Dusty Dexter PI: episodes 66-70

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 66: Toe to toe with Hank

I’M onto my second beer and still don’t have an answer to the Evan dilemma.

A horn toots. It’s Hank.

He jogs up the driveway, broad shoulders, long strong thighs. He’s wearing footy shorts, runners, a t-shirt.

"Thought you were going to call."

"On the way to footy training, thought I’d drop by instead."

He follows me to the top of the stairs, I turn. We stand toe to toe.

"What sort of footy?"

"Rugby."

I’m a league girl myself, but it’s not the right time to mention it. "That’s how you keep so fit." Flattery always works.

"Training just started. Go to the gym in summer. Try to keep in shape so it’s not so hard when the season starts."

"Can I get you a drink?"

"Gotta go."

He doesn’t move.

We both edge closer, my tank top against the fabric of his t-shirt. Feel the hairs on his thighs brush against mine, smell his chest, musky.

"See you in a couple of hours."

He’s back down the stairs. I watch his butt, tight, as he jogs back to the car.

I can see some real advantages to this relationship, and not just the opportunity for some fun and excitement.

First there’s the charges - I need to get them dropped if I’m going to meet Randy in Vanuatu.

Then there’s the thing with Red and Hank - it might come in handy one day to have inside knowledge on what happened the night the drugs disappeared.

And there’s the arm - I want to find out what happened to Manny’s arm.

Two hours until he’s back.

I’m not getting anywhere thinking about Evan, turn on the TV. A game show.

Hit resume on the DVD player. The Angels are donning scuba gear, about to do battle in an isolated fortress. I like this scene, lie back on the couch, legs dangling over the end.

The phone, hit mute. Janet.

"How’s the story going?"

"Councillors wouldn’t talk to me today. Chiefs want me to turn up outside the chambers tomorrow morning, get them before the council meeting. Ask them about bribery. Then go see Cash, see what he’s got to say."

"Great."

"Red said to keep your head down."

"No way. This is gold. They’re only councillors, not like they’re going to feed me to the sharks."

I passed on the message.

"How was your day?"

"Interesting. Googled Dr Evan Evans. He worked in an oceanarium in the States. Bloke got mauled to death in ashark tank while he was there. Evan shot the shark."

"No shit."

"No shit."

There’s a pause. "Mum’s worried about the PI work. Asked me to tell you to be careful."

"Tell Fran I can look after myself. Heard about the new car yet?"

"Get it next week."

"Not doing too much cycling?"

She ignores the dig. "See you in the morning, 5.30. Hope the date goes well."

"It’s looking good."

 

Episode 67: So much for the date

I TURN the sound back on, watch the Angels, can’t concentrate.

Evan, the other side of the world, in front of the shark tank, the same words I’d told him to say. Why didn’t he tell me? He didn’t want me to know.

Do I ask him straight out? Hi Evan, saw those newspaper files about the attack in the US. Please explain?

Or do I keep it to myself for a while?

Must have fallen asleep. It’s dark.

There’s a noise I can’t place, on the balcony. I walk out, it’s coming from over the edge. I peer down. Someone’s trying to climb up the lattice.

I run back into the lounge and pick up my handbag, can’t find the taser, grab the capsicum spray.

Back outside, look. There’s definitely someone trying to climb up onto my balcony. I put my finger on the button of the spray, lean over the railing. Push.

The railing collapses under my weight and I fall, finger still on the button. Seconds later I land, on top of the intruder.

He doesn’t move. I spray again, just in case, lever myself off him. As my eyes adjust to the light I realise it’s Hank. Why is Hank climbing up my lattice?

"Hank."

No response.

"Hank!"

No response. I slap him gently on the cheek.

Bugger.

I put my hand under his head. He’s landed on the concrete drain at the bottom of the down pipe, is out cold, and I can feel something wet, possibly blood.

I race upstairs, dial 000.

"There’s been an accident. Senior Sergeant Stern. Hit his head. I think he’s unconscious."

I give my address, they’re on their way. I think this is not good. I don’t think this is going to be in my favour as far as dropping the charges goes.

Hank comes around before they arrive.

Screams. "Get me something for my eyes."

I race upstairs, grab a bucket of water, hand towel. When I get back he’s on all fours, head under the tap. He scoops water out of the bucket over his face.

