Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 41-45

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 41:  Another dead end 

AMANDA’S given me a nothing. Maybe I should try shock tactics.

“Cops think Thommo might have used Manny's boat to pick up drugs offshore. Any chance Manny had hooked up with drug dealers, was lending them his boat?”

“Manny hated drugs. He would never have willingly let them use his boat for anything like that.”

Manny, victim of the drug runners. Should have bought a smaller boat, one that didn’t attract so much attention.

“They think the drugs are coming in from somewhere in the South Pacific, in sailboats, being met offshore. Did Manny have contact with anyone from there recently?”   

“I very much doubt it.”

I very much think you’re a posh bitch. Having a husband suspected of drug running wouldn’t fit the image, wouldn’t go down to well at the spa. That’s why she wants us to clear his name, so she can hold her head up while she’s having her facial. She’d rather Manny was seen as someone who was in possession of a boat the bad guys wanted, than someone who was hooked up with drug dealers.     

“So you don't think he knew Thommo, Smart or Clay?”

“No.”

Dead end. What else had Daz said about Manny? Met Amanda at uni.

“I heard you and Manny met at uni?”

“Yes. We fell in love, married not long after we graduated.”

“What were you studying?”

“Architecture. I topped the class. When we married we decided to have children early. I fell pregnant, Manny worked.”

“Did you go back to work?”

“Not as such.”

Never heard of combining work and motherhood?

She catches my look. “We decided I should stay at home, raise the children.”

“So you've never practiced.”

“I designed a series of houses, this house. I’ve won design awards.”

Makes sense. The house, surrounds look like Amanda, sophisticated, stylish, slick, not lived-in. Wonder what she’d think of my accommodation? Wouldn’t want to walk in the door. She’d take one look and want to turn it into rubble, build a mausoleum.

I want to get back to Red and Hank, and I can't think of any more questions, except about Manny's arm.

I try to formulate a question. Did the cops give you the arm? Too blunt. Did the cops give you the wedding ring, heard it was still on the arm? Reasonable, but what's my reason for asking? Do you know what the cops did with Manny's arm? Pure curiosity. Decide to give it a miss, will ask Hank.

“Thanks for your time, Amanda. The investigation's progressing. We're following a number of lines of inquiry, covering all bases.” Very professional.

“Thank you. Let me know if I can help.”

She stands, tanned and toned, probably has a personal trainer. She walks me through the house, along the tiled river that flows through monochrome surrounds. A wall of water runs over embossed glass either side of the front door, ends up in the river.

“Spectacular entry statement, Amanda.”

“Isn’t it.”

 

Episode 42:  The incident

HANK and Red are mates. According to Red when they worked together, they would've taken a bullet for each other. Then there was the incident.

Red doesn't talk about the incident, and no one knows exactly what happened. It was in all the papers, stuff about the missing drugs, and Red being the officer in charge when they went missing, but no-one was ever held responsible.

Hank stood up for Red, said there was no way she took the stuff, said he was there the whole time. We think the incident's the reason Red left the force, although she won't admit it.

When Red drinks she still says she'd take a bullet for Hank.

Red and Hank are hunched over her desk studying the spiral notebook.

The spiral notebook I picked up at Thommo's place, the notebook I protected during an horrific car accident.

They don't notice me at the door, heads together, murmuring. Hank in jeans, t'shirt, Red her uniform, white shirt with the logo on the pocket, ironed, blue trousers belted tight at the waist.

Her gun belt sits in her empty In tray. Items make it briefly into Red's In tray, are dealt with promptly and efficiently and moved either to the Out tray or some other out-of-sight receptacle. Red doesn't like clutter.

Hank makes notes, flips pages back and forth, Red punches figures into a calculator.

I bang on the door jamb, barge in.

“Find anything interesting?”

Red peers up from the calculator, doesn't look happy. “Didn't spend long with Amanda.”

“We covered everything, told her I'd keep her informed. Hi Hank.”

Red's face goes red, as red as her hair. “Senior Sergeant Stern.”

“But-”

Hank interrupts – it's clear he doesn't want Red to know we're on first name terms – his tone all business.

“Worried about your security. The four-wheel drive in the shed at Thommo's place was the one drove you off the road. Local boys checked out the shed this morning, looks like blue Yaris all over the bullbar. Keep your head down. No more investigations. Phone Janet and tell her.”

S**t. Someone was watching us at Thommo's place, and they weren't happy.

