Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 86-90
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 86: A promise to Hank
I round the corner home. Hank sits on the bonnet of his car, a new red Holden sports wagon with fat alloys, skirts. Surfboard on top.
He wears wrap-around shades, board shorts low on his hips, a white singlet, tattoo sleeve on show. He’s hot, and he knows it.
Wish I wasn’t still dressed for Amanda. Lose the headband, fluff the hair, step out of the car.
"Thanks for dropping the charges."
"Was going to anyway."
"How’s the head?"
"Good. Got a number for you." He hands me one of his cards, Vanuatu police and a number on the back. "Check in with them when you arrive. Might give you some local leads. Might not."
"Thanks." I’m not sure if we’re going to continue where we left off, or whether the bump to the head has changed his mind. "Want to come in?"
He indicates the board, but doesn’t move off the hood. "Meeting a mate for a surf."
I guess a zap to the chest and a squirt with pepper spray aren’t exactly promising foreplay, still, I’m hopeful. "See you when I get back."
He swings one leg. "Could fix that balcony."
I look up at the railing, thick wisteria branches the only thing keeping it attached. "Not worth fixing."
"Don’t want any accidents." He doesn’t say any more accidents, but it hangs in the air. "See if I get some time, tomorrow."
"I’d have to say thank you."
He moves off the car. "You would."
"Could say thank you in anticipation." I move against him, feel his skin, warm. "Thank you, Senior Sergeant Stern."
I kiss him on his lips. Firm, moist. He kisses back. I feel his hands on my back, his tongue pushes into my mouth.
We are at the point where you stop, or you don’t stop. We stop. I prise myself away from him, heart rate elevated.
"Enjoy your surf."
"Don’t take any chances over there."
I wait until we’re in the air, flying over the ocean, before I tell Janet about Captain Randy. We’re drinking Tusker Premium, our second. The Vanuatu beer seems to agree with Janet, she’s relaxed, reading the in-flight magazine, reeling off places we should visit.
"How do you feel about a sail?" I have her interest. "I emailed a bloke who has a boat, said he might take us on board."
"Mix work and play."
She looks up. "How?"
"Goldshield’s CEO, Randal Malcolm, he’s a sailor. Do a bit of undercover work. Meet him, go for a sail, check it out. He’s expecting us."
"Sounds good." She goes back to the magazine.
"Captain Randy." I giggle.
"Had a look at his website, looks randy. Might get lucky, Janet."
The last time Janet got lucky was a holiday romance, in Egypt. He was a tour guide, an Egyptologist. They had sex in Cairo, not far from the pyramids. Janet, a communicator by occupation, has more luck with men when she can’t speak the language.
"I kissed Hank."
"Red’s not gunna like it."
Episode 87: Cocktails and conversation
We drop our luggage at the room, head for the closest bar. I order cocktails, Tropical Tempters - a combination of rum, coconut and banana, very Pacific Island. Bet they’ve got a kick, hope they have.
The sticky mixture coats my tongue. "Think I’m going to like it here."
Janet swirls a straw in the drink, not sure. She’s substituted brochures she found in the foyer for the in-flight magazine, reads, sorts them into piles. "Let’s go snorkelling, first thing, get into the mood."
I’m already in the mood, but I like the idea of some sightseeing before I start to check out Randy and Clay’s activities. "Sure."
A woman, mid fifties, dry bleach-blonde hair, sidles up to us at the bar. She slops wine over her hand, flaps it, wipes it on the towel on the bar. Looks familiar, but I can’t place her.
She slurs, "’ere on holidays?"
Australian, face full of lines, sun spots on her chest, deep wrinkles lead into a saggy cleavage.
"Yeah, just got here."
She shoves her hand out. "Pat."
I shake, rough skin. "Dusty, this is Janet."
Janet points to a picture on a brochure. "Look at this. Half-day cruise, snorkelling with fish and corals. Reckon we should just rock up, see if we can get on."
"Sounds good to me."
Janet can plan the holiday, I’ve got other things on my mind. Wonder if Pat knows Randy? "You on holidays Pat?"
"Nice if you can get it."
"Yeah. Husband died, insurance paid up. Decided to f***in’ enjoy meself for a change. Kids grown up, can look after ’emselves."
"Where’ve you been?"
What’s that mean? "Been here long?"
"Long enough." Pat’s not giving much away.
"Know any of the locals?"
"Few." She finishes her wine, rummages in a stained woven shoulder bag, pulls out reading glasses, a mobile.
