“One.” He points to the corner.

“Where does it come out?”

“Behind the room we were in last night.”

“So whoever did it could have rejoined the cocktail party.”

“Suppose so.”

We work. Spend a couple of hours going over the expansion plans, the program for sick dolphins and his research into loggerhead turtles.

People love the environmentally friendly stuff.

They also love man-eating sharks and it's going to be hard to divert attention from an attack like last night's. It's already on the internet possibly on world TV news.

I remember Evan was introduced as the internationally famous marine scientist.

“Where were you before here?”


“Worked overseas?”

“Canada. Couple of years.”

He asks me to put together a proposal, a 12-month PR plan. Indicates I've got the job if I want it.

Everything seems above board, but I've got a niggling doubt. I thought it would be harder to snag a job like this one - half the PR agents in town would be knocking down his door if they thought it was on offer.

He's discarded the glasses, sits back in his chair, hands behind his head. “What do you say?”

“Give me a week to complete the proposal.”


I nod. “Got any cookies?”


“Better call Red. See if there's anything new you might need to respond to media wise.”

I dial.

“Hope you're still with Evan.”

“Yes. Need an update. Was he shot?”


“Media know?”

“Will soon.”


Evan produces coffee and Tim Tams.

“Autopsy shows he was shot. I'll write you a press release. Probably best to try to avoid any more appearances with the sharks.”

I open the laptop. An hour and several chocolate biscuits later we've agreed on the wording.

“Thanks, Dusty.”

“I'll get the proposal to you. Love to work with you, Evan.”

He ushers me to the front door.

“When the TV turn up, lose the glasses.”

I turn on my phone. There's a missed call from Janet.

“What've you been doing?”

“Working, with Evan.”

“I found that project, emailed you some stuff. It's a golf and residential resort up on the range.

“Cash is the developer. Smythe was right behind it, said it was good for the region, jobs, tourism. Pushed hard to get it through council.”

She doesn't even pause for breath.

“Went before council about a month ago, several councillors objected. Said it wasn't appropriate for the range. Went back to council two weeks ago, same councillors voted for it. Have to make some changes but it got the goahead. Looks to me like someone bribed the councillors. Do a story, if I could prove it.”


Episode 63: I know what Randy wants 

I THANK Janet for the information on the resort project, will go through it back at the office.

“You okay? Were a bit freaked out this morning.” I'm using my caring voice, add a sting. “Evan's offering counselling.”

She goes on the offensive. “I'm not traumatised. They were big birds. Peck you they'd bloody hurt. What're you doing tonight?”

“Got a date. With Hank.”

“Red know?”

“Haven't told her.”

“Swim to Noosa's in the morning. Be at the National Park about 5.30, if you're up to it.”

“Be up for it, no matter how good the date is.”

I drop into the cafe, chat with Maria while they cook my tandoori chicken burger. She's wearing a new watch, chunky, lots of dials - the kind of watch that would survive a natural disaster.

“That new?”

“Yeah. Present.”

Red's idea of affection is unexpected gifts. She chooses them herself, spends a lot of money on them. I think Maria would like some say in the purchases.


“Heard Marty was shot before he went into the tank.”

“Yeah. You okay today? Think Janet's a bit traumatised.”

“I'm okay. Had a chat with Red. Marty was a grub.”

Maria's starting to talk like Red, and I'm not sure that even if Marty was a grub he deserved to be shot in the head and served up as a late-night snack to a tank full of teeth.

“You working with Evan?”

“Yeah. Offered me a job.”

I finish the coffee, eat the burger over the steering wheel down the Nicklin Way.

Red's busy. I wave, commandeer the spare office, open the laptop. Should start on the proposal for Evan, but I check my emails. One from Captain Randy, open it.

“Hi Dusty, Always great to hear from someone who wants to discover the joys of the ocean. Please tell me more about yourself, and Janet, so I can better judge if you are appropriate candidates. I am particularly interested in your attitudes to new experiences. The ocean can be a terrifying and wonderful place, you must be flexible and resilient. I look forward to hearing more from you. Captain Randy.”

Cast my mind back to his blog. Lots of photos of Randy in shorts, women in bikinis with drinks in hand. A photo. I reckon that's what Captain Randy really wants.

I email Janet: “Need the photos from last night, checking who was with who. Including the ones of you and me with Evan. Thanks.”

Open Janet's email. A link to a website devoted to Green Hectares, a residential golf course and resort development destined for the range, somewhere near Thommo's place.

Looks big, no wonder some of the locals aren't happy.

She's also included stories about protests and demonstrations at the site - Manny wasn't popular on the range - and the names of the four councillors who changed their vote.

Why were Manny and Max arguing? Why was Max so interested that Red was following Manny?


Episode 64: A week of lunches

RED'S in her office.

