Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 101-105

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 101: The buddy system

Janet and I are not the only tourists out of bed early and keen to swim around a small island. Another couple, middle aged, not that fit, are fiddling with goggles, chatting in the still morning air.

Janet introduces us. They’re Glenda and Trev.

Janet chats. "Swum around the island before?"

Trev and Glenda have been here before, swum in the official island swim.

Trev gives us pointers.

"Head right. Don’t go between the boats, too many anchor ropes, you’ll swim into ’em. There’s a channel alongside the island, stay close, get a ride with the current.

"When you get to the tip of the island don’t go ’round, keep going another two hundred metres or you’ll get snagged on the reef. Then go wide around the back of the island.

"Nice fish, some coral. We’re going to swim across to the other side of the harbour and back as well. Three point two ks. Did it in just under an hour last June."

I turn to Janet. "Round the island, that’s it."

She nods.

"Look before you stand up. Sea urchins, sting like buggery. And watch out for sea snakes."

They wade into the water, give us a wave.

"Have a good swim."

We stow towels under a banana lounge, pull on caps. The water’s warm, we breaststroke out into the harbour, spit into goggles, suck them onto our eyes.

Janet takes control. "Keep an eye on each other. I’ll stop occasionally so you can catch up."

The buddy system.

"Let’s go."

I follow her along the edge of the island. Trevor was right, the shore’s rocky, water deep and dark, but clear, current pulls me along. We pass moored boats on one side, trees on the other.

I get into a rhythm, stretch out, long strong strokes, four-beat kick. Enjoy the feel of the water against my skin, taste of salt, sense of adventure.

Janet stops at the tip of the island, I swim up to her. She points, Trevor and Glenda are still swimming. "Follow them."

The water gets shallow, we swim over corals, fish, then a bed of black spiky sea urchins - almost touch them as I pull through the water.

My mind drifts, I think about Hank. I could take Janet’s advice, should take Janet’s advice, back off. I see his round butt, shoulders, remember the kiss, the feel of him up close.

There’s no way I’m going to back off. And I’m still convinced it’s a good career move, and a way to learn more about Red.

Once we’ve swum past the last of the boats moored off the island I stop and look across the water to Randy’s boat.

There’s someone standing up the front, looks like they’ve got binoculars, scanning the water.

The guards are on duty. Randy’s not going to leave a boat load of drugs without someone on watch, I’ll have to be careful tonight.


Episode 102: Another Pat sighting

Janet stops swimming, waits for me, we head down the other side of the island, dodge coral.

I go over my plan. The boat’s only 50 metres from the shore. We’ll watch from the bank, make sure there’s no one on board.

I’ll slip into the water, swim over, climb aboard, have a look around, swim back. Simple.

Janet stops. "Only 500 metres to go. Race you back."


Janet could beat me with a broken ankle. I take my time.

A timber boat, small outboard, chugs past us ferrying workers. I stop, wave, they wave back, big smiles, white teeth. Wonder what they think of tourists doing laps of their island.

I swim past thatch-roofed bungalows on poles in the water, around the jetty and back to the beach. Glide right in, eyes on the sand watching for killer snakes and stinging sea urchins, stand in about a foot of water.

As I towel dry Trev rounds the jetty, puts in a final sprint to the beach, checks the timer on his watch as he gets to his feet. Glenda isn’t far behind.

"How’s your time?" Janet is, of course, interested. I bet she’s checked her time, memorised it, ready to input into the iPhone.

"Not as fast as race conditions." He doesn’t give her the numbers. "Bloody deep out there in the harbour."

No sh**t. There’s a seven-story passenger cruiser parked there.

"Strong tow too, now the tide’s starting to go out." He hands Glenda a towel.

We tie on sarongs, shove towels into Janet’s backpack.

"Time for breakfast."

"See you tomorrow morning?" It’s Trev.

Once was enough. "No, going sailing." I give a final shot. "Watch out for noahs, bloody deep out there."

Janet glares at me - it’s not politically correct to mention sharks.

I put an arm around her shoulder. "Nice swim."

"Did you see Pat?"

"Last night?"

"No, now. On Randy’s boat, had binoculars. Told you, she’s watching us."

Could have been Pat. Why would Pat be on the boat, she doesn’t even know Captain Randy?

"Just a lookout. They’re going to be keeping watch. Got a boatload of drugs."

"Looked like Pat."