Hank. “You didn't see anyone following you?”

“No.”

Hank puts his hand in his jeans pocket. “This yours? Was on the floor of the car, with the notebook.”

He hands me the red metallic phone I found on Manny's boat, had forgotten about it. The phone's warm with his body heat. As I take it from him, our fingers touch and a spark of electricity jumps between us. This is going to be fun.

“Thanks.” I smile, slip it into the handbag.

Red points to the office next door. “In there, work the phones. Background. Don't go anywhere. Got it?”

Great, when things start to get interesting she puts me in an office.

I need coffee, poke my head back around the door.

“Coffee? Going down the road.”

Hank. “Flat white, large, two sugar.”

Red nods.
 

Episode 43:  Dusty and Janet, grounded

I'M SUPPOSED to remember Red's coffee order. Damn. I bang on the door to the room with the monitors. I'm in luck, it’s the same guy eyes on the screens.

“Coffee?”

“Double shot espresso. Three sugars - make it four.”

Casual. “What's Red have?”

“Dunno.”

Maybe they'll know at the coffee shop.

I walk down the street, slip my hand into my handbag slide my fingers around the phone, still warm from being in Hank’s pocket, fondle it. Red's not going to like this.

Back to work, Dusty, think like a PI. What would the Angels would do? They'd take action, I'll take action.

At the coffee shop they know Red's order.

I return, put the coffees on the desk. “Reckon I can help.” I pull up a chair.

Hank explains. “This has become a major drug operation. It's dangerous. We're talking about ruthless men. Men who'll drive a car, with two women in it, off the side of a mountain.”

I know. I was there.

He continues. “Thommo was probably murdered because they thought we were on to him. We have to take it slowly. Cover all bases. The best thing you can do is follow up leads.”

At least he's involving me.

“We need to be sure Manny wasn't involved with drugs. Talk to his boss, people he knew.”

Red hands him the notepad.

He stands, strong thighs.

“Don't go anywhere on your own, day or night, until we get this thing sorted.”

I'm supposed to be an investigator, and there’s the party.

“Tonight's the cocktail party.”

Red. “Don't tell me you're going to the Chamber cocktails.”

“Evan gave me and Janet tickets.”

Hank. “Dusty, you and Janet are staying at home.”

Red. “It's okay, I'll be there. Keep an eye on them.”

Hank's satisfied, leaves, tight butt under the faded jeans.

I'm not happy. Red keeping an eye on me is not what I had in mind for a cocktail party.

I call Janet.

“Bad news.”

“What?”

“They found paint from your car on the bullbar of the four-wheel drive in Thommo's garage. Hank reckons they tried to kill us. We're grounded.”

“S**t. Must've seen us there, followed us to the pub, gone back and got Thommo's car, then followed us down the range.”

“Yeah. We're not allowed to go anywhere, do anything. Work, then home.”

“What about the cocktail party?”

“Red's going. She'll look out for us.”

“Great.”

She's as happy about that as I am, I ignore the sarcasm, continue.

“You up for the after-party? At Smart's place? I've got a plan.”

“Maybe.”

Maybe. Have some balls Janet. “I'll pick you up. Seven.”

Hank said to follow up leads. What leads? Cash, I need to talk to Max Cash.

I get on the phone, forceful, decide I'm not going to take no for an answer. I have a win, he'll see me for ten minutes.

“Red. Max Cash said he'll see me. Just drive up, talk to him, straight back.”

“I'm coming with you.”

 

Episode 44:  Manny the good guy

RED drives. Her four-wheel drive is camouflage green, logo on the doors, Red Hot Security and Investigation - flames leap out of the R.

She gives me a lecture about respect for the force, then asks how the study's going.

I've tried, I've read most of the course outline, but it's not getting me in. “Fine, making headway.”

“This is your interview. Show me what you can do.”

Max's office is on the first floor of a highrise he built. The waiting room has floor-to-ceiling windows, a view over the ocean.

The receptionist wears a stylish uniform, sits behind a curved timber desk, the walls deep green, carpets thick. It says class with a capital C.

Max has his back to the view. On the walls images of a multi-storey concrete, steel and glass structure, a couple in a spa, champagne glasses in hand. The tag line is: Samsara - the lifestyle you desire.

Max may be a big-time developer, but underneath he's a builder. The expensive shirt is half tucked in, half out, sleeves rolled up revealing hairy arms and a tattoo.

Red puts her hand out, introduces herself.