"What the f**k did you do that for?"

"Why the f**k were you climbing my lattice?"

"I was trying to prove how bad your security is."

I look up at the broken handrail.

"If you’d climbed to the top you wouldn’t have got onto the balcony anyway."

The cops arrive. The ambos arrive. Red arrives.

The cops confiscate the spray.

The ambos wash out his eyes, patch up his head.

Red has questions. "What were you doing?"

"Trying to show her she needs to improve her security."

"By climbing up the lattice?"

"When I dropped her off the other night I told her how easy it would be to break into that house. I was trying to prove it."

Red shakes her head in bewilderment. "I’m taking you home. You can’t drive."

She looks at me. "I’ll see you in the morning."

Guess that’s the end of my date.

 

Episode 68: Something slithers past

I TELL Janet about last night’s incident as we walk along the track through the Noosa National Park.

"He comes around before the ambos get there, screaming his eyes hurt. Good shot with the capsicum spray. Red arrives, of course, wants to know why he’s climbing up my lattice to my balcony. Says he’s worried about my security, wanted to prove it was easy to get into my house. The ambos patch up his head. Red takes him home, like she’s his bloody mother."

Janet splutters, "Some date."

"Stuffs up my plans, need to get him to drop the charges. Going to Vanuatu in a day or so."

"Since when?"

"Soon as I get it sorted. Undercover. Following up leads, Clay’s business interests. Can come if you want. Have to pay your airfare, but you can stay with me."

"Be back for the triathlon?"

"Yeah." Typical Janet, you offer a holiday in Vanuatu and all she’s worried about is the triathlon. "Only a few days, maybe four."

She’s thinking about it, wondering if she can adjust her training schedule. I’d like her to come, might need backup, but I don’t want her to think it could be dangerous. After all, what can go wrong?

I add a sweetener - had it up my sleeve, in case I needed it. "Good swim over there, around the island in the harbour. About three ks. Give you a decent hit out before the tri. Should be tapering by then anyway."

More interest, but I’m not over the line. "Get some snorkelling in, feed the reef fish. Water will be nice and warm over there. Have a bit of a holiday." Don’t overdo it Dusty.

She likes it. "I’ll check it out with work."

The triathlon group is getting ahead of us. Janet starts to jog. "Come on."

I pick it up to a brisk walk, watch my bare feet on the peaty path uneven with tree roots, holes, rocks. The park smells musty, damp, the early morning air cool on my skin.

I hear kookaburras laugh, high up in gums. Probably laughing at the triathletes who just cycled 35 km and are now jogging in the park.

Something slithers off into the grass beside me, hate snakes, lizards, do a half-hearted jog for 20 metres.

By the time I reach Tea Tree Bay Janet’s triathlete friends are already in the water, long strokes, strong kicks, individual bow waves behind them.

I clamber over rocks, hang onto pandanus branches, make my way to a small sandy beach.

I’ve done this swim before - two ks alongside the National Park, past the Boiling Pot, straight ahead to Main Beach. Piece of cake.

Even though there’s not much swell a couple of hopeful surfers float on their boards. I wade in, adjust cap, goggles. When I’m knee deep I push off, float out over more rocks into deeper water.

Janet’s waiting for me, impatient.

"Let’s go."

 

Episode 69: Against the tide

JANET and I follow the others, they’re already out of the bay, turning left. I get into a rhythm, watch the coastline under my left arm as I breathe - rocky outcrops, small sandy beaches, the green of the national park.

I pass a stand-up paddle surfer, stop. He stands on his board beside me, paddle in hand. "What’re you dudes doin’ out here?"

"Triathlon, they’re training, I’m just having a swim."

"Saw a shark out here last week."

"How big?"

"Long as the board."

I’m about to do my "it’s their ocean" speech, but it dries up in my mouth. Janet’s a hundred metres ahead, I can’t even see the rest of them.

"Better keep going."

He nods, braces him feet, puts his paddle back in the water, slides off. I swim, glance back at his silhouette against the early-morning sun, looks like he’s standing on the water.

It’s a long haul against the tide, hard work. I take a ride with the swell around First Point, pass the final headland and see the buildings on Hastings Street, feel like I’m home. Another few hundred metres and I can see the sand.

When I walk up onto the beach Janet’s there, towel in hand.