"Pat’s tucked up in bed, staggered home same time I did. Staying at the Sebel."

As I say the words a domino effect of Pat sightings takes place in my mind.

Pat at the bar when we arrived, Pat at the jetty, Pat at the other bar, Pat everywhere. What if Janet’s right? Why would Pat be following us? And if it was Pat on the boat, she knows Randy. I decide to keep an eye out for Pat today.

"You’re paranoid, Janet. What’s the plan for today?"

"Other than your hair-brained scheme for this evening?"

"Think we should stay away from the harbour, don’t want to run into Captain Randy ’til after tonight’s surveillance activities. Will send him an email though, suggest a meeting after I go out to the boat."

"I’m seeing Pierre tonight."

"After you play lookout for me, you’re free."


Episode 103: A ride with Harvey

Janet plays tour guide. "We should, go see the waterfalls."

While she showers I email Captain Randy: Hi Captain Randy, Janet and I are in town. Doing the tourist thing today, hope we can meet tonight. Heard about a bar for tourists, the Harbour Inn, we’ll be there after dinner. Dusty.

I dress in a bikini, sarong, thongs.

Janet’s wearing shorts, an exercise top, runners.

"You got runners? Might need them for walking up to the waterfall."

"Who said anything about walking. Can’t get there like this, I’m not going."

Outside the Sebel a bloke joins us, heavy, mid-forties, backpack over his shoulder.

"Looking for a bus girls? Where you headed?"

He has an American accent, is sweating, big patches on his t-shirt.

"Cascade waterfalls."

"Great, me too." He shoves out a big hand, "Harvey." Soft and fleshy.

Harvey comes in handy, flags down a bus, slides open the door, ushers us inside.

"Cascade waterfalls, and don’t spare the horses." Voice as big as his body.

Vanuatu is green. The world’s happiest people stop to wave from the roadside. The pace is relaxed.

I fantasise about a waterfront block with the bungalow. Days spent swimming with fish, eating fresh fruit, perfect croissants.

Wonder if there’s any work here for a private investigator. Not once I smash an international drug ring based in their harbour.

Maybe Dusty the PR girl could get a job, find a nice boy, like Pierre, to keep me company occasionally.

Janet gazes out her window, voices similar thoughts.

"You wouldn’t last a month."

"And you would?"

We bounce along unsealed roads, share the bus with locals. Stop. The co-driver takes our Vatu, advises us the waterfalls are that way, says they are beautiful, suggests we visit the lookout on the way back. They will pick us up in two hours.

Harvey pulls a large bottle of water out of his pack, drinks, shoulders the pack.

Janet pulls out the camera, photographs dense rainforest, blue blue water running over pale rock formations.

"Got insect repellent in there?"

She hands me the backpack.

"Love a girl who’s prepared."

"After you gals." Harvey.

The walk to the waterfall’s not hard, it’s cool in the rainforest, and the falls and lakes are worth the effort.

We climb, pull ourselves along ropes attached to poles sunk into the rocks, water rushes around our legs. Janet first, me behind her, Harvey falls behind.

We’re not the only tourists, kids and adults play in the water, swim and skylark in the pools. No sign of Pat.

At the top we immerse ourselves in a rock pool, cool and refreshing. Harvey finds a rock pool close by.

I have some questions for Janet.

"Are you going to let him get to first base tonight?"

"None of your business."

"Can’t be much more to talk about." Four hours of talking, unbelievable.

She ignores me. Paddles to the other side of the rock pool, back.

"You’ve only got a couple of days. No point wasting time."


Episode 104: Another Pat sighting?

Janet gives me her serious look. "Don’t you think you’re taking this private investigator stuff too far?"

"Janet, I’m undercover, investigating a drug ring. It’s a serious business."

"Did you tell Red what we found?"

"Sent her an email." That’s the truth.

"So she knows what you’re doing?"

"Of course." Well, she knows we’re in Vanuatu.

"I know you were bored with PR. But, investigating’s a bit dangerous."

She sounds like Fran. "You’ve been talking to your mother."

"She cares about you."

With Janet I didn’t just get a friend, I also got a surrogate mother. "I know what I’m doing."

"There are other ways of getting the best out of life. It doesn’t always have to be about taking risks."

Janet the psychiatrist. "When I need an analyst I’ll get one. Meantime, I’m enjoying my new job."

"I think there are other ways of doing it, that’s all."