She keys a message.
Pat knows someone. I order two more cocktails, try to loosen her up a bit. "Cocktail Pat?"
"Sure." Well, Amanda is.
I take a different approach. "Done any sailing Pat? Thought we might go for a sail?"
"Bit." Her phone beeps. She puts the glasses back on, reads, smirks, puts the phone away. Then she takes the straw out of the glass, sucks up a good quantity of the cocktail, returns the glass to the bar. "Thinkin’ of doin’ some sailin’ then are ya? Don’t much look like sailors."
Janet pipes up. "Sailed when I was a kid. Lazy E. Made the national championships." Didn’t know that, could come in handy.
"Pissant little boat. Should sail a real boat."
This is more like it. "Recommend anyone Pat?"
"Nah." She drains the glass.
"Heard about a bloke, Captain Randy. Know him?"
"Never ’eard of him." She stands. "Night then."
Not exactly helpful.
Janet finishes her drink. "Reckon we better get to bed, snorkelling 8.30."
Episode 88: An important lesson
"Dusty, wake up."
Janet shakes me by the shoulder. I sit up, blink, focus. Through open glass sliding doors I see the harbour, sail boats, green hills, clear blue sky.
Out on the balcony I stretch in the warm morning air, lean on the railing. A small timber outrigger, green paint peeling, slides along the top of the water. I wave. The paddler, a boy, waves back.
Thank you, Amanda, I have learnt a very important lesson as a private investigator, that rich widows keen to clear their husband’s name make great clients, particularly when there’s a trip to an exotic location.
Janet appears beside me. She’s dressed, ready to go. "Hurry up."
I’m already in the holiday zone. "Might wait ’til tomorrow to find Captain Randy."
I shower, choose a red bikini, sarong and tank top, tie my hair in a ponytail and perch sunnies on my head. Ready.
Watch Janet pack a backpack - camera, sunscreen, towel, some cash.
Breakfast is included in our package. Alongside the cereals, pancakes and French pastries, the breakfast buffet is loaded with fruit in vibrant colours - some I recognise, some I don’t.
Janet stacks fruit onto a plate.
I pile on chocolate croissants, cream filled croissants, brioche. "Love the French."
"Spanish got here first. Captain Cook came here, too. The French and the English settled."
Janet’s been surfing the net.
"Before that, mainly Samoans. Some university study found Vanuatu people, called ne-Vanuatu, are the happiest people on Earth."
I’m happy. I wrap a couple of croissants in serviettes, hand them to Janet. "Put ’em in your backpack."
I give her a wink. "Loosen up, Janet. We’re in Vanuatu, the sun’s shining, we’re about to go snorkelling with reef fish. The Thugs and Red are far away."
"You should eat fruit."
It looks good enough to eat. "I do eat fruit. That croissant had apricot in it."
At another table Pat drinks coffee, smokes a cigarette. I give her a wave.
Dressed in a sports top I can see Janet has several nasty bruises where Thug 2 kicked her. I will be nice to her, at least until the bruises go.
As we leave the resort she digs into the backpack and pulls out her camera - state-of-the-art digital. Might come in handy when we find the drugs.
She knows where she’s going, leads me along the dusty roadside to the waterfront, a boardwalk and jetty.
The boat we’re looking for is tied up to the wharf. The timber hull has been painted and repainted a thick glossy white with nautical blue trim.
Janet takes photos from every conceivable angle.
We join a group of fat white tourists waiting to board - young honeymooners, middle-aged travellers.
I check out the harbour, wharfs, see Pat again, about 20 metres away, fingers working her mobile.
She looks up, I wave, shrug my shoulders as if to say, "small place". She doesn’t acknowledge me.
Episode 89: Janet takes photos, flirts
I check out the harbour, yachts moored all over the water. Guess one of them is My Third Wife, wonder which one.
My plan was to find the boat, sneak on board when Randy was on shore, check out the situation. But I’d imagined pontoons like those at Mooloolaba, boats lined up neatly, hadn’t anticipated his boat may be at anchor out in the harbour. May have to swim out, then climb on board. First we have to find the boat.
Janet takes photos of one of the crew, a 20-something man with smooth chocolate skin, crinkly black hair, brown eyes and a huge smile. He plays up to her, pretends to untie a rope. She’s on her knees in front of him, shooting up, framing him against the boat. A chunky middle-aged woman follows her lead, squats beside her, thighs strain against her cotton shorts.