"Good swim."

"Yeah, bloody tide going out. Could’ve picked a better day."

"Bit of a challenge."

She’s dry, pulls on shorts, singlet with the legend Noosa Triathlon 2007.

"Had a chat to a stand-up surfer."

"You always talk to people, watch turtles. You’re supposed to be swimming."

"Since when was there a rule against talking to people? It doesn’t have to be a competition, Janet."

"Did you bring clothes?"

"Back in the car."

She pulls another pair of shorts, singlet out of the bag.

The shorts fit, sort of. The singlet doesn’t stand a chance. I hand it back.

We walk up the beach, sand cool.

Noosa’s still asleep. A handful of swimmers, probably locals, float off Main Beach. A few more swim across Laguna Bay.

Janet’s triathlete friends sit at tables outside the only open coffee shop. They eat fruit, energy bars, drink from water bottles – psyche themselves up for the ride back.

I order a latte, indicate Janet should pay. She pulls two apples from her back pack, hands me one. I would prefer a croissant.

She finds a seat, pulls it up beside Macca. He’s bigger than I remember, much bigger, tall, strong. He sits, muscled lycra-clad thighs spread wide. You could reverse park a small hatch between those thighs.

"Enjoy the swim Dusty?"

"Yeah. Except the bloody tide."

"Bit of a challenge."

What is it with these guys? "That’s what Janet said."

"Heard you’re swimming for Greg."

"Yeah."

That’s about it for conversation. I zone out as they talk about times, rotations, ins and outs. The coffees arrive. It’s not the best latte I’ve ever had.

 

Episode 70: Working on a plan

JANET wants a lift home, has to get to work early, do some more background on her story about Cash, the councillors.

We walk along the boardwalk, past expensive Noosa real estate in Little Cove, she wheels her bike alongside her.

"What do you think of Macca?"

"Big thighs."

"Think he likes me?"

"Don’t know."

I put the top down, she takes the front wheel off the bike, jams it in the back seat.

"So you coming to Vanuatu?"

"Yeah, should be able to get some time off. Don’t like your chances of getting Hank to drop the charges. First you zap him with a taser then you spray him with capsicum spray."

"I’m working on a plan."

My plan involves Red and Amanda. If I can get what I want from them, I reckon Hank will drop the charges.

Dressed and feeling good I head towards Red Hot Security, stop at a decent coffee shop, grab a bag of fresh donuts.

The buzzer.

"I come bearing gifts." Hold up the bag, the door unlocks.

I dump the coffees and donuts on the desk. "Morning, Red. Help yourself."

"You here again. Still off the case. And I doubt Stern’s going to want to see you for a while."

"Reminds me, need another capsicum spray, cops took that one."

I bite into a strawberry donut - jam in the middle squirts over my lips, I lick it off. "Donuts’re good. Still warm."

She removes the lid from the coffee, peers inside as though checking it’s okay.

"Why does disaster follow you, Dusty?"

"It wasn’t my fault Hank, I mean Senior Sergeant Stern decided to climb up my balcony."

"That’s the thing, it’s never your fault. But when disasters happen, you’re always there, right in the middle."

I shrug, think it’s an overstatement.

She takes a caramel donut out of the bag, drinks the coffee.

"Janet’s going to question those councillors today, Cash too. Looks like a good story."

She chews.

"I think it’s time I gave Amanda a progress report. Keep her in the loop."

"Nothing to report."

"Think I’ve got a lead. Been checking Clay’s business interests in Vanuatu, might be a link there. Bit more research to do."

She pulls another donut out of the bag.

"Want to come to visit Amanda with me?"

"No."

Good.

"Come straight back."

Then I remember Evan and the shark incident. "Did some research on Evan yesterday."

She grabs the last donut.

"Fatal shark attack at an oceanarium he worked in overseas."

"Kiddin’ me."

"Accident, it said. Bloke fell in the tank, feeding frenzy, nothing left. Evan was the park’s marine scientist. Photos of him in the paper. He shot the shark - too late for the bloke in the tank. Bit of a hero."

She looks at me from under her eyebrows.

"Sure it was him?"

"Yep."

"Get me the details."

"After I see Amanda, okay?"

A nod.

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Next week: Pamela, Amanda’s mother. She’s just like Amanda, only more so.



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