"Thanks for your input."

I dunk my head under the water, resurface, spurt water out of my mouth.

"Say you survive the trip out to the boat, what are you going to say to Captain Randy?"

"Play it by ear. Want him to invite us for a sail tomorrow, look around."

"What do you expect to find?"

"Nothing. Drugs are on Joey’s boat, they’ll be gone by then. Want to be sure he’s involved. Get enough information for Red and Hank so they can arrest him. And pull up that boat full of drugs when it arrives in Mooloolaba." Dusty Dexter PI cracks the case.

"I’m not going anywhere near that boat."

"Didn’t ask you to. Your job to sit on shore, keep an eye out." Time to change the subject "Should have sex with him tonight."

"You’re impossible."

"That’s why you hang around with me."

She smiles.

We climb back down the waterfall, sit under a tree. Harvey lies in the shade.

"No sign of Pat." Want to make Janet feel better about tonight’s activities. "Be in a pub somewhere. Was trying to crack on to some bloke last night. Big bloke."

I look over at Harvey and another Pat domino falls. I never saw his face, just the body. Maybe, maybe not.

The mini-bus arrives, dread-locked driver still grooving along with Bob Marley. I wonder if it’s personal preference or for the tourists. Reggae suits the ambiance of Vanuatu.

Janet shops. I retire to the balcony with a Tusker, keep an eye on the boats. My Third Wife restricts my view of Joey’s boat, but I watch tinnies come and go.

Janet returns with souvenirs, showers, ready for Pierre, emerges in one of my sundresses.

"Mind if I borrow this?"

"Sure. Randy sent me an email. Meeting him tonight at the pub."

It’s almost dark, clouds orange in the last of the light.

We share a Tusker on the balcony.

"You going ahead with this?"

"Yeah. If it looks clear."

I appraise the dress, make-up, lip gloss. "You going ahead with this?"

She blushes.


Episode 105: Janet plays lookout

I peer through the binoculars, there are no lights on the boats. "Let’s go."

We walk down the street, then along the harbour, past the wharfs. I keep an eye out for Pat, and Harvey – no one.

The boats are moored off the grassed foreshore, tinnies tied up out front.

I sit, Janet follows suit. We watch, silent – no sign of activity on either boat, no sign of activity in the vicinity. Little moonlight. I know it’s not a brilliant idea, but I haven’t come up with a better one.

"How do you know there’s not someone on the boat, keeping guard?"

"I don’t, but if there is, they’re in the dark too. I’m guessing they’re keeping watch from shore, like that bloke yesterday."

"What will you do if someone’s on it?"

"Jump off and swim."

"What if they shoot at you?"

"Won’t be able to see much in the dark."

Have to admit I am a bit worried about getting shot at, possibly should have used that number Hank gave me, contacted the local police. But I don’t want to share my success with anyone, I’m the one taking all the risks, doing all the ground work.

"What am I supposed to do?" Janet whispers, a stage whisper. They can probably hear her on the other side of the harbour.

"Give me a sign if you see something."

"What sort of sign?"

"I don’t know. Yell ’fire’."

"Like that’s not going to attract attention."

I unwrap the sarong and hand it her, slip off the thongs, make sure the ties on the bikini are secure. Then I walk to the edge of the grass and peer into the water - it’s black as ink, water level a couple of feet below where we are standing.

"You’ll have to help me out when I get back."

"If you get back." She gives me a hug.

"It’ll be fine. Just a little swim."

I slide into the water, feels colder than it did this morning, can’t be. I breast stroke towards the boat, focus on staying calm. The water’s so dark I can’t see my hands. I look back, Janet waves. Great, let everyone know I’m here.

Still no movement on either boat. I continue the slow breast stroke. My leg brushes against something long and slimy, I panic, adrenaline pumps through me, realise it’s an anchor rope. Settle, Dusty.

The boats are anchored from the front, rear into the harbour, I have to go around. At the back of Randy’s boat I grab the motor casing, keep still in the water, no noises.

I swim over to the other boat, no sound other than the slap of the boats on the water.

I pull myself up onto a ledge near the motor, struggle onto the boat, bang my shin. Damn. I grab the railing and negotiate my way around ropes and bits of equipment. I move as quietly as possible, the only sound my heart hammering, blood pumping in my ears.

Monday: Dusty trips, breaks something, cuts her foot, then hears a noise.

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