“Red. Can I see the surveillance notes from when you followed Manny?”


“Want to know what he was up to. Max didn't seem too pleased Manny was being followed.”

She shrugs, points at a filing cabinet in the corner. I find the folder, retreat to the office.

Red followed Manny for several weeks. He went to work, often went to lunch, went home, late. The week before he was killed he went to lunch Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, all long lunches, same restaurant each day.

Red noted that one of the lunches was with councillor Mark Jones, one of the councillors from Janet's email, one who had changed his vote on the resort project.

I go back to Red's office.

“What now?”

I explain, ask if she knows who else he had lunch with that week.

“If I knew I would have put it in the notes.”

I phone the restaurant.

“Hi. Dusty Dexter here, Private Investigator, I'm looking into Manny West's death. We know he had lunch at your restaurant four times the week before he was murdered. Need to know who he ate with.”

“Manny ate here a lot.” I can hear him flicking the pages of a diary.

“Three weeks ago.”

“Got it. All booked under his name.”

“We know on the Wednesday he was with councillor Mark Jones. Need to know who he was with the other days.”

“Don't know. Hang on. I'll go check.”

“Damian speaking. Can I help you?”

I go back through the spiel.

“I remember. We called it the week of the councillors.” Damian warms to the story. “Lots of food, lots of booze, top-shelf booze, but intense. By the Friday Manny didn't even want to eat.”

“Can you tell me who he had lunch with?”

I don't want to give him the names, but I need to jog his memory. We end up with names that match my list.

I thank Damian, phone Janet. “Reckon you got a story. The week before Manny died he went to lunch on Tuesday with councillor Shaftsbury on Wednesday with Mark Jones, on Thursday with Dwayne Connor and on Friday with, guess who?”

She fills in the blank.

“Thanks, Dusty, I'll talk to the chiefs, follow it up. Sent you those photos from last night. See ya.”

I'm getting the hang of this. Go to see Red.

“Figured out why Max was so interested in the surveillance. Manny had lunch with four councillors that last week, the same councillors who turned down a big development he was working on with Cash, same councillors who voted for it a couple of weeks later.”

“Nothing new in bent councillors.”

“Janet's going to ring them. Do a story.”

“Not sure that's a good idea. She should be keeping her head down.”

“Janet knows what she's doing.”

“What are you doing?”

“Proposal for Evan. Unless you got anything for me?”



Episode 65: It doesn’t compute

TIME to email Captain Randy again. I attach the photo of Janet in the black sparkly top and the one of me in the red cocktail dress. That should do the trick, add a few lines.

Hi Captain Randy, Dusty Dexter again. Thought you might like to see these photos of Janet and me, they were taken last night at a cocktail party. I will talk to Janet and email you soon with more information. Cheers, Dusty.

I should work on Evan's proposal, try to concentrate, but I’m not in the mood.

I Google Dr Evan Evans marine scientist. Can never know too much about someone you're going to work for.

Particularly someone as casual with a severed head as Evan was last night.

Dr Evans writes scientific reports for journals, lectures at conferences and seminars all over the country, and overseas.

I glance through a couple of long-winded scientific reports. No mention of loggerhead turtles, must be a new thing.

He's been interviewed by the media, mainly about sharks. Is vocal about shark nets, contributes to a website which is lobbying to abolish the nets, writes a column, answers questions and responds to comments.

Dr Evans worked at an oceanarium in Sydney where he was responsible for introducing a successful shark breeding program. He also lectured at Sydney University in the marine studies school. I keep opening sites, closing them.

A Dr Evan Evans is mentioned in a medical report in the US. I'm sure he said Canada, must be someone else, but I open it anyway.

The report is about an accident at a marine park. A man was mauled to death by sharks, he fell into the tank and was attacked. There was little left to identify him. Dr Evan Evans was the park's marine scientist.

What! I find the local newspaper's website, pay to access the archives.

There's a picture of Evan, in his glasses, standing in front of the shark tank. He is quoted: “Unfortunate accident... terrible tragedy... uncommon behaviour by sharks in a controlled environment”.

How the man got into the tank is a mystery. Evan, the hero, shot the offending shark, although it was too late to save the man.

There's a side story about the marine park and the new attractions planned.

I close the laptop, attempt to process the information.

Red pokes her head around the corner.

“Make sure you go straight home.”

I do. Half an hour later I'm on the balcony with a beer, thinking about Evan. Evan with the gun in the band of his trousers. Evan skewering Marty's head like a large pickled onion. Evan asking me to do his PR an hour before a major incident.

Evan led us to the tank. He was with us, he couldn't have been responsible for putting Marty in the tank. And he was a surprised as we were by what was happening in the tank.

It doesn't compute. There's more to this.
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Next week: Hank and Dusty, toe to toe…

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