"You’re flirting, Janet."
"Good pic." She holds out the camera, shows me the image. "Told Features I’d do a travel series when I get back."
I dig into Janet’s backpack for a croissant. This is going to be a great working holiday.
The boat chugs away from the wharf past the township, a few medium-level high rise, then homes, surrounded by trees, views out over the harbour.
Janet adds to my education. "That’s Iririki Island, the one we’re going to swim around. Tomorrow morning. Have to do it at high tide so you don’t get stung by sea urchins."
"What time?" After all, this is partly a holiday.
She ignores the question, continues talking about the sea urchins. "They cluster on the floor of the harbour, move around. Gets really shallow at low tide at the tip of the island, at high tide you swim over the top of them. Keep an eye out for sea snakes too, black and white bands, deadly, but small mouths, have a hard time biting you. More scared of you than you are of them." She prattles on.
I interrupt. "What time?"
"Six. Three ks. Piece of cake. Final swim before the tri."
Six am. As expected Janet has managed to work some training into the holiday schedule, has no doubt programmed it into the iPhone. Have to admit I haven’t seen the iPhone today, maybe she’s going to relax, have a holiday.
The water’s clear, deep, there’s a light breeze. The crew hoist a sail and we glide out through the harbour entrance. The Pacific Ocean is like a great big pond, barely a ripple on the surface.
Janet claims two sets of snorkelling gear. "Make sure it fits, don’t want water to get inside." She sucks hers against her face, takes it on and off a dozen times.
I lie in the shade of the sail, close my eyes, doze, listen to Janet talk to her new friend about fish, dugongs. He’s charming her, she’s lapping it up. The subject inevitably turns to sharks.
"Any sharks out here?"
It’s the Pacific Ocean, Janet.
Episode 90: Survival of the fittest
Janet had to ask about sharks, now she’ll be paranoid.
Her new friend, Pierre, voice soft, perfect English. "No sharks where we’ll take you."
Janet’s not convinced. "Reef sharks?"
"Small ones, maybe. But they won’t be hungry, too much to eat."
The chubby woman’s chubbier husband chimes in. "Went deep-sea fishing yesterday. Caught a bloody big bull shark."
I open my eyes, peer over at him. He has everyone’s attention.
"Longer than I am, bloody sight heavier. Talk about a fighter." He points to his shin which sports a black bruise and a deep red gash covered in mercurochrome. "Got it into the boat, whacked me with its tail. Wouldn’t wanna come across one of them in the water."
Pierre. "Good fishing."
We anchor a few hundred metres from the shore - it’s time for snorkelling. I strip to my bikini, strap on the mask and snorkel, pull on fins, join Janet in the water. It’s warm, clear, we head for the official feeding area, grab soggy bread - small fish swarm, nibble our fingers as they pull at the disintegrating pieces of yesterday’s sandwich loaf.
Janet’s mask keeps filling with water, she takes it off, rinses, tightens the strap, blows water out of the hose, tries again, no good.
Pierre, swims up to her, fiddles with the mask, but it’s still no good.
He holds onto her, then clamps her thighs between his to stop her moving in the current. She puts her hands around his chest, holds onto him as he adjusts the strap. Then she puts her face back into the water, big grin, gives the thumbs up.
We swim off towards the coral reef, now a threesome. He presents her with starfish, shows her clams, tickles their lips so they shrink inside. They’re enjoying each other’s company, I leave them to it.
I float over coral outcrops, breathe deep, clear my ears and dive under. I latch onto rocky handholds and watch clown fish I recognise from Finding Nemo as they dart in and out of corals.
It’s a very pleasant way to spend time – to float, looking, not thinking.
A school of silvery fish with yellow stripes swim past, chased by a much bigger blue fish. It looks more like a game than survival of the fittest. I laugh and my mouthpiece fills with water.
Damn. I blow water through the snorkel, but there’s still some left, so I bob my head up, empty the tube, reinsert the mouthpiece, put my head back into the water.
A sea snake, two metres, black and white bands. It winds through soft red coral, turns, sees me, darts in the opposite direction. Beautiful, deadly.
Janet and Pierre wave me over. We swim to the shore, skin waterlogged, and sit in the shade of palms. This is the life.
Pierre finds Janet a coconut, removes the husk, cracks it open. She drinks the milky water, like a nectar of love. I’d prefer a beer.
Next week: Janet has a date!