“This is Dusty Dexter. We're investigating Manny West's death, need your help with our inquiries.”

“Any way I can.”                         

This is different to the runaround I've been getting. I need a uniform, a gun.

Red indicates I should start. Right, haven't given this much thought, okay, haven't given this any thought. Here goes.

“Max, I saw you arguing with Manny at the bar, the last night he was seen alive.”

“It wasn’t an argument, it was a lively discussion. Manny was having a mid-life crisis, bought the boat, wanted to semi-retire. I had a lot of work I wanted done.”

Looked like an argument to me. “So who won?”

“Noone.”

“Were you upset about that?” I sound tough.

“I would have won eventually. Manny couldn’t afford to retire, expensive lifestyle.”

So I noticed.

“Amanda was having him followed, thought he was having an affair.”

He snorts. “Not Manny.”

“Said he was preoccupied.”

“Manny wasn't the affair type. His problem, he was a workaholic, like me. Was worried he was losing his family.”

“Did Amanda know that?”

“Don't know. Personal.”

            “It looks like Manny's death was associated with importing drugs. That something else you didn't know about him?”

“I'd bet my next million Manny wasn't into drugs.”

“Ever been on his boat?”

“Yeah, beauty.”

“Good boat to get out into the shipping lane, rendezvous with other boats, sneak drugs into the country.”

Max laughs. “Furthest Manny took that boat was Old Woman Island.”

Manny the good guy.

“Not everyone liked Manny. People wrote letters to the newspaper complained about the buildings.”

“Manny put his mark on these buildings, he was proud of his work.”

“But there were people who didn't like it.”

“Of course there were. Same people who sit in the coffee shops, eat in the new waterfront restaurants.”

“So you don't know anyone who'd want to kill Manny?”

“No.”

 

Episode 45:  Caught in a lie

RED compliments me on my interview technique with Max Cash. She also suggests a flesh-coloured bra, not the red one I’m wearing, would be more suitable under a white business shirt. I imagine Red only owns flesh-coloured bras. She has no idea.

Back at the office I'm ordered to continue with the background investigation. Everything points to Manny being used, a pawn with a fast boat, a boat the police wouldn’t have suspected, making it the perfect vessel for picking up a load of drugs.

Where to now? Smart? Goldshield? The digital recording from the decoy job, should replay it, see if there's anything more.

I dig through the handbag, pull out the taser, capsicum spray - haven't had a chance to use it yet - recorder.

Should still have that recording. Flick back, find it.

Janet introduced me to Manny. The three of us chatted then she left me to it. I'd turned the recorder on early - didn't want another case where I had no proof, on account of forgetting to turn it on. Red was not pleased.

Max was there, so was Benton Smythe. Max and Manny were arguing, “discussing”. Smythe was on Max's side. The development they were talking about was a resort project - a golf course with residential precinct, club house, tennis courts, conference facilities, somewhere in the hinterland. They were telling Manny he was the only one who could do it justice.

Thommo had wandered up, started talking boats, Max and Benton started their own conversation.

Thommo and Manny had not met before.

“Manny. Gary Thompson, Thommo.”

“Manny West.”

They shook.

“Saw The Dog House at the marina, heard she’s yours. She's something.”

“Yeah. Only had her a couple of months.”

“I'm a sailor myself, but I know a nice cruiser when I see one.”

I knew a line when I heard one. Thommo wanted something from Manny from the start. They talked boats, ports. Thommo had been everywhere, gave advice on the best harbours, best marinas.

Manny took it all in, asked lots of questions.

Then Thommo started talking specifics about Manny's boat. How far would it go on a full tank, how fast.

Manny said he hadn't tested her, but he knew the specifications. More talk.

I wasn't getting far with Manny, had motioned Janet over. Our voices in the background.

Smart arrived. Thommo introduced him to Manny. Then not long after Clay arrived, Thommo introduced him. The discussion continued, all four of them talking about Manny's boat.

Replay. Thommo introduced Smart and Clay to Manny. Their statements said they didn't know Thommo.

I check the statements. I'm right.

Clay, Smart and Thommo.

The rest of the tape is as I remember. Thommo leaves to talk to Marty then returns with more drinks, and the final part of the conversation I'd listened to before I found Thommo in The Dog House.

I need a plan. First, Smart. I'll do some more undercover work on him tonight at the after-party.

Monday:  Dusty looks good in the red dress which is important, Daz is going to be there with the Galloping Waitress.

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